In June 2017, Psychologies magazine, Quercus and David Higham Associates has announced Alison Percival's Just Like You as the winner of their psychological thriller competition.
The judging panel, including our editor Suzy Walker of Psychologies magazine, Jemima Forrester from literary agent David Higham Associates, Quercus publishers Stef Bierwerth and Cassie Browne and authors Lucy Atkins and Elizabeth Heathcote, chose Percival's Just Like You from hundreds of entries after an initial shortlist of three was announced earlier.
Here Alison Percival, our winner tells us about how it feels to have her first book published.
How did you feel when you won?
It was a Friday afternoon in early January when the phone rang. I was about to go out of the door to collect my youngest from school so dithered about answering it.
Over Christmas, I’d actually managed to fairly successfully put the fact I’d entered the competition for a psychological thriller to the back of my mind. I knew I’d made it to the shortlist, but I just couldn’t let myself hope. The prize for the competition was almost too good to be true – the winner was to be to be published by a big name publisher with representation by my dream agency. Two of the judges happened to be writers whose books I’d recently read and loved. The signs weren’t auspicious; I’d bought Psychologies magazine as usual but realised, with a sickening lurch, the deadline was not far off, worked on it frantically, and had had to post it guaranteed next day delivery to be sure.
I answered the phone. It was the Stefanie Bierwerth, one of the judges and publisher from Quercus to say that I had won – if I would like to accept!. What she exactly said – and what I said in response – remains a blur but I do remember saying are you sure, over and over. I felt euphoric coupled with disbelief, a massive grin on my face as I floated to school.
What’s your book about?
Just Like You is about a woman, Isabel, who is in the heady days of a new relationship. All seems to be is going well although he is a bit evasive about exactly how his last relationship ended. We learn of the existence of another woman, Nicky, who is sat at home on her laptop, totally fixated on Isabel, torturing herself looking at her stolen life. When strange things begin to happen to Isabel, she realises she has a stalker. She suspects everyone. It becomes clear that this person is out to destroy every aspect of her life. But is Isabel the other woman or Nicky? Or is something else going on entirely?
What gave you the idea?
Maddeningly perhaps, to reveal what inspired the idea will give away a major part of the plot! Although it hinges on something I read, it was also a culmination of ideas; comparison culture fuelled by social media, the weird dichotomy between wanting to be individual and yet how we copy each other. Cyberstalking an ex is something that many people will confess to – it is just so easy – but how far is too far? I wanted to look at the power of celebrity obsession and how easy it is to construct a false narrative when you don’t talk to the person involved.
What you learned in the publishing process?
At the first meeting with the Quercus team and my new agent, it was incredible to me that they were actually talking about my characters and their situation as if they were actually real, these people I had conjured up. It’s been fascinating to see how it all works from how the book cover comes to fruition to the nitty gritty of the copy.
How did you find the writing process?
My writing process is fairly haphazard; I don’t write every day or do daily word counts. I have longish fallow periods to let ideas percolate. The fear of actually beginning, that blank page, can be crippling so I don’t always start at the beginning (the opening rarely ends up as the first scene anyway) but I do have a rough idea of where it’s going so I try to plot using Post Its or a whiteboard. If I’m out and about, I write notes on my phone and email them to myself. With this one, I knew the ending but didn’t know how I was going to get there. With the one I’m currently writing, I have no idea of the ending but am inching along, feeling my way. When I’m in the thick of it, I am totally focused on it; the whole house goes to pot, and I just want to be writing the whole time. It’s an odd love-hate, frustrating, exhilarating, intense time and it takes a while, a bit like decompressing, before resurfacing back into ‘real’ life.
Tips for other writers who want to write a novel
The most repeated refrain I hear from other people, is that ‘I would love to write a novel, but I don’t have the time.’ I used to think that – if only I could somehow be gifted an amount of time, with no interruptions, a sabbatical or a retreat, I too could find the time. I’ve since learnt that whatever your stage of life, time is there if you really want it. You need to take it from other places, rejig things, carve it out for yourself, then guard it fiercely. Scribble on your commute, on your lunch break, get up earlier or go to bed later, postpone the latest ‘must-watch,’ Little by little, the novel will grow. Keep going. It might be a slog, you’ll probably wish you’d never started, friends (if you’ve told them) will say ‘you’re not still writing that book are you?’ Finish it.
What’s next for you? ?
I’m just finishing Book Two which is another thriller, but this time set in the thirties. My two female characters – a cinema usherette and a society heiress – embark on a deadly cat and mouse game of swapping identities, asking the question how far would you go to be someone else and what would you give up for love.
Just Like You is available now: