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Wiston author Debbie Howells on her new book

PUBLISHED: 11:02 07 September 2015 | UPDATED: 11:02 07 September 2015

Author Debbie Howells photographed near her West Sussex home near Steyning. Picture by Jim Holden

Author Debbie Howells photographed near her West Sussex home near Steyning. Picture by Jim Holden

Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036

Wiston writer Debbie Howells released her first psychological thriller last month, after a six-figure bidding war between publishers. Jenny Mark-Bell spoke to her about her book, The Bones of You

Debbie Howells has had the sort of year that writers dream about, but then to someone on the outside her life story would make a great book. She has worked as a flight attendant, a flying instructor and a wedding florist, all of which have had their moments of drama. Then, after self-publishing three novels, her novel The Bones of You was at the centre at of a six-figure bidding war in 2014. Pan Macmillan emerged victorious and the book hit the shelves last month.

Debbie and I met in Steyning (she lives in nearby Wiston), at The Sussex Produce Company, where she was soon to have her launch party. Just over a year ago, Debbie was running a successful wedding floristry business and writing in her spare time: she concentrated on women’s contemporary fiction originally, drawing on her own experience of floristry to write her most recent self-published book, Wildflowers. She’d got quite close to a traditional publishing deal then, but it came to nothing so she decided to change direction with the next book. The Bones of You is a psychological thriller that Debbie wrote in just two months.

“When that manuscript went out to agents the response was very immediate. I had one agent email me three hours later. I had a couple of other agents offering to represent me. Juliet, who is now my agent, was on holiday. I thought I would really love her to consider it before I decide. I sent her an email entitled ‘offers of representation’, which was a bit cheeky, but I had to grab her attention. She emailed me back straight away and said please send it through and she’d read it when she was in the office on Monday. This was at about six on Thursday evening and she emailed me at about 11 that night and said she loved it too. It was so extraordinary, it was the dream: it was thrilling, but also incredibly surreal.”

Local readers may recognise the landscape of The Bones of You – a circle of trees is recognisable as Chanctonbury Ring, for example – but the location of the story is not made explicit.

Again with this story Debbie drew on a previous life, this time her academic studies. “The story came from a growing awareness of the whole issue of emotional abuse. I studied psychology at university so why people are the way they are has always fascinated me. I just started reading and researching and it went from there. It’s about the power that some people are able to wield over others.”

It is an addictive and moving read, following the investigation of the murder of a lovely young woman. The protagonist, Kate, helps the victim’s family in their grief, while she herself becomes accustomed to a newly empty nest. The book has been described as The Lovely Bones meets Sister. “I didn’t want to write something frivolous,” says Debbie. “I wanted to write something that would really touch people.

“At the moment there are some books that are full of very dark characters and mine is a very dark, sad story, but I wanted people to be able to take something uplifting from it.”

Nature and the corruption of the natural order are heavily foregrounded, reflecting Debbie’s own environment. “I walk on the Downs most days and I look out onto fields and trees. I see the seasons pass and I love that. The natural theme is quite integral to the book, and Kate, as a character, is very in tune with that.”

Debbie is now in the proofing process of her next novel, which she says is very different from The Bones of You. As she leaves for the “small cottage, up a very quiet lane,” she shares with her husband and two grown-up children, I wonder what the next chapter holds for Debbie Howells.

The Bones of You is published by Macmillan, £12.99 in hardback

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