Finding My Feet: The Islanders by S. V. Leonard | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews

By S. V. Leonard

As a debut author, I’m still finding my feet when it comes to, well, everything: my writing process, my writing space, the tools I use, how I plot, how I edit. It has been a steep but wonderful learning curve and I can’t wait for it to continue. I have always enjoyed writing, although it took me a long time to realise that writing novels was something I should try. The first book I ever wrote was when I was about 7 years old and it was about three little, white dogs. I have an extremely vivid memory of it being our (me and my writing partner, also aged 7) turn on the computer to write up our story and I was yapping on about the audiobook. I was obsessed with there being an audiobook, I assume that’s because as a child and an adult I love audiobooks, I’m an audio learner and I like the freedom of being able to walk or cook or tidy whilst still immersing myself in a story. Anyway, after my dogs story there wasn’t anything for 20 years. After university, I vaguely thought of starting a blog, I wrote one piece which came ridiculously easily to me but didn’t really have the energy to see it through.

When I did eventually start writing, I launched straight into writing novels, which considering I had never really done any writing before or even seriously thought about being a writer seems a bit ridiculous and writing this now I’m quite amazed that this was the start of my journey but there we are. I loved English at school and have always loved reading so I don’t know why it didn’t cross my mind but it didn’t. It was 2016, I was 26 and was living in Kuala Lumpur (somewhere I had moved for work). I’d had the idea for a YA fantasy novel churning around in my head for a while and one day I think it just refused to stay in my head anymore. And so, rather undramatically, I started writing on the notes section of my mobile phone. I had no idea what I was doing or where the story was going or anything. At that time, I was travelling a lot for work so I used to write on airplanes because the lack of internet was a good distraction free zone. Plus, zipping about to Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, certainly provided lots of sources of inspiration.

I got to about 20,000 words and I remember my jaw hitting the floor when I pressed the word count button on my google docs, I had no idea how I got there apart from, simply, writing and not stopping. It was a valuable lesson to learn early on, I know when I chat to people who want to write but don’t know how to start or they don’t want to start because worry they won’t be any good my advice to them is to push all that away and sit down and write. I was watching Dan Brown’s Masterclass and he said “write like nobody is watching, because nobody is watching” and it’s true, right at the beginning of your writing journey before you get an agent or a book deal nobody is watching so let go of the stress and enjoy it. Anyway, I was 20,000 words into my first novel and thought to myself that now was probably a good time to learn more about writing. I did what any good Millenial would do and went onto YouTube. There I stumbled across videos from a US-based author called Alexa Donne. Over the course of several months I learnt more about story structure and character and when I made it to the end of my fantasy novel, I learnt about editing. I worked on my first novel for three years and it went through several rounds of revisions, I queried it but didn’t have much luck. Letting it go was one of the best things I did because once I had accepted that I probably needed to write another book I felt quite free. I had another YA fantasy idea but I realised that fantasy wasn’t the right genre for me, I didn’t even really read it apart from the breakouts like Hunger Games or Divergent.

Once I had the idea for The Islanders and started drafting it, I realised that I was a crime writer, it felt much more comfortable for me to write than fantasy. Crime feels like home especially as it is my go-to genre for reading and TV / film-watching. I love the full breadth of crime: police procedural, psychological thrillers, legal thrillers. It is a pleasure to “do my homework” and I try as much as possible to read widely.

The idea for the book that is now my debut came to me when I was watching Love Island during the summer of 2019. It did come in a flash, which is probably why I heavily overuse the phrase “like a lightening bolt” in my writing. I don’t know what made me think it but I thought how interesting it would be if a killer used that as the location for their crimes. I drafted it in about 3 months and edited it during Lockdown.

Then, on my 30th birthday, I participated in a Twitter Pitch Competition called PitMad. I pitched The Islanders as a murder mystery set on a reality tv show, think Love Island meets Agatha Christie. That’s what The Islanders is, a crime novel that all takes place on a fictional reality show where my main character is forced to solve a murder live on TV. That tweet (yes a tweet!) got me my bloody fabulous literary agent (Emily Glenister at DHH Literary) and a two-book publishing deal with equally fabulous editor Sian Heap at Canelo. It was the best birthday present anyone could ask for and no one will ever be able to top it, though I won’t stop any of your readers if they would like to try.

(c) S. V. Leonard

About The Islanders:

Her dream escape is about to become a nightmare…

Kimberley King has spent the last five years trying to outrun the reason she left the police force. Her life is a mess and she’s desperate for change. So when she is randomly selected for the new series of the hit show LoveWrecked, she can’t pass up the chance to win the £100,000 prize. All Kimberley needs to do is couple up with one of her fellow contestants, win the infamous LoveWrecked challenges, and she will have enough cash for a fresh start.

But the island isn’t the paradise she was promised and within hours, one of the contestants is dead. Then the announcement comes: one of the islanders is a murderer and Kimberley must find out who, live on television. For every hour it takes her, one more person will die.

The game is rigged, everyone is hiding secrets, and time is running out…

An addictive and unputdownable crime thriller, perfect for fans of Lucy Foley and T.M. Logan.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

S. V. Leonard grew up in the little coastal town of Formby, a suburb of Liverpool. She studied Classics at Oxford University and has been lucky enough to live in Australia, Poland, and Malaysia. She is now based in London. When not writing, she can be found breaking out of escape rooms; doing historical walking tours of London; or drinking wine.

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