Samantha King – Q&A

The Secret Keeper’s Daughter by Samantha King was published HQ on 30 December 2021.

Samantha kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Secret Keeper’s Daughter.

The Secret Keeper’s Daughter is an emotional, suspenseful family drama set on England’s Suffolk coast. The story opens in the aftermath of an unknown trauma which has left young mum Holly Mayhew fearful for the safety of her new baby and 7-year-old daughter, Marley.

Desperately trying to piece together the events that led to her children being wrenched away from her, Holly recalls the preceding seven days – along with events from her own childhood – her recollections gradually combining to reveal painful secrets and devastating realisations: about her family, her marriage and the impact of having grown up surrounded by secrecy. In essence, it’s a book about parental paranoia and the questions we’re too afraid to ask – set against the impact of not asking them . . .

2. What inspired the book?

The idea for The Secret Keeper’s Daughter actually came to me after spending an afternoon tidying the kids’ bedrooms! Sorting through their cupboards, I came across an old worry box I’d used with them when they were younger, to help them share their fears and anxieties. It’s a tool I learned about when I practised as a psychotherapist, and I remain fascinated by how tough it is to really know what’s going on in other people’s minds (especially children’s) and how we’re hardwired as human beings (especially parents!) to imagine the worst.

I began to wonder how a parent would feel if they read notes from their child that suggested something awful was happening to them – and what that might be. Consumed by emotional possibilities, I began to imagine fictional notes, a parent’s shock at reading them and the dark family secrets that could unravel. The story took off from there!

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

Both! I always start with a loose plan – the main ‘hook’ of the story and the central narrative arc. I know how the story opens, the principal character dynamics, key themes and plot elements, but I don’t always know how it will end. Dates and timing need careful planning, of course, especially when there is a dual timeline (as in this book), but otherwise I think writing fiction is an organic process. As the characters begin to take shape, and I explore them in more depth, I often realise that they wouldn’t behave in the way I first imagined. Also, new ideas continually pop up as I’m writing, taking me in new directions. I generally find that it’s only when I’ve completed the first draft that I feel a really strong grasp of what I want the book to be. Then I rewrite it!

4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that still surprises you?

Before being a published author, I worked in publishing and commissioned my own commercial fiction list; subsequently, I went freelance as an editor. So, in one way or other, I’ve been involved in the book world for more than 30 years. Even so, it never ceases to surprise me how emotional the whole process is – the buzz of publication, of course, but also the highs and lows of the writing and publishing process . . . the thrill of having a new idea, then the self-doubt that sets in when writing it, followed by the elation of finishing a book, the trepidation of waiting for an editor’s feedback – and ultimately the soaring hope mixed with searing terror of it going out into readers’ hands!

Publishing is commercial business, but it’s also incredibly personal. A book really does feel like an author’s ‘baby’: they are exposing their imagination, their innermost emotional life, for others to read and judge. It means a lot both to the author and their agent/editor – far more than can be quantified in terms of sales or earnings – and even though I’ve edited and published more books than I can count, and have now had three published myself, I still feel surprised at how wounding or exhilarating the experience can feel!

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

One of the downsides of writing is that reading for pleasure can feel a bit like a busman’s holiday. But while I’m working on my own books, I do find it hard to read other people’s (partly because it clouds my thoughts, and also it prods my imposter syndrome!), so if I have a few days’ break, I love to catch up on my TBR pile. Family life permitting!

I also love watching films – preferably in the cinema, but I’m equally happy on the sofa with popcorn and the remote control. Walking is how I find head space – daily urban walks with our little Cavachon, Jessie, and whenever possible I love to escape to local parks, in particular Osterley, Syon, Richmond and Bushy Park, as well as Windsor Great Park. I’m especially happy if there is coffee at the end of the walk.

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

A Jane Austen compendium. Sorry, that’s cheating, isn’t it?!

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?

Funnily enough, no one has ever asked me if I actually enjoy being an author! Being published feels to me like an enormous privilege; there are so many wonderful, diverse writing voices, and I genuinely, frequently pinch myself that my dream has come true. It’s incredibly rewarding to work with talented editors and passionate publishers, and to receive lovely comments from readers. Yet alongside that, there is a huge amount of insecurity, self-doubt, the mixed blessings of social media – and reviews that can hurt as well as inspire. It’s also an unpredictable and insecure career, and of all the jobs I’ve had, it’s by far the lowest paid.

The mental health aspect of being an author is something that’s rarely talked about: the isolation and constant criticism (from self and others) that goes with the territory, alongside the precariousness of sales and new publishing deals. It all takes its toll! Yes, I feel extraordinarily lucky and grateful to be published, and I will always love writing – indeed, it’s a compulsion. I can’t NOT write! But seeing as you’ve asked (or not asked!), I’m taking a moment to reflect on whether I actually enjoy being an author.

On a good day, it’s one of the absolute best things that has ever happened to me; on a bad day, I’m scared to open my laptop. Thankfully, nothing inspires my storytelling like highs and lows of emotion, so as long as I continue to feel the fear, I think I’ll never be short of new ideas . . . and however tough publishing can be, nothing puts a smile on my face like readers saying they’ve enjoyed my books!

Samantha’s latest novel, Not My Child, was published on 21 July 2022.

About the Books

To unlock her secret, you must tell yours.

Holly Mayhew has the perfect family. But when she notices her seven-year-old daughter, Marley, becoming withdrawn and secretive, she sets up a solution. Holly creates a “worry box,” where Marley can post her innermost thoughts.

But as the worry box fills up, Marley’s notes threaten everything Holly thought she knew about her daughter.

What is Marley not telling her, and why is she so scared?

Holly’s past is shrouded in a mystery of its own, and she must confront her own secrets – secrets kept locked away for years – if she’s to help her daughter.

Once the truth is out… there’s no going back.

Two mothers. One child. Who do you believe?

The playground is the last place I thought I’d see you. It was my Billy’s first day at school. It was supposed to be a happy one.

But then you turned up. I remembered you instantly from the hospital wing. Our babies born on the same day. Both premature. Both needing intensive care.

While Billy grew stronger day by day, your baby sadly slipped away.

But now you’re back with one devastating accusation… Billy isn’t my son at all, he’s yours.

And you’ve come to take him away.

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