Karen King is an Amazon bestseller author of psychological thrillers and romance novels. She has been writing for more years than she cares to remember and now lives in Spain where she loves to spend her non-writing time exploring the quaint local towns.
Tell us a little about your latest book, The Perfect Stepmother. How would you sum up the story?
I would describe it as a story examining whether you can ever redeem, or be forgiven for, something terrible you did in your past.
The story is written in two main viewpoints, that of Lily, the daughter, and Maria the stepmother. Lily is upset when she learns that her father has decided to marry again just over a year after her mother died from cancer. To make matters worse, Maria is a beautician who specialises in treating cancer patients and used to visit Lily’s mother to give her free beauty treatments at home, someone her mother considered a friend, so it feels like a double betrayal.
Everyone thinks Maria is perfect, except for Lily. She is sure that Maria is hiding a dark secret as she never talks about her past, has no friends or family, but no one will listen to Lily’s suspicions. Then Lily’s five-year-old sister Emma goes missing and Lily is sure that Maria has something to do with it.
There is also a third occasional but more sinister viewpoint, we don’t discover the identity of this person until the end.
What motivated you to write it?
I like to explore emotions and realistic situations. When I read newspaper reports about murders and fatal accidents, I often wonder how the perpetrators cope with the guilt of what they have done. How can you live with the knowledge that you’ve taken someone’s life, or caused someone’s death? And imagine if the victim was a child? If you caused a child’s death, albeit accidently, how could you ever atone for what you did? Even if you tried your best to “pay back,” to do charitable works, to spend your life helping others, would people ever forgive you? Would you ever forgive yourself? That is the basis of this story.
A lot of the dramatic tension in the book comes from the fact that Lily’s family doesn’t listen to her. What motivated you to explore this theme?
The frustration of not being believed is a feeling most people can identify with, especially with other family members often dismissing your feelings, fears or suspicions. It can also be difficult for a family to accept the new spouse when a parent dies and the remaining parent remarries. Especially if they think a reasonable amount of time hasn’t passed.
As Lily struggles with her father remarrying so quickly, her family think that she is resentful and hasn’t given Maria a chance so won’t listen to her suspicions, but it’s more than that. Lily genuinely thinks that Maria is hiding something and is desperately worried for her father and little sister, Emma. She goes on a mission to find evidence that Maria isn’t who she says she is, but even when Emma goes missing no one will listen to Lily’s suspicions.
You’ve progressed from children’s writing, into romance, and recently into psychological thrillers. What’s the journey been like?
It’s been amazing! I started my writing career many years ago working on short stories and scripts for teenage and children’s magazines, then children’s books. As my own children were young then it was a market I was familiar with and really enjoyed writing for. I did a lot of commissioned work to pay the bills and have written a variety of stuff from picture books, joke books, plays and early readers, also non-fiction work.
I always wanted to write a full-length romance novel though so when my family were all grown up I decided to have a go at a book for Mills and Boon. It was rejected but People’s Friend accepted it as a Pocket Novel, and it’s now been republished by Headline. Spurred on by that success I’ve now written, and had published, ten more romance novels.
I’ve only recently moved into writing psychological suspense. I’m really interested in people and relationships and to me, romance stories and psychological thrillers are the opposite ends of the same coin. Romance is where love goes right, and psychological thrillers are where love goes wrong. I enjoy exploring the alternative scenarios.
Can you take us through the process of writing a book? What do you do first, and does this change depending on what genre you’re writing?
The characters usually come to me first and then I build a story around them. I write up a paragraph and run the idea by my editor. If she likes it, she’ll want to see a detailed synopsis. When she’s approved that I get a contract. That’s when I actually start writing. I have a folder and a notebook for each book I write. I jot down scenes, scenarios, twists, conversations and anything else that comes to me in my notebook.
Then I go onto Pinterest, make a board for my WIP, and pin anything relevant to the story on it, e.g., pics of how I think my characters look, clothes they’d wear, the setting, anything to do with the story. Then I print out character profile sheets, fill one in for each main character, and stick them in my folder, along with images of characters and anything else that might be relevant to the story.
Once my characters are clear in my mind I start writing. I usually write the first draft right the way through, unless I get stuck. Then I’ll go back and read through because this usually means that something isn’t working, maybe I’m writing in the wrong viewpoint or there’s a plot hole. When I’ve fixed that I carry on writing.It’s more or less the same procedure for romance and psychological thrillers, except that I concentrate more on the plot twists, the structure and timings of the reveals and the OMG twist at the end when I’m writing a psychological thriller.
When I’m writing a romance novel, I concentrate more on the emotional journey, the black moment when it seems that all is lost and my heroine and hero won’t get together, the resolution of that and the happy ever after.
What was the most challenging part of writing your latest book?
Keeping the suspense going! Because I was telling the story from both Lily and Maria’s viewpoint it was challenging to get into both their heads without revealing any spoilers to the reader. I wanted to keep the reader guessing right until the end, wondering if Maria could be trusted. I hope I’ve achieved that.
Which of your books are you most proud of?
That’s a tough one. I think it’s The Stranger in my Bed, as that was my debut thriller and a story I’d been wanting to write for a long time. It was a challenge to change genre from romance to suspense, where what started off as a loving relationship goes dramatically wrong, and to keep the reader guessing which character was the abuser.
A lot of people condemn women or men who stay in an abusive relationship, blaming them for not getting out sooner, not understanding the complexity of the situation. I wanted to try and portray to the reader how easy it is for the victim to get caught up in the cycle of thinking they are in the wrong, they are imagining the abuse or that it’s all their fault. It’s common behaviour for an abuser to gaslight the victim, to deny their behaviour and say the victim has imagined it. So I decided to explore what would happen if one of the couple lost their memory and couldn’t remember the abuse.