The Sweetest Debut: Clare Mackintosh on Commuting, Paris, and Writers’ Fashion

Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

Clare Mackintosh’s I See You is a mystery set in London, with a chance look at a newspaper during a woman’s daily commute setting off a scary chain of events. “The daily schlep to work will never be quite the same again,” said one British reviewer.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

You know your commute like the back of your hand. So do I…

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

I have very supportive relatives who would happily read the back of a cereal packet, if that’s what I’d written (and tell me they loved it) so I don’t think I’ve ever had to pitch to them! If I was telling them about I See You I’d say that it’s a book about a woman who finds a photo of herself in a London newspaper, and sets out to find out why it’s there.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

I See You was the second book in my first two-book deal, so I was mulling over it while finishing my debut, I Let You Go. I mentioned the idea to a friend as we were driving back from a crime-writing festival. The drive took four hours and by the time we got home we’d thrashed out most of the plot.

A book you’ve read more than two times.

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. And every time I answer that question it makes me want to read it again.

A book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project.

Clare Macintosh, photographed by Charlie Hopkinson.
Clare Macintosh, photographed by Charlie Hopkinson.

It’s not art in the strictest sense, although it’s definitely an iconic image… While I was writing I See You I had an enormous map of the London Underground pinned to the wall in front of me, which was both practically useful, and creatively stimulating.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

Orange is the New Black.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

The Girl on the Train.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

I get too distracted if I listen to music with lyrics, so I listen to a meditative piano album on repeat. My husband says it’s depressing but I find it gets me in ‘the zone’.

Who is your fashion icon?

I’m a writer. Find me a celebrity who advocates spending all day in stretchy lounge wear, fingerless gloves and fluffy slippers, and there’s my fashion icon.

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

Paris, France. I spent a couple of years living there in my late teens/early twenties, and I still miss it. I’d buy a tiny flat in a block on a busy street, and I’d write in pavement cafes and restaurants.

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?

A writer. So that worked out okay!

Did you have a new years resolution for 2017? If so, what?

Sooooo many… I want to cut down on social media, write more letters, spend more time with the kids, learn to play piano, swim a mile in the lake…

What freaks you out the most about four years of Trump as US President?

Four years of Trump as US President. [Excellent answer – Ed.]

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

I can write in either, if I’m in the right frame of mind. The key is that I mustn’t be able to tune into any specific conversation. If that happens I’m lost, and will simply eavesdrop for an hour.

Do you write at a desk, bed or couch?

A desk, mostly, but also in trains and anywhere I have a laptop or a notebook.

Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to-time?

Naturally I’d like to start writing around 2pm and finish at midnight, but I have kids, so my writing time is between around 10am and 4pm.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

A bit of both, but my first drafts are always pretty terrible and need some serious restructuring.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I am incredibly lucky to be a full-time author. When I first quit the police to write full-time I had what is politely referred to as a ‘portfolio career’. I did copywriting for businesses, I wrote social media updates, magazine columns, newspaper articles… anything anyone would pay me to write, I wrote.