If you love books, you’ve probably noticed that a popular genre recently has been dark fiction. Call it psychological suspense or ‘suburban noir’, the trendsetter was the brilliant ‘Gone Girl’, a novel that spawned a raft of books about conflicted families in peril.
I’d been eagerly awaiting the release of Coming Home – the debut domestic thriller by Expat Telegraph blogger and journalist Annabel Kantaria – and I wasn’t disappointed: the tag line, ‘The darker the secrets, the closer they lie’ rang true the whole way through, and I was kept guessing right until the very end by the ambiguous characters.
I’m not going to give away too much about the plot, suffice to say it’s about 28-year-old Evie, who lives in Dubai and gets the phone call every expat dreads: her father has died unexpectedly and she must return home, to the web of lies spun by her family. The first clue is that her mother is acting strangely. Then, as one secret after another is revealed in quick succession, like a hail of stones, Evie realises that everything she thought she knew about her parents is a manipulation of the truth.
I caught Annabel at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in March, and the thing that struck me was the dedication it takes to write a novel that actually ends up on bookshelves. “I can’t quite believe it’s my book,” she said, revealing that it was two years in the making, with the idea first forming five years before that.
Everything changed for Annabel when she won the festival’s Montegrappa First Fiction competition in 2013. Her submission, the first chapter of ‘The Marmalade Murders’, caught the eye of literary agent Luigi Bonomi. Six weeks later, she had a 60,000-word first draft ready for him; two more drafts followed, then came the book deal, with Harlequin Mira – and more edits, which Annabel worked on while her two children were off school for the summer holidays. “I must have written 200,000 words in total, of which 90,000 made it into the finished book.”
Dubai as Evie’s expat location was edited in and out, and her character went through various guises. “At first, she had children, but as she had to go away for five weeks, they got in the way,” said Annabel. “Then she was a divorcee, but got too bitter, so that didn’t work either.”
The hard work was all worth it though – at the literary festival, Annabel enjoyed a proud moment signing a copy of her book for Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project, and her gripping novel is already being well received. She’s currently working on her second book, with a third in the pipeline.
“I’m very fortunate that my children go to school,” she told us. “They leave the house at 7am, and I’m at my computer at 7.10am, in my pyjamas – writing in two-hour blocks until 2pm.”
Her next shift takes place at 2.30am, when her husband frequently hears the sound of a pencil scratching in the dark. “Some of my best ideas and dialogue come to me in the middle of the night,” she said.
Coming Home is available in Dubai already and launches in the UK tomorrow – buy it here (listed as one of Amazon’s Rising Stars 2015)