A Little Game Called Beat the Author….and the two that got me!



So when I read a wonderful twisty tale I always play a little game called Beat the Author. Can I work it out? Will I end up with my jaw on the floor or a smug sense of satisfaction that I got there before the end…

I’m not beaten very often. In my younger years as an avid reader of the (still) Queen of Crime Agatha Christie, I was often floored by the ultimate resolution. Hercule Poirot  always had a far superior intelligence as did Miss Marple…as soon as it became clear that THEY knew the answer, at whatever point in the novel that was, but I didnt, I knew I was beaten.

Strangely, apart from the two authors you can hear from in a moment, the other living author who has often come close to beating me is Sophie Hannah – not quite but nearly. Her twisty tales are, for me, oddly similar to Ms Christie’s, and now she is the author chosen to give us a new Poirot story. I know that this decision has been controversial (not necessarily that Ms Hannah is the one but that anyone at all should dare) but I am excited and enthralled by the news. I’m positive that great things are about to happen…

Now to the point. Two authors whose books I love, with one of their creations, managed to utterly, unequivocably and with dramatic flair, completely beat me. I never saw it coming, could not have imagined such a thing, and certainly I now understand the phrase “Jaw Dropping” in the very literal sense…

I asked both these lovely ladies the same questions about these books. And here is what they had to tell me. Lets start with this….




Also author of The Poison Tree and The Sick Rose, I am a huge fan of Erin Kelly. Certainly The Poison Tree was a book that stayed in my soul, and in the future you can hear more about that. Today however, its “The Burning Air”…a book that had such an unexpected turnaround and game changing twist  that I stayed up all night to finish it….Yes Ms Kelly you got me. And properly as well!

When you wrote “The Burning Air” did you start with the twist and work around it or was it more organic than that?

It was definitely an organic process. I don’t plan much in advance, writing in scenes rather than chapters, and the plot evolves as I go along. My books are character-driven and I would find it hard to start with a twist, or a concept, and work backwards from there.
The Burning Air is about a family weekend in a country house that goes horribly wrong when the youngest member is kidnapped. As the book progresses, it emerges that the baby was taken for reasons that are rooted years in the past. The book essentially tells the same story from the viewpoints of five different characters. The first part of the novel tells the story of baby Edie’s abduction from her mother’s point of view, and I always knew that I wanted to end the book by telling the story’s conclusion from the perspective of Edie’s grandfather. But during the first draft I left the middle open ended, because three people were in the running to be the culprit and I wanted to get to know my characters a little more before I committed to one. Only when I read it through for the first time did I see the opportunity for the twist, and I hesitated for a long time before I went for it. It’s more tricksy and audacious than anything in either of my other novels, and I almost didn’t include it at all.
How does it feel when a reader tells you that you surprised them and they never saw it coming?

Very satisfying indeed. It’s sort of what I live for.
Do you have a favourite twisty tale that you have read?
My favourite plot twist of all time comes halfway through Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to reveal that it relates to a certain character’s identity, and it’s a masterclass in how to create a twist that shocks the reader without ever cheating them – when you look back, the clues are there, and that should be true of all fiction but especially suspense and thrillers. It’s a handbrake turn that changes the direction of the rest of the book and recasts everything that’s come before in a new light. And the reveal takes place within a brilliant, atmospheric scene that is one of the great set-pieces of the book. Jake Arnott plays a similar trick to brilliant effect in He Kills Coppers, as does Ira Levin in A Kiss Before Dying.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn is the book I wish I’d written. If, like everyone else on the planet, you’ve read Gone Girl, you’ll know that in Flynn’s writing the twists and turns come thick and fast, and the beauty of Sharp Objects is that ‘the big reveal’ is followed a few pages later by the real truth, which got me so completely that I had to put the book down for a moment and think about what I’d read. Again, it’s so hard to discuss without including spoilers, but I’ll just say that every now and then on Twitter, I see a tweet along the lines of ‘Oh my god, I’ve just got to the bit with the teeth!’ and they’re always talking about Sharp Objects.

Do you play a version of “beat the author” yourself and if so, how successful are you?
I think everyone does that when they’re reading to some extent, even if we don’t consciously make a game of it. I do read books in my own genre slightly differently since I have been published. I can’t help but wonder where I would be taking the story if it was mine. And I have to say that the more I read – and the more I write – the easier it gets to tell where things are going. Maybe that’s because I don’t select my own reading as much as I used to. I get sent three or four books a week, often debuts, by publishers looking for blurbs. I try to read as many of these as I can and the law of averages means that some of them will be predictable.
I’ve probably read three or four psychological thrillers in the past year where I was completely swept along without a clue where the author was taking me: the first that come to mind are Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald and The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugdall. When books are this well-written, this tight and convincing and atmospheric, I don’t want to beat the author. I just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Follow Erin Kelly on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/mserinkelly




Next we come to Tina Seskis and “One Step Too Far”. The question this book asked was..”No-one has ever guessed Emily’s secret…will you?”. And I said. Of course I will. I am extremely clever and NO-ONE gets me (except Erin Kelly). Sigh. Did I get it? Well of COURSE not! Otherwise you wouldnt be reading this now. Here is what Tina had to tell me…


When you wrote “One Step Too Far” did you start with the twist and work around it or was it more organic than that?

I actually had the idea for that twist whilst on holiday in Venice, completely out of the blue, for no good reason at all.  Up until that point I’d had no intention of writing a novel (having tried once many years ago – for about half an hour – on a beach in Goa), but when I got the idea for One Step Too Far I was so excited by it that when I got home I started writing the story down, and it went from there.  Re the other twists in both my books, half of them I don’t even know are going to happen myself until I’ve physically written them down, so they can come as quite a shock to me too!

 How does it feel when a reader tells you that you surprised them and they never saw it coming ?  
I always hope that I surprised them in a good way – in that revealing the twist allowed the novel to make sense at last, that it was plausible, that they could relate to the characters and maybe feel some of their emotions.  I have been humbled by some of the comments I’ve received.
 Do you have a favourite twisty tale that you have read?  
Any of Agatha Christie’s classics – I devoured all her books as a child.  Plus a few years ago I read a more contemporary novel that I must confess I didn’t enjoy that much but that completely got me at the end.  I suppose thinking about it now its twist is a little similar to the one in One Step Too Far – although I can’t tell you which book it is in case it gives the game away.  Aha, now you can play “Guess the novel that One Step Too Far is influenced by!!”
Do you play a version of “beat the author” yourself and if so, how successful are you?  
I am RUBBISH at guessing twists, so I almost never get them.  (I’m even worse with films.)
Follow Tina Seskis on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/tinaseskis
Thank you both so much for taking part have loved to hear some of the background to two such terrific books! Reviews for both of the books mentioned can be found in the “Highly Recommended” section of this site.
Happy Reading Folks!
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2 Responses to A Little Game Called Beat the Author….and the two that got me!

  1. Hi Liz
    I wondered if I could submit my novel for possible review. It falls into the psychological / mystery / contemporary women genres and is published by Roundfire. If it sounds of interest please let me know your formal submission procedure.

    Kind regards

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