Nothing Left To Lose (published 10th January 2022) was the first full-length novel I'd written and published since becoming a full-time author.
But even though I'm an independently published author, it doesn't mean I don't employ the same help as traditionally published authors.
One my key team members is my editor Rebecca Millar, who guides me on plot, pacing and characters.
To mark the publication of Nothing Left To Lose, we had a quick chat about writing, reading and favourite desk snacks!
The original article appears on Rebecca's blog, and is reproduced here with her kind permission.
One of the best parts of working with authors is seeing their work get better and better with every manuscript, and A J Wills is one such superstar.
I’ve worked with Wills on two books so far, and each time he’s brought an even more thrilling concept to the table – earning himself a Selfie Award nomination in the process.
With a flair for creating complex characters and hooks that you just can’t resist, you can’t go far wrong with an A J Wills thriller.
It was an utter joy to work with A J Wills on his latest novel, NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE, an electrifying psychological thriller that poses questions about how one careless action can snowball into tragedy. And revenge.
I was delighted to get the chance to ask A J Wills some questions ahead of publication day – today – discussing what inspired him to write thrillers, and why keeping things close to home makes the twists all the more unnerving.
Q. Adrian, welcome! Nothing Left to Lose is your fourth psychological thriller novel, now, isn’t it? Tell us a little more about it.
I wanted Nothing Left to Lose to be a conventional psychological thriller with a protagonist facing a clear life-and-death threat from a twisted villain – although you have to wait a while to confirm who the villain actually is!
The story revolves around Henry Hutton, whose wife, Abi, a criminal lawyer has just won the biggest court case of her career when she successfully convicts two men for the murder of a pensioner in his own home. But that’s when things begin to get weird – strange hooded men loitering around outside the house, Abi’s car is vandalised with a creepy message etched into the windscreen, and an anonymous death threat is put through their front door, threatening to take revenge on them both. The only problem is, they don’t know who’s after them or why.
Q. The book is set in the family home, which makes the events of the novel – no spoilers here – all the more disturbing. What is it about the domestic setting that appeals to you?
I think the best psychological thrillers are about the extraordinary things that happen to ordinary people – and I like to think the story in Nothing Left To Lose is one that could happen to anyone, and that’s what makes it so creepy. I won’t give the story away, but what precipitates the plot against Henry and Abi is so mundane and ordinary, anyone of us could be guilty of it. And if you upset the wrong person at the wrong time, who knows how they might react – whether it’s a road-rage incident, a comment on social media, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Q. Who inspired you to start writing? Have your influences changed since then?
I’ve always wanted to write but never thought I’d have the opportunity to make it my job, until the advent of the Kindle and the rise of the self-publisher. When I was young, I used to write and illustrate my own books on scraps of paper stapled together, and as a teenager I even started a few spy thrillers (but didn’t get much past the first few chapters!)
I first realised writing was something I had a latent ability for when I was ten and had to write an essay in school about my favourite meal. I wrote about my mum’s roast beef Sunday lunch and can still remember the visceral reaction it received from the rest of the class when I had to read it out. I had people salivating and murmuring with pleasure. That’s when I realised the power of good writing.
I grew up reading mysteries and thrillers like the Famous Five and later devoured all the Sherlock Holmes books. Then became more interested in the spy thrillers of Alistair Maclean and Colin Forbes and the Dirk Pitt action/adventure novels by Clive Cussler. But in more recent years I’ve fallen in love with the psychological thriller genre – books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train really got me hooked – and realised that’s what I wanted to write.
Q. You haven’t always written in this genre, so why did you choose to write psychological thriller?
That’s right, my first four novels were spy/espionage novels with a hero called Tom Blake, an ex-SAS veteran with special hypnotic interrogation skills! But I realised what I was reading were psychological thrillers. And they say, write what you know. My first psychological thriller was Between the Lies, set in my home town of Faversham in Kent, and I was surprised by how popular it was and how well it sold, far better than any of my Blake books.
Q. Do you like to plan the action of your novels (plotter) or do you just let them write themselves (pantser!)?
I’m very much a planner. I admire writers who can sit down and knock out a novel as it forms in their head, but I have to know where I’m going with it, down to the individual scene. That said, I tend to let the characters develop as I write, even though I’ll know their back stories, motivations, wants and needs in advance. This year I bought myself a big pinboard, which I’ve mounted on the wall by my desk so I can pin up the beats of my story and refer to them at a glance! Although I think it is possible to ‘pants’ a novel, it’s much harder with a thriller or a mystery, as you need to be throwing in clues and red herrings, plus meeting all the necessary plot points and genre tropes.
Q. As Nothing Left to Lose is a domestic suspense novel, it’s incredibly relatable to many readers. However, did you have to do a lot of research for the novel? If so, how? For example, based around Henry’s culinary passion? Are you a cook yourself?
You’re right, Henry has a passion for food and throughout the novel knocks up some amazing dishes. I don’t know much about food, other than what I’ve seen watching Masterchef, but that proved an invaluable source of inspiration. I did find myself getting lost in countless recipes and menu ideas as I went through the research process though!
Q. Writing a novel is both an exhausting and inspiring experience. Do you have any plans to put pen to paper again soon?
I became a full-time author in March last year, really on the back of my thriller, His Wife’s Sister which became a Kindle number-one bestseller last year. So yes, I have to put pen to paper again, as it’s now my job.
I already have a great idea for my next book, inspired by a true-life event, but now I need to plot it out and work out exactly where it’s going. I want two or three big, mind-blowing twists in the next book, which I think its going to be the most difficult thing to pull off successfully.
Q. What is your desert-island read?
Although I devour thrillers, actually my desert-island book would be The Sun Also Rises / Fiesta by Hemingway. I know it’s a bit of a cliché for a writer to like Hemingway, but come on, the guy was a genius, and the depth of writing in that book means you can keep going back to it and find new meaning every time.
Q. Do you have any writing tips to share?
I would suggest to anyone thinking about trying to write a novel, you need to keep persevering. They say you need to write a million words to become proficient as a writer and I think there’s probably some truth to that. Not many writers sit down and write a brilliant first book. It’s usually come from hours and hours of writing and honing their craft. Like anything in life, whether it’s learning a musical instrument or becoming competent in a sport, you need to put in the time and effort. Sadly, there are no shortcuts to actually sitting your backside down at your desk and churning out the words.
Q. What is your writing process like? Do you have a routine? A favourite place to write?
I try to be at my desk by 8:30 in the morning and if I’m on a first draft will keep going until I’ve completed 2,000 words. The rest of the day is then taken up with marketing and promotion, which as a self-publisher is the cross we have to bear. There is no one else to do it for us! I’m lucky that I have a room in the house I’ve turned into a study, which overlooks farmland. I use a laptop, connected to two monitors that sit side-by-side (invaluable when editing!) on a standing desk that I can raise or lower, depending on how bad my back is on any given day.
Q. Finally, most important question. Favourite writing snack!
I don’t tend to snack much when I’m writing, but when I do need something my go-to is dried figs. It’s a little bit of sweetness without the guilt of eating processed sugars.
Rebecca Millar offers bespoke editing services for writers at all stages of the editorial process.
She has expertise in all levels of editing including structural editing, copy-editing and proofreading, across both fiction and non-fiction but specialises in crime and thrillers. She says the best part of being an editor is helping people to find their voices on the page and create captivating writing, whether that be an inspiring memoir or race-against-time thriller.
You can contact Rebecca via her website: rebeccamillareditorial.com