A man lurks in the shadows, spying on a girl in a red party dress.
The girl, Libby, is trying to shrug off a bad date. Not for a moment does she suspect that this night is the end of life as she knows it. The man pounces; Libby is grabbed and driven away. Held prisoner in a basement, she grapples with constant fear, all the while sustaining herself with thoughts of escape. Meanwhile, her captor is engaged on another mission, that of abducting a young boy to complete his ‘family’.
Will Libby ever escape? Or will the man kill her? And what of the boy who refuses to submit to the man’s demands? Can he possibly survive his merciless anger?
Wow, what a premise! What a hook to read Dianne Bates new novel The Girl in the Basement. I got the shivers just reading the blurb and once I read the first page, I couldn’t put it down until I’d read the last page.
Today, I’m excited to welcome award-winning Australian author Dianne Bates, who is stopping by on her very first blog tour to celebrate the launch of this spine-tingling book.
Firstly, congratulations on your amazing record of 120-plus published books. Phenomenal! I am in awe!
In a coincidence of timing, the launch of your new YA novel The Girl in the Basement comes on the heels of the escape of three young American women snatched from the streets, by the one kidnapper, and held captive in excess of ten years. An incomprehensible fate, but one your book brings vividly to life. I’d love to ask you some questions on how you brought such authenticity to your writing and the writing/research process it involved.
The Girl in the Basement is tough subject matter, depicting an horrific situation. At times it had me not wanting to read on in fear that some of the things you’d foreshadowed were about to come to pass. (Some, of course, which did!) From a writing perspective, how much work is entailed in building such gripping narrative tension? And how do you maintain that grip without the reader becoming unable to bear to keep reading?
Creating tension in a psychological thriller is essential, so as the book’s creator I constantly needed to keep this thought at the front of my mind. In the same way that tension is created in real life, fictional tension is created through characters’ actions, reactions and interactions. Contrasting viewpoint and voice were helpful devices in creating and maintaining tension, my teenage protagonist, Libby, being presented through first person viewpoint; the psychopathic kidnapper through third person. In this way, the reader more readily identifies with the teenager, but the kidnapper is seen as from a distance – a man shrouded in mystery.
Maintaining the tension is a matter of being aware all the time of what it is like to be in an extraordinary situation; that is, being abducted and held against one’s will, and constantly wanting to escape but having to suffer the consequences of any behaviour other than what a madman ‘accepts.’ At the same time, I needed not to ‘over-write’ the tension, to balance times of great physical and emotional stress with more sober and/or reflective moments; otherwise the reader would be overwhelmed. I was helped with creating this balance by critiquing by a group of writers in a workshop situation, and by having my ‘final’ manuscript professionally assessed.
The changing mindset of Psycho Man, as Libby calls her kidnapper, was particularly interesting in its development and shifts. What depth of research did you need to do into the psyches of both victims and kidnappers to reach this level of believability?
As a child I lived in a household of domestic violence and was constantly in fear of what might happen, so I could well relate to Libby’s experiences. I also had first-hand experience of an unpredictable man in my life so you could say I didn’t need to do much research but could draw on my childhood memories.
However, I do read a lot of crime fiction and real-life crime books which I found helpful in creating the life and mind of a criminal. In researching specifically for The Girl in the Basement I read about the experiences of young, abducted women who managed to flee their abusers. In particular, Sabine Dardenne’s whose book, I Choose to Live, about her 80 days in captivity, gave me a real insight into the experience and mindset of being kidnapped.
I found it fascinating that you’ve shown the perspectives of both the victims and the kidnapper. How difficult was it for you to write these polar viewpoints? What strategies did you use as a writer to successfully move between writing one to the other?
I particularly loved writing the character of the serial killer who kidnaps and holds Libby (and a boy) hostage! I decided that I couldn’t possibly get directly into Psycho Man’s head but that I needed to create a psychological distance for him and so decided to write his story in third person. As well, the language of his voice was more formal, even more literary and more slowly paced. In contrast, Libby’s first person voice makes a more direct appeal to the reader who is taken on her journey through her immediate thoughts, speech and actions. To give the story strength and immediacy, I chose to use present tense so the reader could ‘live’ the journey; I really think this helped in creating the book’s tension.
I didn’t always alternate the two protagonists’ stories; sometimes I really got into Psycho Man’s mindset so I continued with his story, later going back and deciding where to slot the different episodes into the book. I think it really helped character development by writing the story in a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ – or non-linear — way. It’s something I’m doing at the moment with an adult crime novel, The Freshest of Flesh (a woman serial killer hunting pedophiles!)
I think many writers would have been tempted to write on beyond your ending, though, I have to say, I believe you ended it at precisely the right moment. As a writer, I can’t help wondering if you wrote beyond your published ending and then pared it back. Without risk of spoiling the ending for those who have yet to read the book, how did you decide the right point at which to end it?
In the original version of The Girl in the Basement (draft title Playing for Keeps), I had decided to explore Stockholm Syndrome where the abducted person identifies with her abductor. (Most people would know of Patty Hearst who gained notoriety in 1974 when she joined the Symbionese Liberation Army – and robbed a bank — after they had kidnapped her). I decided that Libby, the girl in the basement, would ‘come over’ to her kidnapper’s side and forget her previous life. However, after finishing the book’s first draft, and with feedback from my husband (award-winning YA author Bill Condon), I decided to rewrite the second half of the book, to have a completely different ending.
Thus, in the published book there are overtones of Stockholm Syndrome (which I had researched thoroughly), but throughout her long ordeal Libby maintains her desire to escape, especially when she is subjected to violence by her captor. Like Libby, I wanted the reader to never know (until right at the end) if she escapes captivity, or if the brutal man disposes of her. And yes, I did pare back the ending of the second version – because my workshop group insisted I do so. (Hooray for workshop groups; every writer should have one.)
Finally, you are published in multiple genres, Di. We read so much these days about publishers wanting to “brand” their authors and books, and establish them in one genre. Can you tell us if crossing genres has created any problems for you in getting published? Do you have any tips for emerging authors wishing to do the same?
A long while ago I decided that I wanted to be a full-time writer. (I love the lifestyle, of not having a boss or having to commute or working regular hours). To achieve my goal I needed to treat writing as a full-time occupation, and to do this I needed to diversify and to be flexible. For a long time I took on whatever writing work I could, which included presenting publishing proposals and taking on writing commissions, usually for educational publishers. This meant writing fiction and non-fiction and writing in multiple genres. It meant writing every day, usually seven days a week while supplementing my income through schools’ performances and teaching writing. For the past 15 years I’ve made a living solely from writing (as has my husband, Bill), much of our income being supplemented by Lending Rights and CAL payments.
I would love to be a ‘branded’ author with a single publisher as this means increased sales when the author’s latest title results in backsales of previous titles. However, editors in publishing houses with whom I’ve established a relationship, have frequently moved to other publishing houses. Often one of my existing publishers doesn’t publish the genre in which I’ve written, or they haven’t wanted a subsequent title.
Crossing genres hasn’t created many problems for me. Of course I’ve been branded with the ‘too prolific’ tag, but that doesn’t particularly bother me. (A few prolific authors I know write under pseudonyms to avoid the stigma; one, for example, has won many CBCA awards.)
There is always a market for one’s manuscript, if the work is good enough for publication. It’s really a matter of finding the right publisher, not always an easy thing to do. For instance, for the past ten years or more I have looking for a publisher for my non-fiction series about amazing dogs, cats and horses; I know the work is publishable, and know that eventually it will find a publisher. One of my books was accepted by the 32nd publisher to whom I sent it! Another book, a YA novel, was taken by the 15th publisher and went on to sell overseas and to be short-listed in a state literary award.
If you want to succeed as an author you need a thick skin, incredible self-belief and determination, you need to be market savvy and100% professional. More than anything, though, you need to be persistent!
Thank you so much for stopping by From Hook to Book and sharing some of your research and writing strategies, Di. Very best wishes for well-deserved success for you and The Girl in the Basement.
To celebrate the book’s release Di will be touring the blogosphere. To follow her tour, read reviews and learn more about Di’s writing tips and this exciting new book, click on the links below.
Monday July 1st. www.creativekidstales.com.au Review
Tuesday July 2nd www.alisonreynolds.com.au Interview
Wednesday July 3rd www.buzzwordsmagazine.com Interview
Thursday July 4th www.christinemareebell.wordpress.com Interview
Friday July 5th www.buzzwordsmagazine.com Review
Saturday July 6th www.elaineoustonauthor.com Interview
Sunday July 7th www.kids-bookreview.com Review
Monday July 8th sherylgwyther.wordpress.com Interview
Tuesday July 9th deescribewriting.wordpress.com Interview
Tuesday July 9th clancytucker.blogspot.com.au Interview
Wednesday July 10th www.morrispublishingaustralia.com Interview
Thursday July 11th www.jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com Interview
Friday July 12th www.melissawray.blogspot.com.au
The Girl in the Basement is published by Morris Publishing Australia