Heleen Kist is the author of In Servitude. Her latest novel, Stay Mad, Sweetheart, was published by Red Dog Publishing on 13 November 2019.
Heleen kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Stay Mad Sweetheart.
It’s a dark yet empowering tale of professional women who each face harassment and discrimination – to varying degrees – and decide to not take that anymore. The novel is set in Edinburgh during the sale of the main character Laura’s successful data science start-up, which is what weaves the women’s stories together.
I’ll admit it’s a bit of a mongrel when it comes to genre: part crime fiction, part women’s fiction, part (accessible) finance – and techno-thriller; but for the reader, this means a twisty ride into the unknown!
2. What inspired the book?
When the Aziz Ansari scandal broke out (a woman blogged anonymously about a bad sexual encounter with this TV actor) I was surprised to learn that not all women thought like me. Some called it sexual assault, others shrugged and called it a ‘bad date’. What shocked me was how vicious the vitriol between them was. So, I wanted a story that brought women together, that encouraged civilised discourse in exploring what is ultimately a grey area. Then I realised there are many more grey areas that we’re unlikely to agree on, particularly when it comes to the workplace. Plus, it’s a setting that seems very under-explored in fiction. I drew inspiration from great 80s/90s films like ‘9-to-5’, ‘The First Wives Club’ and ‘Working Girl’ to create a satisfying but also thought-provoking story of women seeking justice.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I’m a super-duper planner. I can’t write the first scene until I have the whole caboodle figured out and written up in a detailed outline. It makes it so much easier to maintain pace and to have credible twists. It also means no structural edits afterwards!
4. Having been through the publishing process is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
I self-published my first novel, ‘In Servitude’ which meant that I had full control. When I researched agents and publishers, and talked to other authors about their experiences, what surprised me most was how incredibly slow the process generally is. I’m not very patient so I’m delighted that Red Dog Press are still small and nimble enough to bring the book out quickly. That was particularly important for this book as it’s dedicated to my mother, a lifelong crusader for women’s rights, who, although in fine health, is 83.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I’ve been an independent strategy consultant for about 18 years and that means I work on projects (of differing lengths) on and off. Often they involve significant travel, so I like to have a good break between them. This is the second year in which I’ve used that break to write a book, and I’m just starting my third.
My favourite thing to do otherwise is to cuddle my kids — who despite being teenagers still let me – usually in front of the TV watching some rubbish to bring peace to my overactive brain.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
I don’t tend to re-read books so that’s a very difficult one to answer. It would have to be one that is more literary or unusual than predominantly plot-driven as the plot would get old. Really struggling with this one… At a push, I’d say something by John Irving: maybe ‘The World According to Garp’ or ‘A prayer for Owen Meany’
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Because people expect authors to be passionate about writing (since childhood!) they also expect it to be natural that you write more than one. So what I haven’t been asked is whom I credit for having written a second book.
Answer: When I wrote ‘In Servitude’ it was on a bit of a mid-life crisis whim and I didn’t really expect it to be a *real* book. I was lucky enough to be selected as a spotlight author at Bloody Scotland crime writing festival but other than that I launched it pretty quietly. I had no intention of writing another one. But one by one, the book was embraced by bloggers who helped get the word out and forced me to believe that I was, in fact, a proper writer. So it’s them.
About the book
THERE’S A FINE LINE BETWEEN INNOCENCE AND GUILT. AN EVEN FINER LINE BETWEEN JUSTICE AND REVENGE.
Data scientist Laura prefers the company of her books to the real world – let alone that cesspit online. But when her best friend Emily becomes the victim of horrific cyberbullying, she makes it her all-engulfing mission to track down the worst culprits.
Petite corporate financier Suki is about to outshine the stupid boys at her firm: she’s leading the acquisition of Edinburgh’s most exciting start-up. If only she could get its brilliant, but distracted, co-founder Laura to engage.
Event planner Claire is left to salvage the start-up’s annual conference after her colleague Emily fails to return to work. She’s determined to get a promotion out of it, but her boss isn’t playing ball.
As the women’s paths intertwine, the insidious discrimination they each face comes to light. Emboldened by Emily’s tragic experience, they join forces to plot the downfall of all those who’ve wronged them.
But with emotions running high, will the punishments fit the crimes?
A pacy suspense fiction with its feet firmly in the #MeToo era. 9 to 5 meets Suits with a dash of Black Mirror.
About the author
Heleen Kist has been fondled, patronised and ordered to smile by random men. So she wrote ‘Stay Mad, Sweetheart’, a feminist tale of revenge. Whilst her professional knowledge of technology start-ups fed the novel’s setting, its theme of harassment and workplace discrimination required no research: it is familiar to all women.
Heleen was chosen as an up and coming new author at Bloody Scotland 2018. Her first novel, ‘In Servitude’ won the silver medal for Best European Fiction at the Independent Publishers Book Awards in the USA and was shortlisted for The Selfies awarded at London Book Fair.
A Dutch strategy consultant living in Glasgow and married to a Scotsman, she’s raising their son to be a good man and their daughter to kick ass.
*I was asked to host this Q&A to help promote the book. I did not receive a copy of Stay Mad, Sweetheart, or any other payment for doing so.*