We caught up with debut author and Surrey parent, Nikki Smith, about her newly-published psychological thriller, 'All In Her Head'. Nikki has lived in Surrey for 13 years and wrote her debut novel from her house in Guildford, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, ages 14 and 12 and a cat who thinks she's a dog!
Here at Surrey Mummy we rocketed through our copies of 'All In Her Head' when we discovered it at the beginning of lockdown and felt it was very much in the same vein or 'Gone Girl' and 'Girl on a Train' as it twists and turns and leaves you guessing right until the end. This timely psychological thriller is about the darkest corners of a mother's mind.
Alison is more alone than she's ever been. She is convinced that her ex-husband Jack is following her. She is certain she recognises the strange woman who keeps approaching her at work. She knows she has a good reason to be afraid. She just can't remember why. Then the mention of one name turns her life upside down. Alison feels like she's losing her mind...but it could just lead her to the truth.
1. Nikki, what inspired you to write a book on the topic of post-natal depression/post-partum psychosis that runs through ‘All In Her Head’? Was it difficult to write about such a tough subject-matter?
I had a very traumatic birth with my youngest child – I had undiagnosed placenta accreta; ended up haemorrhaging, lost three litres of blood and ended up in ICU. It made me realise how risky childbirth still is, even in the developed world. I started thinking about illnesses that aren’t visible after childbirth and are in some ways even harder to deal with, and this inspired me to write 'All In Her Head'. It was difficult to write about such a sensitive topic as I wanted to make sure I didn’t sensationalise it in any way so I did a lot of research before I started writing. Since the book was published, I’ve had several comments from readers who have suffered from similar issues who have said that they thought I dealt with the topic very realistically which means a great deal to me.
2. Did the main characters Alison and Jack evolve as you wrote the story or did you pre-plan all aspects before you started writing?
I had a strong idea of Alison before I started writing, and her character didn’t change significantly, but Jack developed more as I was writing the story and through the different drafts in the editing stages of the novel.
3. ‘All In Her Head’ was published at the very beginning of lockdown in the UK. How did you adapt the launch of your debut due to coronavirus and do you think it has affected promotion so far?
Yes, it hasn’t been ideal timing!! My book launch and all physical events had to be cancelled which, as you can imagine after having spent years getting to the point of having a book published, was devastating. All the shops have been shut so I haven’t even seen my hardback in a bookstore yet! However, I’m fully aware there are people who have suffered far more than I have - I’m just grateful my family and friends are safe and well. As another author told me, ‘Books last forever.’ There have been positives to come out of the situation as well – the publishing industry has reacted quickly, moving many events online, so I had a virtual book launch on twitter and I’ve been involved in panel discussions with other authors like Sarah Vaughan that might never have happened otherwise. I’m also part of a debut group of authors on Facebook who all support each other, and other much more well-known authors like David Nicholls and Clare Mackintosh have been so generous with their support for debut writers. People are also reading more eBooks as a result of lockdown which has helped 'All In Her Head' to become a bestseller on Amazon, and it’s had some great reviews in the Press.
4. How did you begin your journey to become a published author?
I always wanted to be an author – I did an English degree & wrote a novel after leaving University, but it wasn’t very good & unsurprisingly wasn’t picked up by an agent. So, I gave up and went on to have a career in finance. Then a few years ago, someone I was at school with contacted me on Facebook to ask if I’d ever done anything with my writing as she still remembered the stories I used to read out in class. It was a now or never moment, and I signed up for a Curtis Brown creative writing course, which I absolutely loved, and started writing All In Her Head. I subsequently won a competition that another author, Amanda Reynolds, was running and she became my mentor. After I’d worked on the first few chapters of my novel with her for a while, I sent it off to the literary agent Sophie Lambert who had read my cover letter on the Curtis Brown course, and who I really, really hoped would like it. She agreed to represent me, and a few months later we submitted the manuscript to publishers where Orion offered me a two-book deal.
5. Can you tell us about your writing set-up and routine?
Before lockdown, I used to drop my children at school and then come home and write until they needed picking up, and I’d also write in the evenings and weekends if I was on a deadline. In lockdown, routines have become much more difficult to maintain as we have everyone at home, so I squeeze writing in as and when I can – I find getting up very early to write helps as when the house is quiet, I have much needed head space!
6. What gave you the drive to actually finish writing the book and get it published?
I think many authors would tell you that finishing the book isn’t the biggest issue – it’s the re-writing and editing it to make it the best that it can be that causes most problems! I can finish a first draft of a book in about three months if I write a thousand words a day, every day. But that’s just the start of the process – in subsequent drafts and editing many of those words I’ve written will change. For me, when I got my mentor, I felt that it was independent feedback that someone else whose work I valued liked the story I wanted to tell and this gave me the encouragement to keep going through several rewrites to get the book to a point where I could submit it to agents.
7. Are you working on any other books? Can we expect a sequel to ‘All In Her Head’ or a change of direction next?
I have a two-book deal with Orion, so my next one will be published in 2021. It’s not a sequel to 'All In Her Head', but is the same psychological suspense genre – I can’t give too much away at the moment but it’s about a family with dark secrets.
8. What is your favourite place to visit as a family in Surrey? Or activity you like to do as a family?
We love to visit Polesden Lacey and Wisley, but living in Surrey we’re lucky enough to have open countryside close by which we can walk in and have been so grateful for during lockdown.
9. What advice would you give to aspiring authors, especially those trying to write whilst bringing up young children?
I would say set yourself a wordcount every day and try to stick with it. I was working full time when I started writing 'All In Her Head', so I know how difficult this can be, especially with children, but if it means getting up an hour earlier, or going to bed an hour later to get 500 words down, it is possible.
10. What book are you currently reading? Can you recommend any books that have inspired you during lockdown?
I am currently reading 'The Other People' by CJ Tudor and loving it. Other books I've recently read during lockdown and have really enjoyed have included 'The Man on The Street' by Trevor Wood, 'I am Dust' by Louise Beech and 'Our Dark Secret' by Jenny Quintana.
We are very grateful to Nikki for giving us her time and urge our readers to pick up a copy of 'All In Her Head' this summer. Follow Nikki on twitter @mrssmithmunday or visit her website https://nikkismithauthor.com/ to find out more. Buy a copy of All In Her Head' here.