Penny Batchelor – Q&A

Penny Batchelor’s debut novel, My Perfect Sister, was published by Red Door Press on 14 May 2020.

Penny kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about My Perfect Sister.

How can Annie live up to the memory of a missing sister she can barely remember? 

When she reluctantly returns to her childhood home age 30 she has to confront the dark secrets it holds. But will she ever find out what happened back in 1989 when her elder sister Gemma didn’t return from school and was never seen again?

My Perfect Sister is a domestic noir thriller full of twists, turns, red herrings and characters you’ll grow to care about. 

2. What inspired the book?

I can’t remember when the first eureka moment happened but I’d decided I wanted to write about a heroine who didn’t fit the typical stereotype of a grieving sister. Gradually a picture of Annie and mystery built up in my mind, as did the characters surrounding her. My Yorkshire roots inspired the setting! 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

A bit of both! I saw an interview with Philip Pulman recently where he said he started writing Northern Lights with just an image of a young girl scrambling over roofs at an Oxford College. I take my hat off to him and any other writers who can write without knowing where they are going. At the other end of the spectrum are writers who plan each chapter before writing them and have copious spreadsheets and post it notes. I don’t do that either! When I start writing a book I have a rough idea of the beginning, middle and end, ensuring that the story will be meaty enough to become novel-length. During the writing process though more ideas occur to me and sometimes plots deviate, new characters pop into my mind and I change my initial idea for the ending. I like having wiggle room!

4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

When my novel was accepted by RedDoor Press to be published I didn’t have much of a clue about all the extra hats an author has to wear apart from doing the actual writing: Social Media marketer, website designer, publicist, networker…

I have learned so much about the publishing industry and how a book is created once the author delivers their manuscript. For example, I was blown over by the brilliant cover design! It takes a team to take my words and turn them into a novel that goes on sale in bookshops. Things like the cover, publicity, marketing and me doing author interviews and networking with other authors such as the brilliant D20 authors group all play a part in spreading the word about My Perfect Sister to readers. I’ve been thrilled by the wonderful comments I’ve had from readers.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

Like many other authors I’m a voracious reader and I love to have a few spare hours to lose myself in a great novel. I’m also a keen knitter, although with deadlines to meet I haven’t had much time to do so lately. I’m currently knitting a cosy jumper and find working on it very relaxing.

Pre-Covid my husband and I loved travelling and exploring new places. I hope that we’ll be able to do so again in the future once it’s safe to do so. 

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

I’m not someone who tends to reread books because there are so many other books out there calling me, therefore to only be able to read one for the rest of my life would be a nightmare! If push came to shove, however, I’d pick the collected works of Jane Austen. Her genius wit would keep me happy and entertained I think. When I’ve read all six again I’ll go back to the start.

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?

Ooh heck, what a hard question! OK, here goes: if I could zoom back in a time machine and meet an author who is now dead, who would it be? My answer would be to go to the Haworth Parsonage and meet the three Bronte sisters. It’d be fascinating to see what they looked like and how they interacted with each other and fitted in writing into their daily routine. What was it about their lives and situation that produced three literary geniuses? I’m Team Anne but am a big fan of all three.

About the Book

How can you ever live up to the memory of someone you hardly remember?

Annie is five when her sister Gemma leaves for school one day and never returns. The family’s lives are changed forever with Gemma’s disappearance and Annie feels neglected and unloved. When she is just sixteen, she decides she can no longer live in the shadow of her perfect but absent sister and she leaves home, falling in and out of jobs and relationships, her resentment for Gemma always there, bubbling under the surface.

Many years later she reluctantly returns home to care for her mother, ill with cancer. Her anger only grows when she sees Gemma’s room still kept as a shrine while hers is now her mother’s sewing room, but as she cares for her mum she begins to soften and egged on by her best friend Priti she realises she has to uncover what happened to Gemma, for all their sakes.

Her research puts her in danger but with the help of a fabulous cast of characters and a satisfying twist in the tale, she finally discovers the truth but can she ever accept it?

About the Author

Penny Batchelor previously had careers as a Content Producer at the BBC and Web Editor at various educational institutions but due to ill health now works at home as a freelance journalist and award-winning knitting blogger. She is physically disabled and is keen to bring disability into mainstream literature. She lives with her husband in Warwickshire.

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