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An Interview with Michelle Cook

I was especially grateful to bestselling author Michelle Cook when she agreed to visit my blog and discuss her life and writing with me. Michelle, thank you for your time today.

Please tell my readers a little about yourself.

I write mostly dark fiction – thrillers, dystopia and dark fantasy, though I occasionally like to lift the mood with lighter short stories.

I live in Worcestershire, UK with my husband, two young children, and a cat called Lyra Belacqua. By day I work for the NHS, but when I have the chance I love to disappear into an imaginary world, whether it’s my own or another writer’s.

I’ve always loved writing bits and pieces, but it’s only in the last three years that I have taken it up seriously, embarking on my first novel, eco-thriller Tipping Point, in late 2018. It was published in September 2020 by Darkstroke Books – something I dreamed about but never thought would happen until it did. I feel very lucky.

What inspired you to become an author?

I took it up a few years ago during a stressful period in my life when one of my children was suffering from ill health. I guess it was an escape from the daily worry of that. Creating a grimmer, imaginary world proved quite therapeutic, strange as that sounds. Gradually, I began to take it more and more seriously, enrolling on a creative writing course and getting involved in online writing circles, both of which helped me a great deal to learn the craft. The more I learned, the more I understood there was to learn and how much I could improve. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning – which is one of the great joys of being a writer.

What is the best thing about being an author?

It’s something I can do just for me, which possibly sounds a bit selfish. As a working mum, most of my time is spoken for. And while the day jobs are rewarding each in their own way, creative writing hits a spot they never could. I love telling myself stories, and then I love when I can share them with others to (hopefully) enjoy. The real buzz comes when you’re able to translate something that is so vivid in your head onto the page the way you imagined it – that feels like magic.

What is your writing routine like?

Lately I have been trying to write a little every day to keep the flow going. It depends on how busy life is, though. Sometimes I only get to write on my Wednesday off the day job, others I get to really go for it.

I write to a story outline, which helps me keep track and stay motivated through the inevitable sticky patches. Occasionally I’ve skipped tricky scenes and written something I have a clear vision for and am excited about and returned to fill in the gaps later. Completing a novel is a long haul and stamina is as big a factor as any innate talent the writer might have… probably more so, actually.

It takes me a little while to warm up in a writing session, so I usually start with rereading my last passage to get the brain oiled. In the sequel to Tipping Point, which I’m writing at the moment, there are three different narrators, so this often involves tracking back on the character’s last chapter as well as the story’s.

How much time do you spend on research?

I start with an outline and do the research that requires before I start writing. For Tipping Point and its sequel this has included gloomy climate predictions and carbon capture technology among other things.

Often, I return to research during the drafting, as more story details become clear. As writing is not my full-time career (yet…) I have to use research time wisely. Too many rabbit holes, and I risk never writing anything! So I often break off from a writing session to research, say, the interior lay out of the Houses of Parliament or 10 Downing Street. Amazingly, you can actually download electronic maps of these places to use in role playing games. Bit of a security risk, I would have thought…

How much of the book is planned out before you start writing it?

I am a plotter, because it’s the best way I’ve found of getting all the way to the end of draft one, which is the name of the game for me. Once I have that first draft, I feel like it’s a worthwhile endeavour, even though editing and honing it is at least as much work, probably more. The outline might start at a chapter level, with a few lines about what needs to happen where and with whom. If I’m lucky, I start to see it clearly enough to get to scene-level planning, but it’s a delicate balance. I like to leave room for the story and characters to surprise me, because then I get to be like the reader for a while and that’s far more fun!

What do you think is most important when writing a book? Characters, plot, setting, etc

As a writer, I’d say all of it! And that’s why it’s hard to write a good story. Especially in a first draft, I often find I have concentrated on one or other of the ingredients to the detriment of others. Part of the editing process for me is layering in the bits that are missing or less effective in the draft. It’s like spinning plates sometimes.

As a reader I need it all, but I find myself most drawn into a story by its characters. Unique and interesting characters can lift a book in my mind and make it memorable. They say there are no new stories under the sun, but with characters there are endless possibilities.

What is your latest book about?

My current work in progress is the sequel to Tipping Point, working title Counterpoint. It continues the story of the main character Essie as she tries to save us all from climate catastrophe and bring down England’s corrupt, authoritarian government. It doesn’t feel like there will be a book three so I’m endeavouring to end on a hopeful note.

What inspired it?

The same existential anxiety that gripped me for the first book, I think. Our inability as humans to come to terms with the global problems we face; our short, narrow attention span; obsession with material wealth; performative patriotism; failure of compassion. All the cheery things! Like I said, though, this time I’m finding my way to hope for the future.

Any new books or plans for the future?

I have an urban fantasy idea brewing which will be a nice change of mood from my first two books. I’m hoping to bring the comedy a little bit for the next one.

What genres do you read most often?

Anything dark generally. Thrillers - crime and particularly psychological. I’ve read a lot of horror - I was a huge Stephen King fan as a teenager. I do enjoy a good fantasy tale too.

Is there anything else you would like my readers to know?

I’d like to thank you personally, Val. I’ve found the writing community to be the most generous and supportive bunch of people, the Darkstroke family in particular. And you’re a gem amongst gems.

Oh, also, for your readers who aren’t writers themselves… never underestimate the value of a review. If you read a book and enjoyed it, let the writer know by leaving a review on Goodreads or Amazon. Even ‘I enjoyed this book’ makes our whole week, trust me!

The Author

Michelle Cook writes thrillers and dystopian fiction. She lives in the UK with her husband, their two young children, and a cat called Lyra Belacqua. Her first joyful steps into creative writing were at the age of ten, when the teacher read out her short story in class. A slapstick tale of two talking kangaroos breaking out of a zoo, the work was sadly lost to history. Still, Michelle never forgot the buzz of others enjoying her words. More recently, she has had several flash pieces published, was long-listed for the Cambridge 2020 prize for flash fiction, and placed first in the February 2020 Writers' Forum competition with her short story The Truth About Cherry House. Tipping Point is her debut novel, with a sequel in the pipeline.

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