Q&A With Val Collins

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Q&A With Val Collins 

International Bestselling author Val Collins is the author of psychological thriller novels Dying To Tell, Where Loyalties Lie, The Silent Speak, Only Lies Remain, & Girls Targeted. I was connected to Val Collins through Tosca Lee’s publicist Mickey Mikkelson. 


Q: So Val, what is it about psychological thrillers that you enjoy writing so much?


A: To me writing a psychological thriller is like completing a very complex puzzle. The way I write makes the puzzle more complicated than it needs to be. I can’t plan, so I don’t know what picture I’m trying to create. I’m handed each piece of the jigsaw separately and have to immediately guess its correct position. To make things more challenging, some of the pieces I receive don’t belong to the puzzle at all. At some stages pieces have to be discarded and others have to be moved around to make everything fit, but that’s part of the fun. I have all the thrill of wondering how the puzzle is going to work out and the immense pleasure when everything (at least in my own mind) comes together in the end.

Q: What’s your advice to anyone on writing great psychological thrillers? If you deal with writer’s block, what advice do you give to new authors on how to deal with writer’s block?

A: If you want to write a psychological thriller, my advice is to think about the thrillers you have read recently. What did you like/dislike about them? What kind of book would you like to read yourself? 

At one stage thrillers went through a phase of being incredibly complex but their endings didn’t make any sense. I loved the twists and turns, but I found the endings disappointing. My aim was to write a book that kept readers guessing, but I wanted them to feel the book came to a logical conclusion. Whether I achieved that or not, is something only readers can judge.

I haven’t yet had to deal with writer’s block, at least not in the sense that most people describe it. I’ve never stared at a blank page. Sometimes I wonder if writer’s block affects me in a different way. There were two occasions when I stopped writing completely, but rather than stare at a blank page, I didn’t even switch on my computer. 

At the beginning of Covid, Ireland shut down for about five months and for much of that time we weren’t allowed to travel more than 5K (3 miles) from our homes. It was the ideal time to write. Looking back, I think I should have produced at least one complete book. I didn’t write a word. I never even made an attempt. I knew I was wasting a unique opportunity, and I found that quite frustrating, but it didn’t change anything. I don’t have any memory of deciding it was time to write again. Life gradually returned to normal and so did I. 

A few years earlier, I stopped writing following a bereavement. The previous six months had been physically and emotionally draining and I was worn out. Even switching on the computer required more energy than I could summon at that time. I don’t remember how long that stage lasted, but eventually I decided I had to do something to get myself writing again. Years earlier I had read somewhere that if you couldn’t write, you should re-read books you once loved. I tried that and it seemed to work. Again, I don’t remember a specific day when I started writing. Gradually life returned to normal, and for me that includes writing. 

Q: Is it fair to say that the characters in your novels are based on anyone you know? I like it when authors can create worlds and people based off of real worlds and people. 

 A: My aim was to write about a young woman who lived a normal life and had no special knowledge or skills. My main character, Aoife, is a mother and an office worker. She’s attempting to break into freelance journalism but can’t earn enough to pay the bills. When things go wrong, her only weapons are her courage, determination and intelligence. Because I want her life to be as realistic as possible, many of my plots are based on actual events. 

In The Silent Speak, an entire family is murdered in their own home. The police believe the man murdered his wife and kids and then killed himself. Aoife isn’t convinced. The idea for that story came to me when I was discussing a real tragedy that happened in Ireland when a man actually killed himself and his family. 

In Where Loyalties Lie, four young people are walking on a cliff path when one falls to his death. His three friends say it was an accident but a stranger who witnessed the incident claims one of the young men pushed his friend off the edge. That plot came to me while I was listening to the news. The news report mentioned that two young men were walking on a cliff path when one fell to his death. My first thought (my brain doesn’t work normally since I started writing thrillers) was how could anybody be sure it was an accident if his friend was the only witness?

In Dying To Tell, Nicole and Matt are on their honeymoon in Italy. When Nicole falls asleep, Matt is lying on the sunbed beside her. When she wakes, he has disappeared and she never sees him again. That actually happened a long time ago to someone my mother knew. In reality the husband was never found. Presumably he drowned. Obviously my Matt has an entirely different fate.

When I create a character, I have a vague idea of the kind of person I want to write about. Then I think, how would that type of person react in a certain situation? I think of similar people I know and imagine their reaction. Sometimes I’m thinking of just one person, occasionally I might have two or three people in mind. That gives me a basis for the character. But as the story develops, so does the character, and he/she becomes their own person. It would be impossible to make the connection to the people I had in mind when I began writing, because that connection no longer exists. 

I can only remember one time when I deliberately included a real life person in my book. While I was writing Only Lies Remain, someone on the periphery of my life was driving me nuts. The story needed a character who wasn’t particularly nice and I took out my frustration with the person who was annoying me by writing them into my book in the most unflattering way possible. A few weeks later I calmed down and deleted the character. I enjoy writing and I want people to enjoy my books. I don’t want to use my books to hurt or insult anyone. Also, I think it’s important to respect people’s privacy. I don’t want the people in my life worrying that I might exploit their friendship to create a character. At the end of the day, people are far more important than books.

Q: Does Hollywood have any interest or rights to your novels? They are long overdue for creativity. 

A: I’m quite sure nobody in Hollywood knows I or my books exist. But if anyone reading this has the right connections, can you do me a favor? Get them to read my books. Any offers will be gratefully accepted!

Q: If you were to write in another genre that wasn’t psychological thrillers, which genres would they be and why?

 A: When I first began writing I started with a book that I thought would be YA but it ended up being middle grade. I think I was influenced by the Harry Potter books. Mid-writing I realized I really wanted to write a thriller so I abandoned that book and started writing Girl Targeted. I might finish my middle grade book someday.

I’m planning to write about a time traveling detective. I’ve only written a few pages yet. The book is set in Edwardian England. I want my character to be a young college student with no ties. I’m fascinated by the idea of a young woman in 2023 with almost limitless freedom finding herself living a privileged life in Edwardian England. How would she react to a world where she has more physical comforts than she could dream of but almost no freedom? My main problem at the moment is I don’t know much about the Edwardian era so I have to do a lot of research before I can write anything that’s actually worth reading.

If I was to leave the thriller genre entirely, then I’ve always wanted to re-write Pride and Prejudice from the viewpoint of one of the minor characters. I first read Pride and Prejudice at school when I was fourteen and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since. I think part of the fascination is that as I matured, I saw the book in an entirely different light. At fourteen, I took it at face value and saw everything through Elizabeth’s eyes. Later I realized that Elizabeth’s prejudice extended to every member of her family. Those are the characters I’d like to explore. What made her parents into the people they became? What did Lizzie feel about the life she chose? Who were Mary and Kitty and was Jane capable of doing anything other than smiling and forgiving everyone? I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to writing it though. The Edwardian period is challenging enough but at least people’s speech patterns were similar to the way we speak today. People spoke very differently in the Regency era.

Q: What’s your advice to new authors on how to deal with negative reviews, online trolls and family and friends who aren’t supportive of their writing goals?

A: Fortunately I haven’t had to deal with online trolls and my friends and family have been extremely supportive. 

Negative reviews are an inevitable part of every writer’s life. Nobody in the entire world has ever written a book that everyone loves. I have no doubt negative reviews may be very helpful to other readers, and readers have a right to express their opinion, but I don’t see how they benefit an author. The exception, of course, would be if most people hate your book. Then you need to work out what is wrong so you can fix it. It might be different if you were a household name with millions of people lining up to praise your books, maybe negative reviews might be a refreshing change. They might even show you how to attract new readers. But few authors are in that position. Most of us struggle with imposter syndrome and reading negative reviews can only reinforce that.

For months after Girl Targeted was released, I read every single review. Some people said they thought the book was a fast paced thriller, others who liked the book said it was a slow build. At first I was confused. How could it be both fast paced and a slow build? Then I realized the book was about different things to different people. The same goes for reviews. What some people love, others will dislike. That’s just life.

These days I keep an eye on my overall average ratings. If most people like a book, I read the positive reviews. I love knowing what people liked about the book and it gives me pleasure that people enjoyed it. I don’t read the negative ones.