The Bookseller – Author Interviews – Emma Haughton

“I’m always very concerned about the reader’s journey through a book; what I want readers to think and feel at various points. I always try to see it from that perspective: If I were reading, what would be the big questions on my mind? more questions, how can I make it even more tense for the reader?

The Sanctuary is Emma Haughton’s second locked thriller, following her bestselling adult debut The darknessand it begins with a young woman who wakes up in an unfamiliar environment with a severe headache and a growing sense of panic. She has no idea where she is – a small whitewashed room on a narrow bed – and the last thing she can remember for sure is a great night out in New York with her friends. The view from her bedroom window reveals nothing but miles of dry, red earth in every direction.

I really wanted the place to challenge the characters, especially the main character, so it’s not just dealing with the fact that there’s a killer, it’s facing the dangers a desert can throw up

Over lunch near her home in Dorset, Haughton says it was this intriguing situation – “This idea of ​​waking up somewhere and not having a clue where you were” – that first occurred to her when he was thinking of a sequel for The darkness. “I love a slow, character-driven way in a story, so I try to resist the pressure of suddenly having a dead body. That’s why it was really important to me that that first chapter worked as a hook to draw people into the story, because if you haven’t suffered a dead body, you have to have something else quite compelling.

The hook is tempting, but what it pays for The Sanctuary the setting really stands out. In the novel, Zoey discovers that she has been hospitalized in a luxurious “therapeutic retreat” deep in the Mexican desert known as the Sanctuary. But unlike her fellow citizens, she is not extremely wealthy: the Shrine can only be accessed by helicopter, and a 10-week course of treatment costs $ 125,000. So how did Zoey get there and who paid for her stay?

Although Zoey isn’t exactly a prisoner, she discovers, after an early, doomed escape attempt on foot, that conditions in the Mexican desert mean she can’t leave. “As with The darkness, [which was set on a remote research station in Antarctica], I really wanted the location to challenge the characters, especially the main character, so it’s not just dealing with the fact that there’s a killer, it’s dealing with the dangers a desert can throw up, ”says Haughton. “It’s about having the location not just as a background, but as an active element in the plot.”

In a way, I design the plot to hold a mirror in front of the main character: it will confront him with the things they have to go through in order to move forward.

Zoey also doesn’t believe she has an addiction problem, unlike other Sanctuary residents, including a trustee with aspirations to become an anarchist activist, scion of a Big Pharma billionaire family, and a movie star. But just as the Sanctuary residents (and the mysterious staff) keep secrets, so too does Zoey. When the flashes of her “night before” begin to return, it becomes clear that she has denied her past her. When the Shrine offers an Ayahuasca ceremony as part of the therapeutic program, things take a dark turn …

Cold comfort

Interestingly, Haughton says she had no intention of writing a closed-room thriller per se The darkness (which has sold in nine international territories and has been auctioned by seven publishers in Germany), has just realized the “huge potential” of an Antarctic thriller. She is not sure if she will continue like this: “You start running out of situations! They’re very popular, so it’s going to get harder and harder to think of something that no one else has … I think it’ll reach saturation point. I wouldn’t want to get stuck just doing [locked room thrillers]. “

I thought you were born with an inner genius and [have] he always felt compelled to be a writer

Haughton began her career as a writer with a trio of YA thrillers for Usborne and switched to writing adult thrillers “for rather prosaic work as a writer. YA in the UK is a very small market, very dominated by US authors, increasingly dominated by famous writers ”. He always writes in first person with a central protagonist, so “if they are young, you have all sorts of constraints: parental control, schools, etc. In the adult world it is much easier to plot because you don’t have to constantly think: ‘How do I give an agency to this kid? ‘”

She is credited with writing those early YA novels for really giving her a “focus on rhythm” and an understanding of the crucial importance of hooks. “It was a good audience to write for, as you really have to learn to grab the reader’s attention and keep it through a story.”

Previously she was a journalist, first for a trade magazine and then, after the birth of her second child (now she has four grown children), writing freelance for the national teams, more regularly for the Travel time section, which perhaps explains his ability to write so vividly about remote places in his books. She also trained as an NCT teacher and it was her first client, who worked for a non-fiction book publisher for schools, who asked Haughton if she enjoyed trying her hand at non-fiction, which led to her writing a series. hard facts books on health topics for younger readers.

Haughton had always wanted to write fiction, but was put off by various internal beliefs about the “right” way to do it. “I didn’t really understand that he was an apprenticeship. I thought you were born with an inner genius and [have] he always felt compelled to be a writer. Now I think it’s just plain stupid, one of those myths, like “You have to write every day”. Of course not! It doesn’t mean you’re not a writer.

As a mystery reader, the authentic storytelling is important to Haughton rather than the killer twist. “I really admire Sabine Durrant, I love her slow-burning style, her relentless psychological focus.” Of her own writings, she says: “I am very interested in psychology and the role of subconscious motivation and the way she governs our lives. So in terms of the main characters, I’m always intrigued by the underlying psychology that led them to be where they are. In a way, I design the plot to hold a mirror in front of the main character – it will confront him with the things they have to go through in order to move forward.

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