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A Chat with Anne Coates - author of the popular Hannah Weybridge crime novels

I’m not a book blogger as such, but when an interesting author with an exciting new approach to their genre comes along, I’d like to help get their titles out there because you, voracious readers, might miss something.

If you haven't heard of  Hannah Weybridge,  you’re in for a treat. She is the lead in Anne Coates’ pacey thrillers. Single mother, investigative journalist with a dogged determination to get to the truth whatever the risks, Hannah Weybridge takes the star role in Anne’s three novels, details of which can be found below.

I’m going to focus on Anne’s latest book, ‘Songs of Innocence’ as I think this is her best and most socially sensitive book to date. Why do I say that? These are not your average murder scenes or crimes. They involve several young women from ethnic communities in South London but the police don’t seem to be taking the crimes seriously enough.

The book is set in the nineties and I can't help thinking that we are facing similar themes of  racism and protests against immigration while Asian and African women are still battling against cultural mores and equal rights within their own communities, such as forced marriage, domestic abuse and trafficking as well as battling on going discrimination in the UK. The author does an excellent job of giving us a realistic insight into these issues which, let’s face it, we would rather pretend didn’t exist.

It’s gritty, it’s real, and if you’re looking for something that carries you along, Songs of Innocence’ is a must read.

As always I am keen to know the story behind a popular author so I asked Anne a few searching questions. Anne, author of seven non-fiction books and short story writer who has been published in magazines such as Bella and Caris,   really knows what she is talking about.

Hannah Weybridge has developed into a strong, identifiable character. What gave you the idea for her and in particular her role as a journalist as opposed to an investigating police officer? 
Hannah Weybridge first appears in ‘Dancers in the Wind’, a novel which was inspired by my own journalism. I had interviewed a prostitute and a police officer at King’s Cross for a national newspaper. It was to link to a documentary that was just about to be aired. My article was spiked as it was too harrowing… Sometime later I started thinking “what if” and fictionalised the interview to set off the events for the novel. Hannah Weybridge was born… there was never any thought of her being a police officer.

 

As someone who does not know London outside of the areas visited by tourists, why did you choose Peckham for the setting on Songs of Innocence? I must add that you present a strong sense of place with minimal description. 
Peckham is only one location in the book. Dulwich also features plus the action takes place throughout the borough of Southwark, plus other areas. Peckham Park pond is where the first body is discovered – the park is where William Blake had his vision of angels in an oak tree, hence the link to the title of the book. South-east London is Hannah’s home patch – and mine.


I ask this question as someone whose life has been enriched by diversity since 1979, yet has found it challenging writing about mixed communities from the outside, have you had similar experiences when writing Songs of Innocence and what advice would you give to other writers when tackling similar themes? 
The area where I have lived for many years is a melting pot of cultures and residents come from all walks of life. I love it. When I first moved into my house, my neighbours on one side were Indian and Caribbean on the other, plus a Turkish family a few doors down. There was also an elderly lady who had been born in her house before WW2 and a middle-aged man still living with his father in the flat he’d also been born in. My work as an editor introduced me to books written by Asian women plus I have visited India. However I would stress that Songs of Innocence is written from Hannah’s perspective as an investigating journalist. Advice to other writers would be to go to primary sources and always at least three – the magic number we were given when fact checking as a journalist. 


What appeals to you about crime writing? Would you consider other genres for future books?
Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series have a lot to answer for! I find crime really satisfying to write – I love the clues characters whisper to me as we get to know each other. Previously I have written short stories for women’s magazines and many of these centred on a “crime” although others were more about family relationships. Another project I’m working on is a stand-alone, first person narrative but I’m not sure where it’s heading at the moment… Although I have translated an erotic novel written in French, I wouldn’t dream of writing in that genre nor would I attempt science fiction and I don’t think I’m romantic enough to write a love story.


You have told me that most of your life has been in publishing related industries so you must have seen many changes. How do you see publishing in the future and what do new authors need to understand before they embark on what is certainly a tough career?

I’d love to have a crystal ball to predict the future path of publishing! The changes that the digital age has made are phenomenal and now everyone can be a publisher, which is exciting and (sometimes) disastrous. For anyone considering writing books I’d say write because you love writing. It’s not a “career” as such – no entry qualifications or clear “continuing professional development” – it’s a way of life and you will probably need another career to support yourself financially.

How do you think social media helps sell books (or not)? 

Well, I certainly buy books that I’ve discovered via social media and if I am “friends” with an author, I’m likely to buy and read their books. However it’s a double-edged sword for an author as you mustn’t be seen to be trying to sell your books. Nevertheless, I have seen one author recently do nothing but self-promote and it seems to have worked judging by her “bestseller” listings.


What's your view of the current wave of fiction writing in the first person/present tense? 
First person narratives have been around forever. One of my all time favourites is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne which was first published in the 18th century and is so funny. Books written in the first person lend an intimacy to the reading process which is very powerful. The book I’ve just read in the first person is Rowan Colman’s The Summer of Impossible Things and it’s practically perfect. I love first person narratives when they are well executed but it’s a skill not everyone has.

Will we see more of Hannah? 
I am currently writing the fourth book in the Hannah Weybridge series so that’s a resounding yes!

You can buy 'Songs of Innocence from amazon.co.uk https://amzn.to/2LoTAa8

Death's Silent Judgement                                             https://amzn.to/2L4qIrw

Dancers in the Wind                                                      https://amzn.to/2Ldjotb

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The Controversial Writer

  • Published in Writing

It takes slog to write an article, even more so a full length novel, but at this stage of the writing game you are in control. If you change your mind about something or are not sure of your facts you can scrub it and start afresh. When you are in your private world anything goes. I guess this is why many people put a protective arm round their work and don’t give in to requests by family and friends to “offer an opinion.”

Publishing for the world to grind its teeth on your words needs courage. Great courage. Especially if you are writing something that is likely to be deemed as controversial, a definition of which is: - of, relating to, or characteristic of controversy, or prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention; polemical. In other words you take an opposing view from the mainstream.

Let’s say you write a book on Fairies in Icelandic Folklore. If your narrative is supporting them then you risk ridicule by most of the world who don’t believe in the supernatural. If you argue they don’t exist, you risk the wrath of many Icelanders who set up road blocks to protest against a new construction which might disturb them. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/icelanders-protest-road-would-disturb-fairies-180949359/

See, your writing will be controversial to somebody the moment you wave your ideas above the parapet. We all want our books to be noticed in this screaming marketplace and that’s where the trouble begins. Too much bad language, sadomasochism, abuse and violence, bits from other writers slipped in and awful writing will draw attention to your work but not in the way you might want. High content is the mantra for novelists at the moment and sod the writing style. High content can mean writing a story about LGBT issues from a strong religious point of view with the character stating that gay people can be “fixed,” or it can mean sharing with the world a different kind of love.  Just writing about gay relationships can drain the blood from the cheeks of some publishers. Not everyone is prepared to take the risk of upsetting their regular readership.

Even the memoir is not without risk. Not everybody has enough stories in their life to warrant mass readership so maybe a little embellishment here and there isn’t going to harm anyone. Let’s say I write about being captured in the Middle East and held hostage. It’s partially true as I was held against my will by my former husband but that isn’t as dramatic as being held by the Druze militia or Al Shabab.

 Do I ham it up for my reading public and hope I don’t get found out? Not me but others might. Controversy sells especially today when there are facts and “alternative facts”. Lying seems to be de rigeur.

A book like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is considered a brilliant piece of fiction although opinions differ on the quality of the writing. He blended facts with fiction thus rattling the cages of historians with its alleged swarm of inaccuracies. I swallowed the whole story as a truth which shows how gullible I am.

Many publishers steer clear of controversy as a) it is unlikely to appeal to a wide readership if they can’t relate to the issue and b) fear of bad publicity. Having said that is there no such a thing as bad publicity but book retailers are risk averse. They like books on their shelves that are tried and tested and have a following: crime, romance, thrillers, and cosy village sagas with a soupcon of naughtiness.

What does that mean for writers? Should we stick to what’s safe just to get a publishing deal or should we risk writing from the heart about what matters to us but dress it  down to make it more palatable?

Andrew Smith’s powerful  novel, The Speech, is fiction woven around the very real but controversial Enoch Powell, who in the author’s own words, is usually perceived as a two dimensional character. Instead he chose to flesh him out as more rounded and therefore believable, balancing weaknesses against his strengths without underplaying his evil rhetoric against immigrants.

 All characters no matter how heinous their actions and behaviour are multi- dimensional but readers who have knowledge of Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech would not want to recognise some of the MP’s finer qualities. A classics scholar with a brilliant mind, he was as quoted in his obituary as, “hated by many, loved by many, but never regarded with indifference.”

What makes The Speech such a compelling read is that we are drawn into the fictional lives of some characters from that era who were affected directly and indirectly by the harm executed by Powell. We experience and feel the harm he did by firing up racism and intolerance.  

I too have staked my claim as a controversial writer. The Cruelty of Lambs is about the uncomfortable subject of domestic abuse which maybe doesn’t affect the majority of people but, let’s face it, we all know or suspect somebody that might be a perpetrator or victim but we prefer to turn the sound up on the TV than worry why the shouting next door has suddenly stopped and the kids are crying. 

My new novel, The Future Can’t Wait also challenges controversial themes; mother-daughter estrangement, terrorism and psychic addiction. Published by Urbane Publications September 2017. Some of us feel a strong urge to bring truth into the open and hang the consequences.

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