I am a complete sucker for smart and funny modern romance, and those sorts of books can be a little hard to find. Happily, The Hating Game ticks all those boxes, so it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome its author, Sally Thorne, to Book Birdy.
Here’s a little taste of what this Canberra-based author’s debut novel is all about..
Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She’s charming and accommodating and prides herself on being loved by everyone at Bexley & Gamin. Everyone except for coldly efficient, impeccably attired, physically intimidating Joshua Templeman. And the feeling is mutual.
Trapped in a shared office together forty (ok, fifty or sixty) hours a week, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, ridiculous never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game. The Mirror Game. The HR Game.
Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything-especially when a huge new promotion goes up for the taking.If Lucy wins this game, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she suddenly having steamy dreams about Joshua, and dressing for work like she’s got a hot date? After a perfectly innocent elevator ride ends with an earth-shattering kiss, Lucy starts to wonder whether she’s got Joshua Templeman all wrong.Maybe Lucy Hutton doesn’t hate Joshua Templeman. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.
Firstly, Sally, congratulations on ‘The Hating Game’. It’s so smart and funny and romantic, I really enjoyed it. I understand the manuscript had an interesting genesis with a friend asking you for a short story as a gift, which also involved the writing prompt ‘nemesis’.
Thank you! Yes, that’s right- The Hating Game was a present for a friend’s birthday. I said I needed a prompt word to inspire me. I was probably just hoping to write a nice long drabble or flash fiction piece. The prompt word she gave me was ‘nemesis’ and for some reason just lit my brain up like a lightning strike. I could see a man and a woman in a silent office, opposite each other, staring, a sense of tension and animosity between them. I started writing in my spare moments and couldn’t stop until The End, around six weeks later, maybe even less. It was my first manuscript that I got all the way to The End- everything else I ever started just fizzled out and are in the elephant graveyard in my computer marked ‘archive’.
You have a particular knack for writing witty banter, and the voice of Lucy is particularly strong. Where does that come from?
Thank you for saying so- when I was writing The Hating Game my personal challenge was to write really snappy dialogue. In all my fizzled earlier manuscripts, I’d struggled with dialogue in a major way. I just focused really hard on getting it right and trying to keep that back and forth between Lucy and Joshua, like a game of ping pong. I also majored in Film Studies at University and so I’ve always been interested in what makes compelling dialogue in a movie. I do also love listening to people talk and am a bit of a people-watcher. My husband is always amazed when we’re at a restaurant that I know which waiters hate each other and that there’s just been a weird drama in the kitchen. He thinks I’m a nosy spy.
I knew that I wanted to write a heroine who was relatable, fun, weird and susceptible to getting caught up in her own head. Someone I’d like to be friends with. Her voice came fairly easily to me. It felt like I’d always carried her around with me and she was finally having her turn, speaking onto the page.
There’s an old adage that love and hate are in fact very close emotions, which is certainly borne out in ‘The Hating Game’. But it seems Josh and Lucy’s issue is more one of communication, and being able to be vulnerable with each other. Do you think that’s the case?
Yes, that’s one of Lucy’s key realisations in the novel; that to make Joshua soft with her, she has to be soft in return. Otherwise, it’s pistols at dawn, every morning in the parking lot. But that’s a scary concept, especially when you’ve been at war with someone all this time. If you lower your pistols, what’s stopping them shooting you in the heart?
‘The Hating Game’ is written in the first person. What do you think are the pros and cons of writing in that voice?
I’ve mentioned my early fizzled manuscripts- they were all in third person. I love writing in that omnipresent way; knowing everyone’s secrets, and getting the chance to tell a story in a fairytale tone. Once upon a time…
The Hating Game really broke all the rules for me, because first person was extremely daunting to me, but I knew Lucy could tell the story much better than I could for her. It’s incredibly difficult to maintain a voice, a point of view and balance between introspection and action. But the payoff is, if it’s done right, that the reader has walked in your character’s shoes, and actually felt the emotion, the heart-skips, and what it’s like to be alone in an elevator with Joshua Templeman. And we all need that in our lives.
Can you talk through your writing process. I understand your first draft was 50,000 words. But the final book is obviously much longer. Are you a fast first-drafter? A plotter? Pantser?
By the time The Hating Game was a full manuscript, it was a bulging 110,000 words and needed trimming. I never plotted it all out. I had no idea where I was going with it, and I liked discovering it along the way. I’ve plotted novels in the past but as soon as I knew what happened in the story, I felt bored and couldn’t continue.
I like this quote by E.L Doctorow: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” That’s how I wrote this book. With headlights. And a learner’s permit! I just gradually shaded in the characters, and did what I refer to as ‘weathering’… adding in those sensory elements like texture, colour, weather, heartbeats and dilating pupils. Anything I can add in there that makes the reader feel more. I love when I have a favourite book and it has a delicious scene in it that I return to over and over, when I’m needing a boost, just to see if I can wring one more bit out of it. That’s what I hope to achieve in my writing.
Who are your writing influences?
Jane Austen is a huge influence on me and there’s a certain Lizzie-Darcy love-hate dynamic in The Hating Game. I’ll always buy anything Marion Keyes publishes and I won’t even need to read the back of the book first. I love Chuck Palahniuk (most famous for Fight Club) and think he is incredibly skilled, funny, sharp, disgusting and you’re in his world from the first paragraph. I love Alice Hoffman’s dreamy fairy tale fables, Annie Proulx short stories set in Wyoming, and I adored Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.
I understand you’re represented by an American agent. Was there a particular reason you looked overseas for representation? I also found it interesting that the setting for ‘The Hating Game’ is left a little ambiguous. Was that a strategic decision?
It was just the way the universe organised it all for me! I never even actively sought out an agent and I’ve never written a query letter. I knew the writing duo who publish as Christina Lauren online and they offered to read my manuscript if I ever completed one. They liked it and then offered to pass it on to their agent. I agreed of course, with zero expectations. I got an email from an agent asking me if I would get in touch. She asked if she could represent me and the manuscript. I wrote the book for my friend, but it was my secret project and I never actually envisaged publishing it. My agent Taylor convinced me that it was something people would want to read. If I hadn’t signed with her, I doubt my book would be anywhere today except in my computer drive.
The setting of the book was a bit sneaky of me. I never set it in any particular city in my draft. I couldn’t decide where it was located, and if I was going to set it in the States I would have to do a lot of research because I haven’t been to New York. So, I just left it set in Nowheresville. The office building itself is really the world in which the story is told for the first half of the book, anyway. When I began working with my editor I asked her if that was going to be an issue. She felt the reader could set it in their imagination wherever they like. My editor in London initially assumed it was set in London. The Hachette team wondered if it was set in Sydney. The book is going to be sold in several countries and this has opened its accessibility to readers. Interesting how my laziness has worked in my favour!
The sex scenes in ‘The Hating Game’ are super-hot. What do you think is the key to a great love scene?
It needs to be necessary for the story to progress- the characters should be at that boiling point that they absolutely have to do it, to express something to each other that cannot be said in words. For me to enjoy a sex scene, it should be the result of a painfully long period of unresolved sexual tension. I am addicted to LUST. It should be artful, beautiful, emotional and there should be some dialogue. You’ve probably read a hundred sex scenes if you like romance novels, but what you always remember is what the characters said to each other during it. I don’t like it when not a word is spoken.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my second book, due out in 2017. It’s a fast, funny story about a writer who believes drama belongs in books, her D-list celebrity sister, an extortion attempt on their father and the resultant 6’6” silent Russian bodyguard. I love bodyguards and I am so happy to be able to write one. I also love being able to write the relationship between two estranged sisters as it slowly repairs.
Thanks Sally. I cannot wait for the next one.
For more information on The Hating Game, visit Hachette Australia