With an arresting opening that finds our protagonist live streaming from a hotel suite, her ex-boyfriend bound on the floor, and asking the rapidly-growing audience to decide whether he lives or dies; The Hive grabs the reader’s attention with a premise every bit as addictive as the social media platforms that dominate her – and our – lives.
The Hive is both high-octane thriller and fiercely contemporary examination of coercion, control, and the impact of social media on mental health. We caught up with Brade to discuss the writing of her debut novel, sisterhood, and the buzz surrounding a thriller like no other.
How was the experience of writing your debut novel?
It was amazing… Us debut authors have a lot of nerves: we think the worst, and then we think the best, and then we think the worst again! It was so good to have the support of my agent and Team Zaffre, who just came together and made it a fantastic experience on both sides. I’m really happy!
What’s it like finally seeing the book out in the world?
It feels a little like I’m letting my baby fly from the nest!
Writing is a very solitary experience. You write it by yourself, you covet it for years, and you don’t tell anyone. And then suddenly it’s on display for the world to see and read your most inner thoughts… It’s a nerve-wracking experience.
I think every author would agree that you want the best for your book. Reading is a subjective experience. Everyone has their opinion, and I think that’s the great thing about The Hive. It gives everybody a talking point. Whether you hate it or love it – like Marmite! – you’re going to want to discuss The Hive. That’s what makes it so unique.
And we see that debate come to life through the #VoteLive and #VoteDie premise at the heart of the story…
I wanted to make a book that could live outside of its pages – something you could bring online and discuss online. To bring those characters to life and to start a discussion on mental health and social media. Because we’re the guinea pigs! Who’s to know what will happen or what psychological effects social media will have on us. The Hive poses a lot of questions and opens up these discussions.
The Hive offers a highly relatable portrayal of social media. There’s a moment where our protagonist Charlotte is desperately checking WhatsApp to see if the other person is online… I’ve definitely done that!
I think we all have! We all have that habit of getting up first thing – or even in the middle of the night – and checking our phones. We scroll endlessly – and for nothing! We’re not looking to gain anything. We’re just passing the time. And I wanted to include all those little habits in The Hive. When you send a message – have they got it, are they responding? I wanted to recreate that feeling in fictional form. Hopefully I’ve hit the nail on the head with that one!
It perfectly captures the double-standards and instantaneous pile-ons of a social media scandal. What’s your own relationship with social media like?
The internet can be a very toxic place as we all know – as well as being a very positive place in some areas too. Social media should be a representation of yourself – and putting your best foot forward. And we forget that sometimes and feed into the toxic relationship.
There’s a lot to discuss about the world today. But I think we’re the first set of people in history who have had the chance to have our opinions broadcast so openly, right there for the world to see.
I wanted to highlight that what you put on the internet lives forever. When you’re posting: take a second and really think. People are going to see this… Maybe be kinder!
The setting has real specificity too – taking part in a world rarely represented in the thriller genre. We’re following millennial women around east London – chatting about Deadpool and smoking in Walthamstow Marshes. How important was it to you to represent that world?
I grew up in East London. I was educated in East London. I went to a school that was rough, a little bit tough. But we created people! Some of the people who went to that school, who were hanging around smoking in the park like we see in the novel, have gone on to do such successful things. I wanted to represent that, and represent where I’m from and my background, and the things I’ve witnessed. It was important to put some of myself and my experiences into the book.
Female friendship and sisterhood is such a big theme in the book.
I have the best group of girlfriends… The book is dedicated to Team Strong – my set of girlfriends who have been through the thick of it and come out the other side. They are amazing mothers, strong career women: midwives and teachers… They are women I look up to and am so proud of. It was about making Poppy, Trix, Zaheen and Charlotte as strong as my own group of friends and representing that sisterhood.
Having a support system is one of the most important things in the world. It’s what makes us different from animals: we’re co-dependent on each other. I wanted to highlight that and to show really strong, flawed, relatable characters. I didn’t want them to be perfect. These characters needed to blur the lines. I wanted readers to think ‘these might not be the best people, but they are people.’ They go through everyday struggles, custody battles, break-ups, abortions… I wanted to highlight the things we go through as millennials.
And how was your first experience of Harrogate, the world’s largest crime writing festival?
It was wonderful! I’d never been to a crime festival before. All the authors there were so welcoming. I met Will Dean; Will Carver; Catherine Ryan Howard; CJ Tudor, who gave me some of the best advice for a debut author; and Nadine Mattheson, who is just my mentor, my idol and one of those authors who have opened doors and said, ‘I welcome you. I want you to thrive!’ She literally told me she wanted my bee to fly!
It was an amazing experience, and it was great to see some of the people I look up to.
Who and what were you inspired by – books, TV, film – in the writing of this book?
I love CJ Tudor – that creepy dark essence in her writing, and I wanted to bring that element to the book. Catherine Ryan Howard – who does the social media experience so well in Rewind. And Abigail Dean’s Girl A.
And then shows like The Blacklist and Sex and the City. I re-watched Girlfriends while doing the edit too. I loved the bond between characters: what they go through and how much they support one another. It’s a big theme of the book.
When you read a thriller, the women are often backstabbing, going behind each other’s backs and keeping secrets. And that’s not what The Hive is about. At its core it’s about four women who love each other and that would do anything for each other.
You also have a cameo in the audiobook!
I was not expecting that! I was like, ‘oh my God, can I be in my own audiobook? Is that allowed?!’ It was such a fun day in the studio. Shvorne Marks as Charlotte is top-tier. She’s an extremely talented person, and her acting is just off-the-charts amazing. There were so many other actors that were involved too.
There’s so much that went into it: from the social media comments to the sound effects that were laid on top. It’s an amazing production by an extremely talented team and I’m so thankful that I had the chance to be a part of it. It was one of the cherries on top of The Hive cake, and I’m excited about having more people listen to it.
And, finally, what’s next for you?
I’m just finishing the first draft of my second book, and really excited about it!
It’s completely different from The Hive. I can’t say too much – I’m sworn to secrecy! – but I can promise that fans of The Hive will really enjoy it…