Holly Seddon – Try Not To Breathe – Podcast

Holly Seddon’s impressive and engrossing fiction debut is taking the world by storm and she talks to the Co-op chat about this.

Shifting from present to past and back again, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer until its heart-stopping conclusion. The result is an utterly immersive, unforgettable debut. For fans of Gillian Flynn, Laura Lippman, and Paula Hawkins comes Holly Seddon’s arresting fiction debut—an engrossing thriller full of page-turning twists and turns, richly imagined characters, and gripping psychological suspense.

http://www.coop.com.au/try-not-to-breathe/9781782396680


Rob:
It’s my great pleasure to welcome Holly Seddon to the Co-op Chat. Hello, Holly.


Holly:
Hi, thanks for having me.


Rob:
Absolutely pleasure. Now, Holly, you’re living in Amsterdam at the moment, but you’re originally based and living in the UK. We’re here to talk about your latest book, your debut novel, Try Not to Breathe. It’s been compared to The Girl on the Train, and The Book of You.


Holly:
Well, it’s amazing. It’s really fantastic, and very, very flattering. I’m absolutely delighted. When I started writing Try Not to Breathe, quite a few years ago, those books hadn’t been out yet, so for Try Not to Breathe to come out during this really exciting time in psychological thrillers was fantastic, and a great bit of timing. It’s very, very flattering to be compared with books that I respect, by authors I respect.


Rob:
Tell me a bit about your writing process. Are you very sequential, or are you very planned? How does it work for you?


Holly:
I do plan. I have a basic framework for the story, so I have a beginning, middle, and an end. Initially, what will always happen is, I’ll have the basic spark of an idea, and that could just be one phrase, or one hook. From there, I’ll tend to rush in and do a bit of writing … Find the characters and work out what I’m attempting to say, and work out what my setting is. Then when I’ve done a little bit, maybe 10,000 words, I’ll stop, take stock, and that’s when most of my planning happens. I’ll start with the spark, and a heady rush of … It’s kind of like a romance, getting to know these characters … Then stopping and actually planning and being a bit more sensible, so that I don’t just rush ahead without any actual structure to it.


Rob:
I’ve phoned enough authors, everyone’s got their own method. Obviously, this is the one that works for you.


Holly:
So far, I’m definitely somebody who, if I plan too much, then I’m likely to get a little bit bored. If I have no plan, then I either veer off course, or the enormity of the task overwhelms me. It works well for me to have a basic plan, and then to day by day nibble away at that.


Rob:
Try Not to Breathe, and I’ll admit to being half way through it, so I don’t know where it’s going to end, but I’m completely riveted.


Holly:
Thank you.


Rob:
It examines the relationship between two strong women at various stages of life, and various positions of trauma, I suppose. One of your characters is in a coma. I won’t give away too much other than you use different times to help tell the story. Did you look at people in comas and how they react, as part of your research?


Holly:
Yes, I did, but I didn’t … I use artistic license, and I’m very honest about that. It’s not an academic text. It couldn’t be used in anything other than an imaginative sense, but I did want to get the basics right. I wanted to make sure that the lingo was right, and that the rough expectations of … The loved ones would have been around … Would have been correct. I wanted it to be authentic, but it’s not precise and scientific.

Rob:
No, but I think you’re right with the characterizations of the people around the various characters, and how they would react. That seemed very true to life, for me, anyway. I’m sure others will find the same kind of reaction. Have you always been attracted to psychological thrillers?


Holly:
Yes … Without knowing that’s what they were. I’ve always, since I was a kid, the stories that I’ve enjoyed the most have been quite dark. I grew up on a diet of ghost stories, way earlier than I would let my kids read ghost stories. I’ve always liked that kind of bitter-sweet experience as a reader, of being enthralled, but slightly spooked. I like the shadows as well as the light. I was never going to write something that was a fantastically happy romance. That’s not where I’m at. I love people who can write that stuff, but that’s not for me. I was always going to write something on the darker side of things. When I started writing Try Not to Breathe, the initial idea was around the Amy character, so somebody who was trapped in a long-term coma, who had essentially been filed away and forgotten, because of course that’s what’s going to happen to somebody. Even if somebody who was a big news story … Over 15 years, everything has to move on around them, because that’s life. Obviously, once I started with that … As you feel your way with planning a story, the questions were, “How did she get there,” “Why was she there?” For a 15 year old, as Amy was, to be in that kind of condition, automatically there is some trauma involved in that story. It just naturally went that way, but it wasn’t that I sat down and looked at those genres and thought, “Okay, this is going to rigidly fit into here,” because I don’t think that’s how anybody writes, to be honest.


Rob:
I think you’re right there. Now, this is your debut novel, however, you’ve got quite a lot of writing experience, and quite a varied experience. I see that you’ve written a lot of short pieces, from everything from balancing the act of motherhood and parenting, through to colonic irrigation. How does writing a novel compare?


Holly:
It’s obviously an awful lot longer, but I think having a daily writing habit, as you have to have when you’re an online journalist (which is mostly where I write), you’re used to having those daily deadlines. You’re used to having to turn up and write, even if you don’t feel like it. I think that sort of work ethic is probably there in the way that I approach novels as well. Also, again, having that research, that ability to quite quickly find out the basics around a subject. I’d say that I find it exhausts me a lot more. When I’m writing … Say I’m writing about colonic irrigation, for example, (which was a long time ago), the material is all out there. I can very quickly find what is it, who’s doing it, why they’re doing it, where to go to get it done. It’s all there, so even if I’m utterly exhausted, I can turn something in. When you’re scraping your own imagination, when you’re holding this universe in your head, that only exists in your head and on the page, it takes a lot more out of me. I think I am quite a fast writer, becau se of that writing habit that I’ve had over the years, but I’m definitely slower when I’m wri ting fiction, than if I’m writing non-fiction.

Rob:
Do you find it hard to exit the worlds that you’re writing in?


Holly:
Sometimes. I found it quite hard to shift. I found I was very immersed in Amy’s world. Without giving too much away, her experience is so unique, and very sad. I had to really put myself into the right kind of mood to write about her, and it takes a little while to shake that loose. What I find harder is finding the head space to get into the world in the first place. I’ve got 4 kids, and they are noisy. It takes a little while to shake off the day and actually shut everything out, but once I’m in it, then I’m really in it, and I’m in that new universe all of my own.


Rob:
As you may know, many of the Co-op listeners here are at University or have just finished University. Did you get to study, yourself?


Holly:
I did, I went to Further Education college, so that’s when you’re 16 to 18, and I did my A-levels. Then I actually went out and started working, rather than immediately went to University. It was always my plan. I’m a big believer in the value of higher education, not just from an academic sense, but as an important time in your life of finding yourself … Finding yourself intellectually, as well as socially. I never quite made it, because, as I think it’s probably quite a common story, life happened, and that special time was kind of eaten up. I never quite made it back, but what I did do is, I followed the Open University, which is … I don’t know if you have it in Australia, but it’s a distance learning University, it’s open to everybody. It’s fantastic, and it’s quite an affordable way to get a really good education. I got a higher certificate in Humanities. I scratched that itch, but it’s always a little bit of a regret that I never had those 3 years to totally immerse myself in University life.


Rob:
As we’ve learned with all the authors what we’ve interviewed, many paths lead to many outcomes. It sounds like you’ve had your own experiences to get where you are. Who do you read? Who are your influences?


Holly:
At the moment … I really struggle to read anything that’s too similar to what I’m currently writing. When I’m actually working on something, I don’t read any of the new thrillers. I don’t read anything by people I would dream to be compared with, or even anybody who is an emerging author in the same area. Which kind of narrows me a little bit, narrows my choices, but I go back in time a little bit. I read Agatha Christie and things like that. I shut myself away from the modern stuff. Growing up, I read anything I could get my hands on. I’m not slavish to one particular genre. My favourite author is actually Peter Carey, so he’s one of your own.


Rob:
One of our world-renowned ones … What’s the plan? Is there a follow-up to Try Not to Breathe? Is there another novel coming out?

Holly:
Yeah. What I’m working on now is a stand-alone, so it’s not a sequel. It’s a very similar genre. It’s set in contemporary Britain. It’s actually set in Manchester this time. It looks at another unique female character who has her challenges, which affect not just the way she sees the world, but also the way the world sees her. It’s fairly early days, but it’s looking at how a family dealt, or didn’t deal with childhood experiences that are coming to roost in their modern lives.


Rob:
I’m very excited by that. I need to go and finish Try Not to Breathe, which is sitting right next to me here. I’m very excited to do it, and it is a page-turner. I highly recommend it to all our listeners, and all the film producers looking for a script to make a movie, it’s very filmic in its nature as well. Thank you very much for your time, very early in the morning in Amsterdam. We look forward to reading and hearing what comes next for Holly, and if there’s any Dutch influence on your next book.


Holly:
I haven’t intended for there to be, but you never know … Probably creep in a little bit. Thank you so much for having me.
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