Thank you so much to you Alex, for being my Guest Author, and answering my questions.
Thank you for having me, Jude, it’s my absolute pleasure, I’m just so thrilled to be featured on your blog!
I’d like to start by asking, have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us about your previous Careers?
Although I was a tennis player and a lawyer before I started writing, I guess, deep down, I knew that becoming a writer was something I was capable of because I’d always had a predilection and flair for writing stories since I was a child. However, it didn’t become a realistic possibility until 2010 when I was pregnant with my second Son.
From the ages of 7-19 tennis dominated my life, to the extent that everything else took a backseat. I would play tennis three to four times a week after school, and every weekend was taken up with training camps, while every week of the school holidays I was off playing a tournament somewhere or other. I basically lived and breathed tennis for 13 years, was a member of the under 12/14 national squads, and turned pro at 16 touring the satellite circuit for nearly three years. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out as I’d hoped and I quit tennis at 19, went back to college, then university, then law school became a lawyer, and practiced in the City for eight years. Law wasn’t for me long-term though. Although I enjoyed some aspects of being a lawyer, made some wonderful friends (including my husband!) and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to write my legal thrillers authentically without the experience I gained from Law, it was never the perfect fit for me, not the way being an author is. I am the happiest writing, and it never feels like a chore, which sadly law, which can be quite dry and formulaic, often did!
Although completely different professions, both tennis, and law require a thick skin and certain ruthlessness to survive. It got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it either. The City is an especially tough place to work, and I came across quite a few spiteful characters who made my life miserable and who I didn’t much want to be around. It wasn’t for me as I said, but I’m grateful for the inspiration it gave me to write my books. Both experiences also made me a stronger person and I’m happy to say that career-wise, it’s third time lucky for me with my writing!
Luckily, my husband was able to support us financially for me to pursue my passion for writing and so I set about writing my first book in 2010 entitled Love & Limoncello – a women’s fiction novel with a bit of romance and mystery thrown in which I ended up self-publishing. It did extremely well reaching number 53 in the bestseller’s list and selling over 10,500 copies. That’s something I’m very proud of. Crime/thriller has always been my favourite genre, however, and once my children were in pre-school and I had more time to devote the time and research needed to write an effective and believable thriller I didn’t hesitate to switch genres and haven’t looked back since. I love how challenging crime/thriller writing is, both for the author and for the reader! There’s nothing better than a page-turning thriller to lose yourself in – the red herrings, twists and turns and intricate plotlines all make for compulsive reading.
Did you have to do much research for the characters in She’s Mine? Especially Christine Donovan, as she has so many demons, did you use personal experience?
I didn’t have to do much research, to be honest. Obviously, Christine and Greg are lawyers, and therefore, having worked in the City for seven years, I’m able to use my experience to portray that world authentically in terms of the kind of atmosphere people in the City operate in, including the various temptations that can result from working long hours and wanting to let off steam. I also lived in North London for thirteen years which is where most of the story takes place and so again, it’s an area I’m very familiar with and therefore able to portray realistically. I’m glad to say I didn’t use too much personal experience (!) for the character of Christine, although I have been through the pain of a divorce and so can appreciate how relationships can become strained, along with the emotional consequences of that. It’s also true to say that I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and therefore pretty hard on myself if I feel I’ve not done things to the best of my abilities. I don’t tend to do things by half measures, and in the past have become quite addicted to diets and exercise, and so it wasn’t hard for me to imagine falling into that trap on a long-term basis the way Christine does following the devastating loss of her child. Although, of course, her obsessions are a form of self-punishment for something she did in the past. As you know, the book centres on Christine’s grief for her missing child; a grief made more acute by the fact that she blames herself for losing her daughter, tormented by her guilt for her neglect but also a shameful secret she feels contributed to her child’s disappearance. Once the basic idea came to me, I very quickly became immersed in Christine’s story which, granted, wasn’t an easy one to tell being a mother of two young boys myself. In fact, it was extremely tough to write at various points, this being my worst nightmare, but at the same time, I hope this helped me to convey the sheer horror and incomparable pain of Christine’s, as well as her husband Greg’s, loss. Putting myself in Christine’s shoes, I could feel her excruciating pain and grief, her daily inner torment, a pain and torment that consumes her from head to toe, as it would do me, and so, having done this, having really got inside her head, I put her pain down on paper through the first-person narrative. As we follow Christine’s story we realise she’s a very different person in the present-day narrative to how she was in the past – not just physically but emotionally, and I guess that’s something else I can also relate to; after all, we all change as people to a certain extent over the years, we all learn from past mistakes and have our regrets, but also realise how things that had seemed so important in our youth really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and again, having had life experience, including a marriage that ended in divorce, that’s something I felt able to portray through the main characters of Greg and Christine. Similarly, in the case of Ella and Daniel, I can still remember the uncertainty, capriciousness but also naivety of my twenties and so, with a bit of imagination, I was able to get into their mindsets and think the way someone of that age would.
The plot and storyline of She’s Mine is so twisty, dark and made me gasp out loud, how on earth did you come up with the idea?
It was always my intention to make this novel as dark, sinister and twisty as possible because I think such an atmosphere sits well with fans of the psychological thriller genre; they want to feel on edge and they don’t want too much of the mundane; in short, they want to be shocked and surprised! But if I am being honest, and although I know this sounds a bit boring, the basic idea literally just came to me, while some of the twists didn’t actually formulate in my mind until I started writing. This has been the case with most of my books; something I find hugely exciting and fulfilling – coming up with that bigger and better idea or twist as you write that you hope is going to shock readers. I love the fact it made you gasp out loud, Jude, because that was my intention and it’s very satisfying for me as a writer to hear that I’ve achieved one of my aims in writing the book!
What I would say is that with She’s Mine, I wanted to focus on the idea of human frailty, about how we can all, as fallible beings, fall prey to the darker side of human nature – to temptation, lust, revenge, envy and so on, but at the same time have a basic need to be loved, wanted and valued, especially by those we seek and crave such sentiments from. When these are lacking, or taken to extremes, things can often go very wrong and lead the most normal of people in the most mundane of situations to behave in the most extreme and abnormal of ways.
Growing up did you face any challenges, and who was/were your role model/s?
I suffered from horrendous asthma as a child. I can still remember being up in the night gasping for breath, and my Dad, who was a doctor, drenching my top with Karvol capsules to help me breathe. A wonderful invention back then called the spinhaler was my saviour as well as, ironically, playing tennis. Both helped me grow out of it, but it was quite scary (probably more so for my parents!) at the time. Although I wasn’t as aware of it as my mother, there were definitely challenges to being a mixed-race child. I know that sadly this kind of prejudice still exists, but when I was growing up people could be even less tolerant and judgmental, not so much to your face but by making underhand, snide comments designed to hurt and ridicule, which isn’t a nice feeling. My father has always been a role model to me. He had an exceptionally hard childhood, separated from his mother (his father died when he was six leaving his mum and three brothers alone) in the time of partition, was physically beaten and generally treated very badly by an uncle he and his middle brother were sent to stay with for a number of years, and so to think that he survived all that and went on to become a doctor and be the first and last of his family to leave India and settle in the UK with my mum is hugely inspirational for me. Not only that, he survived two nearly fatal accidents and more recently has been fighting prostate cancer these past two years with a courage and optimism that astounds me.
Who would you like to see playing the parts of Christine and Greg if She’s Mine was turned into a Movie/TV Show?
Wow, seeing She’s Mine turned into a movie or TV show would be an absolute dream come true! I think Nicole Kidman would make a great Christine. Not only is she a fantastic actress, very intelligent and brilliant at doing English accents, she has the kind of haunted, elfin look required for the part of present-day Christine, but is also naturally beautiful which Christine, before her addictions set in, was. I could also see Rebecca Ferguson or Naomi Watts playing the part. For Greg, I think Ewan McGregor or Ralph Fiennes would be good choices.
As a child growing up, were you an avid reader? Do you have a favourite childhood book?
Yes, I was an avid reader from a very young age. My mother would read nursery rhymes and Enid Blyton classics to me for hours when I was a toddler. The Railway Children and Jane Eyre were also favourites that we’d read together. At primary school I have fond memories of Rebecca’s World, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Charlotte’s Web to name but a few, but if I had to pick a stand-out favourite childhood book, i.e. one that really sticks in my mind it would have to be The Magic Faraway Tree closely followed by The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I think being an only child and therefore not having a constant playmate, caused me to spend hours getting lost in books, and I’d find myself transported to the incredible worlds these authors created, and becoming friends with the characters who inhabited them.
What is your favourite book you’ve read this year and why?
That is a super hard question as there are simply too many to count. If I had to make a choice, on the literary fiction side it would be No Honour by Awais Khan and on the crime/thriller fiction side, Evaders by EC Scullion. Both books are class acts written by phenomenal writers up there with the very best in their genres.
Do you have a favourite Author or favourite book of all time?
John Grisham was a huge inspiration for me and remains one of my all-time favourites. His books are a masterclass in addictive thriller writing. I loved The Firm, but I think A Time To Kill is even better just because of the subject matter and powerful courtroom scenes. Even before I became a lawyer, I was drawn to Grisham’s slick, page-turning thrillers. I’d get lost in the complex, legal worlds he portrayed, rooting for his fearless, feisty, moralistic lawyers against the mean, corrupt corporate giants they faced. His books have everything that makes a cracking thriller, including compelling characters and tight plotting written at breakneck speed. I’ve read so many wonderful books, I know it’s a complete cop-out, but it’s simply impossible to name a favourite of all time. I love so many books in the thriller genre but also historical fiction classics like I Claudius and The First Man in Rome series.
If you could go back in time, to one historical event, to witness it, what would it be and why?
VE Day. Having studied both wars in depth for A-Level History and my degree at UCL it would be incredible to witness this historic and jubilant occasion first-hand. It’s hard for us to imagine the sacrifices people made over four years of war, to have lived under such perilous and restrictive conditions – children separated from their parents, young men torn from their loved ones – and I would think that the atmosphere that day, knowing it was finally over, would have been electric. Not just in the UK, but all over the world.
You can pick 4 famous people, dead or alive, for a dinner party, who would you pick and why?
This is the hardest question of all; I could name so many! OK, so I would have to say Agatha Christie because she is the Queen of crime fiction and had such an amazing, interesting and full life, Daniel Craig because, well, do I really need to spell that one out?! (NB, tuxedo a pre-requisite 😂🤣), Barack Obama as I’d like to ask him how on earth he managed to stay so calm and level-headed while surviving on minimal sleep during his Presidency, and finally Robert Downey Jr as I love his dry humour, think he’s a brilliant actor and really admire the way he fought his addictions to become one of the most successful actors on the planet.
How many books have you written and which is your favourite?
I have written nine books in total and am currently working on a tenth. The first two, as previously mentioned, were self-published women’s fiction novels written under my married name, Alexandra Sage.
The other seven are thrillers, three of which – The Scribe, The Abduction (part of my Kramer & Carver thriller series featuring feisty lawyer, Maddy Kramer, who teams up with DCI Jake Carver to solve investigations set in the legal world published by Lume Books and Isis Audio) and She’s Mine (my first psychological thriller with Hera Books) have been published. Of the other four, two are straight thrillers, the other two are psychological, one of which is out with Hera books Summer 2022.
The crime/thriller genre has always been my stand-out favourite and once I’d written my first thriller, I knew it was the genre I wanted to focus on. In fact, the first thriller I wrote, Illicit Retainers, yet to be published, is the book that piqued the interest of my agent, Annette Crossland.
She’s Mine is my favourite, though, just because I feel it’s unique in the way it is written and because I’m quite proud of the twists, especially the end twist. The feedback so far for the book has been amazing, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of readers (who I don’t know!!!) contacting me to say how much they loved it and couldn’t put it down. Also, how the characters really got under their skin and had their own unique voices. I worked really hard on the characterisation, so it’s lovely to get this kind of positive feedback.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Be your own person and never follow the crowd for the sake of it. Also, hard work pays off.
Do you play music when writing, and if so what’s your favourite?
No, sadly not. I am not someone who can write with noise in the background, even soft playing music. It just distracts me. I need absolute quiet to focus and completely immerse myself in my writing. Which obviously wasn’t easy at the height of the pandemic with the kids at home!
What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever received?
I always treasure the homemade cards my children give me for mother’s day and for my birthday. You can’t put a price on those.
Are you currently writing another book?
I am currently in the throes of editing my second psychological thriller for Hera Books. I can’t reveal too much about the storyline just yet, but I will say that it’s written in the first person from the perspective of three very different women all of whom have dark pasts and secrets they’ll do anything to keep buried. It’s a tense, complex plot with several twists including one BIG reveal at the end.
I am also working on book three in my Kramer & Carver series, another serial killer investigation but where DS Drake, Carver’s right-hand man gets more of a prominent role.
About A.A. Chaudhuri
A.A. Chaudhuri is a former City lawyer, turned thriller writer, who lives in Surrey with her family.
Once a highly ranked British junior tennis player, competing in the national championships and a member of the national squad, she went on to tour the women’s professional satellite circuit as a teenager and achieved a world ranking of 650.
After returning to full-time education, she gained a BA Honours 2:1 in History at University College London, and a commendation in both the Graduate Diploma in Law and Legal Practice Course at the London College of Law, before training as a solicitor at City firm Norton Rose and then practising as a commercial litigator at two other City firms, Kendall Freeman and Travers Smith.
She left law in 2008 to pursue her passion for writing and in 2010 passed the NCTJ fast-track newspaper journalism course, in respect of which she was awarded The Oxford University Press Public Affairs Award for the most outstanding public affairs central government paper.
In 2013 and 2014 she self-published two women’s fiction novels under the name Alexandra Sage: Love & Limoncello and the sequel Love & Loss. Love & Limoncello has sold more than ten thousand copies to date, reaching number 53 in the Amazon Kindle Bestsellers List in October 2014.
THE SCRIBE and THE ABDUCTION, published by LUME BOOKS in July and December 2019, are her first crime book series, plunging readers into London’s glamorous legal world and featuring series’ heroine, Maddy Kramer, fiction’s first female City lawyer amateur sleuth, who teams up with charismatic DCI Jake Carver to solve a gruesome series of murders and a puzzling abduction.
Both books have hit the bestsellers lists in the UK, Australia and Canada, with bestseller tags in Australia and Canada.
THE SCRIBE and THE ABDUCTION were published as audio books by Isis Audio on 1st January and 1st March 2021, both read by David Thorpe.
She has also contributed an original short story THE ENCOUNTER to crime anthology GIVEN IN EVIDENCE published by LUME BOOKS in May 2020, has written many articles and short stories for The Crime Writers’ Association.
In February 2021, Alex signed a two-book contract for two standalone psychological thrillers with HERA BOOKS, the first entitled SHE’S MINE was published on 18th August 2021 in ebook and 26th August in paperback. The second will be published in spring 2022.
Besides being an avid reader, she enjoys fitness, films, anything Italian and a good margarita!
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