Heather Barnett’s debut novel, Acts of Kindness, was published by Serpentine Books on 5 March 2021.
Heather kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Acts of Kindness.
It’s a light-hearted mystery which follows Bella Black as she moves out of London to her dream job in a sleepy Wiltshire village. Her new company has a top secret charitable arm called the OAK Institute and Bella is staggered when she discovers what OAK does (no spoilers here!). People start disappearing and Bella realises she’ll have to try and solve the mystery of who’s working against OAK in order to save the Institute and those who have gone missing.
I love the idea that there’s more to life than meets the eye; I’m drawn to quirky characters; and I like making people laugh – so I hope those are all elements that readers will recognise in Acts of Kindness.
2. What inspired the book?
It was inspired by witnessing commuters helping a woman who’d fallen down the stairs at Paddington station, intermingled with wondering what was behind some grand stone gateposts that I used to drive past on the Wiltshire/Berkshire border. Those two disparate things swirled around the back of my mind and emerged as the OAK Institute.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I’m a bit of both. I like to know roughly what I’m aiming for but I’d hate to have a chapter by chapter plan. For me, the magic of writing comes when you sit down at your keyboard and find characters doing things you didn’t expect, or unplanned scenes popping up because that’s what unfolds in the story almost in spite of you.
4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that surprised you?
Yes, I hadn’t understood what the role of an editor was at all before being published. I think I had a vague idea that an author handed their manuscript over to a publisher, they checked the commas were in the right places, slapped a cover on and Bob’s your uncle. The reality was a rather more complicated. There was a structural edit – where an editor made suggestions to improve the plot, or pointed out where I had two characters that could be amalgamated into one – followed by a copy edit to polish the phrasing and make stylistic improvements and finally a proofing edit to pick up on typos. It’s still 100% the author’s work, and their final decision on which recommendations to take on board, but having those fresh pairs of eyes and the guidance of professionals in the industry is invaluable in making it the best book it can be.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Well, possibly rather predictably, I love to read! And I still have a day job so paradoxically for me writing is one of the ways I relax in the evenings.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I first read it when I was fourteen and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read it since. She’s my favourite novelist, I love all her books but good old P&P has a special place in my heart.
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?
How about – ‘What’s the best bit so far? The best bit is the blog tour. A blog tour is where book bloggers sign up to read new books, usually ahead of publication, and post reviews. To read those reviews and hear that people ‘get’ the book – that it made them laugh, had them gripped and that the characters stayed in their head after they closed the book – I really couldn’t ask for more.
About the Book
Dream Job. Fresh Start. Big Mistake.
When Bella Black arrives in a sleepy Wiltshire village, it seems like the perfect place for a new start: a lovely home, exciting job and an attractive colleague or two to take her mind off her recent divorce.
When people start disappearing, she realises she holds the key to a mystery bigger than she could have ever imagined.
Who is really pulling the strings at the secretive OAK Institute?
Can anyone be trusted?
Will Bella make the right choices before it’s too late?