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Interview: Karen Millie-James, author of Where in the Dark


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Despite already forging a successful career in corporate consultancy, Karen Millie-James turned her hand to fiction in 2016, with her debut novel The Shadows Behind her Smile, and never looked back.

Her first book introduced us to the psychic-detective heroine Cydney Granger, and followed her as she navigated her way through the male-dominated business world, solving crimes and righting wrongs as she went.

On taking the step to put pen to paper, Millie-James says it's "just something I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve always had that in me I think. So many people say they want to write a book but they never get round to it but I actually did. Trust me it’s hours and hours.” But in the end, it pays off.

Her second book in the series, Where in the Dark, continues Cydney’s journey but with a much more personal context. The novel is set against the backdrop of a society still reeling from the devastating effects of the Holocaust, of which Millie-James’ family were victims.

Her father was brought up in Berlin and in 1939, at the age of 12, was evacuated with the Kindertransport to London. Tragically, he lost the rest of his family, including his parents, brothers and sister-in-law in the Nazi concentration camps. 

Speaking candidly on the topic, Millie-James states, “I always wanted to write something about it. I’ll never write about the Holocaust again, I’ve got it all out my system but I always wanted to do something, in memory of him.” 

Millie-James undertook a great deal of research whilst working on the novel, including interviewing two Holocaust survivors. She talks about her motives, “I wanted to find out why, how could another human being do that to someone else. I spoke to someone who is a criminal psychologist…about why people would follow one person like this,” she tells me, referencing the unwavering adoration people had for Adolf Hitler.

She says, mournfully, that “it could have been so different. Germany could’ve done so well for the people but they didn’t, they chose not to and it was all about economics and using the Jewish people as scapegoats.”

“I wanted to do justice to the story and I think I did,” she says poignantly.

Millie-James likens her writing process to recreating a memory, using her personal experiences to fuel her storytelling. She tells me that the first book was cathartic, because a lot of it is true from my childhood and I used those experiences.”

“It was putting things down on paper that in some ways I’d put out my mind for many years and wanted to recreate but I did it in a novel rather than a personal account. I suppose you hide behind your characters,” she says.  

Her fiction is an exercise in catharsis, her characters are rich with details of her own life and Cydney in particular, in her own words, is a reflection of herself. "Cydney is me I suppose. The things she says are things that I would say to my daughter. They say write what you know and know what you write," she reasons.  

But she goes further, stating how Cydney is not simply a parallel to herself but more a version of herself she feels unable to be. "Cydney is feisty…I suppose that’s me really. I’m quite feisty but do I let my vulnerability show? No, I probably don’t. But she does, because she can. That’s what I mean you hide behind your characters sometimes." It’s an eye-opening insight into her self-reflective writing process.  

Although perhaps darker and more difficult in tone, returning to write the second book, in Millie-James words, “was like coming home.”  She talks of Cydney, her central character, with a love and fondness that feels touchingly sentimental. “It’s really like, she’s become like a dear friend, you know, very close,” she states.

 I ask her about a particularly unusual facet of Cydney’s character, her abilities as a psychic medium and why she was prompted to include this. “Well I always think my books are a bit like Sixth Sense meets John Grisham…you know if Sherlock Holmes could read minds, he’d find his killers a bit quicker,” she says, laughing. “I do believe that there are spirit people around you, helping you. It’s just me, not everyone does, but I do and I thought it would be a nice little touch.” 

 She speaks excitedly about her plans for the future of the series, she is currently writing the third instalment in the novels and hopes to extend that even further. “It’s a long process. But once you get into it, you think ‘oh I really like this. I’m not going to lose her [Cydney].’ I always intended it to be a series and I hope to continue it for 6 books or whatever, you never know.”

But that was not the plan originally. After her agent’s suggestion to put Cydney on hold and write about a different topic, Millie-James says she faced writer’s block unlike anything she’s experienced before, “I phoned my agent up and I said ‘I’m really really struggling. I really don’t know but I really miss Cydney’ and he said ‘well go back to it’ so I turned the book around and made it about her and as soon as I did that the writing just flowed.”

It is clear Millie-James’ love for her characters shines through her writing, particularly with regards to Cydney, and it is a good thing too because she is a favourite with fans. “People have said to me ‘oh god whens the next book coming out’” she tells me. Luckily for everyone she is aiming for September this year, so it’s not too long to wait.

Until then, we have the first two to get stuck into.

Where in the Dark is published by King of the Road Publishing, £8.99. For more information click here.

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