M.K. Farrar is a USA Today Bestselling author of more than thirty novels.
We (virtually) met for an interview about writing, ideas, and dark themes. We even covered a bit of the nature vs nurture debate…
So firstly, thanks for agreeing to the interview, I know you’re very busy. Which leads to my first question – You’re married with three children, yet you’ve written over thirty novels. How long does it take you to write a novel, and what does the process look like?
First of all, I’ve been writing for a really long time. I started writing my first novel just after I’d finished university – which is almost twenty years ago now. That particular book was terrible and never saw the light of day, but it helped me to learn my craft. I spent many years writing and submitting to agents and publishers, but it wasn’t until 2009 that one of the books (Alone) was picked up and published through a small press.
Since then, as you mentioned, I’ve had three children, but I’ve always been writing. Now (during normal circumstances), they’re all at school during the day so I get six blissful hours of writing time every day. I can write a good four thousand words a day, which enables me to write a book every month or so, with another month of editing etc on top. It means I’m able to write and publish plenty of new books.
Four thousand words a day is incredible!
So do you outline each novel or discover the story as you write? Or is it a bit of both? Or a totally different option that I haven’t even thought of..?!
I’m mostly a pantser – so I just find the story as I go along – but that does vary with genre. The crime books – like the one I’m about to release – take a lot more planning and plotting. I find it far easier to write without a plot, personally, because I like to be surprised. I always say that if I’ve over-plotted my books, I lose interest, because I already know what’s going to happen.
Yeah, I think there’s a lot to that. I rarely plot short stories, but I always plot novels, and the process of writing short stories is probably more exciting for that very reason.
So what about ideas for new stories? Do you consciously try to think of new ideas, or is it more about grabbing hold of inspiration when it strikes?
Ideas come at me from all directions!
I keep files on my computer with story ideas and I’m sure I’ll never get around to writing them all! I can’t even watch the news without thinking of how I can work a certain situation into a book. The idea pot doesn’t seem to run dry – thank goodness!
That’s exactly how I am – I’ve got pages of story ideas, but don’t think I’ll be able to write them all!
I always say that the problem isn’t finding ideas, it’s choosing which one to run with. So how do you narrow down which idea to write next?
Honestly, I narrow it down to whatever I think is going to sell best. I do this as a full time job, so I don’t have the time to write something that won’t sell!
If an idea has the scope for a series, then it’s going to get put up the list, but I do love writing stand alones!
My next question was about your series, actually. Do you outline the series before starting, or are you more of a pantser in the same way as with some of your novels?
I have what would probably be best described as a ‘vague plan’.
So I kind of know what I want to write, and how each book will link together – so if it’ll be more of a serial style series, or if each book will be stand-alones, or with interlinking characters or places – but that’s about all. The rest of it I just allow to develop as I’m writing.
So, do you feel as though you explore the story as you write it, maybe in the same way that a reader does with the finished novel?
I guess so. It’s kind of like watching a film inside my head and just transcribing it onto paper!
Yeah, it’s like that whole Stephen King quote about writing being like uncovering a fossil. As a writer you’re just discovering it like everybody else – at least for the first draft anyway.
So in terms of marketing your work and letting people know about your novels, what do you do?
Yes, I love that quote. That’s exactly what it’s like!
As for letting people know about my books, well, Facebook is my biggest platform. I have author pages and take part in a lot of the reader/author groups, where I see myself as much as a reader as an author. I also run a couple of newsletters and let people know about my books through them.
I think a lot of authors – including me when I started out – try to use all social media to connect with people, but it’s not really sustainable and I think you spread yourself too thin. Were you the same, or did you know that Facebook was somewhere you wanted to focus on?
I’m on Instagram, too, but I naturally gravitate to Facebook. I find it to be the most interactive and I use their ads as well to find new readers.
I quite like Facebook ads. It took me a while to have any success with them though! Did you find it a steep learning curve?
I think Facebook ads are a continuous learning curve. The things that work now aren’t necessarily the same as they were two years ago. With Facebook, it’s all about knowing your audience. If you know who your readers are and what they respond well to, it makes ads a lot easier.
That’s great advice. Moving back to writing, do you similarly have readers in mind when you write? I know some authors have an ‘ideal reader’ in mind when writing. Is this something you do?
Yes! It’s my mum! She’s a massive reader, and was the person who inspired me both to read and write. I grew up with her love of books, with every weekend spent in the library. She started me reading Stephen King as a young teenager and it all just grew from there.
She’s also super critical and I know if I write something and she genuinely enjoys it, I’ve done a good job.
Ah, that’s really great! It’s amazing she has had – and continues to have – such a positive influence on your work.
You write across a number of genres. Do you find your writing style adjusts depending on the genre?
Yes, absolutely. Though I always have darker themes to my books – even my romance – there are different expectations in different genres and so I have to adapt to that.
Funnily enough, a friend once told me my books were too dark and that I should write ‘nice’ ones, but for whatever reason my stories always tend toward the darker side of human nature.
Are you the same? Or do you consciously decide to write darker themes before starting?
I’d say its a natural lean. When I first started writing, I wanted to write horror. I still have a few horror stories published with anthologies. I’ve always been a horror fan! Some of my thrillers, such as In the Woods, definitely has more of a horror vibe.
Why do you think that is? Do you think darker themes are more fun to write, or read?
Oh, yes! Absolutely.
I very rarely read comedy, or watch comedy films. I’ll always be the one choosing the sci-fi or thriller or horror film on a Saturday night rather than my husband. I don’t know why.
I guess it is because I find them more exciting. I want to be on the edge of my seat, with my heart pounding, and a pillow clutched in my hands to hide behind.
Same here! In spite of being a comedian I rarely read comedy, although in saying that I love Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series.
Do you have any favourite authors, or favourite books?
Lots of favourite authors and books! I’m a big fan of Lisa Jewell’s thrillers – Then She Was Gone, being one of my favourites.
I’ve also recently discovered Belinda Bauer, and CL Taylor, and Elizabeth Haynes (Into the Darkest Corner is probably the book that inspired me to write psychological thrillers).
For more historical, heart-breaking books, I’ve loved A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
For old school horror, I loved Stephen Kings’ The Stand, and James Herbert’s The Magic Cottage. I could probably go on, but we’ll be here all day!
Ah, I loved The Stand. That, Misery and The Shining are probably my favourite Stephen King books. I’ve read The Shining about twenty times I think..!
So, coming back to your process, how many drafts do you usually write before handing everything over to an editor?
I do one very rough draft. Then I do a rewrite, followed by an edit, and then I listen to the ‘read out loud’ option on Word to pick up on any inconsistencies and spelling mistakes.
At that point it goes off to my editor, and after I’ve worked on her suggestions, it’ll go to a couple of proofreaders before publication.
This latest book was a bit different, in that it went to my editor, and then went to a retired detective to give me his advice and suggestions about the police procedural side of things. His suggestions meant another round of rewrites, and I added another five thousand words to the manuscript, so I then sent it to a second editor for another round of edits. It’s now with three different proofreaders – so lots of people!
It is amazing how many people are involved in the publishing process!
I actually quite enjoy research too. For one novel I consulted with a firefighter which was absolutely fascinating.
So tell me – and everybody who’ll be reading this! – a bit about your latest novel.
Thanks! My latest novel is called The Eye Thief and is the first book in my new crime series, DI Erica Swift.
The book is about a killer who stalks London, abducting people and removing their eyes, before releasing them back onto the streets. The story alternates between the life of the killer growing up, the traumatic experiences he had that shaped him into the person he is today, and that of Erica Swift, who is juggling her job, with the stresses of taking care of a young daughter and a father with dementia.
Needless to say, the two story-lines entwine in a shocking ending! You can buy the book from amazon now for only $0.99/99p, or you can read it free with Kindle Unlimited.
That sounds great. I actually explored a similar theme in my first novel as I love the idea of looking at what shapes people to become who they are – for better or for worse.
So do you feel that nurture plays a bigger part than nature in that respect?
I actually have a biology degree, and so genetics is something that really interests me (I’m planning a story about genetics for later in the year). I definitely think it’s a combination of the two, but I think nurture affects our personalities more than nature does.
It is something my characters wrestle with though, especially if they’ve got violent family members. Can they escape that violence or will it always be a part of who they are?
I come at it from a different discipline – a psychology degree and working in counselling – but probably come to the same conclusion. In fact my last psychological thriller was all about that.
So lastly, what would say are the best and worst – or let’s say, least pleasant – aspects of being a writer?
A psychology degree must be a really handy thing to have when it comes to writing psychological thrillers!
I’d say the best and worst aspects of being a writer are probably the same thing – that I get to do my own thing all the time, but I also am on my own all the time (in normal times, when the family is at school and work).
I do miss having people I work with, but I also don’t miss it, if that makes sense! I love being a writer though, and I’d never really want to go back to a normal job.
Yes, that makes total sense!
Well it’s been great to talk to you, Marissa! And all the best with The Eye Thief and The Silent One!
Thanks so much for the interview.
You can find M.K Farrar at:
You can grab a free copy of Marissa’s debut psychological thriller if you sign up to her newsletter on her website here.