Catch Your Death started life as something very different to its final draft. My writing partner, Louise Voss, wanted to set a novel at the Common Cold Research Unit, a place near her hometown of Salisbury that for four decades had attracted volunteers who fancied a free holiday in the English countryside, doing their bit for Britain, the catch being that you were likely to be given a cold while you were there. I think Louise wanted to write a gentle love story about a summer romance in an unusual setting, but I immediately saw potential for a conspiracy thriller.
I suggested that we write it together, change the name and the mission of the original Cold Research Unit, add a deadly virus, an cabal of evil, power-hungry scientists and a psychopathic hit-man. This was 2005 and we had been hearing reports on the news of something called bird flu that was threatening to spread beyond Asia. Also, I had just read The Da Vinci Code and admired the breathless momentum of the story.
Louise and I had already written one novel together, Killing Cupid, which had been optioned by the BBC but had fallen foul of that deadly crime of not quite fitting into one genre – it was neither pure thriller nor pure comedy, but something in between. (Ironically, when we published it ourselves on Amazon Kindle, we described it as a humorous psychological thriller, and it was no problem at all…) This time, to avoid similar categorization problems, we intentionally set out to write something more high-concept: An English woman living in the USA flees back to London on the run from her bullying husband, and meets Paul, the twin of her boyfriend, Stephen, from a summer 16 years earlier when she had stayed at the Common Cold Unit. The pair set about trying to find out what really happened that summer, where strange events at the CCU had resulted in Stephen’s death, and the destruction of the place in a suspicious fire. We sketched out a plot and set about writing it, taking it in turn to write chapters.
It was more challenging to write than Killing Cupid, which had alternating male and female narrators. This time, the story was told mostly from the point of view of the female heroine, in the third person, and Louise and I had to work hard to blend our voices in the same way that the Nicci French partnership does. I think we managed it pretty well, even though Louise had to lengthen all my sentence fragments and I chopped out most of her semi-colons….
Some of the most fun chapters to write were those told from the P.O.V. of the supporting cast of characters. Louise did a great job with Vernon, the unpleasant ex-husband, and I took great pleasure writing as Sampson, the cold-blooded psycho with an obsession with Kate (his, ahem, Delilah), and Dr Gaunt, an insane scientist who would be right at home in a James Bond novel.
We finished Catch Your Death the same week my first daughter was born, and never properly attempted to sell it. We approached a few agents, who liked it but for one reason or another declined to take us on. At that point, real life got in the way. Then, last year, we had the idea of self-publishing it on Amazon and set about rewriting it. In the original version, there were several early scenes in which the two main characters sit around talking about the past. We chopped every scene that slowed down the book, added in even more cliffhangers and polished it until it gleamed. We wanted the reader to glide through the story; after all, the worst crime you can commit as a thriller writer is to bore people, even for a moment.
It was great fun to write and seeing it hit the top spot on Amazon was thrilling, but as the whole endeavour ended up taking so many years, we didn’t feel the same sense of momentum that we most definitely are doing with Catch Your Death’s sequel, The Antidote (out January 2013). We’ve almost finished it, and the pace is, we think, so fast that we’re struggling to keep up with each other. Co-writing is fantastic for that sense of constant surprise and excitement, where the arrival of each new chapter in our Dropbox folder is cause for a mini-celebration, as well as making us twice as productive. We’ve both written our own novels in the past, but agree that co-writing, when you find the right partner, is a hell of lot easier and more fun.
Catch Your Death – in its new version – is published by HarperCollins in paperback and ebook.
Kindle version: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Catch-Your-Death-ebook/dp/B005JTCP1E/ref=pd_sim_kinc_1