Confessions of a Crime Writer and Talent Camper… Interview with Angela Clarke by Fiona Hunnisett


You’ve only got to meet The Sunday Times bestselling crime novelist Angela Clarke to know that she’s already a bit of a Wonder Woman. I chatted to her about her writing journey and what brought her to Talent Campus 5.0.

Before we talk about your screenwriting can I ask about your daily writing routine?

I try to be up about 5.30 a.m. through to 8.30 a.m with 6 – 6.30 a.m. being my usual time. I tend to do about half an hours worth of physio then come downstairs and do morning pages. I write three sides of free flow writing whatever’s in my head and I find that’s really

useful for two reasons 1) I’m a very anxious person, a lot of writers are, and my head’s very busy so it’s just a brain dump and 2) it turns up really good ideas completely unexpectedly. For example last week I developed, without meaning to, a pitch for a publicity piece which now looks like it’s going to be commissioned by the Telegraph magazine for my next book and also an idea for a sitcom just came out of it. On the days where I don’t do my morning pages, it makes a big difference in particular to my stress levels throughout the day and also my focus, I tend to get distracted if I don’t do it.

I then work until I have to go to physio which I have at around 11 a.m. most weekdays. Then I come back, have lunch and start work again either on the same project if I’m on deadline or that’s the point when I start doing other things like emails etc. If I can make it to 11 o’clock without looking at my emails then it’s a good day.

The only way I can have an ideal writing day is if I protect it on all sides so I shut down as much stuff as possible, so no notifications, no emails, I put my ‘out of office’ on so I stay focused as long as possible because I find the moment you let anything else in that’s it, your day goes in a completely different direction.

Do you have daily writing targets of hours or words per day?

It depends where I am in my schedule so when I’m doing a dirty draft on my novel I tend to do two thousand words as my target but then if I need to work more I’ll keep going.

Have you always wanted to be a screenwriter?

No I didn’t because and I know I will sound really stupid saying this, but I didn’t realise people wrote scripts because when I grew up I didn’t know anybody who did anything like that. I didn’t really believe that people could write books either even though at school I wanted to be a writer. I wrote really good stories but I was told to stop doing that for the exams. And when I said that I really liked writing I was told that my spelling and grammar were not strong enough to be a journalist or an English teacher and they were the only two options that were presented to me.

So I found a job in the fashion industry, where I worked for about ten years but I kept writing, almost by accident. I’m aware that this is an annoying thing to say to people but I landed my first column in a local newspaper by meeting the editor when I was drunk and lecturing him on the fact that he didn’t employ enough women. The next day I woke up to find his business card in my handbag saying five hundred words by Monday. It then took me about six months from that point to be able to translate that kind of passion and opinion into something that was publishable. I had a lot of guidance and training from members of the newspaper’s team who were very generous with their time.

And I landed another column with the Daily Mail Online again by being drunk in a bar and this time telling somebody funny stories about the fashion industry and the people I worked with. From that, I got the anonymous column CONFESSIONS OF A FASHIONISTA which I wrote for about three years.

When I was coming to the end of my fashion career, I thought ‘Well I have had these two columns, maybe I should try and write a book’ so I wrote  a women’s commercial novel called All’s Fair in Love and Wardrobe which did not sell but got me my agent. She called me and said “You know I love it, it’s really well written but the concept isn’t high enough to sell” and that was my first lesson in marketability, that something needs to be more than well written and just a good story in order to make it into today’s competitive world. In that same conversation, she told me that she’d been reading my columns for the Daily Mail and asked if I could turn them into a book. Of course, I said yes!.

However, I was ill after the first book came out – I dislocated my neck and couldn’t walk for about three months {Angela suffers from the debilitating condition EDS II} so I felt I lost a year of my career. By that stage, I had written half of a Young Adult novel but by the time I came back from being so unwell the project for me had died, I couldn’t bring myself to write in that way anymore. It was such a bad year that it changed me mentally, I was writing darker so obviously, I turned to writing a crime novel.

And that lead you to write the The Social Media Murder Series?

FOLLOW ME was my first crime fiction novel so I had to write the whole thing before I could pitch it. We sold it to the publisher and then my agent called me about three weeks before the book came out to say she’d just had a call from the publisher and could I turn it into a series and if yes, could I send half a side of A4 on each book over to them within the next twenty minutes because they wanted to take it into an acquisitions meeting. So the ideas for books two and three {which became WATCH ME and TRUST ME } were written then in a corridor on my MacBook.

They wanted books two and three to come out within six months of each other so I ended up writing and publishing two books in one year which is a hardcore level of work to do.

I have a lot of writing friends who maintain that as their ongoing strategy. I could do it as a sprint but it’s not long term as it’s too much for my body physically plus there’s no room for anything to go wrong or for anything else because I like doing scripts and other things. Also for me, in order to make the book the best it can be, I need a bit more germination time to make sure the ideas are as developed as they can be.

Did you take longer to write your latest thriller ON MY LIFE?

I’m with a different publisher now and the strategy is one book a year. I probably wrote it within about 7 or 8 months. I did spend a long time on it but there was a lot more research involved and it developed in a way that required more time.

And did that idea come from your time working in prisons?

I teach creative writing in prisons (mostly on a voluntary basis) which is really good fun and it came partially from that experience and partially from a talk I went to about the reality of being pregnant in prison. Even though I’d been into female prisons to teach I had not absorbed that at all, so I thought that it was something people just don’t know about and that it made a perfect psychological thriller because it’s an absolute worst case scenario.

So how did the screenwriting come about?

After about the second or third novel an actress friend rang me and asked if I’d ever considered writing a play because she and another actress wanted to stage a play as a showcase for them. So I said alright and I wrote the play {THE LEGACY which garnered five-star reviews} and I thought this is great. It was really fun and interesting. Obviously, there were similarities to writing books but it was much more collaborative, I enjoyed that side of things.

I also wrote a horror feature screenplay THE LURE with Cal Moriarty which won the First Scene Screenplay Festival 2017, placed third in the Los Angeles Independent Films Festival and was a quarterfinalist in the First Blood Screenwriting Contest.

What prompted you to apply to Talent Campus?

To help level up my screenwriting knowledge and to make more connections and networks. I already have that in books but in a way that makes it harder because I know what’s missing for me in the screenplay side of things. I have a great network of novel writers, I’m up to date in my market, I have a good understanding of the industry, I read a lot, I write a lot, and I know I need to do all of that for scriptwriting.

I went to the London Screenwriters’ Festival for the first time last year and it was kind of terrifying because it was the first festival I’ve been to for a number of years where I walked in and I didn’t know anybody. It’s quite a big contrast to start again and realise I don’t have anyone to ask about how would you do this or if they’ve a particular script or just to ask how the industry works. So I wanted to build on that and loads of people I spoke to said how great Talent Campus was so I put in for it.

Did Talent Campus help you in the way that you’d hoped?

I wanted to push my craft forward but I also wanted to build the network and the industry understanding and Talent Campus did that in ways that I could not have known because I didn’t know the industry. The quality of the guest speakers that we had was absolutely superb and the information we were given would have taken me years to ascertain. And obviously, it has given me a wonderful network so now I can say I’m really struggling with this aspect does anyone have an example of it, whether it’s something technical or something more practical.

From Talent Campus, I also scored my first script editing job from a producer whom I met there and they booked me to script edit a crime thriller feature. There are transferable skills that come across from novel writing but there are practical things I did not know for example, how much to charge for that. I critique novels for various clients but I did not know the format for film so I was able to ask my network. Doing Talent Campus also gives you the confidence to pitch in particular, because the novel writing/publishing industry is really friendly and although it is becoming increasingly important to have a high concept and to be able to sell your book in one line, it’s not like it is in TV and screen. It feels more American in style, much more focused with fewer niceties. Being given the confidence to do that is a big step for a novelist

Following on from Talent Campus, are you planning to adapt any of your novels into screenplays?

I haven’t bothered to adapt my novels yet because I have enough original ideas, which I had written off because I’d known that they weren’t right for a novel but now I see that they’re a TV show or a film. I have lots of ideas I want to get out there. Having said that, again directly because of Talent Campus I made a connection with a Director who optioned one of my books and the production company she wants to place it with, have asked if I would write it, so I’ll give it a shot!

I’ve just been working on a feature for another Director and got feedback from a brilliant script editor. I’d written too many detailed arcs for the non-central character which is an obvious overlap from books and she said that this will work fine for TV. It’s really satisfying to know that the fact that I’m used to doing entirely three-dimensional supporting characters with their own arcs translates really well for TV.

Presumably therefore you would recommend Talent Campus for novelists?

I’d recommend it absolutely for novelists who have ever thought about doing screenwriting. It’s the natural next step to give them exposure to all aspects of the industry, including directing and producing, and what it takes and gets them to think about it in ways that they might not have done. Yes, I’d totally recommend it.

Interview by Fiona Hunnisett also from Talent Campus 5.0

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Angela is the author of The Sunday Times bestselling SOCIAL MEDIA MURDER SERIES, including FOLLOW ME, WATCH ME, and TRUST ME (HarperCollins), her latest thriller ON MY LIFE (Hachette) is out now. Her novels have been optioned by ITV Productions, Aston Productions, and are currently in discussion with Lion Television.

Angela wrote and performed a short for BBC Edinburgh Festival 2017 (BBC iPlayer). Her screenplay, LURE, (co-written with Cal Moriarty) won the First Scene Screenplay Festival 2017, placed 3rd in the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival 2017, and was a quarterfinalist in the First Blood Screenwriting Contest. Her drama, THE LEGACY, enjoyed a sell-out run at The Hope Theatre, London, 2015. The Daily Mail online described it as ‘intense and thought-provoking – ★★★★★’.

A sufferer of debilitating chronic condition EDS III, Angela is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, volunteers with Womentoring, Meet a Mentor and HM Prisons, and is passionate about bringing marginalised voices into the creative industries.

You can read more about Talent Campus HERE.

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