Stories appear in the most unexpected places. Pre pandemic I used to visit London regularly for meetings, and got onto the Tube one day to find myself sitting near a girl wearing a black leather jacket whose hair was neon pink and shaved up both sides in a double undercut. I had a literal lightbulb moment, and she was became the inspiration for a new character who was to become Brioni O’Brien. Brioni is a web expert and as the internet connects us, she became a vital connecting link the Sam Blake world.
I’m a crime writer, and I love a twisty plot, but to me, character is king. I want readers to put my books down feeling they know the characters personally, just like I do, as I’m writing.
My first three books were a trilogy focusing on a twenty-four-year-old kick boxing Irish police detective called Cat Connolly. After many years of writing, and four unpublished books in the drawer, my debut thriller Little Bones was a runaway bestseller that brought Cat and her DI, Dawson O’Rourke, to the bookshelf. I loved writing Cat, I learned to kick-box to write her properly – she’s fit and passionate and very often follows her gut when procedure says something different. At the start of Little Bones, a novel that opens with her finding a baby’s bones concealed in the hem of a wedding dress, she’s just realised she’s pregnant – but is firmly single.
Writing a series book is like stepping into a bar with old friends; you know everyone, their hang-ups and their secret thoughts. These characters will still surprise you when you bring sub characters and plot to the party, but essentially you’re on familiar ground. For readers, the characters grow with them, developing with each book and becoming familiar.
After the trilogy my agent suggested I work on a standalone. In contrast to a series, with every standalone you are starting from ground zero again, getting to know new characters, discovering their personal stories as well the plot. Keep Your Eyes on Me and The Dark Room both hit the bestseller lists on release, and with each new book I’m discovering strong new women’s voices, three-dimensional female characters with lives and loves, hopes and fears who are as important as my twisty plots. I love writing women who know their own minds and go after what they want.
But some of them just won’t leave me alone.
Professor Anna Lockharte is a terrorism expert based in Dublin’s Trinity College who is a sub character in No Turing Back, the third Cat Connolly book. Her brother-in-law is the US Ambassador to Moscow and his wife, her sister, was killed in a terrorist attack in Paris. Many readers felt she should have her own book, and when I heard about a celebrity who thought he’d heard gunshots in Selfridges in London and the chaos caused by his subsequent tweet, it started me thinking about the impact and power of social media – and how dangerous it could become.
Then I saw ‘Brioni’, and a story began to simmer, my thoughts around the potential misuse of social media falling into Anna’s area of expertise. I’d been to a Books Ireland reception in the Irish Embassy in London one very, very hot evening and it seemed the perfect place to bring Anna and Brioni together.
High Pressure became a story so full of serendipity as I was researching – during the baking hot summer when it’s set – that I couldn’t ignore it. I remember walking up Oxford Street and going into Selfridges to wander around the Foodhall just as Marissa does in the story. As I left by the side door, I discovered that the bus that runs to the Irish Embassy and on to Victoria, stops right outside. It was one of those moments that, as a writer, makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
In High Pressure Brioni’s taking a gap year and when she gets attacked in Thailand, goes to London to find her sister Marissa. But Marissa isn’t returning her calls. Then, after a series of hoax terrorist threats, a bus blows up in central London and Marissa’s bag is found nearby. Fearing the worst, Anna and Brioni begin to investigate, quickly discovering that Marissa has got herself into a very dangerous situation, and they are about to get caught in the fall out.
In the same way Anna stayed in my mind, Brioni was a wonderful character to write and she’s stuck with me for the next standalone Remember My Name which will be out in print, digital and audio in January 2022.
High Pressure, is released today as a worldwide digital exclusive (audio to follow in December), and is a spider web book, it ties the three Cat books to the standalones. All my books are set in different locations but in the same world. For readers I hope this creates a sense of total immersion, that the world is real, and for anyone who has stuck with me, gives them extra insight. You’ll spot brands you recognise (Brioni’s nose stud is from No 42, the New York jewellers that features in Keep Your Eyes on Me) and character’s you’ve met before. Indeed, in High Pressure we catch a fleeting glimpse of a very significant character many readers love and are always asking me about 😉
I feel like I’m still in the bar, but with every book we’re meeting new people, who all have stories to share.
(c) Sam Blake
High Pressure: A gripping standalone thriller from the No.1 bestselling author of Little Bones and The Dark Room
As temperatures soar across Europe during the hottest summer for forty years, a series of hoax terrorist attacks is generating panic in London. Then a bus blows up on Oxford Street and the hoaxes have suddenly become real.
Student Brioni O’Brien has been desperately trying to contact her older sister since she unexpectedly returned early from travelling, so when Marissa’s bag is found near the site of the explosion, she fears the worst.
Teaming up with terrorism expert Anna Lockharte to search for Marissa, Brioni discovers that her sister had got herself into a very dangerous situation – and that now she and Anna could be caught in the fallout.
You can order your copy of High Pressure here:
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© Sam Blake
Read more on my plotting process here.
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