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  • Writer's pictureZoe Author

Five facts about me & my novel, Pretty Evil

Prior to writing Pretty Evil, I was a rom com author

I first had the idea for Pretty Evil in 2018 when I was thirty-one years old and living in London. I'd had two romantic comedy novels published and was working on my third. I was writing heartwarming love stories and yet my own love life was a bit of a mess. I’d been on dating apps on and off for years. I had a few good dates, but a lot of the time, the men I was encountering weren’t particularly nice, to say the least.

Me with one of my rom coms

After a while, I started feeling like a bit of a hypocrite writing romances in which the love interests were decent and lovely and kind, every novel ended in a happily-ever-after scenario. I adore rom coms and had been reading them for years, finding the storylines and characters nourishing and inspiring, but the discrepancy between my own troubled love life and what I was writing was beginning to make me feel a bit uncomfortable and repressed as a writer. I wanted to write something darker. I wanted to write something that explored the complex, sometimes sinister, messed up men out there, and the impact they can have. I wasn’t sure quite how I’d go about it yet though. While loving rom coms, I’d always been into dark fiction and one of my favourite novels of all time is American Psycho, so I was contemplating something similarly twisted, but the idea was not yet fully formed. It took a while for the idea to crystallize, and in the end, it took a traumatic event for the idea to really take shape.

Pretty Evil was inspired by a sexual assualt

In 2018, back when I was writing romantic comedies, I was date raped after a Tinder date in which I believe my drink was spiked. I've spoken about this incident in the press quite a bit, here in 2020 and more recently too, such as here and here. For a few months following the assault, I was very depressed. I was still writing romantic comedies and you can imagine the surrealness of that. I remember one time literally crying while writing loved up scenes on my laptop. It felt all wrong. Then, amid all this, the idea I’d had for a dark novel that had been lurking at the back of my mind, started to crystalize. A character arrived in my imagination, clear as day, dark as night.

Her name was Camilla Black. She was everything I was not at the time: strong, tough, bold, confident, sassy, cool, wild, daring, and unrelenting. She killed bad men. She slaughtered rapists, abusers, paedophiles and creeps. She showed no mercy and she took them out, ruthlessly. Her voice was bold, cutting, punchy and passionate. She was funny while being completely broken. She was brutal and sharp. Clever, cutting, exceptionally well dressed. Damaged and yet adamantine. She an icon and I was transfixed.

Camilla herself is a victim of sexual abuse and the novel deals with themes of rape, paedophilia, domestic violence. These are extremely dark topics and I was committed to doing survivors such as myself justice by not minimizing their impact in any way. I wanted to honour the impact of such experiences. How soul-destroying and spirit-breaking they can be. How they can ruin a person. I wasn’t going to casually mention them and move on. I was going to be real about them and I didn’t care if it was too much or too dark. As a result of this approach, Pretty Evil is a very dark and uncompromising read, but I am proud of its execution.

Pretty Evil was first published by an indie press as Predator, in 2020, at the height of MeToo

Anyone who has read Pretty Evil will know that it is a very dark, sweary, sexual, graphic and uncompromising book. I knew when writing it that it would probably be quite difficult to get it published due to publishers being quite risk-averse these days and in the end, I was published by an indie press who were one of the few publishers I approached that understood my novel and were happy for it to be released in all its dark, brutal glory.

This is its original cover. The novel was previously called 'Predator'. Back then I used the pen name Zoe Caldwell as my real surname is Greek and unpronouncable. I thought having an English-sounding pen name would be a good idea, but in recent years, I switched it to 'Rosi' as Rosi is Greek, thus acknowledging my Greek roots. I felt like a bit of a sell-out using a very English name that didn't really reflect who I was.

I was a bit nervous about what readers would make of Predator, but it actually went down really well despite its darkness. To my surprise, no one seemed to have a problem with the novel's graphic content and in fact, readers seemed to find the book refreshing in its bold style and nature. The graphic sex and violence weren't a problem and in fact, people seemed to enjoy it!

I was working as a fashion copywriter when I wrote Pretty Evil

Anyone who has read Pretty Evil will know that it is full of descriptions of designer clothes and references to labels. This is partly homage to American Psycho, given that Camilla is as vapid and materialistic as Patrick Bateman, who name-drops a lot of brands, but it's also a result of my job at the time that I wrote the book.

I was working a copywriter for a luxury fashion retailer when I was writing Pretty Evil and I spent my days writing detailed, detailed, descriptions of designer clothing. This lent itself to Camilla being a fashion magazine editor. I wanted to draw upon my knowledge of the fashion industry, as well as journalism, which I'd also worked in for years.

Camilla uses fashion as a mask. I believe many people do this, but Camilla takes it to an extreme level, hiding her dark, unhinged and violent nature behind impeccable, beautiful designer outfits. She is the most put-together serial killer imaginable.

I was inspired by grime music when writing the book

I'm a bit fan of grime and the spirit of grime music really inspired me when writing Pretty Evil. There is a sense of defiance and inner strength in a lot of grime that is unique to the genre. This underdog-fighting-back attitude, the toughness and ruthlessness of a lot of the music is very, very Camilla. Camilla had a rough start in life, being born into poverty with an extremely abusive father. Her mother killed herself and she was sexually abused as a child at the hands of her father. Yet despite this, Camilla has risen from the ashes and re-invented herself. She lives a life of luxury and is ostentatious, snobby and unapologetic in her ambition and quest for status and power. I chanelled a lot of the spirit of grime when writing her story, and the music also inspired me to take my power back after having felt broken in the aftermath of my own assualt.

To check out my Pretty Evil playlist, click here.

To meet Camilla, click here.

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