Author Interview: Penny Batchelor

by | Interview

Hi Penny, Thank you so much for answering some questions for us. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Thanks very much to you for having me! I’m Penny Batchelor and am the author of My Perfect Sister, my first novel, which is available in both ebook and paperback format. I’ve been a book lover and voracious reader ever since I can remember and it’s an amazing feeling holding my own book in my hands.

What has your experience as a debut author been like? Did you always know you were a writer?

I’ve always wanted to be an author and have had lots of plot lines competing with each other in my imagination. My day job involved writing and journalism but I was guilty of the fatal mistake of a wannabe writer – not knuckling down and getting the words on the page. I took a six month novel writing course with Faber Academy to learn the nuts and bolts, ending with 15,000 words of my novel. It took a few years, rewriting and taking rejections on the chin before RedDoor Press gave me the thumbs up and said they wanted to publish it!

My Perfect Sister came out during lockdown and my planned launch party had to change to be a virtual one on Facebook. Coronavirus has made it difficult to promote my book – at the time of writing I haven’t been able to see my book in a bookshop yet because I’m shielding – but that makes me more determined to write another one and experience bringing out a novel under normal circumstances. I’ve had great feedback and it still hasn’t sunk in that I can truly call myself an author now!

What is My Perfect Sister about?

My Perfect Sister is a domestic noir thriller. How can Annie live up to the memory of a missing sister she can barely remember? When she returns to her childhood home age 30 she has to confront the dark secrets it holds, but will she ever find out what happened back in 1989 and is it safe for her to try? There are twists and turns, red herrings and lots of delving into family relationships. I’m physically disabled myself and am passionate about positive disability representation in fiction which is why I included the character of Ian who has cerebral palsy. His disability isn’t the story though – him helping Annie in her quest to discover more about the fate of her sister Gemma is.

Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose to write this book?

It was so long ago that I got the idea that I can’t remember the actual eureka moment! When people are missing, presumed dead, the natural thing is for their relatives to grieve but I wondered what would happen if a character instead resented her life being overshadowed by a sister she can barely remember. I wrote the sort of novel I like to read. When I began I knew the basic outline but as I wrote the book ideas marinated in my head as did characters, twists and turns. I had great fun thinking them up.

I love a domestic noir, I think they’re one of the few genres I can really get trapped in. Why do you think we have this fascination with the dark genre?

Good question! Firstly I think it’s because they have quite fast-paced plots with lots of elements to keep the reader guessing. Thrillers allow us to explore our own dark side without any drawbacks. It’s like the attraction of going on a rollercoaster – they are scary but ultimately you know you are safe. There’s a cathartic allure too to reading about people who act in ways or say things that we might think of but would never do. Good thrillers also have well-defined characters who you go on a journey with and ask yourself what decisions you’d make if you were in their shoes.

Excluding Annie, who is your favourite character in the novel, and why?

It has got to be Priti who is the best friend we’d all like to have. She doesn’t judge Annie and always has her back, plus is a good laugh! Lena is a great character who knows how to make a mean Sunday roast and I also have a soft spot for Ian. I wouldn’t rule out writing a spin off novel with him as the main character following a crime case he’s involved with as a solicitor.

Inclusivity in writing is so important, and yet so often disability is overlooked. Can you tell us a little bit about why it was important to include Ian in the story?

As I mentioned earlier I was born with a rare physical disability. The only time I saw anyone like me on TV was in Children In Need charity appeals. Fiction wasn’t much better when I was a child: in children’s books characters who were ill or in wheelchairs were figures of tragedy, either destined to die young or be cured if they tried hard enough. There weren’t any novels where children just happened to have a disability and went on wheelie adventures, treated the same as their non-disabled friends. Sadly it really isn’t much better in adult fiction. I hold my head in my hands when I read disabled characters portrayed as miserable pity-figures or triumph over tragedy heroes. What I want to see in fiction are disabled people living ordinary lives as friends, lovers, colleagues, neighbours, albeit with a gripping storyline of course! That’s why I decided to write one in my novel. You’re right that disability can be overlooked when it comes to inclusivity representation, which doesn’t make any sense. Disability doesn’t care what your skin colour is, your sexuality, religion, sexual preference or gender. If minorities all support each other then we become the majority and can effect real change.

Will you be releasing more books (I really hope so!)?

I really hope so too! I have two on the go at the moment. Another domestic noir thriller will be my next novel and after that I have a novel that’s more the women’s/literary fiction genre. I don’t want to say too much and give any plot twists away! For the latest news on my writing follow me on Facebook @pennyauthor and/or Twitter @penny_author. It’s always a delight to hear from readers and I welcome reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I’m planning on setting up an email newsletter, which you can sign up for at my website . Everyone who subscribes will be entered into a prize draw to win a signed copy of My Perfect Sister.

Lastly, we love to know our authors’s ideal writing conditions – are you in a home office, in a cafe? And what books are in your bag as you’re writing?

I’ll let you into a secret – I usually write in bed on my laptop, surrounded by pillows. It’s the comfiest place to be. I need peace and quiet to write and don’t know how others can concentrate writing in a cafe, particularly if they’re distracted by hot chocolate and cake!

I have lots and lots of books on my ‘to read’ pile, particularly as I’ve had the privilege of networking with other authors on Twitter and have discovered their books. Recently I have enjoyed Circe by Madeline Miller, Intruders by my fellow RedDoor Press author E C Scullion, The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins and The Guest List by Lucy Foley. I’m currently engrossed in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings and The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins. It’s very difficult putting down other people’s books to make time to write my own!

My Perfect Sister is available from all good bookshops and ebook sellers. Fox Lane Books and Kenilworth Books have signed copies in stock.

You can buy the book from Blackwells here.

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