One of the best parts of working with authors is seeing their work get better and better with every manuscript, and A J Wills is one such superstar. I’ve worked with Wills on two books so far, and each time he’s brought an even more thrilling concept to the table – earning himself a Selfie Award nomination in the process. With a flair for creating complex characters and hooks that you just can’t resist, you can’t go far wrong with an A J Wills thriller.
It was an utter joy to work with A J Wills on his latest novel, NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE, an electrifying psychological thriller that poses questions about how one careless action can snowball into tragedy. And revenge.
I was delighted to get the chance to ask A J Wills some questions ahead of publication day – today – discussing what inspired him to write thrillers, and why keeping things close to home makes the twists all the more unnerving.
Scroll down to read an exclusive interview with the author!
Nothing Left to Lose by A J Wills
10 January 2022
When you’ve lost everything, revenge is all that’s left.
After securing the convictions of two violent murderers for a horrific and brutal attack on a pensioner in his own home, Henry’s wife, Abi should be celebrating. As a renowned criminal lawyer, it was her biggest test. But someone’s not happy.
First, there’s the hooded stranger who follows her home in the dead of night.
Then comes the attack on her car and a death threat in the form of an anonymous hand-delivered letter.
Someone’s trying to scare them. Someone wants revenge.
And they’ll stop at nothing until they’ve brought the couple to their knees – and exacted a deadly retribution…
Nothing Left To Lose is an electrifying psychological thriller from the No. 1 bestselling author of Selfie 2021-nominated His Wife’s Sister.
Nothing Left to Lose is out today – grab your copy here.
Read on for an exclusive interview with the author, A J Wills.
Adrian, welcome! Nothing Left to Lose is your fourth psychological thriller novel, now, isn’t it? Tell us a little more about it.
I wanted Nothing Left to Lose to be a conventional psychological thriller with a protagonist facing a clear life-and-death threat from a twisted villain – although you have to wait a while to confirm who the villain actually is!
The story revolves around Henry Hutton, whose wife, Abi, a criminal lawyer has just won the biggest court case of her career when she successfully convicts two men for the murder of a pensioner in his own home. But that’s when things begin to get weird – strange hooded men loitering around outside the house, Abi’s car is vandalised with a creepy message etched into the windscreen, and an anonymous death threat is put through their front door, threatening to take revenge on them both. The only problem is, they don’t know who’s after them or why.
The book is set in the family home, which makes the events of the novel – no spoilers here – all the more disturbing. What is it about the domestic setting that appeals to you?
I think the best psychological thrillers are about the extraordinary things that happen to ordinary people – and I like to think the story in Nothing Left To Lose is one that could happen to anyone, and that’s what makes it so creepy. I won’t give the story away, but what precipitates the plot against Henry and Abi is so mundane and ordinary, anyone of us could be guilty of it. And if you upset the wrong person at the wrong time, who knows how they might react – whether it’s a road-rage incident, a comment on social media, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Who inspired you to start writing? Have your influences changed since then?
I’ve always wanted to write but never thought I’d have the opportunity to make it my job, until the advent of the Kindle and the rise of the self-publisher. When I was young, I used to write and illustrate my own books on scraps of paper stapled together, and as a teenager I even started a few spy thrillers (but didn’t get much past the first few chapters!)
I first realised writing was something I had a latent ability for when I was ten and had to write an essay in school about my favourite meal. I wrote about my mum’s roast beef Sunday lunch and can still remember the visceral reaction it received from the rest of the class when I had to read it out. I had people salivating and murmuring with pleasure. That’s when I realised the power of good writing.
I grew up reading mysteries and thrillers like the Famous Five and later devoured all the Sherlock Holmes books. Then became more interested in the spy thrillers of Alistair Maclean and Colin Forbes and the Dirk Pitt action/adventure novels by Clive Cussler. But in more recent years I’ve fallen in love with the psychological thriller genre – books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train really got me hooked – and realised that’s what I wanted to write.
You haven’t always written in this genre, so why did you choose to write psychological thriller?
That’s right, my first four novels were spy/espionage novels with a hero called Tom Blake, an ex-SAS veteran with special hypnotic interrogation skills! But I realised what I was reading were psychological thrillers. And they say, write what you know. My first psychological thriller was Between the Lies, set in my home town of Faversham in Kent, and I was surprised by how popular it was and how well it sold, far better than any of my Blake books.
Do you like to plan the action of your novels (plotter) or do you just let them write themselves (pantser!)?
I’m very much a planner. I admire writers who can sit down and knock out a novel as it forms in their head, but I have to know where I’m going with it, down to the individual scene. That said, I tend to let the characters develop as I write, even though I’ll know their back stories, motivations, wants and needs in advance. This year I bought myself a big pinboard, which I’ve mounted on the wall by my desk so I can pin up the beats of my story and refer to them at a glance! Although I think it is possible to ‘pants’ a novel, it’s much harder with a thriller or a mystery, as you need to be throwing in clues and red herrings, plus meeting all the necessary plot points and genre tropes.
As Nothing Left to Lose is a domestic suspense novel, it’s incredibly relatable to many readers. However, did you have to do a lot of research for the novel? If so, how? For example, based around Henry’s culinary passion? Are you a cook yourself?
You’re right, Henry has a passion for food and throughout the novel knocks up some amazing dishes. I don’t know much about food, other than what I’ve seen watching Masterchef, but that proved an invaluable source of inspiration. I did find myself getting lost in countless recipes and menu ideas as I went through the research process though!
Writing a novel is both an exhausting and inspiring experience. Do you have any plans to put pen to paper again soon?
I became a full-time author in March last year, really on the back of my thriller, His Wife’s Sister which became a Kindle number-one bestseller last year. So yes, I have to put pen to paper again, as it’s now my job. I already have a great idea for my next book, inspired by a true-life event, but now I need to plot it out and work out exactly where it’s going. I want two or three big, mind-blowing twists in the next book, which I think its going to be the most difficult thing to pull off successfully.
What is your desert-island read?
Although I devour thrillers, actually my desert-island book would be The Sun Also Rises / Fiesta by Hemingway. I know it’s a bit of a cliché for a writer to like Hemingway, but come on, the guy was a genius, and the depth of writing in that book means you can keep going back to it and find new meaning every time.
Do you have any writing tips to share?
I would suggest to anyone thinking about trying to write a novel, you need to keep persevering. They say you need to write a million words to become proficient as a writer and I think there’s probably some truth to that. Not many writers sit down and write a brilliant first book. It’s usually come from hours and hours of writing and honing their craft. Like anything in life, whether it’s learning a musical instrument or becoming competent in a sport, you need to put in the time and effort. Sadly, there are no shortcuts to actually sitting your backside down at your desk and churning out the words.
What is your writing process like? Do you have a routine? A favourite place to write?
I try to be at my desk by 8:30 in the morning and if I’m on a first draft will keep going until I’ve completed 2,000 words. The rest of the day is then taken up with marketing and promotion, which as a self-publisher is the cross we have to bear. There is no one else to do it for us! I’m lucky that I have a room in the house I’ve turned into a study, which overlooks farmland. I use a laptop, connected to two monitors that sit side-by-side (invaluable when editing!) on a standing desk that I can raise or lower, depending on how bad my back is on any given day.
Finally, most important question. Favourite writing snack!
I don’t tend to snack much when I’m writing, but when I do need something my go-to is dried figs. It’s a little bit of sweetness without the guilt of eating processed sugars.
Where the hell is she?
It’s gone half nine and a niggle of worry rumbles in my gut. A vision of Abi on a hospital trolley flashes through my mind. I shove it away. I’m being silly. Worrying unnecessarily. I’m sure she’s fine.
I snatch up my phone and hit the redial button, willing her to answer, hoping for a slurred apology and the sound of music thumping in the background. At least I would know she was safe.
I listen to a long hiss-filled silence, the blood gushing through my ears.
And for a split second, I dare to believe I’m through.
‘You’ve reached Abigail Pilkington-Hutton. I can’t take your call right now but leave a message.’
I slump in my chair and pinch the bridge of my nose as I ring off, my heart beating a little faster and a little harder. A kaleidoscope of images of my wife’s body dumped by the side of the road, bleeding, lifeless, her eyes staring blankly, spiral through my head.
I refuse to be that husband. She’s perfectly capable of looking after herself. She’s not a child. And yet, I can’t help but worry.
Of course, the lasagne’s ruined. A fiery blast stings my face as I flip open the oven door. I step back to let the curls of steam rush towards the ceiling and peer inside despondently at the charred remains. Shavings of Parmesan cheese are blackened beyond salvation and crusty tracks of meat sauce have bubbled up and hardened over the sides of the ceramic dish. It’s as good as cremated, even though I turned the heat down hours ago.
I slam the door shut. Wasting good food irks me, especially when I’ve put effort into cooking. It’s not as if it’s one of those vile cardboard-tasting ready meals, straight out of a packet. It’s an authentic Italian recipe from a dusty old cookbook I picked up in a secondhand bookstore in town. I used a pinch of rosemary and cubes of pan-fried pancetta for the ragu and a sprinkling of nutmeg in the bechamel sauce. A surprise treat to celebrate the end of Abi’s trial.
I’ve lost count of the number of evenings and weekends she’s given up working on the case. The missed bedtime stories with the girls. The hours going through witness statements “one more time”. After everything she’s sacrificed over the last couple of months, I thought tonight we could spend some time together.
But she’s not come home and her phone’s off.
Already hooked? Of course, grab your copy of Nothing Left to Lose here.
About the Author
In 2018, A J Wills published his first psychological thriller, Between The Lies, a story set in his home town of Faversham in southeast England.
It was followed by His Wife’s Sister, the dark and twisty story of a woman found alive 19 years after she was abducted, and which was published in 2020.
She Knows was published in 2021.
A J wills is a journalist by profession, but also have headed up a communications department at a national cycling charity in the UK.
After all, when he’s not writing, you can usually find him out on his bike!
Wills is married to another former journalist, Amanda, who writes children’s pony books under her married name, and psychological thrillers under the pen name, A J McDine.
In 2018, the couple formed our publishing company, Cherry Tree Publishing.
The couple live in Kent, in England, with their two teenage boys, Oliver and Thomas, and two cats.