The Horror Tree Presents… an Interview with Anita Frank

Hi Anita, welcome to the Horror Tree and thank you for agreeing to chat about your début novel, The Lost Ones, which is due out on Halloween – 31 October and is published by HQ aka HarperCollins.

Thank you for having me!

How long has The Lost Ones been in the making? From the initial idea through its writing to final publication?

I’d had sketches of the main characters – Stella, Annie and Tristan – milling around in my mind for a while, and I had thought up a few random scenes, but it wasn’t until January 2017 that I started trying to incorporate them into a proper story. Three months later I had completed a first draft, but in truth it wasn’t very good – a bit Casper the Friendly Ghost meets Nancy Drew! So, I ripped it up, replotted and started afresh at the end of September 2017. I submitted the finished manuscript eight months later.

What’s the experience been like of reading the amazing early reviews to the book? How exciting is the upcoming launch? Will there be a party?

There is to be a party! My launch is taking place at the wonderful Goldsboro Books in London, and I’m really looking forward to it – not least because I will (at last!) get to meet some of the fantastic members of the Twitter writing community who have become my ‘virtual’ friends over the past twelve months.

The response to the book so far has exceeded my wildest dreams, so I am thrilled to bits and extremely grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read and review it. That said, reading is very subjective, and I totally appreciate it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

How much research did you do for the novel? With the era it is set in? (Note – 1917, England, while the Great War rages abroad). You depict a microcosm of social history too, with the different classes living under one roof at Greyswick- did you need to read about this aspect?

I’ve always loved history, particularly social history, and studied it for my degree, so a lot of what is contained in The Lost Ones is knowledge accumulated over a good number of years, though I did supplement it by drawing on relevant memoirs and histories.

You also movingly depict an injured war veteran (Tristan Sheers) who visits the house to debunk the ghost theory. Again, did you research the post-war lives of such men?

I’m certainly no specialist, but I’ve long been interested in the First World War, and those that served in and survived it, so again, I’ve read histories, memoirs, watched documentaries etc for many, many years. I also visited the Imperial War Museum, which has fascinating displays on this conflict, including the pioneering work done to improve artificial limbs, for which there was an unprecedented demand at this time.

Did you have a favourite character in The Lost Ones?

Oh my! That’s like asking if I have a favourite child! I really enjoyed writing Lady Brightwell, and I do have a soft spot for Tristan!

Is writing something you always saw yourself doing? Or has going in this direction surprised you?

Being a writer is all I’ve ever wanted to do, but increasingly a lack of confidence held me back. I submitted a couple of awful Mills and Boon style romances when I was in my late teens, which were of course rejected, and some years later won a competition run by my local library in association with Historical Mills and Boon, though, again, they declined to take the finished manuscript. Shortly after that my son, who was eighteen months old at the time, was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy that was to leave him severely mentally disabled. Caring for him, and looking after my two older girls, took all my time and energy. I used to daydream about being published, but I was too afraid to pursue my ambition – while I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail, and so I could keep my dream alive. A friend then pointed out that if I didn’t try, I would never know, and she encouraged me to write my ghost story. I hadn’t written anything for over twelve years so even completing a manuscript felt like a major achievement. The best I was hoping for when I sent The Lost Ones off to agents was some feedback on my submission – having it go the distance to publication has been an incredible turn of events.

I read online that you did your History degree at UEA (where I also studied); which periods are you most drawn to? Is historical fiction your favourite genre of choice for reading and then for your own writing?

Always lovely to encounter another UEA graduate! Historical fiction is definitely my go-to genre, but I do try and read outside of it as well, so I’ll happily dip into anything – thrillers, rom-coms, women’s fiction, literary fiction – with a premise that appeals, to be honest! Most of my story ideas have historical settings – usually somewhere between 1800 and 1950.

Which other authors do you enjoy reading? Both now as an adult and when you were growing up?

Growing up I loved Enid Blyton, David Eddings, The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and I read a lot of Vietnam memoirs as well. Now, Anita Shreve, Sarah Waters, Kate Riordan, Laura Purcell, Kate Morton and John Boyne are among my favourites and I do love indulging in a good Georgette Heyer every now and then!

Do you have a daily writing routine? Or place you write? Pen or pc? In silence or with music on? Coffee or tea breaks?

I mainline tea – not so much ‘a break’ as a constant infusion. I don’t have a strict routine as such because it very much depends on how my boy is doing that day and what sort of night he’s had, but generally, I get him into school (which can be any time from 9am – 12pm!), come home and try and get cracking as soon as possible. I write on a pc (my handwriting is appalling), sitting on the sofa in the lounge. I work in silence. Whilst I find music inspirational, it would prove too distracting to write to.

Do you watch films? If so, are you a fan of ghost stories? There has been a mini renaissance lately in those sort of films like The Conjuring franchise, starring Annabelle, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, The Babadook, Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger and of course The Woman in Black.

You write, I thought, rather cinematically, (just my opinion) and I wondered if you drew on films you’ve seen consciously or not?

I love watching television and films, and I do love ghost stories – inevitable I guess, having grown up in a haunted house – but if something fails to grab me, I don’t tend to stick with it – that’s The Haunting of Hill House I’m afraid! I watched the first few episodes, but then gave up on it. I enjoyed The Enfield Haunting, and I liked The Awakening and The Woman in Black – I’ve yet to see The Little Stranger, but I’m looking forward to that. I’m not much of a horror fan though. I’m not interested in gruesome, or something scaring the pants off me, I’m interested in the mystery that lies behind the haunting – what might cause a spirit to linger – and I think that’s very much reflected in The Lost Ones.

I do have a vivid imagination, so I tend to ‘see’ the scenes as – to quote Miss Saigon – ‘a movie in my mind’, and I try to describe as accurately as I can what I’m visualising. I used to do a lot of amateur acting and improvising too, so the dialogue I write might reflect that. I do try and draw on the world around me, and there may well be some subconscious calling on things I’ve watched, but I certainly can’t say I do it consciously. I would imagine that would apply to most people involved in a creative process though; it’s inevitable we are influenced by the things we are exposed to, to some degree or other.

How involved are you with social media? Where can readers follow you?

It’s on my ‘to-do’ list, so I hope to have a Facebook page and website before too long. I am active on Twitter and would very much welcome followers @Ajes74

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers, especially those trying to get their first novel accepted?

Edit. Edit. Edit. And then edit some more. The one piece of advice I read but never took, and really wish I had, was: ‘once you’ve finished your book, put it away for a month’. That break will help you see your work in a new light, and I can guarantee there will be things you’ve missed that scream out at you when you come back to it. I never edited my manuscript enough before sending it out, and it cost me opportunities – I had a couple of full requests within the first week of submission, and I had to respond with a manuscript which had been hastily edited, and which was completely unpolished. Unsurprisingly those initial requests resulted in rejections. I learnt the ‘edit, edit, edit’ lesson the hard way!

Make sure your cover letter is professional – no gimmicks! Your letter is the first opportunity you have of convincing an agent that you know what you’re doing and that it’s worth their while taking your submission seriously. Try and create a one-line pitch for your book to catch the agent’s attention, include some examples of comparable novels to show you understand where your book would sit in the market, and then captivate them in with some brilliant blurb.

Find your tribe. Writing can be a very lonely exercise. Reach out to people who are on the same journey, so you can share the ups and downs with them and support each other with honest beta reading. Be prepared to take on board criticism, but at the end of the day, you will have to decide when to take advice and when to follow your gut. It’s your book.

Do you have a writing group (either in person or online) you turn to for support and feedback?

I am very lucky to have a friend who also writes living five minutes away from me. She was the one who cajoled me into writing The Lost Ones in the first place, and then challenged me to do better after having read my original draft. I really wouldn’t be where I am today without her encouragement and support.

I am also very happy and very proud to be a member of the Virtual Writing Group, who can be found on Twitter at @virtwriting. They are an AMAZING group of writers, many of whom are now enjoying success, and believe me, there’s lots more to come! They are so supportive and such great fun – I would be lost without them!

What are you currently working on?  

I’m currently working on my second book which is set during the Second World War. It’s not a ghost story!

Find out more about The Lost Ones here.

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