I am of course delighted to have the brilliant Harriet Tyce on The Spike today.
Harriet, tell us more about yourself! Where do you live (roughly) with whom. Kids? Pets?
I live in Highbury in north London with my husband and two kids (15 and 11), two cats and a dog.
You were a barrister and left the Bar after you had kids. What do you recall of that time of trying to combine a legal career with children?
Personally, I found it impossible, because I wanted to work part time and that was entirely incompatible with the demands of the criminal bar, where you have to be instantly available for work that comes in at the last minute, and where trials can’t be neatly packaged up into the three days a week you might be available. Even had I wanted to work full time, it would have been very difficult as so much travel can be involved. As the primary carer for my son I couldn’t just disappear off for a three week gun trial in Nottingham at twenty four hours notice. In addition to which, court hours can be very variable – the day I decided to leave the bar was the day that I was still stuck at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court at 5pm on a Friday trying to defend a bloke who’d bought a stolen car off a man in a pub, when I was meant to pick the baby up from the childminder in Islington at 5 pm. I’m sure there are people who can make it work but it’s very hard, particularly with the unpredictability of a criminal practice, unless someone else is responsible for the child care.
Do you ever miss the thrills and spills of life at the criminal bar?
I struggled for a quite few years after I left, because I went from having such a varied, high stress existence, to dealing with babies and all the domesticity that went with it. I started to feel better once I started writing, and now I’ve managed to carve out a second chance at a career I don’t miss it at all – it was a very aggressive environment and life is a lot calmer now. I went into the first few book events I did this year on very high alert because I was so used to dealing each work day with people who were very stressed and angry (from my clients and their families to the prosecutor and the judge) and I subconsciously expected other authors on the panel to start yelling at me. I’m gradually reprogramming myself…
What prompted you to apply to the UAE MA in Creative Writing?
I’d been writing for several years by that stage, and the rejections had got steadily better, but I still hadn’t managed to get an agent, and it’s pretty lonely writing into a vacuum. I didn’t want to do the MA in prose fiction because I knew I wanted to write genre fiction, specifically psychological thrillers, and it would have been too literary, but I looked at the website one day and saw that they were introducing a new MA specialising in crime fiction. It was ideal – part time, over two years, and low residence, so I could work around the family timings. I learnt a lot from it, it gave me deadlines and a cohort of fellow writers, and it led to getting my agent and the publishing deal – it was a very good decision for me to apply.
A female protagonist who is a sort of semi-alcoholic is becoming a bit of a cultural movement, can you pinpoint why?
I think there are a number of factors at play. In terms of contemporary culture, there’s much wider discussion about how much women drink, not just in the prevalence of wine o’clock and prosecco and gin obsessions, but also in sobriety memoirs and the rise of mindful drinking – heavy drinking women are more part of the daily fabrics, even if they’re still met with a lot of moral disapproval.
It’s a recognised trope in crime fiction that drinking too much is a sign of unhappiness, and it’s a useful narrative device if you want your narrator to be unreliable. I wanted to emphasise the drinking because my protagonist Alison was constantly distracting herself from what was actually going on – she spent so much time feeling hungover and paranoid and guilty that she didn’t focus on what was really happening around her.
What are you having for dinner tonight?
I’m going to make a chicken biryani in the pressure cooker, and do a lentil dal on the side.
What have you bought in the last month that you are really excited about?
I got a second piercing in my ear three weeks ago, in my helix, and I’m still inordinately excited by it. I took my daughter in to Maria Tash at Liberty to get her ears pierced and fell into full midlife crisis mode and booked myself in. My family are being very forebearing with me – I think they’re just grateful it wasn’t a nose ring.
What’s next for you?
I’m on the difficult second album phase – I’ve found writing the next book quite hard, much more so than Blood Orange. But I’m finally making progress. It’s a new standalone legal/psychological thriller, where I’m having a lot of fun looking at the toxicity of performative parenting and the politics of the school gate. All being well, it’ll be published next summer.