Meet Vicki Bradley author of Before I Say I Do
Vicki Bradley's debut novel is Before I Say I Do and we're delighted to introduce her as our second Thriller Women guest author. Before I Say I Do is available in ebook from Amazon and the paperback form all good bookshops plus online from Thriller Women's list on Bookshop.org, which is an affiliate link.
TW: Vicki, huge congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. What sparked the idea, what made you start writing it and is it your plan that Alana and Kowalski are part of a forthcoming detective series?
VB: I took a creative writing Masters course in 2014 and to pass the course you had to write a book. At the time I was getting married, and as a police officer you automatically find yourself thinking of the worse case scenario in any situation, because that's often what your working day involves. the idea came to me and that the worst thing that could happen on your wedding day would be your groom going missing. It would be horrible not knowing what had happened it him, whether he had jilted you or or if something terrible had happened to him. And for all that doubt to happen right at the moment you were about to embark on a new life together in such a public forum as your wedding with everyone you know there. Luckily for me my groom did turn up on my wedding day. But in this book I got to live out those fears.I’ve been writing since I was fifteen and I just love getting lost in imaginary worlds where anything can happen. The Masters Creative Writing Course with London City University made me take my writing more seriously and to prioritise it. I would recommend a writing course to anyone because the other writers you will meet on the course will make such a difference to your writing, although of course at the moment that is quite difficult with courses being online.
I am making Alana and Kowalski into a detective series and the sequel is called Your Life or Mine and is going to be published on 27th May 2021 with Simon and Schuster. I’m hoping to make a detective series out of it and I’ve started on the third book.
TW: When do you write, and how long did it take you to write a first draft?
VB: When I was writing Before I Say I Do I was working full-time, so it was whenever I got a chance and mostly in the evenings or at weekends. Having the Masters course gave my writing structure, because there were deadlines to meet to pass the course, so there was no option but to put other things on hold to focus on the book. I’d say the first draft took just over a year and then there was a lot of editing after that!
For my second book I’ve been writing full-time so it’s been a lot quicker and the first draft took me about six months and was in a lot better shape when I finished it. Now I’m full-time I start writing at around 9.30am and stop around 3pm. Then I focus on other things like ideas for the next book, publicity for the first book and reading in the genre and editing friends’ books. I find a structure to my day really helps, otherwise I would struggle to keep the motivation and discipline needed!
TW: Given that you’re a serving Met Police Officer, how much of the book is directly drawn from your experience? Who was your favourite character to write?
VB: I do draw from my experiences in the Met, I think that’s how I’ve ended up writing crime fiction. When I worked in Southwark CID we dealt with a lot of high risk missing person cases and suspicious deaths and I think inevitably when you’ve worked in an environment like that you end up writing about it because the cases play on your mind long after they’ve been closed. Most of the scenes from the book are things that I’ve dealt with, but I’ve turned several moments in my career into one coherent story with a fictional plot, although I’ve never dealt with a missing groom. I did once deal with a report of kidnapping where a man had been violently bundled into the back of a white van by masked men, but it luckily turned out to be a stag party and the victim was the groom.
Someone recently said to me that I write crime because I get to choose the ending, whereas in real police work things often don’t work out the way you’d like and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. With crime fiction there is always an element that justice is served and there is a great satisfaction in that, whereas in real life sometimes people don’t get the justice they deserve and that is hard to deal with for the victims and the officers investigating.
I originally thought my favourite character would be Julia the bride, there wasn’t even meant to be a female detective point of view in the book, but somehow Alana Loxton found her way into the story. I really enjoyed writing her and I’m so glad she will be a continuing character and I get to put her through her paces again. I’m looking forward to the reader getting to learn more about her and Kowalski.
TW: You’ve pieced together quite a complex plot in the book. Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser’ and did you find the plotting process challenging?
VB: I’m a plotter and it probably comes from working in the police and having to work through an investigation systematically. When I have an idea for a book I always know the ending or I have so far! I won’t know how I get there exactly and I guess that’s where I’m a little like a pantser. I’ll start writing the beginning and see where the story takes me and I plot it out as I go along in an excel spreadsheet just summarising each chapter, red herrings, character arcs, etc. Things do change in the story as I go along, I might think of something else that works better or a new red herring will come to me which I can weave into the story after the first draft is complete. Writing crime fiction is like a jigsaw piece and sometimes you have to throw a piece away because it no longer fits the big picture.
I did find plotting this book a challenge, trying to keep all the characters’ motivations in my head and the two different timelines of past and present, but hopefully I managed to pull it off! I would have really struggled without my excel spreadsheet though. I admire pantsers so much, because I think I would be terrified to begin a story without having a final destination to aim for and how they can keep all the story elements in their head at once. That is one of the amazing things about writing, everyone does it differently, and there are so many diverse crime fiction books out there because we’re all so different. I’ll never get bored of the genre.
TW: Was there a reason behind making Kowalski Polish?
VB: I grew up in the North West and at the time it wasn’t as cosmopolitan as it is now. When I came to London in my early twenties I was blown away by the diversity, all these different people from all over the world and I got to interact with them and learn from them. And when I joined the Metropolitan police I was working with people from Jamaica, Poland, Nigeria, all over the world. I decided I wanted to show that diversity in the book and I chose Polish because my brother-in-law is from Polish heritage and I’ve met his family and spent time in Poland. It’s a beautiful country with so much history and joint history with the UK from World War 2. I also took a Polish language course through the Met, but it’s so handy to have family who are Polish who can check that I’ve got it right!
TW: You’ve used a first person narrative for Julia and a third person for Alana. Was that a conscious choice and why did you choose to write the points of view this way?
VB: It was very much a conscious choice. I wanted to make Julia feel more intimate and for the reader to be completely inside her head. I wanted to reader to experience her grief and fears first hand. I felt third person narration for Alana would give her voice a more formal feel, which would help to create the atmosphere that she is there to do a job and is trying to keep impartial and focused throughout the investigation. Also having the two voices in first and third person made it very easy for the reader to distinguish between them instantly and anything that makes the reader’s job easier is a win. Having two points of view is already asking the reader to keep swapping between two voices, so anything that makes that transition more seamless is useful. I used to read on my commute and I found some books really easy to dive back into despite the distractions around me, whereas other books it would take me a few moments to remember where I was in the book and who I was following. I realised from reading books with multiple points of view that it wasn’t to do with how many points of view they contained necessarily, it was how distinctive those points of view voices were. Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret is a great example of an author who has mastered this, as she has several point of views in the story, but somehow the reader always knows who they’re with at any time in that book.
TW: Without giving away any spoilers, there is a surprise hint of romance in the story. Will you be exploring this further? And if so, will Saunders the journalist be making a re-appearance?
VB:I would never give a spoiler away, but there may well be a hint of romance in Before I Say I Do. You’ll have to read the sequel, Your Life or Mine, to discover whether this hint becomes anything more. As for Alec Saunders the journalist, I haven’t got any plans for him to return yet, but sometimes the characters find ways to surprise you and do their own thing so he may well be back in a future story.
TW: Tell us how you got your publishing deal.
VB: I entered a competition called Write Here Right Now, which was run by the Bradford Literary Festival, Simon and Schuster and Darley Anderson. You had to enter a novel that was about new beginnings, so I entered Before I Say I Do and was lucky enough to win. The prize was representation by Darley Anderson and a publishing deal with Simon and Schuster. I would encourage any aspiring writer to enter competitions. We often think our work isn’t good enough, but you have to believe in your own writing and put it out there, which can be a scary prospect I know! And winning or getting longlisted or shortlisted in a competition really makes your submission letter to agents stand out.
TW: In your view, what would be the most important piece of advice you could give to someone aspiring to write a psychological thriller?
Read as many recent debut psychological thrillers as you can. I say debut because it will show you what the publishers and agents are looking for right now. Once authors have a following and are established, they can often get away with bending the rules a little bit more, and might not necessarily show you what the current market is and what agents and publishers are looking. Saying that you do need to write something that you would love to read, otherwise it won’t grip the reader, so if what you like doesn’t seem to be the current trend you might make it the next big thing.
TW: Can you give us any hints about Your Life Or Mine?
DC Alana Loxton is back and we get to learn about her past in the murder squad. She was part of the all-female team who took down a notorious serial killer, Edward Barratt. He’s locked up in prison when one of the detectives disappears. At first it seems like a coincidence – but Alana isn’t so sure. It’s being published with Simon and Schuster on 27th May 2021 and I can’t wait to hear what readers think of it.
As she begins down the aisle, spotting Mark in his tailored suit, she knows she is taking her first steps t happiness - her past is behind her, it can't catch her now. Mark turns to face her ...
But it isn't Mark in the beautiful suit - it's his best man.
Because Mark is missing.
And Julia's past is closer than she thinks ...