Katherine Hayton is back with another chilling thriller, Found Near Water. According to this forty-two year old, she works in insurance. doesn't have any kids or pets and has lived in Christchurch all of her life. But her imagination has taken her characters on many paths - mostly dark and mysterious ones. She chats with us about her fascination with death, how to get noticed by the Amazon Kindle Scout Program and what inspired her to write about missing children.
Tell us a bit about Found, Near Water - what is the book about?
The book tells the story of a mother whose little girl is missing. She's assigned a victim support officer to support her and lend help to her throughout the trauma of the ongoing crime. The VSO has lost a child herself and runs a support group for mothers whose children died or were abducted. Throughout the book, six stories are told from these women's point of view and their individual storylines begin to intertwine.
One of your books, The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton, won a publishing contract through the Amazon Kindle Scout program - what was your secret to getting noticed?
Twitter and competitions! I put a lot of notices out to my twitter followers (though not to the point where they stopped following me) and ran a competition for a gift card. One means of entry was to watch a video I'd made about Kindle Scout and another was to visit my book page on the Kindle Scout website (with the option to nominate it if they liked what they saw). It paid off quite well: I was in Hot & Trending for most of the time and I received a publishing contract at the end.
What genre of books do you like to read and what are your all-time favorite reads?
I like to read the same genre of books I like to write, so I devour crime novels and mystery novels. I do also enjoy New Zealand and Australian writers, just for the sense of familiarity, and I’ll stray wide of my genre for the occasional literary treat. There was a time once where almost every book I read was a fantasy or sci-fi novel, and another period where romantic fiction obsessed me, so who knows what the future holds? My favourite all-time read is The Shape of Snakes by Minette Walters. The main character is deliciously single-minded on revenge, albeit in an altruistic way, and is determined to get to the bottom of a murder that occurred in her neighbourhood decades before. I wish she would write more often as there isn’t a book of hers I haven’t liked. Another favourite is The Dead Zone by Stephen King. It's fascinating watching the Trump rallies at the moment with their rock-star vibe and the undertone of violence because they’re so reminiscent of the Greg Stillson rallies.
Your byline on your site says: Crime. Murder. Death. My Pleasure. What is it about death that fascinates you?
I’m fascinated by the finality of death and the beliefs that people hold as a way to subvert it. I’m surprised at the different myths societies develop surrounding death, with many of them continuing our story—either through spiritual form such as a soul, or physical form such as reincarnation—yet, when it comes down to it, the most we know is what happens to our bodies. They rot. I also think the worst thing a person can do is to steal the life from another. The most obvious of these is murder although the stealthier methods—such as psychologically crippling a child—can be just as devastating.
Found, Near Water centers around Rena and Christine. Are any of them based on actual people?
While I was writing the book I stole the names for the characters from the surrounding people at work, and I might—only might, mind you—have borrowed some of their characteristics as well. I couldn’t possibly comment on who went where and the names have now been changed to protect the innocent...
Found - near water has a companion story. Tell us more about The Breaking Wave
While researching Found, near water, there was a lot of information and a partial storyline I'd written about Christine's earlier life. It involved her daughter (who is dead by the start of the book) and it didn't fit well into the final shape of the novel. When I went back through it again, I realised that there was a story that still needed to be told about the horror she'd been through when her daughter first disappeared and the strain her and her husband's differing perspectives brought to the search afterwards. Since then, I've also written companion stories to my other novels, available through my website, that carry through some of the threads that are in the background of the novels but don't make it through to the final cut. Some of them have also been inspired by reader comments when they're wondering what happened in another part of the story.
You are known for writing books that are hard to put down. How do you manage to maintain that eerie atmosphere of suspense throughout?
I think it helps that I don’t work with an outline (or if I have an outline I soon depart from it) because it means that apart from knowing where the ending is heading I know little of the actual detail in the meat of the book, so get taken by surprise myself. It’s amazing what plot twists and turns spring to mind when I’m trying to hit my word count for the day and have no idea where the story is heading. Apart from that, I’m grateful for all the other writers out there working in my genre so I can happily learn from them every time I need light (or exceptionally dark) entertainment.
Your stories take some very dark turns. Do you ever get nightmares while writing your books?
No. I had enough nightmares growing up to keep me occupied though. I can still remember quite a few of them and used to be terrified of the dark and going to sleep. When your head happily provides that trauma throughout your childhood, I'm sure it's an easy step to filtering any stories through a dark layer of fear.
The covers of your books are wonderfully creepy - what's up with all the doll faces?
I love them. When I first changed the Skeletal cover I was entranced by an image of a Mexican Doll and put that front and centre of the Kindle Cover. Later, when I relooked at my earlier covers, I searched for images that fit better with the feel of the stories and the dolls conveyed those emotions the best. The cover for the second Ngaire Blakes book has broken with that short tradition though and moved onto the image of a statue. Maybe I have a few statue-themed covers in my future?
In Found, Near Water, you explore what parents with missing children are going through – what was it about this theme that inspired you to use it?
It was inspired by the body excavations that took place in the Wests' (Fred and Rosemary) basement and back garden. There were teenagers who'd been put down as missing, runaways, and the thought that an entirely different scenario had occurred fascinated me. There was a moment, when the police were digging through the back garden excavating a body they thought was that of Rosemary West's eldest daughter, and they realised they had three thigh bones and there were more bodies buried. That was really the focal idea for the book. That people formed an opinion on what had happened to their children, that police files grew stale because the most likely explanation couldn't be followed any further, and all the time a monster was operating in the background, unnoticed.
If you could have dinner with any author (living or dead), who would it be and what would you eat?
Patricia Highsmith please. I love her psychological thrillers and I’m always grateful when a new movie adaptation comes out because it means I’ll be able to get it on my Kindle. Fortunately, she was also an introvert so I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if we skipped the actual dinner and just texted each other a few times before it all got too awkward and dwindled into reciprocal silence. I’d probably be eating chips—hot or cold—because unsocial interaction is always better with a hefty serving of carbs and grease.
What has surprised you most about reader responses you have received on some of your previous books?
That anybody reads them at all is still a surprise and a delight. Also, the many ways people can take a book and filter it through their own experiences to interpret a story that differs greatly from any opinion that has come before. I was also surprised to find out how much of my vocabulary is slang. I don’t use words that I recognise as being slang but there is a lot that fly beneath my radar because they’re so familiar. On the other hand, I’ve grown used to slang from the UK and the USA as so many of the shows I watch and the books I read are from foreign authors, so this is my tiny reciprocation.
Where is the best place for readers to interact with you?
I hang out on Twitter a lot (perhaps too much!) @kathay1973 and on Goodreads. So, the best bet is to track me down on either one of those and send me a DM if you want to get in touch.
What's next for you? Are we going to see a lot more of Detective Ngaire Blakes?
Yes. I have a second book featuring her coming out later this year - The Second Stage of Grief - and have started work on a third. All things going well that will also be available later this year. I'm sure by the time I finish the third I'll know if further stories are waiting to be told about her, or if that will be the end. At the moment I wouldn’t mind if she hung about for a while longer.