Journalist and lecturer Lisa Bradley talks about her debut novel - psychological thriller Paper Dolls

Journalist and novelist Lisa Bradley talks about her first novel – psychological thriller Paper Dolls.

Lisa started her career as a cub reporter on the Wakefield Express and was later its deputy editor.

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She is now director of learning and teaching for journalism at Sheffield University and freelances for various national newspapers.

Q What’s your name and where do you come from?I’m originally from Harrogate in North Yorkshire, I now live in Holmfirth and work in Sheffield.

Q Do you write fact or fiction and in what genre?As a journalist, both. My novels are marketed as psychological thrillers.

Q Are you traditionally or self-published and which route do you consider to be the best?I’ m traditionally published. I didn’t want to go down the self publishing route as I was worried if publishers didn’t think it was good enough to publish, then it probably wasn’t.However I know many people have had great success going down the self-publishing route and I am not disparaging about it at all. I didn’t have the confidence. I wrote three novels before my book deal that didn’t get picked up and I did think about the self-publishing route but I am glad I didn’t because you only get to debut once.I had so much support editorial and marketing wise from Quercus, I can’t imagine how hard it would be going it alone.

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Q What’s your work schedule like when you are writing?I teach journalism full time at the University of Sheffield and have two sons, so I simply have to fit it around them.

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I aim for 4,000 words a week, which I tend to do after I’ve put them to bed and a bit over the weekend. Sometimes I have to squeeze in 400 words on my lunch break and I’ve been known to take my MacBook to the side of football pitches and drama schools while waiting for the kids. If I try to smash 1,000 words each night, Monday to Thursday, then that’s great as it means I can take the weekend off to spend time with the family.

Which basically means taxi-ing them about constantly and trying to wait until 6pm until I open the wine.

Q What advice would you give to budding writers?Keep going forward. Don’t pore over a page for days and weeks getting it perfect. Just crack on, even if you hate what you’re writing, or you’ve got plot holes, get to the end. Once you’ve got a draft in your hands, it is easier to work with. You’re more likely to keep working on it rather than giving up because you’re frustrated with it, or you can’t get past that seemingly impossible hurdle.

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Also, strip it down. Less is more. Don’t use 20 words when eight will do. People fall into the trap that good writing is endless use of adjectives and personification.Make each word count and be there for a purpose. If it’s not doing its job, get rid of it. Remember, the road to hell is paved with adverbs – Stephen King.

Q Please tell about Paper Dolls and what inspired itIt looks at Missing White Woman syndrome. Two young girls go missing on the same day, one is a middle class, star pupil, white teenager. The other, a habitual runaway, a black girl from a council estate. Our protagonist, Leah, a young and inexperienced news editor, decides to run the white girl on the front of the paper after pressure from colleagues and police. The black girl is buried at the back of the paper. The next day, the girl on the front page is found unharmed, but the other girl is never seen or heard from again.

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Haunted by guilt, Leah is attacked on a Netflix documentary for her decisions, with claims the lack of press coverage could have contributed to her presumed death.Sixteen years later, redundant from her job, she becomes obsessed with the idea someone is watching her and her teenage son, especially when paper dolls start arriving cut out from that fateful front page ...

Paper Dolls is Lisa's debut novelPaper Dolls is Lisa's debut novel
Paper Dolls is Lisa's debut novel

I was inspired to write it after watching a Madeleine McCann documentary. It got me thinking about all the other children, the hundreds that go missing every year, that don’t get anywhere near as much coverage. It made me look back and reassess all the decisions I have ever made and what far reaching consequences they could have had.Q Who/what are your favourite authors/books?I always pre-order Lisa Jewell’s. I’m in the middle of Peter James’ the House on Cold Hill and my two all time favourite books are Wuthering Heights and Charlotte’s Web. Or maybe Stephen King’s It.

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Q Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plan out your work or fly by the seat of your pants?Oh absolutely a panster. I have a very rough sketch in my mind of the basic plot but I’m not one of these writers that can plan every chapter out on a post it note and knows exactly how it’s going to get from a to b. I can’t think of anything more tedious. It would kill the whole project for me. I never really know what my characters are going to do and say until they do it. Sounds cheesy I know but I have to listen to them.

Q What helps you focus?Tea. I drink a very unhealthy amount of it. I also take my dogs for big walks when I need to figure something out. I am very lucky to live where I do in that respect.

Q Where can we find your books?Watertsones, Blackwells, lots of independent bookshops are stocking it and Amazon. It’s also available on Kindle and audible.