Cara Hunter looks refreshingly elegant when we meet; dressed in white, her long blonde hair, beautiful outfit and manicured nails a far cry from the dark, crime-ridden world in which she spends the majority of her time.
And yet it’s one that’s reaping its rewards, all that hard work tapping away at her desk in North Oxford paying off as her novels continually feature on bestseller lists all over the world.
“I realised just how much I relied on the outside world to function as an author”
To put it into perspective, Cara Hunter (not her real name), currently dipping into her asparagus and hollandaise in Quod, has sold over a million copies of her crime novels in the UK alone, is translated and sold in 25 different countries, and her latest The Whole Truth has just been picked up by the Richard & Judy Book Club, meaning you’ll find it in every supermarket, airport (God willing) and bookshop from here to Timbucktu.
In the meantime, screenwriter Daisy Coulam, of Grantchester and Dead Waterfall fame, is currently adapting Cara’s five books for a new TV series, yet to be confirmed, so fingers crossed that DI Adam Fawley and his team appear on our screens soon.
So has Cara got a fantasy cast list ready in case? “Of course! I think about it all the time. Don’t you think Richard Armitage would make a great DI Fawley?”
I lost a whole weekend, unable to put ‘The Whole Truth’ down
With so much going on, it’s interesting then that Cara experienced writer’s block for the first time during lockdown, a problem shared by fellow authors all over the world.
Interesting because one would imagine that life changed very little for Cara during the pandemic – in a sense many authors live in a perpetual circle of isolation, just them and the plot circling around until the last word is written and the last T crossed.
But apparently that’s not the case. “January was hard, it’s been really difficult,” she says honestly. “But I know everyone else was experiencing the same thing – authors were happy if they managed 300 words a day. I know some who wrote nothing, but as soon as lockdown was lifted I managed 15,000 words really quickly.”
So what was the problem? “It was the things I couldn’t do; wander around, go abroad, meet friends, go out for lunch. 90% of my plots come to me on holiday or on a plane when I’m relaxing and not working. I realised just how much I relied on the outside world to function as an author.
“I’m not saying it was harder for me than anyone else though,” she says quickly. “but yes it was hard.”
Having said that she has since finished her next book Come To Harm, while her recent novel The Whole Truth, which launched a few weeks ago, is selling like hot cakes.
Her previous novels Close to Home, Hunter In The Dark, No Way Out and All The Rage have done similarly well during lockdown – our appetite for crime novels only accentuated during the pandemic.
“I think it gave people something to do, to try to solve the crimes as they went along, like doing a crossword,” Cara muses. “But it’s also a really good way of losing yourself.”
If you haven’t read The Whole Truth yet you must. I lost a weekend, unable to put it down as I followed the two concurrent stories of an Oxford professor being accused of sexual assault, alongside DI Adam Fawley retracing an old case. (No spoilers here).
“Writing two plots at the same time was hard because you can’t leave too big a gap between them or people can’t remember what’s happening, so I rely on a short, sharp structure to keep the pace going.”
“90% of my plots come to me on holiday or on a plane when I’m relaxing and not working”
Where does Cara get her ideas? “I like to look at topical issues from a different angle and turn them on their head. So The Whole Truth is very much interested in gender politics and stereotypes as well as the preconceived assumptions that people make,” she says, “even though some of the scenes were quite hard to write.”
And what is it about Oxford that hothouses crime writers? “It’s the Morse thing,” she says immediately, “which is a challenge in itself, but also helps me sell books in Brazil, Latvia and Taiwan.
“People link Oxford with crime writing, but from a writer’s point of view Oxford also has a very transient population with lots of young people as well as that town/gown mentality to dip into (Cara was at Lincoln College where she studied English).
In fact, you can now find The Cara Hunter Room on Turl Street, after Lincoln College asked her to sponsor a room, which they rent out during the holidays. “When we were at university we used to call our corridor Death Row so it’s quite appropriate” she giggles. “But now it’s a beautiful room.” She’s also sponsoring a young opera singer from Garsington Opera.
So the pressure is on then now that she’s a bestselling author? “People who read my books know what they are going to get – a nice meaty story to hook everything else onto. So it is a pressure of sorts – to always try to be better and to keep delivering, but it’s a good problem to have,” she smiles.
One thing’s for sure – the future is bright for Cara Hunter, and for DI Adam Fawley too.
The Whole Truth is published in paperback by Penguin, priced £7.99 and available in all good bookshops. https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/130642/cara-hunter.html