Rosie Claverton is a screenwriter and novelist. She grew up in Devon, daughter to a Sri Lankan father and a mother from Norfolk, surrounded by folk mythology and surly sheep. She moved to Cardiff to study Medicine and adopted Wales as her home. Her short film Dragon Chasers aired on BBC Wales in Autumn 2012. Currently exiled to London, she lives with her journalist husband and their pet hedgehog.
Tell us about Amy Lane, the heroine of your novel Binary Witness?
Amy has this brilliant hacker’s mind and can go anywhere and everywhere with her computer, but can’t step outside her front door. She’s been confined to the house by her agoraphobia for the past ten years, so her social skills are more than rusty and she can barely look after herself – but she can crack your password, raid your Facebook and empty your bank account before breakfast.
As readers we love mismatched protagonists and Amy works with ex-con Jason Carr – what’s the spark of their relationship?
Despite being part of the internet generation, Jason is a technophobe who would rather have been born during rock’s heyday. He views Amy’s work as something akin to magic and she is delighted to have an appreciative audience. Meanwhile, Jason is Amy’s window to A Normal Life – despite the prison sentence. He is her connection to the world outside her flat and they try to pull each other towards their separate worlds, but never quite cross over.
Where did the idea for the novel come from?
I’ve always loved crime fiction, whether literary or televisual, but it constantly outsmarts me. I therefore left it well alone until NaNoWriMo 2011 when I really wanted to write a novel but didn’t really know what kind. So, I thought, why not try something criminal? It was then that Amy and Jason started clamouring to be part of the process and the plot all grew up around them.
For most of my writing, the plot comes first. However, with Binary Witness, I started with these two quirky and somewhat damaged characters and looked at all the ways they would clash and complement each other. The serial killer story in Cardiff was the perfect plot to showcase their dynamic.
Take us through a typical writing day for you?
I have a more-than-full-time job as a psychiatrist, so my writing fits in around that. I usually snatch a couple of hours in the evening, or half an hour on the train. A week of night shifts can be great writing time or it can leave me emotionally exhausted. I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro technique – 25 minutes work, 5 minutes break – and it can make short spaces of time really productive.
Who are the authors you love, and why?
I love Jeffrey Deaver, particularly Lincoln Rhyme. The Bone Collector is magnificent and Deaver does some great things with tech later in the series – part of my inspiration for Amy’s hacker antics. I also have a soft spot for historical crime fiction and I adore Anna Dean’s Dido Kent Mysteries and the late Arianna Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death novels. But my favourite books of all time are Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series – Age of Sail plus some medicine and natural philosophy and peppered with a bit of spying and domestic hijinks.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
When I first aiming towards writing professionally, I was repeatedly told that I needed to make a Ten Year Plan and that it would that long to develop my skills. I thought this was nonsense, of course – why should it take so long? I would prove them all wrong! But after rejection upon rejection, I started to realise that the setbacks were actually teaching me a lot about writing. And that was the entire first year. I’m now in Year 4 and, in retrospect, the Ten Year Plan makes perfect sense!
How do you deal with feedback?
I oscillate between screenwriting and novelling, and I learned to take notes in the world of screenplays. It’s such a convoluted process in which the writer is just one small but vital piece. My approach is to always thank the note giver first – before reading it – then settle down with a cup of tea and allow myself to react: to grin, to rage, to tear out my hair in frustration. And then I let it stew for a bit before going back and looking at it dispassionately. You have to understand why the person is giving the note, even if you don’t entirely agree with it.
How have your own experiences shaped your writing?
Working as a psychiatrist plays a huge part in my character work, and Amy in particular. As a doctor, I see people in times of great stress, when their hopes and fears are most exposed. It is a great privilege to be trusted with those strong emotions and it has allowed me to gain a lot of experience in a few short years. I also hope that I can combat mental health stigma by writing a sensitive and accurate portrayal of a competent intelligent woman with agoraphobia.
Give me some advice about writing…
A writer is something you are, not just a hobby you pick up and put down. If you can’t not write, you’re a writer. The rest is just persistence.
What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…
Read a range of things in your genres – the bestsellers, the mass-market service station reads, the bargain book shop 3-for-2s, the ebooks you stumbled upon on Goodreads, the self-published books that popped up on your Twitter feed. Get a feel for where what you do fits into that profile and then hang out with lots of people who have similar interests and are at the same stage as you. You will learn together and encourage each other.
What’s next for you?
Code Runner, the second book in The Amy Lane Mysteries, is all wrapped up and out in September and I’m working on the third book in the series. I’m also dabbling in one of those historical crime novels, which needs a lot of prep and research and may not see the light for a good few years.