Author feature: Flowers For The Dead by Barbara Copperthwaite

By | September 21, 2015


Adam Bourne is a serial killer who thinks he is a saviour. When he murders his victims and cuts off the women’s lips, he believes he has done it to make them happy. How did he become warped from the sensitive four-year-old who adored his gran and the fairy tales she read to him? What turned him into a monster who stalks his victims? And what is he trying to say with the bouquets he sends? 

When he meets Laura Weir, Adam weaves a fairy tale romance around them. A tale she has no idea she is part of. As he hatches his twisted plan for their fairy story ending, can anyone stop him before he creates the ultimate sacrifice to love?

I can’t remember what came first – knowing Barbara Copperthwaite through Twitter, or knowing her even better through Book Connectors. But I do know that she’s now written two books that I really, really want to read. Invisible was published in March/June 2014 for Kindle and in paperback, and has gathered some really excellent reviews: for the next few days only, you can buy the Kindle edition for just 99p (check before clicking). Her second, Flowers For The Dead, is fully available for Kindle and in paperback from today. That really seemed a good enough reason to invite Barbara to join me on Being Anne…

Barbara, welcome! Would you like to start by introducing yourself?

I’m a journalist and novelist, so am lucky enough to be able to earn a living from writing. Before I became a journalist, 20 years ago, I had no clue what I wanted to be. Now, I can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything but write, in one form or another. It’s not so much what I do, as who I am.

So – working in a men’s prison, and as an air hostess, before becoming a magazine journalist and now a novelist. How did that happen?! Were you always a frustrated novelist?
I believe breadth of life experience makes for a better writer. But that wasn’t the reason behind my random jobs! When I worked in Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow’s category A men’s prison, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. At the end of my first day the staff congratulated me because the first person they had employed in that post had lasted until lunchtime, and the following person hadn’t made it to an hour. I remember being amazed, because the environment hadn’t bothered me at all; I was working in the health centre, helping to organize medical files which were being centralized across the Scottish Prison Service at the time. The staff there were incredibly hard working and really lovely. I saw a lot of prisoners, and would chat with some, then discover what they were in for and be amazed. It definitely taught me not to judge a book by its cover.

Immediately after that, I became cabin crew in order to save money for a training course in journalism. I only did it for six months, and have never lost my respect for cabin crew. It’s the toughest job I’ve ever had – and if I wrote down some of the things passengers had said to me, you would think I was making them up!

The more I read about your books – Invisible and Flowers For the Dead – the more I want to read them. Tell me a little more about them, and where the inspiration came from… 

Invisible came to me very suddenly one day. For years people had been asking me if I would write a book, and I could never understand why: I was a journalist, I dealt in facts, and had no interest in fiction at all, aside from being a voracious reader of it. But one day, an idea popped into my head for a novel about an invisible victim of crime, someone people don’t ever really think about.

The inspiration was probably born out of frustration because it was the one story that, as a journalist, I really wanted to write. I would have loved to interview someone like my main character in Invisible (she is never named) but people in her situation so rarely speak out. The idea grew and grew, until I was writing in my lunch breaks, and while commuting on the train.

When I finished Invisible, I remember being slightly stunned that I was actually capable of completing such a large body of work, bearing in mind that I was used to writing features of around 2000 words, and my novel was just over 100,000 words! I was even more stunned when Invisible hit number 6 in the Amazon Kindle Murder bestsellers list.

Flowers for the Dead felt completely different. It was both easier and harder to write. I had had the spark of the idea not long after starting working on Invisible, just before I moved in with my partner, Paul. I thought I needed to buy some milk, but then checked in my fridge and was surprised to find I had a full carton beside the almost empty one. I didn’t remember buying it, but just shrugged to myself: ‘Oh, well, it must have been me because there’s no one else it could be!’ Then I laughed to myself thinking: ‘Unless it’s a crazed stalker breaking in and buying me milk.’

I couldn’t shake the idea of how creepy it would be to have someone breaking into my home doing ‘nice’ things for me. Slowly but surely, Adam was born. From the start I wanted him to be a complex character, not a straightforward ‘baddie’, so it seemed obvious to tell his back story, his journey from innocent child to serial killer, and weave it in with the terrifying present of him stalking a victim.

“Dark, gripping and twisted” – was that always going to be the genre you chose to write?
Ha! That’s one of my favourite quotes from a review! I think with my background, it was inevitable that I wouldn’t produce anything fluffy. My mum adores crime, as did her mother (whom I was very close to) so it’s in my genes. Add that to my background in journalism, having interviewed so many people who have experienced great trauma…

I’ve met rapists and murderers. I’ve met their victims. In both cases, I love getting under the skin of people and finding out what makes them tick – from why one person has done terrible things, to how someone else has found the strength to survive when something awful has happened to them or a loved one.

I’m equally fascinated by the psychology of my characters. For me ‘whydunit’ is so much more important that ‘whodunit’. Dark, gripping and twisted is definitely a genre I can’t get enough of.

Has it been difficult getting the word out there without the support of a major publisher? 
It is always going to be harder as an independent author to be discovered by readers. I can’t afford to advertise on tv, or have posters in train stations, and a lot of magazines and newspapers will not even consider reviewing books which are not traditionally published, which is a great shame.

Once a book is discovered by readers, though, magic starts to happen. Word of mouth is the single most important advert any author can have. If someone reads a book, then recommends it to friends, who recommend it to their friends, a ball starts rolling that is hard to stop. I firmly believe that if a book is good enough, it will be discovered eventually.

That’s why reviews are so important. If a reader likes a book, it makes a huge difference if they can take a minute to leave a quick review on a site such as Amazon.

The wildlife photography you do fascinated me – pure relaxation?
Juggling journalism, writing a novel, and doing publicity, plus running a home, can get a bit hectic and stressful sometimes. I constantly have ever-growing lists in my head of things I must do, and am always thinking three steps ahead with everything. But when I’m watching nature, all of that is left behind. Taking the photographs particularly focuses me on living in the moment; there is no past, no future, only that perfect moment when I’m barely breathing as I focus my camera on something beautiful, such as a butterfly, and take the snap.

I’ve always loved nature, even as a child. My sister used to laugh at me when, aged eight, I could look at a dropping in a field and identify the type of animal ‘whodunit’. I have a website  Go Be Wild that I run purely for pleasure, with a nature blog on it. I’m no expert, and don’t claim to be, I just love keeping track of what I’ve seen, and hopefully sharing my passion for wildlife with a handful of others.

And what writers do you admire? If someone said “her writing reminds me of…”, what comparison would give you the most pleasure?
The biggest compliment would be for my novels to achieve longevity, alongside the likes of Patricia Highsmith. Her Tom Ripley character is fabulous, and Strangers on a Train is ingenious.

I really love Stuart MacBride’s ability to balance gritty crime with dark humour in his Logan McRae series. That takes real skill. Gillian Flynn writes consistently fabulous stand alone crime books (I actually think Dark Places is superior to Gone Girl, but there you go) with characters that are unlikeable but suck the reader in almost despite themselves.

Louise Penny’s books have such heart at their centre. She writes crime novels about people, makes wonderful philosophical points that are thrown in so casually, and her descriptions of Quebec are utterly evocative.

And while I’m on the subject of evocative atmosphere, I love Susan Hill for her ability to give me goosebumps. But I wouldn’t want my writing compared to anyone’s because that’s far too much pressure!

And now Flowers For The Dead is out there, what next? Are you writing again?
Currently, I’m working on a nature book based around my blog, and the peace of mind it is possible to find by watching nature. There won’t be a murder in sight (well, I certainly hope not!). Peace in a Wild City will be out just before Christmas.

Crime is where my heart lies though. I’ve already started pulling together notes on my next novel, which will be a stand alone involving a man whose daughter has been murdered. To be honest, I’ve got the plot pretty much sorted in my head, now it’s a question of doing some research and that small matter of, umm, writing it. I’m itching to get on with it.

Then I will be diving straight into my fourth book, which will feature more of Detective Sergeant Mike Bishop, who appears in Flowers For The Dead. I hadn’t planned it this way, but so many friends and family (and even reviewers) have told me that they would like to see more of Mike. I found him really lovely to write too, but I have to find the right story for him. I’m brewing ideas though, and am fairly certain of what will be heading his way. Chances are it will be dark, gripping and twisted… 

My thanks to Barbara Copperthwaite for joining me today. I’ll be reading and reviewing Flowers For The Dead in November – and looking forward to it immensely.

The complexity of the humans behind crime, from the perpetrator to the victim and beyond, are what intrigue Barbara Copperthwaite. She was raised by the sea and in the countryside, where she became a lover of both the written word and the great outdoors. A journalist with twenty years’ experience, who has been editor of a number of national magazines in the UK, her fascination with crime really began during a brief spell working in a men’s prison in her early twenties. When not writing feverishly, she is often found hiding behind a camera, taking wildlife photographs. 

To find out more about Barbara and her books, do visit her website: she also has a Facebook author page, and you can follow her on Twitter.

One thought on “Author feature: Flowers For The Dead by Barbara Copperthwaite

  1. Sheryl Browne

    Fabulous interview, ladies. Barbara, I totally agree that "the breadth of life experience makes for a better writer". I think we all use that to a degree. Also that reviews are so very important. Even if they're not glowing, a good reviewer might help you see where something doesn't quite work. And, of course, they spread the word, piquing peoples curiosity. They certainly pique mine. Loving the sound of your books! Go you! Thanks for sharing, Anne. 🙂 xx

Comments are closed.