My thanks to Anne and Tracy for the Random Things Tours invitation for The Reunion, published in paperback today. I’m delighted to welcome Polly Phillips to the blog for a Q&A.
Q&A with Polly Phillips
It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the blog Polly. Congratulations on the paperback release today of The Reunion. Would you please tell us a little about your background and without going into spoiler territory, a brief introduction to The Reunion.
It’s such a pleasure to be here, thank you for having me – and I’ll do my best not go give any spoilers away. I came into fiction writing from journalism. My first magazine job was on the now defunct All About Soap magazine – I like to think I learnt about cliffhangers and reveals from soap operas. After that, I worked at the Daily Express before going freelance after I had my daughter. Finally, after a few years of procrastination, I found the time and perseverance to sit down and write my first book, My Best Friend’s Murder.
The Reunion is a story very close to my heart, as it takes place at a Cambridge university college, much like the one I went to. It focuses on Emily Toller, a happily married mum of two who has done her best to forget her time at university and the night that led to her sudden departure under a cloud. But when, fifteen years later, an invitation to a college reunion drops onto her doormat, she can’t resist the chance to go back and get payback. The story is set over two nights – one in the past and one in the present – and there are plenty of twists and turns.
Why did you choose to write psychological thrillers as opposed to writing in another genre?
I love the way psychological thrillers come with their own structure – the set-up, the unpacking and the denouement. I also so enjoy reading books with fantastic twists, which is probably what drew me to the genre. That said, I think sometimes the best twists come in books that wouldn’t be classes as psychological thrillers at all – for that reason I love Maggie O’Farrell’s books.
Which comes first, plot or characters? Do you plan in detail or just see where the story takes you?
Definitely plot – I like to take a ‘what if’ situation and stretch it out to its most extreme. I’ll harvest things that I’ve seen, experienced or been told – I’m a bit shameless!! That said, I feel a tremendous amount of affection for most of my characters and I can’t really get involved in writing until I know who they are and what their names are.
Based on your own experience, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone trying to get their novel published? Looking back to getting your first novel published, My Best Friend’s Murder, is there anything you wished you had done differently?
Gosh, so much advice out there and I don’t know if I’m qualified to give any of it! For me entering as many competitions as I could find was the most proactive step I took towards publication. The competitions gave me a sense of writing towards something and they helped me polish up the beginning of My Best Friend’s Murder to really try and get it to sparkle. Even the ones where I didn’t place at all (and there were plenty of those!) taught me about writing to a deadline. Some were good enough to provide feedback which I could utilise in my work in progress and winning the Montegrappa Prize at the Emirates Literature Festival is ultimately what led to me finding an agent and a deal.
Is there any part of the writing process which you enjoy the most (or find the most difficult) – i.e. researching, writing, editing?
Nursing the first gem of an idea into something that can be written down is something that I really love – it feels like such a privilege. Other than that, I always enjoy the bit I’m not doing!! When I’m deep in the trenches of edits, I dream of first drafts and the freedom that comes with just getting it down on paper and not worrying about details. But when I’m at first draft stage, I am eaten up with anxiety that what I’m writing is terrible and wish I was polishing up something I’d already done. Basically, I’m a grass is always greener type of writer.
Are there any authors whose books have made an impact on you? What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now?
I love reading widely. Although my go-to is usually psychological fiction, I also love police procedurals, historical fiction, romance, non-fiction and some literary stuff too. I’ve been lucky to come into contact with some really generous authors, whose books have made a real impact on me. Of those, Sophie Hannah is probably the best example – her writing is so beautiful I want to linger on it but her plots keep me turning the pages! At the moment, I’m reading The Candy House by Jennifer Egan and it’s very thought provoking.
What was the best money you ever spent for your writing career?
I did a ‘Pitch to an agent’ course through Writers & Artists and it was amazing. Meeting agents in the flesh and getting that one-on-one time (although at this point, it didn’t actually go anywhere) made the whole journey feel real. And I met one of my best writing friends, Victoria Selman, on the course. She’s been such a source of support and inspiration to me – and her books are awesome!
Are there any of your characters that you have really disliked?
There’s a couple in The Reunion that I’m not mad keen on, mentioning no names Lyla, but because I try and keep them realistic, I can often see the reasons behind the way they act. Many people hated Izzy, one of the main characters in My Best Friend’s Murder but I had a real soft spot for her.
Are you a re-reader of books, or a one time only reader? If a re-reader, is there one book that you would always return to?
I love this question!! I used to be such a re-reader – I must have read all of the Sweet Valley High series about a thousand times and sometimes if I’m going through something stressful in my real life, I will dip into an old favourite for comfort. I did History at uni so I often divert back to Philippa Gregory. But because the bulk of my books are psychological thrillers, I tend to find that with them I’m a one-time only reader, although I’ll recommend on books I’ve really loved, so I can experience them again that way.
Finally, when not working or writing, what hobbies do you have to relax with?
I love to run and often iron out some of my trickiest plot dilemmas while I’m pounding away on the road with nothing but bad 80s music for company!! It’s amazing what your mind can work out when you don’t have company – and you’ve got a power ballad urging you on…
Thank you so much Polly and I wish you every success with the paperback release of The Reunion.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A chance to reconnect.
A chance to get revenge . . .
Emily Toller has tried to forget her time at university and the events that led to her suddenly leaving under a cloud. She has done everything she can to forget the shame and the trauma – and the people involved. She has tried to focus on the life she has built with her children and husband, Nick.
But events like that can’t just be forgotten. Not without someone answering for what they’ve done.
When an invitation arrives to a University reunion, everything clicks into place. Emily has a plan.
Because if you can’t forget – why not get revenge?
A fresh, original and strikingly relatable psychological thriller, perfect for fans of ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Polly Phillips currently lives in Australia, although she is originally from the UK. Her debut novel, My Best Friend’s Murder, won the Montegrappa Writing Prize at the Emirates Literature Festival in 2019 and was published in 2021. Polly has worked as a journalist in Australia, Dubai, Denmark and the UK.
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