The Malt Room was warm. It was a wet, cold day in January and, seated in semi circles, we waited for the arrival of the author of ten psychological thrillers, and more, Miss Sophie Hannah. Would she be tall, slim and wear a black trouser suit like Joanna Trollope? Or small, petite and round like Hilary Mantel? She was neither. Casually dressed, her dark hair was pulled tightly up onto the top of her head. She had an animated face that was further enlivened by a quick intelligence and just a suggestion of impatience.
She sat down and crossed her legs. On her feet were open toed sandals and we wondered if she might get chilblains. ‘Oh, no’ she assured us, ‘I always run from the car straight into a warm destination.’
She piled a dozen or so of her published books on the table beside her. She picked up Selected Poems and read to us, Don’t Say I Said It. About an old lover, it was light, amusing and fun. She declared that she liked poems that rhymed; well thank goodness for that I thought – a girl after my own heart.
She moved on to talk to us about the creative process involved in producing her many best selling novels. It is important, she thought, that we should not be afraid of criticism: it is quite possible, after all, that the criticism we receive is unjustified and wrong. She went on to tell us that she plans her novels chapter by chapter, quite meticulously, but does not list the characteristics of her protagonists; she plots very specific events. She used to write about two thousand five hundred words a day but now writes five hundred. The word count of her novels averages one hundred thousand words.
She told us she was able to travel widely, promoting her books, as her husband stayed at home and looked after their two children.
She mentioned that she had attended a comprehensive school and was a drop out at university. It was somewhat later that I discovered that she had been appointed a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.
The Agatha Christie Estate selected Sophie to write an Hercule Poirot novel and this had been incredibly successful. So successful, that the Estate had commissioned her to write a second Poirot novel which will be published in September 2016. She had visited Agatha’s home Greenway, a grand country house, on the banks of the River Dart in Devon, and found the experience valuable in reprising Poirot for her two Christie style novels. Poirot had, of course, solved so many murders in magnificent English country houses.
Alas, Miss Hannah, after a question and answer session, some book selling and signing, left us. Her feet, in their open toed sandals, must have got quite wet in the pouring rain, before she climbed into her shiny black Range Rover and drove away.