Interview Sam Blake aka Vanessa Fox o Loughlin Author Agent  jacks Miller Story by Niamh o Conor karen Morgan 04/04/14


This week I’m talking to bestselling author Sam Blake.

Originally from St. Albans in Hertfordshire, Sam has two teenagers, three cats and lives in a 200-year-old cottage at the foot of the Wicklow mountains with an occasional poltergeist who moves things at the most inconvenient moments.

Her debut novel ‘Little Bones‘ (Bonnier 2016) was No 1 in Ireland for four weeks, was nominated for Irish Crime Novel of the Year. Focusing on strong female characters, her latest ‘Keep Your Eyes On Me went straight to No 1 in January and has just come out in paperback this week. And the Kindle edition is available at a special 99p till the end of November.

Interview: Sam Blake

You have a finger in many pies – you’ve written a succession of highly successful novels, but also – as Vanessa Fox OLoughlin – you founded the multi award winning national writing resources website, The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and MURDER ONE, Ireland’s International Crime Writing Festival. While, in your spare time, you’re on the board of the Society of Authors and publish a podcast, “Sam Blake Behind the Bestseller.

What would you say ties all these together?

Writing! I founded Inkwell as a way to improve my own writing – Sam Blake and her activities are the product of that. I have been involved in organising literary events since I began Inkwell so Murder One was a natural extension, tying together the strands and focusing more on Sam Blake’s genre.

Can you tell us about your background? How did you start off?

Back in 1999 my husband went sailing across the Atlantic for eight weeks – I was sitting at home on my own (no children then), and I had an idea for a book. It was called The Poison Tree and was based loosely on the poem of the same name by William Blake. 

At the time I wrote long hand, and I didn’t have a computer, so in the evenings and at the weekends, I went into the office – at Corporate Events where I was working – to transfer it to the screen. I was completely convinced it would be a best seller.

As with many first books I can see now that I felt I had to prove I could write, so the prologue was crammed with words of four syllables…I’ve since discovered there’s a thing called the fog index in journalism that relates to clarity of message – let’s just say the fog was VERY thick.

 MURDER ONE, Ireland's International Crime Writing Festival - Interview; Sam Blake

I knew I needed to learn more about writing technique, and I wanted to learn from bestselling authors. My husband was in the Gardai (Irish police) and worked shifts so I couldn’t get to evening classes (I had two children by them).

I decided to start running my own workshops – one day intensive fiction writing workshops facilitated by best-selling authors. I learned LOADS. While building Inkwell, I discovered that the domain was available and built the website based on the newsletter I used to send out.

While all this was happening, I was still writing – I’d sent The Poison Tree out and it was rejected everywhere, but book three had several very near misses with publishers. I met Simon Trewin my agent, at a literary event and began scouting for him – placing several authors to whom he was able to bring huge success. Over coffee one morning we both realised that he didn’t know that I wrote as well, and when he asked about the book I was working on, he wanted to see it immediately. That was in equal parts terrifying and exciting – if he hated it and I couldn’t write my credibility as a scout could have been blown! That book was Little Bones.

You’ve had success with your Cat Connolly police procedurals, but now have a new standalone out ‘Keep Your Eyes on Me and another on preorder – “The Dark Room.” What was your inspiration for the new stories?

I travel a lot (or used to!) and Keep Your Eyes on Me was inspired by several chance meetings I had on planes. I was fascinated by what can happen when two strangers are thrown together, and in the book, two women meet flying to New York, so they have lots of time to talk. They discover they both have men in their lives who are causing them problems.

The Dark Room grew from an idea I had sitting on a rock above the beach outside our holiday cottage in Cornwall. Opposite me across the Helford River was what looks like a ruined castle, but I discovered, was the original customs gaol.

The image of a dark-haired woman jogging down the beach with a German Shepherd dog at her heels came to me, and I wanted to find out her story. In the book Rachel and Caroline both need to get away from their own problems (in London and New York respectively) and meet at a country house hotel called Hare’s Landing in West Cork, but the house is full of secrets and past lies come back to haunt them both.

Is this a deliberate shift and what do you feel is the difference between writing series books and standalones?

Yes, I moved publisher so I needed to pitch something different from the series, and I wanted to stretch myself as a writer – I love Cat Connolly but writing a series is like going into your writer’s room with a bunch of old friends. I wanted to try something new.

Have you found you’ve learned from your early novels? Was there a realisation on your part or a change of approach?

I think you get better with every word you write, I hope so anyway. The editing process and my amazing copyeditor Steve O’Gorman has taught me a lot. I think my first drafts are much better structured now as I can hear my fabulous editor Sarah Hodgson questioning chapters I know aren’t quite right!

You both write and advise writers. Has your work with other authors influenced your writing in any way, positively or negatively.?

I love working with new writers – often confidence is what they need more than anything else, and the courage to keep trying. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about what makes a book work and I apply that to my own work, but there’s no other real cross-over.

How do you write? I think both writers and readers are interested in the mechanics – do you have fixed hours or a target word count? A favourite place? A special pencil?

I used to write all over the place, fitting it in when I was on the move. And I’d always get a big chunk done on holiday in Cornwall every year. In lockdown I’ve set up a writing room in the spare bedroom – I can’t write in my office, there are too many distractions, and I’ve a lovely space beside a window.

Interview: Sam Blake - cover Keep Your Eyes on Me

I’m doing a live interview series with Simon Trewin called The Writing Game, and one of our interviews was with Joanne Harris – she aims to write 300 words a day – I thought that was brilliant advice – you cannot fail!

I’ve just signed a new contract with Corvus, and I’m writing that book now, but doing it in bursts of 2k – 3k words, so I’m averaging 1000 words a day but I find it easier to have complete writing days rather than fitting it in around everyday work. Procrastination is always an issue but it seems to be working so far.

Do you plan? Do you generally have a sense of the ending you’re heading towards or do you dive entirely into the unknown?

I plot out each book chapter by chapter before I start so I know I’ve got enough story for a full book, but often it goes off on its own tangent when I’m actually writing. I’m a detail person so I like to know all about my characters before I start.

Who/what are your major influences? Whether other books, films, writers or indeed non-literary figures?

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is my biggest influence – it’s a multi layered book that has everything!

What do you read? And, perhaps equally importantly, given how much a writer has to spend time on writing and publicising, how do you find time to read it?

Time is the big issue – I’m reading Sophie Hannah’s Killings at Kingfisher Hall at the moment, and I’m loving reading historical fiction at the moment – Alex Reeve’s new Leo Stanhope book The Butcher of Berner Street is just fabulous! I also read books by my friends – Catherine Ryan Howard’s The Nothing Man is brilliant and I loved Hazel Gaynor’s The Bird in the Bamboo Cage.

What do you do for fun? (Not to say that writing can’t be fun). How do you spend your time off?


What’s next for you?

Keep Your Eyes on Me is out this week in paperback and The Dark Room is out in January 2021. I’m working on more book ideas!

Keep Your Eyes On Me

You won’t be able to look away

When Vittoria Devine and Lily Power find themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to New York, they discover they both have men in their lives whose impact has been devastating. Lily’s family life is in turmoil, her brother left on the brink of ruin by a con man. Vittoria’s philandering husband’s latest mistress is pregnant.

By the time they land, Vittoria and Lily have realised that they can help each other right the balance. But only one of them knows the real story…


Follow Sam Blake at @samblakebooks.

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