Author Louise Jensen moved with her agent Rory Scarfe to The Blair Partnership in July 2018. Louise’s thrillers have been published in 20 languages and have sold in excess of one million copies. We speak to Louise about her journey up until now and what the future holds for her.
When you first started out, did you ever expect to be where you are now?
Never. I didn’t set out to write a book. After letting go of my childhood dream to become an author many years before it took a drastic change in my health to lead me back to storytelling. In my 30’s I suddenly lost my mobility and with chronic pain, came clinical depression. I knew for the sake of my three children I had to lift myself out of it, but I had no idea how to help myself when life was so difficult and the future looked so bleak. My consultant suggested I get a hobby and at a loss to know what to do when it hurt to move I decided to try to write a story. Grace and Charlie, from my debut, The Sister, came to me fully formed and full of life with a mystery to unravel and writing was an escape, a joy, a chink of light in the darkness. My short story became longer and longer, eventually ending up as a 90k word novel but even better than the knowledge that I’d finally written a book was the realisation that over the 18 months of writing it, I’d reduced my antidepressants until I didn’t need them anymore. To be offered a publishing deal, the chance of a new career, was so unexpected – I always thought I would need a degree in creative writing to successfully write – and I can’t express just how thankful I am to now have sold over a million books.
Have you always been interested in writing psychological thrillers? Do you think you’ll try your hand at another genre in the future?
At the beginning of The Sister we learn Charlie has died and her last words were ‘I’ve done something terrible, Grace. Please forgive me.’ Grace is determined to find out what Charlie had done so I knew early on I was writing a mystery but as there was such an emotional storyline weaved throughout the tension and unease I had no idea it was a thriller. As I was only writing to improve my mental health I didn’t once think about publishing, the market or where it might fit. It was really only when I was offered a book deal for The Sister and two additional thrillers I was placed into a genre. I’m a relatively new writer so I do want to experiment and try my hand at a commercial fiction as well as non-fiction but I love writing thrillers so I can’t see me stopping these anytime soon.
In your most recent novel, The Date, Ali develops Prosopagnosia. What interested you in this cognitive disorder and how did you go about your research?
About six years ago I was watching a documentary on children’s BBC with my kids featuring Hannah Read who has the most severe case of Face Blindness in the UK. I had never heard of this condition and learning that Hannah developed this after contracting a virus and that she could no longer recognise anyone, including herself, was horrifying. Imagine waking up one day and everyone looking like a stranger – how utterly terrifying. We discussed it endlessly as a family and I knew it was a concept I wanted to write about. It took a long time to finish The Date. I wanted to be sensitive to sufferers of the condition and get the emotional aspect, as well as the medical facts right. I spoke to a clinical neurologist, as well as connecting with sufferers online and watching numerous videos. Once I’d completed the book I tracked down Hannah and spoke to her mum and explained how inspired I’d been by her daughter’s condition. Hannah, and her family and friends, read the book which was hugely nerve wracking but they were delighted with the way I’d portrayed Ali and so pleased for the chance to raise awareness for Prospagnosia, a condition a lot of people may not have been familiar with. I’ve subsequently interviewed Hannah for my YouTube channel asking her what it’s really like to live with Face Blindness.
What was it like to be longlisted for Not the Booker prize?
It was such a lovely surprise to find out The Date had been nominated and I am hugely grateful for all the readers who voted for my story. It means such a lot to know it has been enjoyed.
Is it strange reading your own books back to yourself since you know exactly how the stories unfold and what is written? Or do they still surprise you?
Always. I put a lot of twists in all my stories, mostly to keep my attention when I write, and each time I read them back to edit I am always surprised by how many twists there are!
How does it feel to have had The Gift optioned for a film and what are your thoughts about having your idea rendered on the big screen?
I’m so excited! When I write, I see scenes play out in my mind like a movie. The ending of The Gift is very dramatic and as I penned it I could picture it perfectly. I can’t wait to see if it’s anything like I imagined it. The studio have a brilliant scriptwriter attached to the project and I’ve received notes on their thoughts on an adaptation which I’m really happy with. I’ve my fingers crossed it moves onto the next stage.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Don’t feel guilty about forging time to write. It can feel horribly self indulgent to be writing when there are a million other ‘useful’ things we could be doing but creativity is so important for our health and wellbeing. Factor time into your routine and treat it like an appointment you can’t miss. I started by utilising the 30 minutes each evening when my son had independent reading time.
Where is your favourite place to write?
Up until last week I was writing wherever I could find a quiet space in my busy house, on the edge of my bed with my laptop balanced on my knees, sitting at the dining table, perched on a stool at the breakfast bar. My husband has now very kindly relinquished and decorated his man room so I have a small space of my own to work, free from distractions. It’s calm and uncluttered and I can’t wait to write a new book in it.
What does a typical day look like for you?
School run, dog walk, meditation. Mornings are my most creative time so I’m at my desk by 9 working on my manuscript until lunchtime. In the afternoons I used to force myself to try and write again but I’d lost much of my focus and was never that productive so now it’s revision, editing, blogging or marketing. Often I take an hour out to go for a swim which helps me untangle any sticky points in my plot. Evenings and weekends can be taken up with visiting writing groups, book clubs or literary festivals.
How do you deal with writer’s block if and when you experience this?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. If I’m stuck I know it’s because I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. I reread what I’ve written and then step away from it, going to the pool or taking the dog to the park. The answers generally come when I’m not staring at a blank screen putting pressure on myself.
Louise’s latest novel The Date was published in June and is available from Waterstones
Read more about the author on her website here