Young adult author Teresa Bassett speaks to Francesca Tyer about her new mystery novel, Tell and You Die.
Image supplied by Teresa Bassett
1. Your new book, Tell and You Die, has just been released. Could you provide a brief summary of the plot?
Tell and You Die is a crime mystery aimed at young adults of thirteen and above, though it could also appeal to much older readers. Sixteen-year-old Rose has recently lost her brother, Will, in an unexplained explosion on a boat. Hoping to make a fresh start, the devastated family moves to the Cornish village where Rose’s father grew up. Rose hopes the move will bring her closer to her sister, Lily, with whom she’s always had a difficult relationship, but this is far from being the case. When a mysterious man from Lily’s past enters their lives, Rose begins to suspect that her sister knows far more about their brother’s death than she’s letting on. The book has a hint of the paranormal, but is mostly a crime story rooted in the everyday world, and would suit fans of Holly Jackson, Karen McManus and Sophie McKenzie.
2. Your previous novels all include an element of mystery, but what inspired you to write a crime mystery? Is this book darker than your other three?
Yes, this book is definitely darker and edgier than my previous novels. I wanted to write a crime mystery because this is the genre that I find myself reading more and more. I particularly enjoy psychological thrillers, so it seemed natural to gravitate towards that kind of story when I write.
3. What was your writing process like for this book? Were there any similarities and/or differences to writing your previous manuscripts?
Although it’s my decision which project to take forward, I do find that my stories tend to find me, rather than the other way round, if that makes sense. The characters stroll into my imagination and start bringing their story to life, as opposed to my consciously trying to think of something. Tell and You Die was very much like this. After moving back to my childhood village in order to help build a house, I found myself wondering how it would feel to relocate for other reasons, for example following a tragedy. Rose and her family materialised in my mind, and their story began to take shape. Sometimes I write stories to a prompt, for example for inclusion in an anthology, but I find that process much harder, like trying to find a gem in a mound of earth!
4. How would you describe this book in just three words?
Exciting, thought-provoking, heartfelt. I hope so, anyway!
Image supplied by Teresa Bassett
5. In all of your books so far, who is your favourite character and why?
I have a soft spot for Clara Callenick, from The Time Crystals, who’s a tree-climbing, adventure-loving tomboy. She reminds me so much of my young self – except that I was much more of a bookworm than she is, and she is much braver than me!
6. Who is your favourite character in the books you’ve read and why?
In the young adult genre, I think it’s got to be Harry Potter. Even at the start of the books, he’s been through a lot, which lends him a wise and compassionate nature beyond his years. He’s strong, loyal and brave, but, at the same time, fun to be with.
7. The new book cover is brilliant. Did you have an idea of what you wanted in your mind before it was designed?
Thank you very much! All the credit belongs to the talented Gina Dickerson, of RoseWolf Design, who has created each of my Authors Reach covers. Our process is that she quizzes me about the main story, ideas and characters, and from that she comes up with some fabulous mock covers for me to choose from. Once I’ve made a choice, she turns that one into the finished cover.
The mocks are so good that the choice can be very hard. Sometimes one will leap out at me, other times I just can’t decide, and I usually call on a few friends to help me make the decision. I love working with Gina and find her talents quite uncanny. Somehow she manages to turn my ramblings into super covers which encapsulate the impression I hoped to portray. The Tell and You Die cover, for example, makes it clear that the two girls are at the heart of the story – and there’s also a feeling of darkness and mystery.
9. What are your top marketing tips?
I’m really no expert and still have much to learn! But so far I’ve found that my best results in terms of sales come from advertising on Amazon. I’ve joined Author Ad School, run by Bryan Cohen, https://bryancohen.com/ which is really good. Apart from his paid courses, Bryan runs a free 5-Day author challenge every few months, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2230194167089012 )where people can find out what it’s all about.
Image supplied by Unplash
10. What book are you writing next? Do you already know?
I usually have several projects on the go, all at different stages, and I’m currently trying to decide which one to take to the next level. The choice is between an anthology of young adult stories, a sci-fi/cli-fi novel and a psychological thriller for adults, of which I’ve completed a first draft. At the moment, I’m not sure which one will win.
11. What was the greatest challenge while writing this book?
The main difficulty with Tell and You Die was getting the technical details right. For example, there were scenes involving police procedure, and most of my knowledge of that comes from TV and crime fiction. I invested in some great non-fiction police books aimed at authors, such as Steven Keogh’s Murder Investigation Team, which helped enormously.
13. What has been your number 1 ‘wow’ moment in your writing career?
Well, I’m lucky in that I have several, including, of course, joining Authors Reach. I suppose the standout moment for me was winning the Next Novelist contest, an international competition which came with a prize of $5000 dollars. I still remember the moment when I realised I’d won – things like that just didn’t happen to people like me, and I almost fainted, I was so stunned.
In the end, the contest only ran for that one year and the publishing deal which was part of the prize never got off the ground. However, coming a few months after a shortlisting in a big Amazon contest (the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award), the Next Novelist win certainly boosted my confidence. It helped me to believe that I could really do this – and even get paid for it, too!
In general, though, I feel proud whenever anyone tells me they’ve enjoyed one of my stories, or when somebody writes a positive review. Those moments are priceless for a writer.
Images supplied by Teresa Bassett
14. Do you believe in writer’s block? Do you write every day?
I do believe in writer’s block but, thankfully, I’ve not really suffered from it. I can’t claim to write every day, as I take a break at weekends, where I’m mostly working in the garden. I think it’s important to take a step back and just let the thoughts flow sometimes.
Although I work at my writing all day most weekdays, a lot more time is taken up with editing than with the initial burst of creativity that constitutes the first draft. For me, the rewriting and editing are where the hardest work comes in.
Some days I’m mostly critiquing, researching or doing promotional stuff, writing ads etc. I create images using Book Brush, and also do my own formatting using Atticus software. Being an author involves so much else these days! But I find it all absorbing.
Obviously, like anyone, I go through phases where I find it hard to settle on a project or even can’t face it if it’s going badly. But since I tend to have other projects on the back burner, I try to move on to something else for a while. So if, for example, I’m struggling with the first draft of a novel, I can swap to a different book or short story, and give that another edit. If things are going really badly, I go for a walk or disappear to the greenhouse!
15. What book are you currently reading?
I’m actually reading your new book, Francesca, The Earthstone, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it! The novel I was reading just before that was The Family Upstairs, a psychological thriller by Lisa Jewell. It’s the first of her books that I’ve read, and it’s really good.
16. What books have shaped your life?
A good question! There are so many – reading was always such a comfort to me, from a very early age. As a teenager, I was affected (traumatised might be a more apt word) by Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Hardy had a great influence on me, although nowadays I find his unhappier endings too sad, truthful as they might be. Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter also stands out in my younger life, as I felt I had found a kindred soul. I’ve also loved Ursula le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which maybe nudged me towards writing adventures for younger readers myself.
I used to read much more serious books – high-brow, you might say – than I do now. I still like books to be intelligent and thought-provoking, but I also need to immerse myself in a gripping story with a good pace. It’s maybe because my day-to-day personality is quite serious. Although I aim to be cheerful if I can, I do tend to overthink things and worry a lot, especially about the dire state of the world. Books – both reading and writing them – give me a chance to escape, and I gain energy from that.
Image supplied by Teresa Bassett
Teresa Bassett writes mysteries and adventure stories for young and young-at-heart adults, mostly set in her home county of Cornwall, UK. A graduate of the University of Bath, she formerly worked as a foreign languages teacher, magazine writer and translator. She also spent eleven years with educational charity The Eden Project, where she learned all kinds of wonderful things about plants and people.
Book titles and links:
The Time Crystals: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B096G5KJBJ
The Mystery of Acorn Academy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08Y8ZMF7B
Flight of the Bluebird: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08Y8ZMF7B
Tell and You Die: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0C6R927WH