Ahead of the release of Robert Gold’s brand new thriller Twelve Secrets in March next year, we sat down with him to find out more about life as an author, working in publishing and writing.
Twelve Secrets is one of the plottiest thrillers we’ve read. Tell us about your process for that. Do you plot everything out meticulously from the beginning or do you plot as you go?
With Twelve Secrets I started with an idea for the beginning and pretty much knew what I wanted the end to be but everything in between was the journey along the way. I had certain events I knew would happen as the story unfolded but where they would fit and how they would occur, I wasn’t sure. I wanted to try to imagine events as they would unfold in real life and how people would react to them. One thing then triggers another because really it’s a story about people and their own secrets.
Where did you first get the idea for the novel?
Growing up, if anyone ever asked me what I wanted to do I would always say I wanted to be a writer and after that a journalist. It’s taken me thirty years to become a published author and I guess although I never became a journalist, I created the lead character, Ben Harper, as an investigative journalist. That was my starting point, having a lead character who was a journalist, as opposed to a police officer, and working as an investigative journalist gives him a freedom to go anywhere he likes. And then I had the idea of him investigating his own past and his own story. I love stories where the layers of the story and of the characters are slowly peeled back and you only fully understand everything once you realise all that has happened to them in the past.
Are there any writers who have inspired your work?
I started working in book sales nearly twenty years ago. I was given a number of books to read before I started my new job and the first one I read was Kisscut by Karin Slaughter. It hit me like a train. It was completely original, compulsively page-turning and I loved it. It is stayed with me ever since and it is a brilliant example of thriller where the story is driven along by the readers real engagement with the characters. I thought then, one day I would l love to write a thriller and Karin’s books never fail to inspire.
Another favourite of mine is Harlan Coben and the plotting in his books is just incredible. I recently read his thriller Run Away and it is the most brilliant example a twisty plotting that carries your perfectly from the very first page.
What are your top 3 books that you read again and again?
My favourite book is To Kill A Mockingbird, a book which is loved and treasured by so many people. The characters, storytelling and emotional insight still hold me every time I read it and it is a unique novel for its time.
Like a huge number of crime and thriller writers, I massively admire Agatha Christie. All of her plotting is so intricate and tightly delivered. She never cheats the reader with something totally implausible and I love that about her. I would reread any of her books. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is her most acclaimed but I think my own personal favourites would be Murder on the Orient Express and Nemesis. Both books are all about peeling back the layers of what happened in the past.
My third would be Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I first read this book at school and have loved it ever since. It is a tragic story, brilliantly told and it themes resonate today more strongly than ever.
Lots of people are comparing your novel to Broadchurch because it’s about a small community and everybody is somehow involved in the central case. Did you base Haddley on a real place?
I remember watching the first series of Broadchurch and like so many people was absolutely gripped by it and the intensity of its setting. In creating Haddley, I set out to create a small community where lots of people know each other, and each has their own secrets. Haddley is a fictionalised version of Putney in London where the river and outside spaces play a big part in people’s lives.
Some of the chapters follow other characters too, but a lot of the novel is from Ben’s perspective. How close to Ben did you feel during the writing process? Is there any of yourself in him?
I think there is a small bit of me in Ben. When you create a character who shares so much from his point of view you can’t help but have some of yourself. With me growing up wanting to be a journalist, that is definitely playing out in Ben and he also drinks a huge amount of coffee which is something I’ve borrowed from myself! Ben has been through a terrible time in his life a hopefully readers feel a sympathy for him—but because he’s had so many challenges in his life he has learnt not to worry about the little things in life and that makes him a fun character to write—and hopefully read.
When you’re not writing you work for Penguin’s sales team. How has it been to experience the other side of the publishing process?
Although I’ve worked in books for the past twenty years, the whole editorial process has been pretty much a brand new experience. The team at Little, Brown have been a great support and my editor, Rosanna, has been incredibly patient. When she hit me with the third edit which included some great new ideas around some of the structure of the novel, I will admit I had to take a pretty deep breath. I think as an author every time you send your manuscript back to your editor you think you are done—but you quickly learn it is a long process and you have to stick with it!
There are so many fantastic characters in Twelve Secrets. Who was the most fun to write?
There is a real age range in the characters in the book which I really enjoyed as different generations have a different perspective on life. There are even a couple of small children and I made the deliberate decision not to hide them away but to have them as part of the conversation in the way any four or five year old would be—and say exactly what a four year old would say! One or two of the characters, such as Katherine Richardson, have secrets they have kept hidden throughout their lives. When the secrets are revealed hopefully they really engage the reader and stop them in their tracks but at the same time I hope they genuinely feel for the character at that moment and all they have gone through.
Without giving away too much, are you able to give us a taster of what Book 2 is going to be?
I would love to write a series of books with Ben Harper, and hopefully his job as an investigative journalist allow him to get involved in many different stores. In Twelve Secrets we meet PC Dani Cash and the second book will be more of her story. In Twelve Secrets we briefly see she has a family history in the police as well as a tough home life. Book 2 will bring Ben and Dani back together and Dani learning about her own family’s past.
Tell us a secret about yourself that no one else knows.
I think for a huge amount of authors actually being a writer is a secret they carry for many years. I’ve worked in publishing for nearly twenty years but never really talked about wanting to become an author. When a writer takes that first step and shares their work it is an incredibly challenging moment. You have no idea how it is going to be received. It’s been very exciting to have such a positive response to my book first from my agent and then from all of the team and Little, Brown. But the true test will be when readers get to judge Twelve Secrets for themselves and that is a moment I will await with a degree of trepidation!
Pre-order your copy of Twelve Secrets here.