Anna Willett - Writing Gripping Psychological Suspense
Anna Willett is the author of Backwoods Ripper, Retribution Ridge, Forgotten Crimes, Cruelty's Daughter, Small Town Nightmare as well as the bestselling, Unwelcome Guests and the tense new psychological thriller, Vengeance Blind. Raised in Western Australia, Anna developed a love for fiction at an early age and began writing short stories in high school. Drawn to dark tales, Anna enjoys writing thrillers with strong female characters. When she's not writing, Anna loves reading, traveling and spending time with her husband, children and dogs. As our Author of the Day, she tells us about her book, The Woman Behind her.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Woman Behind her is about.
When her beloved aunt dies, Jackie Winter discovers the woman she thought she knew led a life shadowed by secrets and tragedy. Now living in her aunt’s house Jackie becomes not only the focus of a hooded stalker but also the prime suspect in a murder investigation. Trying to keep one step ahead of the police, Jackie turns her attention to the past, certain there’s a link between her aunt’s secrets and the hooded figure that plagues not only her days but also her nightmares.
What inspired you to write about a schoolteacher who inherits her aunt's house?
I wanted to write about a woman living an ordinary life who suddenly finds herself in a situation that is outside anything she’s ever experienced. I have a teaching background so it was easy to draw on my own experiences and my understanding of how, in a small school, emotions can run wild and simple situations can escalate.
Tell us more about Jackie Winter. What makes her tick?
In many ways, Jackie is a complicated woman; she’s hard on herself, believing she is unlovable while at the same time, Jackie is kind and possesses untapped strength. She’s also lonely and when her aunt dies, Jackie becomes almost untethered from the world. She’s a character that grows on you.
Your thrillers most often feature female protagonists. Why do you take this approach?
I enjoy writing from both male and female perspectives, but strong women are particularly interesting to me. Physical strength aside, I believe that most of us have a great deal of power and resourcefulness which often goes untapped. By putting my characters in frightening or deadly situations, I can expose the parts of their character that they’ve yet to use. I believe this makes the story more authentic and fun to write.
Readers say that the book was a real page-turner that had them at the edge of their seats. How did you pull this off?
I’m always pleased when readers feel this way because it means I’m doing my job. When something I achieve works, it’s because I write the sorts of stories I’d like to read. I try to keep ramping up the stakes while sprinkling information. I think it’s important to keep answering and adding questions so the reader wants to know more.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I love cooking. I don’t know if I’m skilled, but I do enjoy trying new recipes. I also love trivia nights that really test my general knowledge.
Was there anything in particular, an incident or something you read, that made you want to tackle this?
Are any of the characters in the book based on real people?
My characters are never based on one person, but usually an amalgamation of many people I’ve met. And, even the traits I’ve taken from people I know, are amplified and sometimes exaggerated. Friends and family often ask me to put them in my books and when I do, I try to add something that’s exclusive to that person. Something I know they’ll recognize instantly.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
Yes and I think it goes back to those hidden qualities that so many of us have. It’s about finding something inside yourself that you may not have realised you have. It’s about resilience and facing your fears and coming through them, often hurt or changed but stronger.
Do you ever have days when writing is a struggle?
I have days where I spend hours re-writing the same paragraph and then other times when I’m flying along making tremendous progress. That’s the joy and the agony of writing. It’s hard to explain how something can be painful and enjoyable at the same time. My daughter is a dancer and she once told me she feels the same way; it hurts and it’s hard, but at the same time she loves every minute.
When working on a new book, what’s the first thing you do?
I usually write the first chapter before stopping and mapping out the next ten or so. As I introduce characters, I keep a separate document where I list each player’s characteristics and background story. I don’t let myself get bogged down in the plotting side of writing because I find it more interesting to let the characters lead me. In writing this way, I often end up taking the book in a different direction and It’s always entertaining to let that unfold.
Talk to us about your writing routine; what’s a typical writing day for you?
I prefer to write in the afternoons or evenings. I’m not a morning person. So, I’ll usually write in the afternoon then take a break and do some other things and then write again in the evening. I try to write at least a thousand words every day. But some days are taken up with non-writing but writing-related work if that makes sense?
Once I’ve finished a novel and the editing process is complete, I give myself two or three weeks off before starting something new. It’s a process and routine that continues to evolve over time.
What are you working on right now?
I’m wrapping up the third in the Lucy Hush Series, so I’m right at the end of that. I’m hoping book #3 will come out by the end of the year, if not early next year. I also have an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for another standalone thriller, and I’m very eager to start writing.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?