Recently I have been very, very lucky in the amazing books I have been reading. Ava March’s Untouchable is the latest in a (thankfully) long line of wonderful books.
Stella is an escort, immersed in a world of desire, betrayal and secrets. It’s exactly where she wants to be. Stella used to be someone else: respectable, loved, safe. But one mistake changed all that.
When a fellow call girl is murdered, Stella has a choice: forget what she’s seen, or risk everything to get justice for her friend. In her line of work, she’s never far from the edge, but pursuing the truth could take her past the point of no return.
Nothing is off limits. Not for her – and not for them. But is anyone truly untouchable?
This book had me gripped from beginning to end. Stella had so much depth to her and it is so rare to read about the sex trade industry from the point of view of an escort. Usually the industry is looked at from the eyes of a policeman/woman trying to solve a murder. Here we are thrown head first into the seedy (always wanted to use that word) world. But more than that this is a novel about power and guilt and the exact nature of the latter. It’s a thought provoking, absorbing novel and I recommend it.
When I had the chance to interview Ava on all things Untouchable I jumped at the chance. The interview is behind the cut – enjoy and then go get the book!
As a main character I loved Stella. She was entirely believable and I loved her determination and her attitude towards her work. How did you go about creating her?
That’s such a tricky question, especially as it was some time ago. Now, with distance, it feels like Grace was always there, almost part of me. It’s difficult to recall a time when I didn’t know her, so to speak.
I think I always had a clear idea of her character – her wry humour, intelligence, and her inability to suffer fools gladly. I wanted to create someone who was good at heart, but working in a profession where most people would assume otherwise. What took longer to uncover was her past – first deciding she had worked as a prison psychologist, then gradually understanding that the incident she was running from, psychologically, was one connected with that previous career. Once that was in place, Stella came into sharper focus.
In Untouchable Stella is a self-employed escort and there are scenes in the book where the sex reads more like torture than anything else. What made you decide to set the book in the world of high-end escorts and was it ever difficult to write those sex scenes?
I think it’s a fascinating world, partly because it’s so taboo, and generally hidden from public view, partly because it has an inherent edge of glamour and intrigue.
The sex scenes, even the more violent ones, weren’t particularly difficult to write. It’s not hard to imagine how a woman like Stella might feel in those situations. I’d find it much harder to write about anything more bloodthirsty, for instance. I am extremely squeamish, and when reading, tend to skip over any descriptions of people getting cut or mutilated. I’ve no idea how authors get themselves to write that stuff; I guess as we’re essentially in control of our own material, it’s easier to shut down emotions like revulsion or disgust and just type the words onto the screen.
Stella is also funny and Untouchable, though dark, was also full of humour. Do you find it easy to write these scenes?
I’m so pleased you mentioned that! I love a bit of wry humour, and try to give my characters an edge of wit or dry observation. I also think there’s a lot of gallows humour in the sex trade; it’s an essential way to survive it. And much of what goes on there is genuinely funny, particularly all the stuff with client fetishes.
Untouchable is such a tightly plotted novel. Did you plot your novel meticulously before you started or did vital elements of your story change as you wrote?
Thank you! I do a rough outline before I start. I need to know where I’m going, what the main events and twists will be, though often things occur to me as I am writing, and I have to go back and retrofit it all in. And sometimes your agent or editor make good suggestions for a new or different plot element, something that makes you go ‘YES!’ and fist-punch the air.
At the very end Stella encounters Michael, a man from her past, and she is given a gun. Were you ever tempted to have Stella pull the trigger?
Absolutely. In fact, she did, in earlier versions of the book. Actually, that scene, that particular element, was one of the very last things I changed, right at the end of the editing process, when I understood that it was something Stella could never come back from, and there was a better way to handle it.
Your supporting characters are extremely well thought out and rounded. Is it easier for you to create these secondary characters as opposed to the main protagonists?
Often easier. Supporting characters seem to arrive fully formed, somehow. I guess you know what buttons you want them to push in your main character, and so have a clearer picture from the outset of the kind of person who would do that. Also they don’t need tons of backstory, so that helps.
Can you tell us all a little about your writing process? Are you a pen and paper sort of person?
Lord, no. I do everything on my laptop. I never print off a manuscript, always edit on screen, though I do send it to my Kindle now and then so I can view it in a more ‘finished’ format – it helps you pick up on things that are wrong.
The only thing I tend to use pen and paper for is thinking things through. I’ll draw a little ‘mind map’, with the problem or issue in the middle, and all the possible solutions coming off it like spokes on a wheel. You can get software to do that on screen, but paper is easier and quicker.
I saw that your next book is going to be called Exposure. Can you tell us a little more about it?
I wanted to set something in the porn industry – detecting a theme here? – and I had a clear image of a woman in prison, for double murder, who was once a porn star. Essentially the book explores how and why she got there, and what the porn industry does to women like Leanne. It’s a very different kind of novel to Untouchable, and Leanne is a very different kind of heroine to Stella.
One last question!
There was one particular scene where Stella and Ben were in a Japanese restaurant in Soho and Ben ate edamame beans without taking them out of the pod first. I just wanted to say that I have also done this, had no idea how tell the people I was with that I have done something wrong and carried on chewing! What restaurant in Soho is this? Because I would love to go.
Ha ha, this happened to me too! A while back, in New York, someone took me to Nobu, a very swanky restaurant, and a first encounter with Japanese cuisine for both of us. When they served up edamame as an appetiser, neither of us had a clue how to eat them. I imagine the waiters were struggling to keep a straight face as they watched us trying to swallow the bean pods whole.
The restaurant in the book was based on a place called Donzoko, which used to be in Kingly Street. Tiny, and very authentic. Sadly, it closed down a few years ago, but it lives on in Untouchable. And in this picture!
To find out more about Ava pop over to her website at http://www.avamarsh.co.uk and be sure to follow her on Twitter @MsAvaMarsh. Untouchable is out now and is available for all good and evil book retailers.
I was given this book for free as part of the blog tour. My review is definitely my own and neither it nor my opinions haven’t been swayed by the free book swag.