(Daily Post (Liverpool, England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) I'm getting to write Poirot's next chapter ; The internet is a brilliant research tool for crime writers like Sophie Hannah, but it has a dark side. HANNAH STEPHENSON discovers why the author's exploring cyber relationships and how she tackled the task of writing the first Poirot novel since Agatha Christie's death
BEST-SELLING author Sophie Hannah has a fascination with the cyber world. The award-winning psychological thriller writer and prize-winning poet confesses that she's constantly on Twitter and Rightmove, but has also recently been trawling sites like OKCupid, Grindr and Craigslist - but not in search of a date.
The happily married mum-of-two was in fact researching her latest thriller, The Telling Error, which centres on the murder of a vitriolic newspaper columnist and subsequent questioning of a woman who has some dark secrets about her internet activity, most notably a cyber affair which threatens her marriage and freedom.
"I became quite fascinated by the question of whether cyber infidelity was the same as physical infidelity," Sophie explains. "People are spending a lot more time online, so it seems to me that if you want to write about people's relationships, you have to take into account the cyber world.
"I asked lots of my friends what they thought, whether a cyber relationship where people never met at all was a less serious form of infidelity. Some said it's just as bad, other's said they wouldn't take it that seriously if their partner had never even met the person.
"I was fascinated by the idea that something that's not actually happening physically and in your real life could nevertheless take over, so that your online life becomes more real than what's actually going on around you."
The inspiration for her fictional victim, a controversial newspaper columnist, also came from the internet.
"I'm kind of addicted to Twitter and I often read articles that are tweeted by opinionated newspaper columnists. I became quite obsessed with them - people like Rod Liddle and Julie Burchill, who say what they think and don't care if people get cross with them. I admire people like that."
The Manchester-born author, who now lives in Cambridge with her husband, Dan, an academic, and children Phoebe and Guy, adds: "While I think there's loads of stuff about Twitter that's brilliant, it's also used as a tool of persecution, which is really dangerous. I wanted to explore that theme as well."
Sophie, 41, was brought up in a bookish household. The daughter of the late academic Norman Geras, a political theorist and professor at the University of Manchester, and children's author Adele Geras, she says writing was her destiny.
"I always knew that all I wanted to do with my life was write. My plan was to get the easiest, most boring job possible so that I would have the mental energy for writing."
She became a secretary, doing her writing in her spare time and enjoyed success with her poetry, which was published before any of her novels and is now studied by GCSE, A-level and university students. Between 1997 and 1999, she was writer in residence at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Her debut crime novel, Little Face, wasn't a big seller initially, when it was published in the summer of 2006. But gradually, sales increased and by Christmas Day, the book was number one in the Amazon crime chart.
Since then, she's enjoyed huge success with her psychological thrillers, including Kind Of Cruel and The Carrier, and two of her novels, The Point Of Rescue and The Other Half Lives, have been adapted for TV.
As a youngster, Sophie was hooked on Enid Blyton mysteries. Later influences included Ruth Rendell and Agatha Christie, so her latest project, the first Hercule Poirot novel since the death of Christie, has been a labour of love.
It came about during a lunch between her agent and an editor at HarperCollins, who was talking about taking on contemporary writers such as Joanna Trollope and Val McDermid to re-write Jane Austen classics.
"My agent knew that HarperCollins was Agatha Christie's publisher and suggested that if they were doing that sort of thing, they should get Sophie Hannah to write an Agatha Christie novel," Sophie recalls.
From there, she had a meeting with HarperCollins editors and told them about an idea she had for a Poirot novel - and events snowballed. She was called for a meeting in London at the offices of Agatha Christie Ltd, where she met Christie's grandson Mathew Pritchard and great-grandson James.
Was it daunting meeting the family of such an iconic author? "Well, actually when I met them, I didn't think it was going to happen, so I wasn't that daunted. I said to them there was absolutely no reason why they should let me write a Poirot novel. I'm not, after all, Agatha Christie. I felt a bit embarrassed being there at all, but they wanted to hear the idea.
"I felt daunted when they liked it and thought, 'Yikes! Now I actually have to do this!'" She already had a vision of the famous Belgian detective, thanks to the TV series.
"In my head, Poirot looked like David Suchet. It was quite useful to have that visual reference point. I didn't want to try to pretend to be Agatha Christie. She's a great, great writer, very elegant and simple. I'm probably less simple and definitely less elegant."
Hannah's Poirot story will be told in the first person of a newly created character, a policeman, who knows Poirot and gets the Belgian detective involved in a case he's working on.
The title and contents of the new Poirot novel are strictly hush, hush until May 7 and Sophie believes she will only write one, but there's a buzz You about it in the publishing world.
"Already, before the book's out, people are more interested in me than before I was writing a Poirot novel."
4. The 5. The 6. The Jonas 7. The 8. 9. The 10." The Telling Error by Sophie Hannah (Hodder & Stoughton, priced Pounds 12.99). Available now
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