A world inside her head

2012-03-07 00:00

KAREN Rose, in South Africa to promote her latest novel, No One Left To Tell , writes the kind of thrillers where the body count mounts so fast that by the end of the first couple of chapters, you wonder how on Earth she will manage to have anyone left alive by the end.

Even the hero and heroine look pretty vulnerable. They are often too busy fancying each other to watch their backs.

In the aptly named No One Left to Tell , Rose’s 13th book, Paige Holden finds herself in the middle of a very dangerous situation when she is asked to help a man who has been in jail for five years for murder.

He claims he is innocent, and as the people who could help Paige to prove it are killed off one by one, she begins to think he is right. But will she stay alive to find out?

It is pacy, escapist fiction with added chills. So it’s surprising to meet Rose, who is friendly, round and even slightly mumsy. Not an action woman.

When I ask her which comes first, the plot line or the characters, she explains that her books are interconnected. Not in the sense of having a series detective, but Paige in No One Left To Tell appeared in her 11th book, and Grayson, the hero and Paige’s love interest, had a role in the next one. And other characters make repeat appearances.

“I keep a spreadsheet of where my characters are, even though they may have dropped out of the reader’s sight. The heroine of my first book — in my mind she now has two kids, has been to law school and opened her own practice. My husband does say to me: ‘You know these people aren’t real, don’t you?’ But they are, to me. I keep track of them in my mind. It’s extremely crowded in there.”

The world inside her head was what started her on writing. She had a scene in her mind, and in an effort to make it go away, she wrote it down. And, as a busy chemical engineer who had to do a lot of international travel to places where she couldn’t understand the television, she went on writing, as a hobby. Very few people knew.

Eventually her husband, who was one of those she had told, bought her a book on how to market a novel. It was a slow process from there — nervously, she joined a writing group, afraid that she was a fake writer and the others would all be real. But it paid off and after six months, she sold her first book. Now, nine years and 13 books later, it is her full-time job.

But the engineer is still lurking in there — Rose holds two patents for making the bulk fibre Metamucil taste better. To be an engineer means to have a logical mind, hence the spreadsheets to keep the characters under control. “But in chemical engineering, when you work with fluid mechanics, you have to imagine things. The molecules are too small to be seen, so you have to imagine what they are doing. So the world of logic and the world of the imagination come together,” she explains.

Rose says she doesn’t read a lot of thrillers, though she does enjoy Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books. And she loves vampire stories with their para­normal aspects. “And fantasy fiction — I don’t know if I could write one. It’s very hard work. But I just eat that stuff up. It opens your mind.”

So it comes as quite a surprise when I ask Rose if there is any book that she wishes she had written, and she answers: “Little Women. It’s a very pure story, and the characters have always stayed with me.”

But perhaps it’s not so strange after all. In Rose’s fiction, good always triumphs, and the bad people come to very bad ends. “I think my readers are looking for a story that will engage them, make them smile, cry, laugh. And it must have a happy ending. I suppose I do have an eye-for-an-eye kind of moral code,” she says. “I don’t believe there is any punishment that can truly do justice for the violent crimes. My villains die.”

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