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SERIAL THRILLER: Chalfont St Peter author to publish new novel after debut’s phenomenal success

 Published on: 19th May 2024   |   By: Annabel Stock   |   Category: Uncategorized

This month, we sat down with Chalfont St Peter resident, mum-of-four and bestselling author of You’d Look Better as a Ghost, Joanna Wallace.

In September of last year, Viper Books published Joanna’s debut novel, a comic thriller following part-time serial killer Claire, who is keen to keep her favourite hobby a secret despite the efforts of a determined blackmailer.

Since its publication, the book has won best crime debut of the year at the Crime Fiction Lover Awards, been optioned for the screen by two studios, ranked 15th in USA Today’s list of bestselling books, and picked as the thriller of the month for April by Barnes & Noble – the largest bookseller chain in the USA.

Speaking to CHALFONTS&GERRARDSCROSSnews, Joanna said: “I haven’t been to the US to see them myself, but readers have sent me photos – there are just tables and tables of my book. I can’t believe that my little book has got to all these places before I even have!”

The Crime Fiction Lover Awards are voted for entirely by readers and Joanna says she has been delighted by the feedback she has received.

She said: “The book seems to speak to readers, especially the parts about dementia.”

The novel opens at the funeral of Claire’s father, who has passed away after being diagnosed with dementia – an aspect of the book which was inspired by Joanna’s own experience of the condition.

When her father was sectioned in Hillingdon Hospital as a result of early onset dementia, Joanna says she was driving home from visiting him when she realised she was shouting.

She said: “I was just so angry at dementia. My father was only in his 60s and had been an amazing, clever and capable man – I hated that the disease was robbing him of his dignity and that he was vulnerable when I wasn’t there with him in the hospital.

“I felt powerless. Dementia isn’t anyone’s fault. It wasn’t like I could go out on a protest, so I did what I always do when I’m upset – I wrote. I got home, opened my laptop and typed ‘I hate dementia’. I didn’t intend to write a book about a serial killer but, slowly, Claire just emerged from this emotion; she was born out of my rage about dementia.”

Joanna finished her first draft in 2018 and sent it off to several publishing houses, but it was initially rejected. Then, two years later during the COVID-19 lockdown, Joanna dug up the draft and reread it.

She said: “I could see instantly what was wrong with it. Placing a reader inside the head of a serial killer can be grim, so I needed readers to understand why Claire might be the way she is; I added in flashbacks and more humour.”

After approaching an agent, Joanna was quickly signed up to a two-book deal with Viper Books.

Her second novel, The Dead Friend Project, is being published in July. The book is a murder mystery set around the politics and treachery of the school run and has been described as “Motherland with murder”.

Joanna said: “I had a year to write another book, so I didn’t have time to undertake research or anything. I wrote about something which is familiar territory – the school run, PTA meetings, and life around having children at school.”

Juggling working for her husband’s business, looking after four children and writing a novel is no mean feat; to meet her deadline, Joanna had to wake up at 4am to write before the school run.

She is already busy writing her third book, a sequel to You’d Look Better as a Ghost.

Reflecting on the popularity of her first book, Joanna says she never set out to make Claire a likeable character.

She said: “She is brutal, scary and unpredictable. She isn’t a ‘principled’ killer; she doesn’t just go after the bad people.

“Some people can relate to some of her thoughts and forgive her some things, but I never set out to make her likeable.”

Exclusive editions of You’d Look Better as a Ghost with purple sprayed edges are available at Chorleywood and Gerrards Cross bookshops.

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