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Former Peter Symonds pupil Hanna Jameson's crime thriller is published
CORPSES being dismembered and disposed of, hired henchmen removing fingernails, a murder victim so battered as to be unrecognisable – it’s hard to believe this all came out of the imagination of a nice teenage girl from Winchester.
Hanna Jameson’s new novel, Something You Are, takes the reader for a walk on the very dark side. It makes sinister and sometimes very uncomfortable reading.
It would be hard to imagine a starker contrast than with its author – who was 17 when she wrote its first draft.
Now 22, Hanna is flushed with delight at the publication of her first novel, chatting enthusiastically about her inspiration (David Peace and Nick Cave), how she used to follow around bands Manic Street Preachers and Kasabian while juggling starting university with writing a novel.
She might only be in her early 20s but having her first novel published is the fruition of a goal she has been working towards for some eight years.
Hanna wrote stories from an early age and began writing with a view to being published at 14.
She finished her first novel at 15 and has been sending manuscripts out to agents ever since.
Since her early teens she has focused on writing crime fiction.
The book that she started at 14 was about a middle-aged alcoholic man who owns a nightclub.
Something You Are centres on a hired killer tracking down the murderer of an arms dealer’s daughter.
Clearly Hannah isn’t writing about her own experience!
“I don’t really know how I started coming up with the ideas,” she says.
“I like to read crime thrillers and stuff that’s exciting and has some originality. A lot of the characters are based on people I’ve met – not necessarily in that line of work but people who have interesting traits.
Other than that I read a lot of true crime and loads of books on serial killers. There was no undercover research – that would be terrifying!
Also, I’m from Winchester – I just wouldn’t know how to start going about doing that.
“It’s weird because all of my main characters have been emotionally distant screwed up middle-aged men.”
Becoming an author has always been Hanna’s ambition.
“It made sense because writing was what I was best at,” she says.
“It took up pretty much all of my spare time. I would get home from school or college and just write. I had a lot of friends but I didn’t have much in common with anyone my own age because I found them all very young so I filled up my time with writing.”
Hannah was so devoted to her writing that despite achieving three As and a B in her A-levels at Peter Symonds College, she decided to put off university to focus on getting a book deal.
Instead she got an IT job in the NHS and filled all her spare time with writing.
“I worked full time and sent off loads of manuscripts. They all got rejected and after three years I thought ‘OK, I’ll do my plan B and go to university’.”
But shortly after being accepted at the University of Sussex to study American history and politics, in summer 2011 Hanna found an agent and three months later had a three-book deal with young publishing company Head of Zeus.
“Last year kind of just blurred into one massive ball of stress. I haven’t really been able to enjoy it until the book came out (in December). I don’t regret starting university because I’ve ended up in Brighton which is probably the best place I could be, with the best people I could be with, but the workload is horrible. When my friends say, ‘oh God, I’ve got this 2,000 word essay due in two weeks and this chapter to read,’ I’m thinking ‘I’ve got to do that AND write 100,000 words of a novel’!”
Hanna has now deferred her second year of university to allow her to focus on writing books two and three in the series.
She typically spends six to eight hours a day writing.
“If I’m really into what I’m writing, I just won’t do anything else. Making a cup of tea is quite a long break.
“It’s been difficult for me to go from writing at my own pace to being paid for it. I thought it would be easier because the money would be an incentive, but actually it’s made it more stressful. Suddenly you feel like you’re writing for other people. One thing I’ve had to really sort out over the last few months is not to start trying to write for an audience. I have to write for myself. I think if you do that people will enjoy it. It worked with the first book.”
Hanna also had to adjust to writing as a job rather than when the mood takes her.
“I’m working out how to write on demand. I’m learning how to be a professional writer and give myself a schedule, as I would any job. Once I’ve got a handle on that I think it will be a lot easier to go back to being a student and do essays.”
The reaction to Hanna’s first book, from both critics and family and friends has been extremely positive.
“No one I know has seemed that surprised at what I write. I might have been a bit worried about my dad reading certain bits but no one has judged me too harshly. I was surprised by a couple of friends who I thought would hate it and judge me for being some sort of psychopath.
"They’re the sort of people who would tell me if they didn’t like it but they’ve been really positive.”
But Hanna admits that there is a downside to immersing herself in such a murky underworld in her fiction.
“I like being able to live vicariously, especially writing in the first person,” she says.
“I go into a sort of trance when I’m writing and I feel like I experience everything I write. When I’m writing it takes me a long time to get rid of the feeling and I can take it out into the real world.
“I suddenly start to see the worst in people and imagine the worse scenarios that can happen. It puts me on edge and makes me feel really tense.”
Having read Something You Are, I know the feeling.
- Something You Are by Hanna Jameson is published by Head of Zeus