She’s got it all. And it all should’ve been mine.
When Eleanor Hardwicke’s beloved father dies, her world is further shattered by a gut-wrenching secret: the man she’s grieving isn’t really her dad. Eleanor was the product of an affair and her biological father is still out there, living blissfully with the family he chose. With her personal life spiraling, a desperate Eleanor seeks him out, leading her to uncover another branch on her family tree—an infuriatingly enviable half sister.
Perfectly perfect Victoria has everything Eleanor could ever dream of. Loving childhood, luxury home, devoted husband. All of it stolen from Eleanor, who plans to take it back. After all, good sisters are supposed to share. And quiet little Eleanor has been waiting far too long for her turn to play.
ReviewsSome Q & A with Hannah ~
Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.
Writing novels wasn’t on my radar until we moved from Switzerland to Canada in 2010. When we arrived, and my HR start-up company failed, it catapulted me into deciding what I truly wanted to do, and whether I wanted to reinvent myself. After a long while (with a lot of moping about) I realized the answer was to become an author, and I got to work, making a ton of mistakes along the way (more on that later…).
My debut was a rom com called Time After Time (June 2016) a light-hearted story about paths not taken. After that I decided I wanted to write grittier stories, and quickly transitioned to the dark side of suspense. The Neighbors published in March 2018, Her Secret Son in 2019, Sister Dear is this year’s novel (May 26) and there are two others scheduled for 2021 and 2022 (and hopefully more thereafter) – all of them in the suspense genre. Sister Dear will also publish in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It’s an exciting journey to say the least!
What are some things you enjoy when not writing?
I read a lot, as one might expect, and love being whisked away into the worlds other authors create—thrillers, or otherwise. I love getting outdoors for a hike, I’m a huge fan of the movies (I love the trailers!), I go to the gym and participate in a few obstacle runs in the summer (I live for the mud and obstacles, I’m rubbish at the running part). We have three teenage boys, so my husband and I spend time with them as often as they’ll let us. Watching films as a family is one of my favourite things. There’s something deeply comforting about us having a laugh together and just hanging out. Oh, I cook too, and love to bake. I make a mean zucchini-lime loaf, and yummy beer bread.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are funny, fickle things. Just when I think I don’t have any, three pop into my head, and I can pinpoint where each of them for my novels came from. Time After Time had a lot to do with how unhappy I felt about my company failing, and my being homesick. The Neighbors is a tale about an ex-boyfriend moving in next door, and it occurred to me when two houses on our courtyard went up for sale and I found myself wondering who might move in (an ex? Awkward!). Her Secret Son is the story of a man whose partner dies and leaves behind her seven-year-old son…and lots and lots of secrets about him—the genesis for the idea came from a news segment I saw while on the treadmill.
I’ll elaborate a little more for Sister Dear: I heard a radio segment about a woman who’d found a wedding ring at a playground and was trying to locate the owner through social media. It got me thinking—what if the woman found out the ring’s owner had a dream life, and felt jealous? The more I thought about it, the more twisted things became. I realized the individuals had to be related somehow, and if I made them half-sisters it would add to the drama and intrigue. It seems some of the most despicable acts are carried out within families. That was something I wanted to explore.
Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?
I’ve had a long-standing love-affair with both Lisa Jewell and David Nicholls’s books. I discovered Lisa Jewell’s first novel, Ralph’s Party, at the airport back in 1999, and have all her books. She has a shelf to herself! I adore how she expertly shifted from rom-com to family drama to domestic suspense throughout her career, and her stories always pull me in.
A friend gave me David Nicholls’s One Day when it published. I devoured it in a matter of days and ordered all his other books so I could do the same. His characters are so rich, his dialogue perfect, his stories funny yet poignant, he’s an auto-buy author for me and I love his work.
I must also mention Jennifer Hillier. While waiting for my son at our local library I spotted her debut Creep on a shelf. Intrigued by the cover, I picked it up, read the blurb, took it home and couldn’t put it down. It was a turning point in my writing career. When I was younger, I mainly read thrillers, but after a personal tragedy in my early 20s, I could only stomach light-hearted reads. Creep reminded me of my love of thrillers, and I realized the second book I was working on, The Neighbors, was far grittier than my debut (rom com Time After Time). Jennifer’s book gave me that final push I needed to cross over to the dark side. Fun fact: we live in the same town and have become great friends. Jennifer is an inspiration to me and fiercely talented, and I have all her books. I’ll read anything she writes!
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
The biggest challenge was myself because I rushed submitting Time After Time to agents when it was far from ready, only I didn’t know it at the time. After multiple rejections I took creative writing workshops and weekly courses, and had the manuscript professionally edited, which was eye-opening. A few agents were kind enough to tell me the premise was good, but the execution was flawed, so I had a lot of work to do. On the other hand, my inexperience perhaps wasn’t such a bad thing. If I’d known how difficult it was going to be from the outset, maybe I wouldn’t have persevered.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?
My first novel? I wouldn’t have sent it out to agents but taken my time to ensure it was as ready as it could be. Having said that, while the rejections hurt, they also made me more determined. I’m a very driven person, and I just wouldn’t quit.
How do you market your work?
In collaboration with my publisher, HarperCollins who are incredibly supportive and have a fabulous team I can’t praise highly enough. I’m also very active on social media and love connecting with readers, reviewers and bloggers. My author friends are fabulous champions of my novels, too. Their tireless enthusiasm is a balm for the writerly soul and I’m grateful to every single one of them. It really does take a village.
With Covid, a group of us were discussing how we could promote one another. I half-jokingly offered to read the first chapter of their novels on Facebook and Instagram, and within a few days I had over 40 daily readings lined up and launched First Chapter Fun. I read from March 17 to May 8, introducing viewers to a new novel and author each day.
As of May 12, I teamed up with my partner-in-fictional-crime, powerhouse Hank Phillippi Ryan. We created a new Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/firstchapterfun and Instagram account www.instagram.com/firstchapterfun. We read twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday (the days with a “T) on both platforms simultaneously at 11.30 am ET, and already have readings scheduled until late October. All the previously aired episodes are saved and can be viewed at leisure.
The one thing that surprised me the most about this industry is how genuine, welcoming, and helpful other authors are. This project is my way of paying it forward.
What are you working on now?
My next two novels are psychological suspense stories. Book 5 is back with my wonderful editor, Emily, after structural edits. Book 6 is outlined and I’m about to get to work. I’m incredibly excited and can’t wait to put fingers to keyboard.
Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?
None of the sinister parts! Thankfully, my books aren’t true crime. I do sprinkle little details here and there my family would recognize: Superman pajamas, a stuffed toy, mud runs—those kinds of things. In Sister Dear, my protagonist Eleanor has some emotional eating issues, something I’ve dealt with for years, but otherwise I pull very little from my life. My job is to make things up, and it’s a part of the process I thoroughly enjoy.
Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?
In Sister Dear it has to be the last chapter because it was so dark and deliciously evil to write. I’ll admit I cackled a little, which sounds as creepy as it felt.
Do you have a favorite character?
Eleanor for the win! Writing the entire story from her point-of-view allowed me to really get inside her head and understand how and why she’d become who she was. Right from the start I knew Eleanor would have a distinct lack of confidence, particularly regarding her physical traits. She’d perceive herself far more negatively than anybody else did—primarily because of her relationship with her mother—and she’d suffer from a kind of body dysmorphia. I wanted to show how the attitude of others can impact a person, how we carry these things forward and what they can do to us. It made Eleanor complex and interesting to write, and most of the time I wanted to give her a hug. Having said that, while I hoped the reader felt sympathy for her, I didn’t want it to be so during the entire novel. She did make some rather dubious choices, after all.
What would your job of choice be if you didn’t write books?
I worked in IT recruitment for fifteen years before coming to Canada and was the CEO for a European company. Perhaps I’d still be doing that if I didn’t change careers a decade ago. If I was told I had to stop writing today, then I’d have to find a job in publishing somewhere. I can’t imagine working in another industry now.
What was the most unique research you had to do for a book?
That’s such a great question and my dubious search history has definitely got me flagged somewhere. I think the most unique bits so far are how to get rid of an extra body in a graveyard without it being detected, how to muddle a crime scene enough to mess up forensics, how allergy meds can jumble your memory, and how a person can die while working under a car. Like I said: dubious!
I’ve also sought help from an advisor from child services, a lawyer, a medical examiner, poison control, and a police detective, to name but a few. I’m continually amazed how people are so incredibly generous with their time, knowledge and expertise when I call and say, “I’m an author, honest, and I have a few weird questions.” For example, fellow author Bruce Robert Coffin is a retired police detective, and he’s helped me get away with fictional murder multiple times. His input is incredible!
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read as much and often as you can and listen to audio books. I wrote an article about how the latter make you a better author here. Write, even if you think it’s rubbish, because an empty page is impossible to edit. Another tip someone once suggested was to skip ahead if I couldn’t get a grasp on a chapter or scene, that I should focus on another part of the manuscript and trust myself enough to backfill later. It was revolutionary to me, and it beats the heck out of staring at a blank page or shoving my hand in the cookie jar. Also, I was advised to read my manuscript out loud. Every. Single. Word. Doing so helps avoid repetition, improves cadence, and zaps stilted dialogue. And, finally, share your work. It can be scary, but it’s the only way you’ll get feedback and improve your craft.
Favorite band or music? Favorite book and/or movie?
I listen to all kinds of music but I’m useless at remembering the names of singers or bands. Impossible to choose a favourite book, but my favourite movie is Love, Actually. I watch it every Christmas, know most of the words and absolutely adore it.
Place you’d like to travel?
Once things go back to normal, I’m looking forward to visiting my family and friends in Switzerland. I was supposed to go in April 2020, but that trip was cancelled, and I can’t wait to get back into the mountains.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you for your continued support. Readers, reviewers, bloggers and bookstagrammers are so generous with their support and everything they do for the book community. It’s truly a wonder to behold.
Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. While her debut, TIME AFTER TIME, was a rom-cm, she quickly transitioned to the dark side. Her suspense novels include THE NEIGHBORS, HER SECRET SON and SISTER DEAR. Hannah Mary lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons. For more information and to connect on social media, visit www.hannahmarymckinnon.com
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