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03 August 2021

Natalie Chandler: ‘Take every opportunity to grow as an author; never stop learning and never stop developing your skills’

by Katie Smart Author Interviews, Writing Tips

Natalie Chandler studied on our six-week online Writing a Psychological Thriller course. The novel she worked on during the course – Believe Me Not – is to be published by Headline Accent in spring 2022.

We caught up with Natalie to find out more about her time on the course, her approach to writing and the inspiration behind her debut…

You took our Writing a Psychological Thriller course. How did your time studying online with us impact your writing journey?

Being able to complete the course online was perfect because I could fit it in around other commitments so I never had to rush through any of the assignments. Erin Kelly was a fantastic instructor who knew how to impart her knowledge in a clear and structured way and the feedback from Michelle Davies was such a boost. I was partway through editing my first draft of Believe Me Not when I took the course and I could immediately see how the learning could be applied to improving the manuscript. I learnt so much in six weeks and was very grateful for forum feedback from other group members.

Your debut novel Believe Me Not is to be published by Headline Accent. How does it feel to have a book deal?

I’m still in shock! It’s been a long journey to publication and, at times, I’d thought I would never make it, so knowing my book will be on the shelves as soon as March 2022 is mind-blowing. I was very lucky to be plucked from the slush pile by my wonderful agent Liza DeBlock and she has been tireless in giving Believe Me Not the best possible chance of success. When Headline Accent called to offer a two-book deal and I met Katie Sunley, my lovely and very astute editor, I was amazed by her vision for the book and the passion she showed.

Believe Me Not opens with a new mother who has been told her child never existed. Can you tell us a bit more about your novel and the inspiration behind it?

Believe Me Not is about a woman discovering she is sectioned in a psychiatric unit, her baby absent from her side. When she begs for news of him, she is told by her husband, sister and doctor that she does not have a child and her belief is a symptom of acute psychosis. Determined to prove her baby’s existence, but unable to rely on her memory or her ability to determine reality from fantasy, Megan is forced to face some long-buried secrets in her battle to find her son.

The idea came from a dream. I woke up with Megan, the protagonist, very clear in my head. I could hear her voice and sense her panic and her bewilderment. Her character led the story from the beginning and she wouldn’t go away until I started putting it down on paper. As the Writing a Psychological Thriller course revealed to me, I’m very much a Pantser rather than a Plotter, so I was swept along on the journey with Megan to find out whether baby Luka was real or not.

When did you know that you wanted to be an author?

Since I was seven years old! I remember scribbling a knock-off version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory using one of those giant novelty pencils (I’m sure other pencils were available) because I’d created my own character and was determined he should replace Charlie. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for original plots to occur to me and I’ve never really stopped writing since. It’s a part of me, something I’m compelled to do, and I believe even if I hadn’t eventually found success, I’d still need to write because I can’t imagine life without it. My brain would implode if the words didn’t get filtered out onto paper!

What does your writing routine look like?

Non-existent! I’m not a routine person – sticking to rigid timetables or word count goals doesn’t suit me. One day I’ll spend all morning in the garden writing; the next day it will be an hour or two while my partner watches football in the background (I’m a rugby fan but find the noise of football inexplicably conducive to writing). I’ve got a gorgeous little library with my desk and inspiring author quotes on pinboards but I spend as much time working on the sofa as I do at the desk.

When I’m in the planning stages, I tend to talk it through in my head as I’m cooking or tell the dogs about it on a walk before notes start flying out in random orders and scenes create themselves without any structure. Organised chaos is the best description. One thing I don’t do is procrastinate – if I have a task, I get it done, so I tend to write quickly and prefer the reassurance of being finished well before deadlines. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring thriller authors?

Learn as much as you can. One thing the pandemic has given us is the opportunity to access so many courses, lectures and conferences online and it has been a goldmine of resources. I highly recommend Writing a Psychological Thriller – it challenged my thinking and gave me some completely new ideas, as well as reinforcing the intricacies of the genre. Take every opportunity to grow as an author; never stop learning and never stop developing your skills. Write anything, whenever you get the urge – it’s never wasted. When you look back at your journey, you’ll be amazed how far you’ve come.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

I’m currently working on my second novel, working title of The Waking Hours, about a woman who is haunted by dreams of past abuse but is unable to remember the crimes except when she is asleep. She becomes obsessed with bringing the man she is certain was her abuser to justice, by any means necessary, even though she can’t be sure her dreams can be trusted. The Waking Hours is scheduled for release in March 2023.

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