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Beware The Research Rabbit Hole by Sam Blake

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Sam Blake

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Keep Your Eyes on Me is my first standalone thriller after the Cat Connolly trilogy of police procedurals, and has been described as ‘Strangers on a Train’ meets ‘Dial M for Murder’ – it’s about two women who meet on a plane to New York and realise they can help each other with the men who are causing heartache and havoc in their lives. It’s been one of my favourite books to write as I’ve been able to incorporate lots of elements that I’m fascinated by: jewellery, the settings of Bloomsbury in London and New York, antique prints, and, well revenge…

Lily Power is a jewellery designer, and works above a shop in Hatton Garden, a place that has always fascinated me. Pre lockdown I used to travel to London a lot and I’m fascinated by who has walked the streets before me. Stephen King talks about story being the collision of two unrelated ideas and for me story seeps from every street in a city like London or Dublin.

Characters are what create story, and developing them is really important to me – getting their background right, helps form them. Lily’s family own an antique book and print shop in Bloomsbury, and when I was writing I spent a lot of time wandering around Bloomsbury to get a sense of place, to build her character.  From Russell Square gardens to Senate House, the locations play a key role in the story too. This is Lily’s world and location becomes a character of it’s own.

Lily works in a jewellers in Hatton Garden, and I discoverd that below London’s famous jewellery quarter is an underground labyrinth of ancient passages and abandoned railways that have become the focus of criminal activity since business first took off in the 1850s. Two of the biggest jewellery heists in British history happened in Hatton Garden – and like many areas of old London, it has a dark and murderous history. I studied history in Queen Mary College in Mile End, and have long been fascinated by the narrow lanes and twisting passages of Victorian London, of the stories that lurk in dark doorways and down cobbled streets. Individuals reactions to situations are, as Robert McKee says, what creates story, and I often feel that the stones of a building store the emotion when something extreme happens, that a little of the story is trapped in the fabric of the place.

Hatton Garden took its name from a favourite of Queen Elizabeth 1st, Sir Christopher Hatton. She gifted Ely Palace to him 1576, and was so taken with him that she fixed his rent at £10 per annum, plus ten loads of hay and a rose picked from the garden at midsummer.  Sir Christopher was a major sponsor of Francis Drake’s round-the-world voyage and Drake named his flagship in honour of the Hatton family crest which featured a golden hind.

Many stories have grown around Sir Christopher’s niece, Lady Elizabeth Hatton who was reportedly not so lucky in love, and is mentioned by Dickens in Little Dorrit.  Lady Elizabeth was young, beautiful and very wealthy, but had been widowed twice. Her annual Winter Ball was one of the highlights of the London social season but in January 1662, half way through the evening, the doors to the grand ballroom were flung open and one of her suiters, a European Ambassador, strode in. Dark and striking with a clawed right hand, he is said to have danced her around the room and out into the garden. Guests were gripped by speculation as to what might happen next, but the following morning her body was found outside “torn limb from limb, but with her heart still pumping blood.” The cobblestoned courtyard became known as Bleeding Heart Yard.

Although Hatton Garden was a busy trading centre with over 60 merchants specialising in precious stones and diamonds, not everyone was in the jewellery business – at No 57 Hatton Garden, in 1881, Sir Hiram Maxim invented and started to produce the Maxim Gun, a prototype machine gun, capable of firing 666 rounds a minute.

Deep diving into research is SO interesting but it doesn’t (unfortunately) get the book written. The research I did for Keep Your Eyes on Me gave me the colour to create the locations and weave the story, but in truth, I only end up using about 10% of it. As I head towards the publication of my fifth book The Dark Room, I’m learning that sometimes it’s better to leave a gap and come back later to find out the detail that I need to move the story forwards, rather than diving down a wonderful internet rabbit hole which can use up precious time and distract me away from the plot. It’s also very tempting to add in far too much research, to info dump, to show the reader all the fascainating stuff you’ve found. But just because you find it interesting, doesn’t mean it’s even vaguely relevant to the plot!

I worked in a jewellery trade between jobs when I first moved to Ireland, and I travel a lot, picking up story like lappings, lemels and sweeps, the precious particles of gold filings that are swept from the jeweller’s workshop floor and dusted from the polishing mop, all to be treasured and recycled. We are all travellers in a story, and like the chemical reactions in the jeweller’s workshop, the places where our lives intersect create change – the beating, or bleeding, heart of every story. The trick is to have a light hand, to focus on your character’s and what’s happening to them, rather than on what you’ve discovered along the way!

© Sam Blake

About Keep Your Eyes on Me:

You won’t be able to look away

When Vittoria Devine and Lily Power find themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to New York, they discover they both have men in their lives whose impact has been devastating. Lily’s family life is in turmoil, her brother left on the brink of ruin by a con man. Vittoria’s philandering husband’s latest mistress is pregnant.

By the time they land, Vittoria and Lily have realised that they can help each other right the balance. But only one of them knows the real story…

‘Pacey and exciting and totally joyous.’ Jo Spain, author of The Confession
‘Delightfully dark and satisfying’ Roz Watkins, author of the DI Meg Dalton series

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Sam Blake has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks, and she had an idea for a book. Sam is originally from St. Albans in Hertfordshire but has lived in Ireland, at the foot of the Wicklow mountains, for more years that she lived in the UK. Her debut novel ‘Little Bones’ (Bonnier 2016) was No 1 in Ireland for four weeks, remained in the top 10 for another four, and was shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of the Year. It launched the bestselling Cat Connolly trilogy.

Moving away from police procedurals Sam is keeping a focus on strong female characters, writing psychological thrillers for Corvus Books. ‘Keep Your Eyes On Me’ went straight to No 1 in January 2020 and ‘The Dark Room’ is due in January 2021. Sam has already signed for two more thrillers with Corvus Atlantic that will keep her busy until 2023.

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