Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

The Worm Hole Podcast Episode 88: Karen Hamilton (The Contest)

Charlie and Karen Hamilton (The Contest) discuss the specifics of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and the vast support crews, her ridiculously privileged holidaying characters and where their requests are based in reality, and why everyone is obsessed with toilets. We then move on to an extensive discussion of the thriller aspect of Karen’s book and whether, even though there is one killer in her book, there are in fact more.

Erick Kivelege’s Climbing Kilimanjaro With Africa’s Top Guide
Kilimanjaro Porters Society

Release details: recorded 19th July 2023; published 11th December 2023

Where to find Karen online: Website || Twitter || Facebook || Instagram

Where to find Charlie online: Twitter || Instagram

You can contact the show at

Go back to the list of episodes


01:14 Mt Kilimanjaro and luxury travel
05:26 How climbing the mountain goes – the specifics of it
15:30 Karen’s characters – Florence, Jacob, and Hugo
24:55 The grief in the book and the whole contest of two groups climbing Kilimanjaro
26:54 The violence and discussing who the killer is, and the associated theme of isolation
36:31 Ethical Getaways and BVT merging and the effect on Florence and Jacob
39:34 What’s next (brief)


Please note that this transcript has been edited for legibility and is not a 100% accurate representation of the audio. Filler words and many false sentence starts have been removed, and words have been added in square brackets for clarity.

Charlie: Hello and welcome to The Worm Hole Podcast episode 88. Bringing on an author and talking with them about one, occasionally more, of their books in detail. I’m Charlie Place, and today I am joined by Karen Hamilton, whose fourth thriller, The Contest, was published in July. It’s a particularly different contest. Two employees of Blackmore Vintage Travel – a luxury travel company – are in competition with one another to be the best employee on the annual BVT getaway. The getaway sees a number of very, very important guests taken on an exhilarating trip, looked after at every step by BVT. So far, it sounds like a lot to manage, but nothing you haven’t heard of before. However, on a couple of previous trips, employees have been hurt in critical ways, and one employee is on the hunt to find out what happened. Hello Karen!

Karen: Hi, thank you so much for having me. It’s really nice to be here. Thank you.

Charlie: It’s lovely to have you. Can I ask you about the inspiration for this book? Because there’s quite a lot going on. You’ve got Mount Kilimanjaro, you’ve got the luxury travel… Yeah, just tell us what the initial inspiration was, et cetera.

Karen: I’ve always wanted to set a book in the continent of Africa, I just wasn’t sure which country I was going to go for. And when I used to work as cabin crew, I remember flying over Mount Kilimanjaro and sort of seeing the wispy clouds and the dot, and then several of my friends have climbed it, and it just felt like a really magical place to set the book. And I thought, what bigger obstacle can they face? As well as having to deal with clients, and not particularly easy clients at that. You’re actually physically pushed as well. And there’s the altitude sickness. And the more research I did, the more I felt [that] in Africa is where I wanted to set it. And I always like to visit places that I’m going to – I’m lucky because of my ex-job, I still have concessions. But obviously Covid had put a stop to all that. And I did think, should I, shouldn’t I, should I wait? But it just felt like the right time to set this book. So I sort of embarked on all the research that I possibly could short of visiting it.

Charlie: Do you think you might climb Mount Kilimanjaro yourself at some point?

Karen: I’d love to, it’s still on the bucket list, and because the book’s written now, part of me was thinking, ‘oh, I wonder if I won’t ever do it now because I don’t want to see parts that maybe I could have done differently or anything’. But I still think it’s something that’s worth doing because everyone I’ve ever spoken to who’s done it, the words ‘life changing’ come up time and time again, and life changing in a way that I think only something as magnificent as that, can. To know as well that, uh, no matter how fit and healthy you are or how much preparation you do, success is not guaranteed. So you would have to really push yourself because it doesn’t matter, anyone can succumb to the altitude sickness. And I just think the characters in the book, a lot of them are very privileged, and I think they don’t quite have the same outlook as someone who’s saved up and it’s a once a lifetime experience – it’s just a bit like, ‘oh, this is another thing, it’ll be easy because we’ve got money and we can do this’. And so I wanted to sort of work with that: how money can’t necessarily guarantee success to the top. And so, yeah, I definitely think I don’t like the cold, I have Raynaud’s, so I do suffer with fingers and toes, so I would be scared of that; but then when you read about some of the incredible people who against all odds, had challenges, physical challenges, and they manage it, I just think what an amazing thing to do, if it’s possible.

Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. I obviously had heard about altitude sickness and things, but reading in your book, I might have contemplated it, maybe, before reading your book, but I don’t think I would now. It sounds very cold and I’m not great with the cold. But you’ve touched on it there and I wonder if we can explore it more: you have a focus on luxury travel groups and privileged people.

Karen: Yep.

Charlie: Can you talk more about if there’s further influences and just more in full?

Karen: I think what sort of fascinated me with Covid, climate change, and all the things now, travel is a big part of my life, and I think it’s the way we’re all looking at what are the responsible ways to travel, what can we give back, what can we do to ensure that we don’t cause damage? And I think it’s about that, it’s about so that all these things are there for other people and it’s just about our attitudes. I think as travellers; I’m still very keen to take my children travelling, so it’s just about how we can do it and I think that was something that was very interesting to explore in the book as well – just because you can do something, should you? Because sometimes there’s no right or wrong answers, are there? But it’s just looking at the whole bigger picture, I think, and what you can give back.

Charlie: I know that I struggled with… a little way up the mountain when they have the afternoon tea with the table set up, and I think I related strongly actually to the people that weren’t given name, the strangers going, ‘what are they doing?’ Can that kind of thing happen in reality on that kind of trip?

Karen: Yeah. So I worked as cabin crew for 20-odd years. I always used to find that sometimes you could go out of your way for somebody; they’d be upset or angry. You’d run around and bend over backwards and do whatever you had in your power to rectify what had gone wrong, and they still perhaps didn’t appreciate it, or there’s different reactions. And then somebody who you barely remember, because you don’t think that you went over and beyond for them at all, will come up and say, ‘thank you, that was an amazing flight, thank you for looking after us so well’. And you think, ‘Well, I did my job’. I didn’t do anything that I recall for this particular person. And that kind of struck me, it’s the different attitudes, isn’t it? And the different ways in which people behave sometimes if they’re tired. Travelling is stressful, and you also don’t know why people are travelling, sometimes. It’s not necessarily going on holiday, you don’t know what stresses they’ve got. So I think it’s about managing all that. And then also, as well, when you’re in a professional capacity and it’s your job to make things nice for other people, you do have to accept that sometimes it might not make sense to you, but you have to deal with it. So, yeah, I probably used my cabin crew experience for that.

Charlie: I did wonder how much was influenced by that, and that sort of thing. Mount Kilimanjaro itself: I know you said about friends, you’ve done research. Is there anything more you can tell us about interesting anecdotes or interesting things that probably doesn’t work its way into common consciousness, as such?

Karen: So when I was researching it, to start off with, even when I first initially talked to my friends, I had to go back when I had more questions, when I’d done more research. I knew it was colder near the top, but I thought, to be honest, because it starts off hot, it’s more jungle, and I thought it would be more like that, and then maybe just at the end, it gets cold. I also didn’t realise how hard it was, and I said to my friends afterwards, now that I’ve done all this research, I’m sorry that when you came back, they were probably like, ‘Guess what? We got to the top’. And I was probably like, ‘yeah, great’. But I didn’t have any sort of understanding for what an achievement that was [laughs]. And then when I originally was going to write it, I researched – I don’t know if my pronunciation’s correct, actually, the Rongai Route, but I hope my pronunciation is right. And that’s on the other side of the mountain, and they have some wooden huts or dorms on that side. So I assumed that that’s how it was on the other side as well. And then I had to change my mind about the routes and choose these two other routes for them because I realised that although they were in competition with each other, unless there was some sort of interaction between the two groups, I felt it would lessen the tension. Because in my head, to start off with, I had someone sneaking off to someone else’s tent in the middle of the night and doing this and doing that. But I realised very quickly that A, distance wise, it wouldn’t be possible, and physically they’d just be too tired and it kind of wouldn’t make sense. And although, yes, it’s fiction, I still like to try and make everything as accurate as I can within the realms of what I’m doing. And so I have like a list of common things that people said when I spoke to them. And every single person, without fail, mentioned the toilets. They said there was this almost like, fascination [laughs] with talking about toilets, because people that have a toilet, they have water and all these things that if you were just trying to go up yourself, you wouldn’t have. So everyone mentioned the toilets and the toilet tent and how some people would sing when they were in it to make sure that no one came. And there was this fear about while they were walking, where they were going to go to the toilet. And they said, it’s funny, when it comes down to survival, you need food, water, sleep, and somewhere to go to the toilet. So I did put that in as a bit of a thing, because so many people just mentioned it and they said, because you’re tired, you start talking about things or you get fixated on things that you don’t necessarily think you would. But everyone mentioned the friendship and the help and how amazing the food was, and just the general nice natures and the general feeling of, ‘come on, you can do this’, and that kind of support. There’s so many people, this is their hopes and dreams. This is what they’ve always wanted to do. Some people go and it’s their second and third time because they don’t make it to the top. And then you have the richer side. I think it was this guide; I mentioned this book, I’m pretty sure he said that someone paid for a coffee machine to be brought up so that he, or she, could have their espresso in the morning or whatever. And it’s just that different thing, isn’t it? That different world and what it must be like. And also what it must be like for people, I think, if you don’t summit and you have to go back down and you’ve spent all that money, all that time planning absolutely everything, and then you’re in the hotel – because obviously you’re going to have your flights booked at a certain time – and everyone else is coming back down and they’ve done it; that must be really hard, because they have a celebration on the night… I suppose what I’m trying to say is that [you have] all these hopes and all these dreams and all these different approaches, and there’s still no way of knowing if you’re going to make it or not.

Charlie: You said about people coming back down, people haven’t made it, but then they also, in your book, at least, they come back down, some of them, with the people who have made it.

Karen: Yep.

Charlie: And I was actually interested, [in] how everyone is able to descend quite so quickly. Obviously it’s going to be quicker, it’s going to be easier, but they really are quite quick.

Karen: Yeah. And that really surprised me, actually, when I did my research. I knew they had to go up slowly, and the guides do keep saying ‘Polo, polo’, don’t they? Because they keep saying, you’re only going to make it if you go slow. So I was surprised at how quickly they come down. And also because on summit night, you’re not getting much sleep because you have to be up around about dawn time, so that night you’ll get very little sleep. And then after you’ve done the climb, you’ve got this mammoth descent and I think some tour guides will do another night there, so you’re not coming down quite as quickly as they did, but actually, it was more common to do the quick descent. And I remember one friend saying to me that she felt like she was sliding down; it really hurt her knees. But then she also said, as you can start to breathe better, that actually does keep you going, and also you are on a bit of a high because you made it and you’re going back down. But, yeah, it’s surprisingly quick, actually. But I also think it’s done because for some people, they’ve only got a set amount of time and because you have to go up slowly, the way to save the time is coming down. So it’s about compromise. It must be so hard.

Charlie: Yeah. Before I did my research on the mountain itself, wondered if maybe they were a bit quicker because they were in luxury travel.

Karen: Yeah.

Charlie: Certainly something that did surprise me was the porters, and the way that they’ve got these guys carrying their stuff for them, rather than them carrying it all themselves. And then that actually is a real thing.

Karen: Yep.

Charlie: Does everybody get that or is that something you pay extra for?

Karen: You have to pay for them, and something I looked at as well, there’s a website where they make sure they get fairly paid – the porters and guides and chef – because, I think, there’s been things in the past where people have tried to, sort of, cut corners and pay less. It’s about respect for these people and what they’re doing. And the weight limit of 20 kilos – they can’t carry more than 20 kilos – because obviously it would just be horrendous otherwise. I don’t know who this person was with the coffee machine, except it’s not my anecdote. But, yeah, again, they probably would have had to pay a person to carry that up. And then in the book, Jacob does that with his big show-off tent; he would have had to pay a lot to get that brought up to the level that it was brought up to and set up in the way that he wanted it, and all the little things that he’s put inside to try and impress anyone. But, yeah, it’s just fascinating, isn’t it? You just think, oh, my goodness, it’s all these people that are helping these climbers to do this. And what’s fascinating as well, is how fit you would have to be and how mentally strong you would have to be, I think, to do that week in and week out, and how much you would have to build up over time to get to that level where you can do that. So, yeah, it’s quite fascinating. The book, this guide that I mentioned, because he’s quite a respected, experienced, guide now, he’s made the decision – and he’s got family and everything – that he doesn’t climb in the rainy seasons. And I think it said that his first climb was in the rainy season, and that is hard, it’s hard anyway, but from what I understand, when you do it in the rain, that just adds another level. I think we know that anyway, because even here [laughs], rain can make a big difference, can’t it, to experience? And I can’t imagine what it must be like to be cold and wet and know it’s not going to get any better. But, yeah, that was all really fascinating as well.

Charlie: So much going into it, yeah. So the characters – you have, if we say, particularly, Hugo, because, oh, my goodness, I think we definitely have to include him. Florence, Jacob, can you tell us particularly about Hugo, Florence, and Jacob, how you wrote them, that sort of thing?

Karen: To start off with I think maybe in the first draft, I can’t remember, I might have had Hugo’s point of view a little bit. But then I took it out because I thought it was more powerful just to see him as other people see him, other people relate to him, and the fact that even though he’s not a very nice person, that when he decides to compliment you on something, the reaction that you get from people… We’ve all met people like that, where you can get someone who does so much for somebody and then you can get someone who does very little, but the tiny bit of praise they give almost – in some people’s head – negates all the nastiness or all the wrongdoing, because they’re like, finally I’ve done something right. And I think I thought in a very competitive world, it would be really hard. And I think boundaries would get blurred because on one hand, yes, you want to do your job, but you also want that success, if you’re ambitious, why not? And I think you can start out thinking that you would do this or you wouldn’t do that, or whatever, but then in the circumstances, maybe you would, maybe you would do something that you hadn’t thought that you would. That’s kind of what I tried to work with in the novel, and also like with Jacob, trying to get his dad’s love and affection and just that respect, because Hugo is very dismissive. Hugo is so successful, and I think the way I tried to do his characters, he always has no patience for people who aren’t as successful as him because he’s done it, so why can’t everyone else, including his son? And I think, that’s just how I tried to make him come across that sort of total disconnect from reality, almost, and what it’s like, and that lack of empathy for what it may be like. And just that sense of fear that if you don’t come up with the goods, as it were, if you don’t succeed in your sales figures, or that, that’s it. And I think that must be quite a stressful way to live, to know that your next salary isn’t particularly guaranteed, it’s all down to how well you can perform under very difficult circumstances. And I think as well, the way I did it, because they’re introduced to such luxury and these, just amazing, experiences, that would be very hard to give up as well. I know when I worked just cabin crew, I was lucky enough to go to so many places and have so many experiences that you just wouldn’t have. And I remember sometimes if I come off a night flight and it’d be raining on a Monday morning and I’d just be going to bed as you know, everyone else is going to work – it’s a very different lifestyle. And I think that’s hard for a lot of these characters to give up as well. And I also think – I don’t know if I necessarily put this in the book – but I also felt like within their characters, so Florence and Jacob, there’s a bit of envy there as well; some people can afford this, whereas they’re having to work for it. And I think there’s those blurred lines as well, because they’re with their clients 24/7 on these trips. It’s those blurred boundaries, isn’t it? Are you friends, are you colleagues? How far do you go and at what point are the clients going to have empathy for you as well? One of the books I read that I absolutely loved was written by a local guide, and it was amazing because what a lot of people told me as well, [was] that obviously you couldn’t do these climbs without these porters and these guides and the chefs, it would be impossible. And that’s what they do week in and week out, they lead their families and they help other people achieve their dreams. And there was so much respect for them, and I loved that, I wanted that and it made me think, what would they think about as well, these people that want a certain kind of jam? Because I witnessed that myself kind of thing. And you’re like, oh, okay [laughs]. And I just wanted to explore these themes and how, no matter what, you don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives. There’s a lot that I [had] to work with within all the characters.

Charlie: Yeah, I certainly related, I think more, even though I’ve never climbed a mountain or done any of that for a job, I certainly related most to, Samson and Ben [laughs].

Karen: Yeah, yeah!

Charlie: The normality of it.

Karen: Yeah, and that’s just them and how well trained they were, and how much they cared about people achieving their dreams. I know, especially on summit night – so everyone who’s done it – said that they felt like they were going to die, someone said to me they had hallucinations; one of my friends said they witnessed the guides actually carrying some people up to just get them to a point so they could achieve their dreams, and how amazing is that? I just think there’s so much love for the mountain and for the environment. And I just thought, yeah, I wanted to get that across.

Charlie: I hadn’t read much about climbing it because it’s not something I can see myself doing, but certainly after I read your book, and while I was reading your book, I was researching as well, and I was surprised at just how much support there is for people to climb. You don’t do it on your own at all. And although it’s difficult, if you need a helicopter or something, you need to be taken to hospital, that happens straight away, or within as far as they can. We go back to the characters. How were they to write?

Karen: So initially, I think, like I said, I had Hugo in, and then I did a first person just with Florence; I think you needed the viewpoints from both sides to understand where they were coming from, why they were coming from. So although they’re quite selfish, I think in [the] context of that environment, they almost have to be that way, because if they’re not, they won’t survive. And so that’s how they justify their own behaviour to themselves. So they were quite fun; I’ve never written a male viewpoint before, this is the first time. I wanted to do something a bit different. I just think every time I write, I’d like to do something different that I haven’t done before. So that was really good to write and to think about how Jacob would approach it, rather than how I would approach that thing [laughs]. And I also felt with Jacob, there’s a bit of rivalry between the other characters, and I quite liked writing that as well because I thought that felt quite authentic, the fact that he knows this guy Casper really well and there’s a bit of a love-hate friendship there going on because of their history. And with Florence, it’s also grief, really, she’s going through the grieving process as well, having been engaged and her boyfriend is desperately ill, and she’s going through that and she’s got questions. And then she has this shocking discovery about Hugo early on. So she’s quite disorientated, but she knows that she can’t be. The way I wrote her, it’s almost like she’s thinking, right, okay, deep breath, park all this other stuff while I deal with it, like one step at a time, one foot in front of the other – and that’s how I did it with her. With Jacob, it’s that horrible feeling that no matter what you do, you’re never going to be good enough, but still trying anyway; and very much you see that, that no matter what he does, his father doesn’t respect him. And that heartbreaking thing is even that 10th thing is OTT, you can also understand why he’s doing it because he’s really hoping. And then he has a realisation that, obviously, that’s not going to happen, and that’s when I think there’s a shift in Jacob’s motivation because he just realises that nothing he ever does will be good enough. And that’s quite hard for him. And for Florence, I think she comes to the realisation, a bit like Jacob albeit in a different way, that actually sometimes just going along with things and trying isn’t going to work in that kind of environment. So she has sort of a bit of a shift as well. And then I think for Hugo, his ailing health is a shock for him because he’s one of these sort of people that assumes that he’ll never get old, that he will never get ill, and even though obviously he has health issues anyway, so you kind of realise, well, that’s not the case – he’s in denial. The way I thought of him, that even though he doesn’t respect Jacob, he’s probably jealous of him in a way, because he’s got youth and possibility on his side, which is gone for Hugo. And Hugo obviously doesn’t have happy relationships – yes, he’s remarried but it’s almost like a thing that he’s had to do rather than because he’s in love with life ,or in love with somebody. And I think that’s quite a sad way to live as well. So although they’re not nice people, you don’t have to agree with what they’re doing, but you can understand how they’ve become the way they have.

Charlie: Absolutely. I’m going to challenge that slightly – I would say that Florence is an all right person. You’ve given us someone to kind of grab hold to and feel okay, with her, I think, because partly because of her background. But I want to ask about your reason for including the grief and George. However, I’m also aware that we haven’t actually broached the absolute main topic here, so I’m going to put these two in together and talk about George in this context, I suppose. Can you tell us why you wanted this contest to happen?

Karen: I thought it would be something that rather than in a company like that, where you may or may not get an annual bonus or something, I thought it would suit Hugo’s character to have something where people are almost pitted against each other; because then he would justify that as it’s survival of the fittest, and then they’ve kind of made their own luck. So if this person wins this year and this person gets this promotion or this bonus, or whatever it is he decides, and because of the way he is and the way he runs the company, I see it as – I don’t know if he amuses the right word, I don’t think it’s amusement for him, that’s not the right word – it’s more a chance for him to watch and see and to know that the people in this annual contest and this annual trip, they know they’re being watched and they know they’re being judged. And it’s another way for him to see what people are like under pressure. And then [it’s a way] for him to justify his own decisions, it’s like, well, you did this, you did that, you were a bit mediocre. And even if it’s really unfair, which it would be, given the circumstances, I don’t think he’d see it like that. He’d be like, you’re in or you’re out, you can do it or you can’t. And that’s how it is.

Charlie: It does get a little bit violent towards the end, but a lot of what we hear about the contest is what’s happened previously.

Karen: Yeah.

Charlie: I think you said that Hugo’s watching. And actually, the word that came to my mind as you were saying that was he is watching ‘maliciously’ as well. Why did you want it to be quite so horrible?

Karen: I think it was just an extreme, it was an extreme version of some sort of corporate competitiveness that we all know. I mean, I’ve had jobs in the past as well, where – obviously nothing like that – but you felt the pressure in varying ways, however that pressure comes. And this was just an extreme version of that, just because I thought, given the characters and given the high-end luxury travel aspect of it, there’s so many things that all these characters would have done. I mean, I could have a week anywhere, it’d just be amazing. I’d be, like, really excited. Be like, yeah, I’m off to the beach or I’m off on a city break, whatever, but this isn’t going to cut it with these people. And I also think the way I did it with all the secondary characters as well, it had to be something that would appeal to them – the clients – that this is going to be a challenge. And them rising to it a bit. So I wanted this to be something that put everything out of everyone’s comfort zones. It’s a level playing field in as much as no matter how much luxury you pay for, you’re not guaranteed something. And I think that’s something that a lot of these characters wouldn’t have had. And – I put this in the book, actually – something that really surprised me was when I read that Martina Navratilova hadn’t made it, because you would just assume, do you know what I mean? If it was me and her climbing, I know where my money would be [laughs]. And I think that’s what was so fascinating about it. And one book that I read, and this I could really empathize with her, this woman was climbing it with her 16 year old son – I have a 16 year old son – and at a certain point he isn’t going to make it. So he’s going to get taken down by the guides to a lower camp. The mother obviously wants to go with him rather than going up, but if she goes with him, they’re going to have to take another guide out of the group to go down. So she has to make the decision to let her son go down while she goes up; when she came down and her son was fine, sitting there eating… That, I remember, really got to me. Decisions you have to make.

Charlie: Yeah. And you were saying something… about halfway through your answer, I think, that made me think about how Mr And Mrs Armstrong have gone on this trip, and yet one of the previous trips, they lost their daughter, I believe?

Karen: Yeah.

Charlie: Which was just… wow, they’ve done that. I mean, that’s something… I can’t understand them myself.

Karen: Yeah. It’s also like Hugo is such a forceful character that he’s not going to let them blame him in any shape, way or form. So he’s just this forceful character who’s going to do this… not trap them because they’re obviously doing it themselves, but keep a hold on them so that it’s not going to come back and bite him later on in life or something. And that’s just very much how I saw Hugo’s character, that he would do these sort of things; and it’s about control, I guess, control and controlling what other people do, even if they’ve had these kind of things happen to them.

Charlie: Yeah. I mean, he might not be the literal killer, but he is basically the killer.

Karen: Yeah, yeah. It is that thing we touched on earlier, it’s about responsibility, isn’t it? And personal responsibility. And are you responsible for something if you do this, even if you’re not directly involved? Where does it begin and where does it end? And I think that’s something we look at in a lot of areas of our lives and different circumstances, and it’s a fascinating subject. And I also think as well, it’s about what someone would do in their normal day-to-day life if they were with their friends and family and what someone may or may not do if they’re put under extreme pressure. I obviously love what I do, but it’s an amazing thing to be able to do, to actually try and explore that and work it out. Like, what would this person do? How would they react? Is this in keeping with their character or is this going a bit off? And even if it doesn’t feel quite right, if you think that’s what the character would do, then that’s how I tried to write it.

Charlie: Oh, absolutely, I mean, you have a killer at the start. And I was waiting for that killer to return; and I think it’s really interesting that you have that killer at the start, and we think, oh, my goodness, it’s going to be someone really horrific, and then, actually, it’s kind of more than one person, later, as I said, Hugo, effectively, and also we’ve got Luke, and then Florence at the end. Although it’s really interesting how you’ve done that because I also think how far do we go with saying it’s Florence? Which sounds awful, I know, but there you go.

Karen: Yeah.

Charlie: How did you go about planning the whole thriller aspect in this respect, the killer?

Karen: What fascinates me – you know when you hear about a murder on the news or horrific crime, and quite often when they find out who did it, the neighbours say, you would never have thought it, it was a quiet man, it was a quiet woman. That’s what scares me. Who are these people who kill? And why now? Why then? And if something is an accident, do you just put your hands up and go, it was an accident, what happened. Because you imagine if you were in such a horrific thing, that’s what you would do – sit there and just wait for the police, the ambulance to come and go, yes, this happened, and then just wait for everything to take its course? Or do you panic and try and cover it up and then keep going down that route rather than at some point going, well, do you know what, I’m just going to have to confess now because it’s gone too far and I’m just going to say yes. Because it does happen. People do end up in these kind of circumstances. And I just think when you read about how differently people react and how quite often it’s not the people you expect, I find that quite fascinating, and it’s something it’s different. But in my first book, The Perfect Girlfriend, the main character, she’s cabin crew – what I liked about that was the fact that she almost hid behind her uniform. So it’s like this corporate image and it’s that work face. It’s that professional work face that we all do in whatever job we’re on, compared to maybe when you have time off. And it’s that safety of an image, I think, because, I’ve said before, I’m quite obedient, so if somebody walked up to me and they had a high-vis jacket on and some ID and said, oh, can you not park here? I’d be like, yeah, of course. So I think it’s that, it’s about trust and who are these people, and what you’re really like under pressure, which is what Hugo is trying to do, but in a different way. And then you’ve also got people who’ve committed a crime who are trying to do it different way, and all the stress of that. Because I think if you’ve done something really awful, or you’ve tried really hard to cover something up, how do you go back out into the real world? How do you go and buy a pint of milk and eat your breakfast? You know what I mean? How do you do that? You’d have to really compartmentalise and almost tell yourself that you haven’t done something wrong. And I think as a character, at some point that’s going to come out in some shape, way or form.

Charlie: Yeah, no, it’s got to. Luke seemed unreliable, certainly. And obviously, what happens when Florence kills him – she’s in that state, she can’t really do anything else, and everything’s going on, the environment is obviously playing its effect. But I wanted to ask, actually, should we trust that Luke killed George because he does sound unreliable?

Karen: The way I believe it is, yes. So, he was just over competitive; it was an accident. But then he didn’t have to cover it up, he basically chose to save himself. And I think that was Florence’s anger, that all her grief and pain had come from somebody. Because however awful the truth is, if you know it, you know what you’re dealing with. But if something’s not quite right or quite there, that’s a lot harder.

Charlie: You’ve got a sense of isolation – I think this ties into what we’re saying here. You’ve got the sense of isolation despite lots of people being around, but obviously they are on a mountain. Was this isolation factor important to the book?

Karen: Yes, and also the fact that they don’t know who to trust. So you could be sitting there, having a cup of tea with somebody, and you might even have a laugh with them and get on really well, but then you don’t know if you can trust them. And that would mess, with anyone’s mind, because you’re like, am I having a nice time? Am I not? Are they out to get me? Are they not? Because they seem like they’re being be friendly, but then are they – who’s my enemy? Who isn’t? Are they enemies or are they not? Are we already friends? Is it me that’s doubting? And I think that that would, especially given the physical hardships and everything else… And also as well, is it Florence or Jacob? I can’t remember, one of them – at some point, they’re sitting somewhere and they’re thinking… I think it’s Jacob, but they’re doing this amazing thing, this amazing experience, and what it would be like to be doing it with people that you love, like your family or your friends or somebody, but that he’s there with these people he doesn’t necessarily want to be with. And that’s quite lonely.

Charlie: Yeah. I have a question on a different topic. You have Ethical Getaways. The employees [of BVT], Jacob and Florence, see them as a rival and they do seem to be a rival. You’ve talked about sustainable travel, which Ethical Getaways are promoting, but when we hear from them, for most of the book, it’s through their social media posts and obviously we’re hearing it through the grapevine, through Jacob and Florence, so we never really know – are they really in competition or are they just like, we’re just going to do our thing? I wanted to ask, because at the end they merge, which I thought was really good, why was it important to have BVT and Ethical Getaways merge at the end?

Karen: I think again, it’s that contrast thing, but it’s also trying to show that you can take different approaches to how you travel and the result’s the same, they can still do it. And if Hugo wasn’t the person he was, there wouldn’t necessarily be anything wrong with high-end luxury travel, why not? It’s all about not being good and bad. But then also when you’re talking about something like this, mountain climbing, it is to show that there are people trying to do these same things, but in a better way. It was just the contrast, really.

Charlie: Yeah, I mean, definitely if Hugo had allowed it, BVT could have just been much better.

Karen: Yeah. And there were a lot of different travel companies as well. So when I researched, it around the world there are a lot of different travel companies and their approaches are very different. And treatment of employees is very different, and the amount of time to go up and go down is varied. So yeah, it was just the contrast, because some camps – I can’t remember which camp name now – but there’s just hundreds of people there with all these different companies. And that’s something that I hadn’t realised before I started researching, is quite how busy the mountain can be.

Charlie: Yeah, your book has definitely given me a lot of knowledge that I had no idea about, yeah, certainly, and that was one of them. I’ve no worries about Florence being capable at this new job. I do love that Florence and Jacob are working together because as much as they’ve both got problems, as much as Jacob was very concerned with being a good heir – I suppose you could say – there was a lot to like about; he was a product of his environment, effectively. I can see Florence being great, but would Jacob be as well? Will maybe the merger help him be better at his job?

Karen: I’d like to think so. I think he’s always going to have, given the circumstances, he’s always going to have this side to him. But yeah, I think there’s a possibility there. But I can’t see them ever working happily ever after over this together. I think there’d always be too much rivalry and yeah, it probably would come more from Jacob.

Charlie: Yeah. And I know it’s just a ‘me’ thing, but I didn’t see any sort of resemblance between them at all in my head when I was picturing them.

Karen: No.

Charlie: So what is next? I know this book is recently published, but can you tell us what you’re writing?

Karen: Yeah, so my fifth book, it’s travel based, again, surprise! [Laughs.] I can’t say too much about it at the moment, but, yeah, there’s another strong travel theme in there, in a completely different way. And this time it is one female character and very strong, but also put into circumstances where you have to think, really, would you or really wouldn’t you? It’s another book that I’m really enjoying writing. But yeah, sorry, I can’t say too much more than that at the moment.

Charlie: That’s fine. That’s to be expected. So, Karen, it has been lovely having you today. And I am really glad to have talked about things in detail. It’s been great to really cover them. Thank you for this book. Thank you for being here today. Yeah, it’s been good.

Karen: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it. I really appreciate it. Thank you. And thank you for all the care that you put in and it’s really great and for your kind words. Thank you.

[Recorded later] Charlie: I hope you enjoyed this episode. The podcast will be back on the 8th January. So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, see you next time. The Worm Hole Podcast episode 88 was recorded on the 19th July and published on the 11th December 2023. Music and production by Charlie Place.

Photo credit: Emma Moore.


No Comments


Comments closed