Clare Mackintosh: Permission to Write the Personal and Profound Novel - Writer's Digest

Clare Mackintosh: Permission to Write the Personal and Profound Novel

Award-winning and bestselling novelist Clare Mackintosh shares why it took three novels to write her most recent (After the End), what she learned about writing thrillers, and more!
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With more than two million copies of her books sold worldwide, number one bestseller Clare Mackintosh is the multi-award-winning author of I Let You Go, which was a New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller and the fastest-selling UK title by a new crime writer in 2015. It won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in 2016.

Both Clare's second and third novels, I See You and Let Me Lie, were number one Sunday Times bestsellers. All three of her thrillers were selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club.

Clare Mackintosh (Photo credit: Astrid di Crollalanza)

Clare Mackintosh (Photo credit: Astrid di Crollalanza)

Clare's latest novel, After the End, was published in June 2019 and spent seven weeks in the Sunday Times hardback bestseller chart. Together, Clare's books have been published in more than 40 countries.

(36 Plot Nots: Plot Clichés to Avoid.)

Clare is patron of the Silver Star Society, a charity based at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, which supports parents experiencing high-risk or difficult pregnancies. She lives in North Wales with her husband and their three children.

In this post, Mackintosh shares why it took three novels to write her most recent, what she learned about writing thrillers, her best piece of advice for other writers, and more!

*****

Fearless Writing William Kenower

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly!

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*****

Name: Clare Mackintosh
Literary agent: Sheila Crowley, Curtis Brown Literary & Talent Agency (London, UK)
Title: After the End
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Release date: June 16, 2020
Genre: Family Drama
Previous titles: I Let You Go; I See You; Let Me Lie

Elevator pitch for the book: A gripping and propulsive exploration of love, marriage, parenthood, and the road not taken, After the End brings one unforgettable family from unimaginable loss to a surprising, satisfying, and redemptive ending and the life they are fated to find. With the emotional power of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper, Mackintosh helps us to see that sometimes the end is just another beginning.

after the end pbk

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What prompted you to write this book?

In 2006 my son became critically ill with meningitis. He suffered a brain hemorrhage, leaving him profoundly disabled, and we were asked to make a decision about whether to continue with treatment, or to remove him from intensive care and allow him to die. I asked the doctor what would happen if my husband and I disagreed, and she said: You have to agree–the alternative is unthinkable.

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In After the End, I have written about the unthinkable. Two parents, Max and Pip, who love each other deeply, but who love their son more, want different futures for him. It's an exploration of a relationship under pressure, but more importantly it's about how we overcome trauma and learn to be happy again.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

I wasn't a writer when I first had the idea for this book–at least, not a published one–and so it stayed at the back of my mind for many years. In 2014 I published my first psychological thriller, I Let You Go, and although I'd told my editor the premise of After the End, when we'd met the previous year, I knew she would want another thriller from me. I wrote I See You, and then a third thriller, Let Me Lie

We were discussing ideas for my fourth novel, when my editor said, "I can't stop thinking about that story you told me about, when we first met. I think you should write it."

(6 tips for switching genres.)

Being given permission to write such a personal and profound novel was a real gift, and I loved every moment of it. It was painful at times, as although the story is fictional, I drew on my own experiences in order to write authentically about trauma, loss, and recovery. Overall, it was hugely cathartic, and because the story is ultimately uplifting, I felt lighter by the end, just as my characters do.

Were there any surprises in the publishing process for this title?

My thrillers are translated into 40 languages, and have sold more than two million copies worldwide, so switching genres for this one book was a bold move. We carried out some market research, working with focus groups to establish exactly what readers loved about thrillers, and–specifically–what they loved about my thrillers.

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The answers were enlightening. Readers weren't looking for murder and police procedure, but drama and suspense. They wanted the compelling characters they'd seen in my thrillers, and the authenticity they'd come to expect from me. All of which I could give them.

Publishing is perhaps a little too focused on genre, forgetting that many of its customers read widely and eclectically. As a reader, I am as likely to read a Jodi Picoult as a Karin Slaughter, so as a writer, why shouldn't I slide between the two? It's been a relief, but also a surprise, to see that switching genres for After the End hasn't been an issue with retailers or with readers.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

When I write crime thriller novels, I spend a significant amount of time plotting. My books are often structurally complex, with sleight of hand and unreliable narrators, requiring careful planning. After the End was very different to write. 

(5 rules for writing stories that work.)

It is the first character-driven book I've written, and I found I couldn't plot events in the same way. There are medical and legal elements that move the story forward, but the narrative is driven by the decisions and reactions of Max and Pip. My preparation, therefore, was less about charting plot points, and more about getting to know my characters. Who were they? How were they brought up, and how did that affect their values?

I've also always written my books in chronological order, but After the End has a split narrative, slipping into two alternate realities as we follow both possible outcomes for Max, Pip, and their son Dylan. I needed to immerse myself in one storyline at a time, so I wrote them separately and "knitted" them together in the second draft.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

On the face of it, After the End is a tough read: It's about a critically ill child whose parents are torn apart by their love for him. But the title itself is an indicator of what the book is really about. We all have decisions to make in life–metaphorical crossroads, when we can't see what lies ahead–and sometimes we focus so much on the decision itself, that we never move on from it. 

What I've learned, both from living through trauma and from writing about it, is that what matters most isn't the path we pick, but how we walk it. Whatever choice you make, you can make it the right one for you.

(How to write disaster stories infused with hope.)

I've had hundreds of messages from readers who have been moved by After the End, and it's been a privilege to read so many stories of hope after despair. We are living in an uncertain world right now, and fiction that promises a brighter future is needed more than ever.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Be brave! After the End is a book I've wanted to write for a very long time, and I know I'm not the only author with a "passion project" that perhaps doesn't quite "fit" with their other work. 

But authors are creators–we are by definition here to push boundaries, and to tell the stories we feel compelled to tell–and I'd encourage writers to write what they truly want to write. A good book is a good book, whatever shelf it sits on.