Thursday, September 29, 2011


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've just done a panel called "Crime and Wine" at the Henley Literary Festival with the delightful Sophie Hannah.

I'm thrilled to be back in Henley, where I've set my latest book, and on a panel with Sophie, as I am a huge fan. Sophie has just come back from a grueling tour for her new book, just out in the US, The Cradle in the Grave, so we were both a bit jet-lagged, but we had a great time. (And yes, we did get to drink the wine.)

The Cradle and the Grave is Sophie’s fifth psychological thriller to feature detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer.

TV producer Fliss Benson receives an anonymous card at work. The card has sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four – numbers that mean nothing to her.

On the same day, Fliss finds out she’s going to be working on a documentary about miscarriages of justice involving cot death mothers wrongly accused of murder. The documentary will focus on three women: Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hines. All three women are now free, and the doctor who did her best to send them to prison for life, child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy, is under investigation for misconduct.

For reasons she has shared with nobody, this is the last project Fliss wants to be working on. And then Helen Yardley is found dead at her home, and in her pocket is a card with sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four…

Intriguing? The Guardian says, ""This book's triumph is that it is not just a perfectly executed psychological thriller, but a pertinent meditation on society itself." -The Guardian

DEBS: Was this your first US tour? And if so, did you enjoy it?

SOPHIE HANNAH: No, it was my fourth or fifth US tour - I can't even remember which, I've been doing this for so long! I tend to use Bouchercons as a way of counting. So, I've been to Bouchercons in Baltimore, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and now St Louis - so this is my fourth US tour. Oh, no, fifth! Because once I also came out to America in the summer. (As you can see, I'm still a bit jet-lagged!) Yes, I have loved all my tours and all my events - great fun! - apart from one bookstore, where the staff were unbelievably rude to me.

DEBS: What about Bouchercon? Did you enjoy it, or were you too jet-lagged? Bouchercon is exhausting under the best of circumstances.

SOPHIE: I loved Bouchercon - it's always one of the highlights of my annual tour. It's wonderful to meet so many people who really know about crime fiction - fellow experts! And lots of friends, and I always make new friends too. Also, I enjoyed my panel on 'The Troubled Protagonist' - it gave me an opportunity to point out that you can't divide fictional or real people into troubled and non-troubled. It's a totally false distinction. Everyone has their problems!

DEBS: You've written very well received comic novels, award-winning poetry that is studied in schools, and books for children. Did you always want to write crime fiction? Who were your influences?

SOPHIE: Yes, I always wanted to be a mystery writer! It's far and away my favourite genre. My influences at a young age were Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, then, slightly later, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. Then, later still, Val McDermid and Minette Walters...I am an avid crime fiction reader. I also still write poetry, though, and short stories, and I have plans to write all kinds of other things. Not instead of crime fiction - as well.

DEBS: You were a Fellow Commoner at Cambridge, a Fellow at Oxford, and are now a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. Can you explain to American reader what these terms mean?

SOPHIE: All these titles are just, basically, fancy ways of saying 'Writer in Residence'! No responsibilities, nothing I don't want to do, no teaching - I'm just attached to the college; I'm the writer that belongs to that college. At Lucy Cavendish, I help to organise a fiction prize, and to programme and run the annual literature festival, Women's Word (it's a women-only college).

DEBS: (I want to be a Fellow . . . you have my dream life. ) All your crime novels, like mine, are series novels. Are there non-series crime stories you want to tell, or do you feel that the series novels, as they tell such complex stories from so many viewpoints, give you enough scope?

SOPHIE: I do feel there's plenty of scope in my series novels, yes, since each one is mainly narrated by a protagonist who is unique to that novel, so every book feels very fresh and unique to me. It's only my police characters that return. However, there's an idea I have for a novel which I think could be brilliant, and it simply won't work as a series Simon-Waterhouse-and-Charlie-Zailer novel. So, yes, I will one day write a standalone. Definitely. Also, I think an author should always surprise his/her readers. And I'm too interested in writing itself, the possibilities that are out there, to restrict myself to a series indefinitely. Having said that, I have no plans to stop writing about Simon and Charlie, as I adore them, so will probably mix series and standalone - and maybe even start a new series (assuming I don't drop dead from exhaustion before doing all this!)

DEBS: The Zailer/Waterhouse books are being adapted for British television. Can you tell us about that? Will we see them in the US?

SOPHIE: Yes, they'll come to the US eventually! The first one (The Wrong Mother/The Point of Rescue) was broadcast in the UK in May, and the next one (The Dead Lie Down/The Other Half Lives) is being made now and will be on next March. They did a fantastic job! Stars Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd were superb as Simon and Charlie.

DEBS: I can't wait to see them! But why do the books have different titles in the US and the UK? I really like the UK titles.

SOPHIE: My US publishers think my English titles are too subtle! Hence the latest book: A Room Swept White in the UK, The Cradle in the Grave in America - only the American title makes it clear the book involves some dead babies! Actually, I love having two titles for each book - makes me feel doubly productive, when I look at a list of my output!

DEBS: I adore Simon and Charlie, too, and I can't wait to read it--although I might have to buy the UK version as I'm here and have the choice. Love the title ... it's brilliant. Thanks for dropping in, and for those of you who haven't read Sophie, I'll just say you must--smart, funny, dark, um (a bit) twisted, and completely addictive.

You can learn more about Sophie at, and she'll be dropping in to chat on Jungle Red. Enjoy!


  1. HEy,Sophie! We met at--ah...what was it? I remember YOU , not the place! Anyway--congratulations--your books are wonderful.

    Tell us about the TV shows! (When can we see them?)

    And the double-title thing is fascinating.

  2. What a job as a fellow! Do we even have such a thing in U.S.? I think all writers associated with university need to teach something.

  3. Welcome Sophie--I think fellow at Cambridge would be a fantasy for me too, especially if there were no papers to grade. Having just finished my US tour I hope you weren't in all the hotspots like me--over 100 everywhere I went!

  4. Interesting interview! I really enjoy it!

  5. Hi everyone! Yes, Hank, I remember you - we met at Bouchercon, in either Baltimore or Indianapolis. So glad you like the books! TV shows will eventually turn up in US, but not for a while! Hi, JP, yes, being a Cambridge fellow is a fantastic job. In fact, it made me feel all other jobs were quite unreasonable because they actually expect you to do stuff! As a fellow of Trinity College in Cambridge, I was regarded as super-conscientious if I ate lots of posh cheeses and drank lots of port. But,seriously, Cambridge is very keen on supporting budding writers/artists, so they tend to have a lot of these fellowships. Hi Rhys - no, I only went to 5 or 6 places - 100 would have finished me off! Most were great, but I went to one store where the staff were SO RUDE to me. I felt like George Costanza in Seinfeld: 'All I want is my money back, an apology, and for him to be fired...' Glad you enjoyed the interview, Alexander!

  6. Sophie, thanks so much for being here. Sorry I'm so late chiming in--mad two days in Henley. But lovely, although still tromping round in boots and woolies. I'll get my revenge next week when it cools off and I'll be the one properly dressed.

    A nice Henley Lit Festival party tonight at the Hotel du Vin--I hear we were super:-)