Sophie Hannah is a busy woman. At this year's FutureBook Live conference - only one month away - the bestselling crime author will be talking on our panel about How to Develop New Audio, following the launch of her first ever podcast, How To Hold a Grudge.
But over the past few weeks she's also been occupied with a new project: A Dark Time, which is being promoted as the first ever ‘edutainment’ crime fiction novella. Created in partnership with home safety system provider ADT, and inspired by research finding that 71% of break-ins take place after the clocks go back, the story features security hints and tips woven into the plot - and has been creating quite a stir on social media.
We sat down with Hannah to discuss what edutainment means, why podcasting rocks and how to keep your readers close.
Congratulations on the story Sophie. It’s being promoted as ‘the first ever ‘edutainment’ crime novella’. Did you have mixed feelings about using fiction for ‘education’, or did it strike you as a natural fit?
Lots of fiction has more to it than the surface story. As a crime writer, I am used to tackling many different issues and themes in my fiction. The main thing, for me, is creating a compelling, unguessable puzzle mystery that also has something interesting to say about human beings and psychology. The key theme of A Dark Time is around friends and what might or might not constitute betrayal.
How did the partnership come about - was it driven by your publisher, your agent, ADT, or a combination?
I was approached by ADT through my agent. When I heard ADT’s idea for a commission, I jumped at the chance. As it happened, I had a perfect idea for a long short story brewing, and I knew that it would fit perfectly in a story of precisely the sort that ADT wanted. So, I signed up and set to work!
How (did) the education element impact on your writing process and style?
It was a brilliant fit, as I say - ADT’s aims and mine slotted together perfectly and organically. So my writing process was able to remain the same as it is for all my novels and stories: plan in detail, then edit the plan, then write.
What’s the response been from readers online? Have they questioned the commercial partnership element, or have you found they’re just excited about the story?
I have had an overwhelmingly positive response to A Dark Time. It’s been a couple of years since I published a full-length novel featuring my series detectives, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, and they come back in this novella. So, a lot of readers have been very happy to see them at work again, which is great!
You have a huge, engaged following on Twitter. What do you think readers love about the way you engage with them?
It’s always nice to get to know people. A book is such a personal thing — really, it’s a communion between the author and the reader — so discussing it and other, everyday things is a kind of natural next step. I love that my readers are so engaged, with me and with each other.
You’ve just launched a new podcast. What have you learnt from the process?
It’s literally only just launched so we haven’t had any audience feedback yet, but the whole experience has been huge fun! Making a podcast is much less formal and feels so much more direct and personal, somehow, than publishing a book. I’ve loved being able to engage with everyone on a very personal level. The podcast is called How to Hold a Grudge and reveals, week by week, how holding grudges doesn’t have to be a bad thing but can actually be good for you! I’ve recorded season one for now, and am looking forward to honing and perfecting the podcast for season 2.
Are there any innovations in the book trade you’re excited about right now?
The podcast trend is one I’m very excited about. After books, podcasts are now my main source of information and entertainment. I think it’s a superb genre!
I’m also very excited that crime fiction publishers have rediscovered the ‘high concept’ murder mystery that Agatha Christie mastered so well, publishing new authors like Suart Turton whose books are unique, ambitious and very high concept.