Followers of my blog will know that I recently gave a rare 5 star review to Chasing Innocence by John Potter. The book was, clearly, excellent and so I thought I’d ask John a few more questions about his book. To take a read of my review, please see here.
Hi John, can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
My full name is John Stephen Potter. I was born in Portsmouth on the south coast of England in 1967. Time of writing that makes me 44. I was remedial English as a child, only learning to read at the age of nine. This meant I daydreamed a lot. As an adult I worked as a freelance programmer, which took me all over the world. My current job takes me every day to Mayfair in London. I’m on my second marriage, which is going very well. I relax by running, mostly around Hyde Park at lunchtimes. I read a lot, and will read anything on a recommendation. And of course writing is an obsession.
Chasing Innocence is your first book, and takes the quite difficult subject of child exploitation as the focus, did you think this was a risky choice, and why did you decide to choose this angle for the story?
I did worry what people would think. Ultimately my job in a book like Chasing Innocence is to take the reader outside of their moral comfort zone. I worked on the basis Michael Connelly wrote The Poet and is still very well thought of. It was a tough subject to write about though, to not be exploitative, to be true to the characters and keep it thriller entertaining. The story came to me for a whole bunch of reasons. As a young man I’d been struck by the many traumatic accounts women told of their transition from innocence. Early in 2007 I’d read Sabine Dardenne’s incredible non-fiction account of her kidnapping: ‘I Choose to Live’. That same year I saw a girl vanish from a local high street (subsequently found outside Boots). Everything clicked together and the story was there.
How long did the book take you to write, and did you enjoy the process?
It took fifteen months around a house move and job change. It took another eighteen months editing to get the depth of story you see now. I made a LOT of mistakes. How I imagined writing a book, was nothing like it was. It was like creating paper mache using words. Slowly I created shape and characterisation. Seeing the drama and characters evolve on the page is what I write for.
What challenges did you face in creating the characters of Simon, Hakan and ‘the blonds’ and what do you think was the key to making them authentic for the reader?
The hardest thing of all was to put myself into a violent mind and make them do violent things to good people. I had to describe a man attempting to beat a woman to death. That wasn’t pleasant. I tried to make the bad guys authentic by giving them lives and objectives of their own. I tried that at every level to some degree. Hopefully the violence then seems like a part of their story and not gratuitous.
At the end of your book, you note that you undertook research in writing this story; how did you approach this and did it change how you approached the writing of the book?
I read quite a few non-fiction accounts of abuse. Some were so graphic it was harrowing to read them. I watched a lot of documentaries and studied a number of high profile kidnappings. What stood out was how victims were selected, how the abusers passed as normal in real life, how the victims struggled to come to terms with the abuse and then tried to survive. I did most of the research after the first draft was completed, so my research either filled in the gaps, confirmed thoughts or actions or helped evolve them. Sometimes I’d got it completely wrong, and made changes.
The character of Sarah is, at times, a contradiction – she is very fearful and mistrusting of men, and shies away from her own husband, yet we know she had compromising photographs of herself on her bedroom wall and mobile phone – how do you think setting these contrasting ideas of Sarah in the readers’ mind early on helped develop an understanding of the character?
Sarah for me knows she is a very attractive woman, but that doesn’t change the fact she has severe physical intimacy issues. She loves Adam and I think tries to be a sexual partner for him, but cannot come close to matching his needs. In this modern age of digital cameras I don’t think it’s uncommon for couples to take ‘compromising’ pictures of each other. Often this occurs in the less inhibited surroundings of sunny holidays. They only become compromising when others see them. I think Sarah would have allowed the picture on the wall to divert attention from herself and to satisfy some need in Adam. I also wanted to depict the sexual separation between Adam and Sarah at the beginning. So I had a picture of her topless on the wall, so he could describe the ideal and not the reality.
It’s unusual for a crime story to push the Police characters as ‘supporting cast members’ – why did you decide to have Andrea’s father and Adam as the main investigators of the abduction?
I think the police procedural and crime genre is saturated. It’s very difficult to be original and difficult to get the procedural bit right. I never liked crime stories that focus on waiting for another victim. I always think about the poor victim. Which is why Chasing Innocence is about the victims and their fight for survival. Brian and Adam lead the hunt for Andrea because I loved the concept of a bad father only seeing his daughter as precious, after she goes missing. Then fighting to say sorry. I liked the concept of the familiar ex-drunk and crusty detective being terminally ill, and determined in his last case to save an innocent.
Do you have any plans for future books and will they feature any of the characters we’ve already met?
All the main characters in the epilogue feature in the sequel, which is called Hunting Demons. It will be available next year. There will be at least one other Sarah Sawacki book after that. I am currently writing a separate series character tentatively titled: Handyman. He really is.
In my review, I made reference to how well edited I thought the book was. Why did you choose to take a professional editing approach with this book?
I had several people read my finished draft. The consistent feedback was a great story with lots of typos. Errors were inevitable for a bunch of reasons. Punctuating dialogue ruined the flow, so I wrote it like a screenplay and didn’t punctuate. While adding it in after I got caught up reading the dialogue and missed lots. As the writer I’d stopped seeing the words and errors and only read the meaning from each line. I needed help. As I’m approaching writing and publication as a future career goal I was driven by the need to produce a very professional and flawless entertainment experience. To do this I sacrificed lifestyle to invest in a professional copy and proof edit. It was worth every penny.
It certainly was, the quality of the editing was really noticeable. Finally, John, what did you most enjoy about the independent author journey with this book, Chasing Innocence?
In a word: control. I could go on and on here. Holding the paperback proof copy was a pretty sensational moment. Indie publishing meant I could keep the title I loved, that I wouldn’t have to change any aspect of my story to fit into a particular genre. The cover was exactly what I wanted it to be. Above all it meant people would actually experience my characters and their story. Getting feedback from strangers is very surreal and welcome. Word of mouth is vital.
Thank you for the very insightful questions Sarah.
And thank you, John. I can’t wait to read your next book!