She thinks she is safe now that she’s home from her travels… but her nightmare has only just begun.
After her stalker takes his own life and she’s jilted by a holiday lover, Sandrine comes home from her round-the-world backpacking trip perturbed, penniless and pregnant. She meets handsome Scott who offers her love, security and all she and her new baby could ever wish for.
But their dream is about to turn into a nightmare…
My thanks to Sean of Red Dog Press for the tour invitation and info. Keep an eye out for other blogger reviews and content posts during the tour for The Beaten Track but for my turn, I’m delighted to host Louise with a Q&A.
Author Q&A – with Louise Mangos
Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you come to write novels?
Since opening an exercise book on my first day of primary school, smelling the smooth lined paper and lifting a sharpened pencil to write my name, I’ve felt compelled to fill blank pages with stories. I won a national poetry competition at the age of 11 and after seeing my photo in the local paper holding my prize (a camera, which also led to a love of photography) I eventually decided a career in words would be appropriate. I studied business communications, but came back to creative writing in my twenties and continued to improve my craft, taking courses at the University of Colorado, some European writing retreats, and eventually completed a Masters at UEA. When my short fiction started winning prizes, I felt I was ready to write a novel-length work of fiction.
What was the last book you read that made a real impact on you?
It may be a controversial choice, but cultural appropriation issues aside, “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins is a novel that has stayed with me since I read it two years ago. From the tragic heart-stopping opening scene to the chapters where migrants are trying to board La Bestia train, there were many times when I had to remind myself to breathe.
Who were the biggest influences on you growing up that led you to be a writer?
To become a writer, one must first be a reader. My mother took me to our local library every week when I was a child and I’d take out three or four books and devour them. The love she has for reading has always been a big influence. In terms of books, where other crime writers cite Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys or The Secret Seven as big influences, instead I have always loved the stories of Roald Dahl. His mischievous writing, often with a dark challenge or mystery surrounding his eclectic characters, led me to later love novels in the suspense genre with unexpected narratives.
Tell us what inspired you to write this story?
In the 1980’s I embarked on a backpacking trip around the world, much like Sandrine. On a mountain tramp in New Zealand a young man was part of a group of us crossing a snowy pass. I saw him months later totally unexpectedly in Australia and again more months later in northern Thailand. We laughed about the coincidences, but it led to many ‘what if’ questions. He was an amenable young man and I still feel a little guilty that I invented the monster Jake from this encounter. This lad in no way resembled Jake in my story, but he certainly inspired the plot.
What was harder, writing the book or choosing the title?
When a 90,000 novel generally involves in excess of 120,000 words, honed, slashed, re-written and edited, you’d think it would be the writing of the thing that was most difficult. But for this novel, I can honestly say that choosing the title was incredibly hard. (My thanks to Sean Coleman for coming up trumps in that department.)
When do you do your best writing?
My writing output is completely random. Some days I’m up before dawn because an idea for a scene has woken me and I have to get it down before it’s forgotten. Sometimes the urge doesn’t hit until after I’ve had my dinner and a cheeky glass of Prosecco. During the day, I can generally write anything between 500 and 3000 words in one sitting. I also tend to write prolifically after I’ve done some sport or exercise, because I’m always formulating what I’m going to write in my mind during that time. If you’d asked ‘where’ do I do my best writing, that would have to be on a train or in a plane. Of course, I can’t do this every day, but there’s something about being in a vehicle with forward motion at great speed that makes the words flow unimpeded. Otherwise I have to share the dining room table with the rest of the family.
How important is the setting of your books in telling the story?
My novels are set mostly in Switzerland. As it’s where I’ve lived for the past 40 years, it’s a setting I know intimately and plays a role that’s as equally important as the characters in my stories.
What did you edit out of this book?
Because much of Sandrine’s itinerary was taken from my own travel experiences, I transposed long sections of my travel journals, adapting them to the narrative. As I was writing the second draft, I realised the travelogue was getting in the way of the story and dampening the effect of the suspense, so I cut large swathes of description. I also moved the scene of the unfortunate demise of the dog early on to happen off-stage. A writer can murder any number of innocent humans in cold blood, but touch an animal…
How thoroughly do you plot a book before starting?
When I first started writing this novel, I had the major plot points already mapped out. But it wasn’t until I was about a third of the way through that I realised my plot points needed more precision, especially as there are two timelines converging. A chapter-by-chapter overview of the entire plot then became necessary.
What do you do to shut off, or are your characters always talking to you?
If I’m writing every day, my characters never shut up. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and have to reach for my pen and notebook in the dark to jot down something they’ve said to me otherwise I’ll forget it by morning. To avoid scribbling on the bedside table, my husband recently gave me an awesome pen with a little light around the nib so I don’t have to turn the light on at 3am with my, ironically, light-bulb moments.
Do you need a big ego to be a writer?
Not at all. What a writer needs instead, is a big imagination. And a feeling for what their audience wants to read. Most important of all, a writer needs resilience. It’s a brave thing to put a story out into the world that’s been trapped in a writer’s head for a number of months. A writer should accept that their work will be received subjectively. Some people don’t like peas and some don’t like liver on their dinner plates. It’s the same with books.
Do you read your reviews? How do you cope with the good and the bad?
Although I say I’m indifferent to my reviews, I do end up reading all of them. It’s such a thrill to read a five-star review from a satisfied reader. I swallow the not so great reviews from readers who didn’t enjoy the novel and move on. Opinions about books are subjective and authors shouldn’t forget this. It’s the same for everything we choose in life: Houses, clothes, food, movies. If a reader doesn’t enjoy one of my novels, it’s perfectly fine if they say it simply wasn’t for them.
What was the best money you ever spent for your writing career?
A MacBook Air, and tuition fees for my Masters in crime writing. And each bottle of Prosecco for milestones reached.
What distracts you from your writing most frequently?
A freshly-groomed cross-country skating track in winter or the mirror-smooth surface of a still lake in summer (wild swimming or kayaking).
What do you want your readers to feel at the end of your book?
I’d like them to feel a sense of justice. It’s hard to say why without giving away the plot reveals in the narrative. However, this justice might not take the same direction for every reader. I’d like to think the conclusion also provokes a discussion between readers.
Do your characters always do what you tell them?
Two of my favourite minor characters in the current novel were based on young men I met while travelling. I didn’t want to lose either of the characters in my novel. But despite screaming at these men in my mind to behave differently, they still made a series of mistakes that resulted in their demise, something I hope hasn’t happened to the real versions.
What are your writing routines? Are you disciplined or freeform?
I wish I could be more disciplined. Before the pandemic I was very strict about my writing routine, making sure I wrote for at least two hours before rewarding myself with breakfast in the morning. When the first lockdown was imposed I thought it would be the best opportunity to hunker down and increase my output. But underlying anxiety led to a complete word drought. Since then, my writing output has been very random. I recently managed to finish a couple of novels that had stalled over the past two years. But where I used to write every single day, now there are times when I think it is more important to either spend time with my family or get outside and literally smell the flowers.
How many drafts did you do of this book?
“The Beaten Track” formed the dissertation for my Masters in crime writing at UEA. There were only three major drafts, but along the way parts of it have been picked apart, closely examined and discussed, re-designed and re-written with the help of my tutors and my fabulous uni cohort. It was a process I hadn’t been through with any of my other novels.
How do you know when a book is finished?
Like a painting, it’s difficult to know when a book is really finished. You always think you can add that final touch, the last stroke of the brush. But if on the eleventy billionth read-through, you’re still in love with your story and get the feeling that it’s ‘whole’ then the work is finished.
What is a dream scenario for you as a writer?
I’d like to sell enough novels to contribute equally in the family, from day-to-day household needs to holidays with my favourite people.
What are your biggest hopes and fears for your book?
The biggest hope for my book is that it brings joy to many readers and quietly becomes a bestseller on its own merits. The greatest fear is that it doesn’t reach a wider reading audience.
Tell us a secret about one of your characters.
Any secrets might be too much of a reveal. You’ll have to read the novel to find out what they’re hiding!
Which writers or books have inspired you to put pen to paper?
One of my favourite authors is Ian McEwan. He writes literary fiction and has never referred to himself as a crime writer, but many of his books contain crimes. His novel “Enduring Love” was a great influence for my debut “Strangers on a Bridge” and his novel “Saturday,” my favourite of all his work, is the perfect example of a series of intricately woven crimes that take place over the period of one day. Authors I admire in my genre are Louise Candlish, Teresa Driscoll and Louise Doughty, amongst others. There are a lot of Louises whose work I admire and who deserve a wide audience
What’s your party trick?
I can drink an awful lot of Prosecco. Honestly. Don’t challenge me.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Ironically, one without music: Janis Joplin “Mercedes Benz.” And I’m always up for a hearty rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Are any of the characters in your novel based on people you know, and would they recognise themselves?
Two of the young men Sandrine meets in “The Beaten Track” are based on people I met more than 30 years ago. They would both recognise themselves if they thought the character Sandrine was based on me (part of her is, but only in the travel sections where nothing threatening happens). It would be harder for them to guess if they didn’t know I’d written the story. What we think fuels another person’s ego isn’t always what they perceive of themselves.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Prosecco. And ice cream.
What’s next for you?
I’ve recently finished the drafts of two novel-length works: A historical novel set in medieval Switzerland and a character-driven suspense in the vein of a modern Agatha Christie whodunnit. I’m also working on a humorous mystery about a failing crime writer, a memoir, and a collection of award-winning short fiction. I hope to eventually find publishing homes for all of these.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Mangos grew up in the UK but has spent more than half her life in Switzerland.Her debut psychological thriller Strangers on a Bridge was a finalist in the Exeter Novel Prize and long listed for the Bath Novel Award. Her second novel Her Husband’s Secrets (previously titled The Art of Deception) was published in June 2019.She lives on an Alp with her Kiwi husband and two sons, and when she’s not writing you can find her on the cross-country ski trails or wild swimming in the lake, depending on the season.She also writes short stories and flash fiction which have won prizes and been published in various anthologies. She has recently completed her MA in crime writing at UEA.
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