Something You Are is of the most anticipated crime novels of the year. Its author, Hanna Jameson, is 22. When we meet at Redroaster in Kemp Town, it transpires she also has a magnificent mane of hair. I feel a little sick.
Annoyingly, there are few legitimate reasons to dislike the Sussex University student – she’s funny, eloquent and nowhere near as sinister as you’d expect from a woman whose bookshelves are packed with books on serial killers, the Mafia and true crime.
So how did a self-confessed “posh girl” from Winchester come to write a gruesome tale of a contract killer who falls obsessively for the wife of his arms dealer employer? More to the point, how did she come to write the first draft aged 17?
“Well, I don’t really sleep, which helps. I don’t usually need more than four hours a night. But it was just something that happened.
I got a very clear scene in my head of a hitman having an affair and while that scene didn’t make it into the book, the whole story sprang from it.”
She gave the first draft to her English teacher, who didn’t read it for several agonising months. When he did, he immediately offered to edit it and Jameson went through two cycles of rewrites, deferring her university place “because it seemed pointless.
I’d wanted to be an author for a long time and I thought I’ll give the book three years. If I still don’t get published, then I’ll go to uni.”
After three years, she took up her place at Sussex. Two weeks into the term, she got a publishing deal with former Atlantic director Anthony Cheetham’s new start-up Head Of Zeus on the basis of the 30,000 words she had sent them.
She then had about a month and a half to finish the book – an additional 60,000 words.
“Luckily we had a family holiday to a cottage in Norfolk with no internet connection and nothing to do. I went a bit mental but I think that was the only way to do it.”
Published last month, early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
Comparisons to Raymond Chandler and Ian Rankin have been bandied about. “Jameson writes like an angel on speed,” gushed Q magazine, while the Bookseller described her as “a strong new talent” and Red magazine praised Jameson’s “taut and spare narrative”.
“I get bored by description,” she shrugs. “I wouldn’t do any if I had a choice, apart from what people look like.
I just don’t like pages of over-literary description.
I don’t care – make something happen!”
It’s a furiously fast-paced novel, Jameson moving ruthlessly from one scene to the next, rarely lingering at the scene of the crime. She explains that she visualises stories filmically: “I know how they end and I have key scenes in between and it looks kind of like a really cool trailer. We’ve had a bit of film interest in the book and I think that’s because I do see them all as films.”
What made her decide, at such a young age, that crime was her thing? Mainly the author David Peace, whose books include The Red Riding Quartet which deals with police corruption against the background of the Yorkshire Ripper murders.
“He made violence really poetic and beautiful. I read his work and it revolutionised the way I wrote. I realised you could use these short, staccato sentences and that your characters didn’t need to have any redeeming qualities.
He takes you into the abyss and then kicks you in the face.”
But true crime and gory murders have always held a fascination. “It’s the stuff I like to read about and watch films on. I’ve picked up a lot.
As a writer, it’s a genre where there’s more room for exciting, twisted stuff to happen.”
One reviewer reported having to read some of Jameson’s book through his hands because of the violence she describes. Ironically, she had worried it wasn’t violent enough. “I thought people might think I’d copped out and the original was probably even gorier. But my editor advised me to tone things down.”
She says it’s the subject matter that shocks people more than her age. “I’ve had a few people who were horrified that a girl could write a story like this. I can’t imagine why. Maybe they were expecting me to write chick-lit or something?”
Her parents must have been a little surprised at the blood and bodycount though?
“They really like it. They know what I’m like so I don’t think the themes would have come as a shock. But I was a bit worried about them reading the sex scenes.”
Her publishers have now ordered follow-ups, meaning Jameson has again put her degree on hold to complete books two and three.
She must have the highest word counts of any student in Sussex, I say. “I do! It’s bloody hard work! Other students seem to think it’s quite cool that I’m an author but I experience it rather differently.
I wake up and sit there in my pyjamas, writing and eating sporadically. That’s not very glamorous, is it?”
*Something You Are is out now published by Head Of Zeus, priced £7.99.