In a month filled with fabulous debuts, SB Hayes created a lasting impression on me with the psychological thriller Poison Heart. I jumped at the chance to talk to her!
1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
If I close my eyes, in all honesty, I tend to envisage a teenage girl reading Poison Heart, but I haven’t ruled out adult readers or the entire male population!
As a male of an age which I'm no longer prepared to share in public, you definitely shouldn't rule us out! I think girls, boys, women and men will all really enjoy it.
2. Congratulations on having your first novel published! How long have you been writing for, and did you find it difficult getting published?
Thank you! I enjoyed writing as a teenager (particularly dirge-like poetry) and also in my early twenties, but then I got married and had three small children and found there was little me time. But as my children grew older the urge to write resurfaced, stronger than ever, and it occurred to me that it would be amazing to produce a book that teenagers might enjoy. I began writing again seriously in 2006 and in April 2010 I had the good fortune to be taken on by an incredible literary agent, Madeleine Buston. In the interim years I had several requests from literary agencies to read the full manuscript of different novels that I’d attempted, but although the feedback was positive the consensus of opinion was that I wasn’t paying enough attention to plot. I think that listening to such advice when it was so generously offered was probably the best thing I ever did.
3. I found Katy's mum to be one of the most interesting characters in Poison Heart, sympathising with her to an extent but getting frustrated by her reliance on Katy. Who do you think is the absolute best parent a fictional character ever had? What about the worst?
Judging what makes a good parent is such a minefield, even in fiction! But I’ve picked Julia, the central character from The Boy in the Moon by Kate O’Riordan, which is probably an odd choice because Julia loses her child early in the novel. But the savagery of her grief and how she comes to terms with every parent’s worst nightmare makes this novel utterly compelling. And for the worst; when I was an adolescent I loved reading anything by Stephen King and my favourite novel was Carrie. Carrie’s mother with her sadistic religious fanaticism and bigotry has to be a contender for the mother-you-would-least-like-to-have award.
I've never read The Boy in the Moon but it sounds good! Definitely agree that Carrie's mother has to be up there as one of the all time worst parents.
4. Couldn't you have got the publishers to put a 'Don't read after midnight' sticker or something on the cover of Poison Heart? Finishing it at quarter to one in the morning meant I didn't actually manage to sleep until about half past two!
What a lovely compliment. I don’t think it’s possible for the author of a novel to be truly objective so it’s wonderful to be told that a story is absorbing.
5. I appreciate this may be a difficult question to answer without including a spoiler, but could you drop a hint as to what was your favourite scene to write in Poison Heart? I think from a reader's perspective, the bird hitting the car nearly made me jump out of my skin!
I really enjoyed writing the scene where Katy and Luke visit a graveyard together. As a sub-plot I loved exploring the theme of witchcraft in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and in this scene Luke resorts to unusual measures to deflect attention away from himself and Katy, which changes the course of the novel. (And completely shocks Katy, but in a nice way!)
Another fab scene!
6. If you could be the main character in any book, who would it be?
As a hopeless romantic and a lover of Jane Austen, especially the repressed emotions, fluttering eyelids and meaningful glances that feature in her novels, it would have to be Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Not only is she feisty and unconventional but she overcomes the disadvantages of birth and fortune to bag Mr Darcy.
7. Which book would you recommend to people who enjoyed Poison Heart while they're waiting for your next novel?
You’ve really put me on the spot. There are so many incredible books for Young Adults but one that I enjoyed enormously was Helen Grant’s The Glass Demon which is loosely based on a true story about a set of missing stained glass windows from Steinfeld Abbey. The book is set in Germany which makes it that bit different and gives it a real gothic atmosphere. The scenery, the characters and the plot - which may or may not be supernatural - kept me totally enthralled.
Sounds good, I'll definitely check it out!
8. If you could ask any author any question, what would you ask, and who would you ask it to?
I would love to ask J.D. Salinger what first gave him the idea to write The Catcher in the Rye, for me the ultimate coming of age novel that still resonates today, over sixty years later. I found Holden Caulfield to be drolly and poignantly tragic as his life implodes. I love the fact that Salinger brought to life a character that everyone can identify with and that they still remember no matter how long ago they read the novel.
9. What are you reading now and how are you finding it?
I’m reading Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, a fast-paced tale of survival and love against all the odds with beautifully drawn convincing characters. It’s utterly compelling and reads like a white water rafting experience. I can hardly bear to turn the next page because of what might happen next - it definitely isn’t for the squeamish though.
10. What's next for SB Hayes?
At the moment I’m busy editing my second novel, The Halfway House. My time-obsessed protagonist, Sinead, is on a quest to find her missing brother via a series of strange clues that have been left for her to decipher. During the search she has to face many challenges, the ultimate one being how much is she prepared to give up to be with her soul mate – her family, her friends, maybe even her life?
Can't wait! Sounds really good and I'll look forward to reading it.