Julie Reichwein Interview: “I hope that I can shine a light on how truly awful being a victim is”

fire and fury

Fresh from the success of her latest book, I caught up with Julie Reichman to learn more about writing thrillers in the Me Too era.  

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards psychological thrillers?

I like many authors am an avid reader. I would say that literary agent, Paula S. Munier, who wrote a few great books on writing a story that sells helped me more than anything. Paula Hawkin’s,The Girl on the Train, spoke to me as far as writing style. I loved how she broke the chapters down into first person for each individual character. I felt like you really got to know the characters and that’s what I wanted for my book. I also like psychological thrillers because I feel like I am good at assessing people. My background isn’t of police work, but I’ve watched enough shows and read enough books to pick up general points but not the truly technical end of it. I am however very good at creating fictional characters based on psychological research, and I enjoy studying criminal psychology.

Tell me about how your background and how you draw on it to create your books?

My background is one of being self-employed for most of my life. I’ve dealt with people for my entire career, so I’ve met many interesting types of people. I’m also an avid traveler and love to learn about people in different cultures, so I feel I have a large pool of entertaining characters to draw on.

Talk me through your novel Fire & Fury. How is it influenced by other works?

I didn’t set out for it to be referred to Tarantino style, but I will say that people are busy in their lives. They’re worn out when they get home, so they don’t want to read something that doesn’t draw them in quickly and hold their attention. I’m the same. My goal was to keep the story moving at a fast pace without sacrificing the story, the characterization, or the plot. Apparently, I hit the mark because all of the professional book reviews that have come in have said I wrote a gripping, compelling, full-bore, relentless story with strong characterization. This obviously makes me happy to read. The two authors who influenced me the most in the writing of this book were Paula Hawkins and Stephen King.

What is the novel’s relevance in the Me Too era and how do you believe that readers relate to it?

I chose this story to tell because I became interested in learning about sexual assailants and the criminology of it because of an incident that happened to me in college. I was stalked by the mailman and came within feet of being raped or killed, but I was saved by my dog and the fact I was on the line with 911. The stalker took off. In 1982, there were no stalking laws, so I had to move. A few years later, it happened again. Again I had to move. So sexual assault has always been something I’ve been interested in and I wanted to do a story about it. The murdered girl in my story was inspired by someone I know. While she wasn’t murdered, the reaction of her family destroyed her, and I wanted to understand more about it. As I read up on it, I learned that children who are sexually molested by a parent are often isolated because the mother turns against them and so do their siblings. The abused child is abandoned by her family. The wife sees her as a mistress and the siblings are jealous because of the attention the father pays to the molested daughter. The abused child then abuses substances and spirals out of control by getting into bad relationships. My story tries to bridge a modern day rape where a powerful man rapes women he feels he can intimidate with a cold case of a girl who was sexually abused by her father and enters into debasing relationships which culminates in her death. The Detective quickly learns both cases are connected. I live in Santa Fe, which is a multi- cultural town and so I wanted to bring race into it as a factor as well because women of color are more likely to be raped than Caucasian women.

What aspect of your books do you feel attracts your readers and makes your work so hard to put down?

I will let the reviewers answer this. “Author Julie Reichwein has put together a gripping, relentless, super fast psychological thriller and I wouldn’t expect less when it comes to… revenge! This novel is divided in 69 chapters and each one of them is allocated to a specific character at a time. I really enjoy this kind of organization as it strengthens characterization, we come to know each one of the characters really well – ie. their motives, thoughts, traumas, fears, backgrounds, etc.”

“And certainly she did a thorough research about the different characters, for instance, sexual assailants and their psychology. For the characters have very strong personalities and their souls are masterfully exposed in their sick, gritty, dirty and dark glory, sometimes their behaviors borders on the ridicule but I think it adds to their authenticity.

“Reichwein is very good also when it comes to describing scenes, she makes it look effortless as she uses the exact right amount of description – not wordy but also not lacking in detail, this will make the reader easily visualize the scene in his/her mind.”

Where do you find the inspiration for your work? Are there any specific exercises or tricks you use to get your creative juices flowing?

Every time I didn’t like a sentence or a paragraph or a page etc I would go back and reread, The Girl on the Train, or one of Stephen King’s books. I wanted it full- bore from start to finish, and I didn’t stop editing until I was 100% satisfied. I would also go back to Paula Munier’s book about the first 10 pages, and I would make sure I was keeping the story well-paced with strong characterization. When I was at the point that I was ready emotionally to kill some of the characters, I felt like my readers would be there, too.

If you could collaborate with any write, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Stephen King. I’m not a horror reader in general, but I am a Stephen King fan. He gets you into the story and the characters like no one else. He’s the true master.

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?

I have two more books that I have final edits to finish. Kilos & Killer Heels and Killer Heels- 1/2way to Hell.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

I just discovered Iris Yang’s Wings of a Flying Tiger. It’s a story about a wounded American pilot in China during WWII when Japan occupied the country. One cousin risked everything to help this pilot.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I tried to bring the true sordidness of sexual assault and the emotional devastation it causes to my story. Many crime writers address the issue from a clinical angle where I tried to address it from an emotional point of view. Not just from the abused but from the abuser as well. I hope that I can shine a light on how truly awful being a victim is, so that those fortunate enough to not have been victimized can understand the toll and emotional devastation of sexual assault.

Thanks Julie, it has been truly fascinating to here from you. You can find out more about Julie and her work HERE.

 

Advertisements

Check Out The Cover of Paul D. Brazill’s Latest Collection!

Ladybird 36

Paul D. Brazill, who I interviewed previously, is launching a new collection of stories called Small Time Crimes through Near the Knuckle Press. The collection is due to be published in Summer of this year. The blurb is below:

‘Hit-men, con men, jewel thieves, career criminals, killers, crooks and cannibals. They all congregate between the pages of Paul D. Brazill’s Small Time Crimes- a brutal and blackly comic collection of short stories and flash fiction that views the world at its most askew.’
It promises to be a corker! You can check out more about the collection HERE.

Changing Christie: Heinous Or Harmless?

ordeal by innoncence 2

Following the recent furore around the BBC’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence, I wondered why everyone was so upset. After all, when adapting TV shows and films Directors and Script Writers often change the plots to suit the audience.

However, many have been incredibly upset by the serious change in plotting that the writers have made. Instead of the perpetrator being the housemaid, at the instigation of the adopted son of the victim, her lover, who was falsely accused, she is in fact his mother, and neither were actually guilty. The murderer, in the show, turns out to be the victim’s husband, who is found out by his adopted children and maid, who capture him and hold him hostage in his late wife’s nuclear bunker whilst they get on with their lives.

This myriad of changes caused great consternation among die-hard Christie fans. The book had not been faithfully adapted, and as such the BBC has ruined it. These people do not seem to understand that what the BBC has, in fact done, is not created a Christie adaptation at all. It may have the same name as one of the Queen of Crime’s novels, but it does not have any of the classic traits or characterisation of her works.

After all, the book uses Arthur Calgary as a form of principal detective, rather than the blubbering mental patient that the show transforms him into. In the book the character, accompanied by others, doggedly explores the blasé secrets, petty scandals and sad affairs of the principal cast of suspects, all of whom are neatly contained within the family home, being either family themselves or servants. Like many of her novels, Christie crafted a unique ending for Ordeal By Innocence by having the innocent be a master manipulator who actually played a key role in the murder. Having his accomplice as the housemaid allows Christie to criticise both the class system and the treatment of women at the time.

Whilst the BBC adaptation might make minor observations about class and gender, as well as making a clear racial statement by casting a black actress in the role of one of the victim’s adopted children, none of these allusions are particularly impactful, and are muddied by the adaptation’s lack of sincerity and sheer lavishness- the costumes are better thought out than the plot throughout, and the dialogue has been woefully neglected in favour of stunning panoramic views of lakes and vast tree lined forests.

I can completely understand why Sarah Phelps chose to change the adaptation so drastically from the original: not only does this allow her to put her own stamp on the work, but it also makes for better TV. After all, the novel relies on the reader being completely transfixed by the notion that Jacko is innocent and the author’s copious red herrings to steer them towards a nail-biting conclusion, whereas, spread over three episodes, the TV series would struggle to build and maintain such tension. As such, Phelps not only intensifies the characters, making many much more bitter or shrill than they are in the novel, but also completely changes the plot in order to make it memorable. After all, the fact that I am writing this post about it proves that this divisive move has worked. All publicity is good publicity- right?

Overall, it is my firm belief that the BBC has effectively not made a Christie adaptation at all, and whilst I am not sure I would go so far as to say that this Easter’s Ordeal By Innocence is an outrage, it is certainly not fit to bear the Queen of Crime’s name.

The Last Straw Review: Another Strong Spy Thriller

The-Last-Straw

The second in the Pigeon Blood Red series, the first of which I recently reviewed, The Last Straw is another unique novel starring the first novel’s protagonist, Rico Sanders.

The book begins with a run-of-the-mill carjacking. An inner-city kid with no priors and no experience with a gun fumbled the ball, and the driver ended up dead.

A teenage girl witnessed the whole thing, and now a target has been placed on her back. The carjacker’s father, a notorious crime boss, is willing to move heaven and earth to prevent her from testifying, even if that means hiring a hit man to kill her.

Richard Sanders, better known as Rico, as the best in the business, was his first choice for the job; however, his scruples prevent him from carrying out the hit. As a result, the crime boss reluctantly turns to someone who has no such qualms, John D’Angelo. There was bad blood between him and Rico, so knowing that Rico had passed on the job, he eagerly accepted it.

Rico and the girl’s lawyer, Paul Elliott, form an uneasy alliance to try and protect her from the hit man. As the long-simmering feud between Rico and John D’Angelo reaches boiling point, bodies start to pile up in rapid succession, and old scores will be settled as the novel races through to its climactic conclusion.

Author Ed Duncan is a former lawyer, and as such his knowledge of the legal system is impeccable, and although at times the descriptions, particularly those of characters, are a little clunky, this is a fast paced novel that lends itself to easy reading. It is not a taxing novel, and as such it is perfect for summer, when you are reclining on the beach or bored waiting in an airport lounge.

Overall a great addition to the Pigeon Blood Red series, this is an exciting thriller that takes the reader on a round the world journey through to a climactic finale.

Minnette Coleman Interview: “I started creating my stories as soon as I learned how to form letters with a pencil”

Picture in median 2

Following on from my newfound interest in historical fiction I decided to have a chat with Minnette Coleman, renowned historical author about how she creates such engaging novels that transport the reader back to times long past.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

I’m a story teller, not sure if that is considered a real ‘style’, but it is how I envision my writing. I like to feel that I am looking at you as I tell my story. My desire is to talk to the reader, not at the reader, and make them feel that I am with them when they take a journey with my words. I purposely try not to copy other writers, other styles, although one can’t help it if, from time to time, a little bit of substance from an influential author seeps in. With my first book The Blacksmith’s Daughter someone tried to peg my style as akin to the writers of the 19th century. Not sure where that came from, unless it had to do with the calm and purposeful way I wrote the tale.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

Writing is in my blood. My parents met at a poetry club. My father went on to becoming an award- winning journalist and City Editor for The Atlanta Daily World, the second oldest African-American daily newspaper in the United States. His mother was a poet and my mother continues to write poetry to this day. I started creating my stories as soon as I learned how to form letters with a pencil. After that I wrote everything I could just to keep in practice. And I mean everything. I kept diaries about events that I deemed important in my life and looked at them from time to time when I needed a reference for an idea.

Of course my past included family, and family was the source of my first two novels. My first professional writing job was covering The Atlanta Jazz Festival years ago. I didn’t care that much for doing that. I preferred fiction sweetened with a little bit of fact, and that’s when I started drawing on my past to create historical fiction.

Please tell me about your books. Are they all historical fiction? How do you work to entice the reader to read them?

To entice readers I give them a picture, which I paint with my words. I have to see everything as if no words were spoken. If I can’t see it, I have to start over again. And since my books are all historical fiction, I have to make sure the picture I paint lifts the reader to that time or era. From hairstyles to clothing, my readers have to see it as I do, as if they were with me on this journey. In my latest novel The Tree: A Journey to Freedom, I go back to history of the Underground Railroad and the Quakers and abolitionists to build the tale of Epsie as she decides to become a ‘running away’ and find the mythical tree in the North Carolina woods that, once reached, almost certainly guarantees freedom.

In No Death by Unknown Hands, I followed the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in the southern United States and let my story unfold in a community setting as my young protagonist lived through the changes of the times– change I created from my dad’s articles, my family background and from a vivid imagination that allowed me to dwell in my research on the early 1950s.

For The Blacksmith’s Daughter, I led the reader to the blacksmith’s shop. But only after you got to hear the cock crow in the early mornings, see the fine table setting that was presented with the blacksmith’s breakfast and allow the reader to fall in love with his loving wife, five beautiful single daughters and a cripple son.

In each story I gave the reader the fear I felt while running from the dogs bred to hunt slaves or while hiding in the trees, the smell of the greasy bacon and the fresh biscuits first thing in the morning, the feel of the water flowing through your hair while someone else washed it. As a story teller, you take your hand and fill it with these magical pictures and pull the reader in. When you close your hand and they want more, you know you have a great story. I get excited thinking about what story I will tell next.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

My first two novels were based on characters and events in the past. My paternal grandfather was one of the last blacksmiths in Atlanta, Georgia, so I created a story around what it would have been like had he become extremely wealthy in land dealings in the early 20th century. And of course I wanted to be a journalist like my dad when I was younger, so No Death by Unknown Hands was an ode to that desire.

With The Tree I looked back to when I lived in one of the original buildings of Guilford College, my alma mater, and the deep and extremely scary cellar where we stored our trunks and suitcases. I thought this would make a great place to hide run-away slaves. Historically this space wasn’t used for that purpose, but combine it with the 300-year-old tulip poplar tree on campus that is now part of the National Parks Services ‘Network to Freedom’ and you have a setting for a journey to freedom.

As for writer’s block-don’t you hate that? You get a good idea going and then it falls off a cliff. Lots of time I sleep on it. When that doesn’t work, when I don’t wake up in the middle of the night or the next morning with an answer, I wait. That could take forever in the general sense, but when I say wait I mean I start telling myself the story of the scene I am working on again and again and usually the muse makes a return. Guess it’s tired of the replay and wants me to move along.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked that. I have two so give me a moment to explain. They are both deceased but they both stay with me. The late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, that’s the first one. I thought about him when I wrote The Tree. I would have him teach me how to tap into the style of magical realism. Then we could collaborate on a tale of our cultures crossing for the good of the current world.

Octavia Butler is my other choice. At one time I wanted to write science fiction. I got to meet her once and we had a conversation about the value of getting people to read more. Perhaps she could have kept me on the path to science fiction.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Wow! Where do I start? I am pleased to be working on a child’s version of The Tree. The cover of the current novel was done by my very talented nephew, Ricky Townsley. He also is working on the illustrations for the children’s version.

Recently I did an article for the Friends Association of Higher Education on the connections between Black and Quaker history. It should be out and online this month. And there are other tales that I am working on. So many stories to tell, so little time. It is hard to pick one, but I am sure it will have an historical nature even if it is about today.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Last summer I read The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemison. Extremely interesting and exciting sci-fi. I am going to finish the series. I am also looking forward to the May 2018 release of a book by Zora Neale Hurston never published before. The title is Barracon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo. My understanding is Ms. Hurston got a first hand interview with someone who was stolen from an African village. So exciting!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I used to teach workshops for teen journalists on how to get a good

interview. I always told them to have the interviewee talk about themselves. People love that. I have to admit, I am no different: I have thoroughly enjoyed talking with you about my work. Thanks so much for this opportunity!

Thanks for taking the time, it has been truly awesome to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Money in the Morgue Review: A Creative Continuation Of Marsh’s Classic Series

Money in the Morgue

Exciting news for Golden Age fans as Ngaio Marsh’s unfinished Inspector Alleyn novel has been completed and published by Stella Duffy. Marsh was one of the founders of the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, and I enjoyed a lot of her novels, so I was intrigued to see how Duffy had interpreted her work.

The novel opens with a list of characters and a map of the principal setting, followed closely by the line ‘So closely did these events follow the arbitrary design of a play that the temptation to represent Mr Glossop as an overture cannot be withstood’ in the opening chapter. Despite the indications, do not be fooled into thinking this is anything like a play- the novel is far too evocative and emotionally charged to be a play script.

Instead, this is an emotional rollercoaster depicting the horrors of the Second World War from a rural New Zealand hospital. Inspector Roderick Alleyn is holed up at the remote Mount Seager Hospital, where the reader finds him pretending to be ill as part of a covert mission. Listening in on the small worries and petty grievances of the staff and patients, Alleyn is on the trail of the sender of mysterious coded messages, which are believed to be the trigger that brings a Japanese submarine into New Zealand’s territory.

His work is interrupted by the arrival of the aforementioned Mr Glossop, a payroll clerk on his rounds whose car mysteriously breaks down. Stranded at the hospital with the payroll, he is forced to take refuge at Mount Seager, leaving the money in the care of the formidable matron. When the money disappears from the safe where she placed it on the night a storm hits and an ill patient dies, Alleyn is called upon to investigate the sinister goings on. The death count quickly rises, leaving Alleyn with more than just espionage to worry about.

Bundled together in an isolated hospital, cut off from the outside world, Mount Seager’s inhabitants, include a group of quarantined soldiers, the hospital’s long-suffering staff, and a number of civilian patients. The group’s personal problems, compounded by the knowledge that there is a criminal in their midst, creates tension and causes havoc with the intrepid Inspector’s investigation.

Much like Jill Paton Walsh’s continuation of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, in Money in the Morgue it is hard to tell where Marsh’s writing ends and Duffy’s begins, which is the sign of a truly great collaboration. Tension is established from the very first paragraph, and the exceptional characterization, coupled with the ever-present shadow of the war that trails through the novel like a specter at the feast, create a truly thrilling novel that is almost impossible to put down.

Personally I believe that Marsh would be proud of what Duffy has created in Money in the Morgue. An undeniable Golden Age crime story, this is one of those novels you will finish and immediately want to restart. There are so many nuances and literary flourishes, as well as nods back to Marsh’s earlier work, that will make you want to keep reading so as not to miss anything.

Clive Allan Interview: “I have also been drawn to stories with a regional or local theme”

Clive Allan

Former Policeman Clive Allan talks me through his work and how he draws on his experience in the force to enhance his atmospheric novels.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and mystery writing?

To answer your first question, I suppose I would really need to go back to my childhood, and the books I read when I was very young. The very British Enid Blyton mysteries, featuring the Famous Five and others, initially come to mind. Then, when I was a little older, the American Hardy Boys series was a favourite of mine. The simple, colloquial writing style employed by the authors of these childhood books made them eminently readable, allowing me to concentrate fully on the plot and characters. Henceforth, my love of mysteries and thrillers was born. In later years I studied English literature at college, and was introduced to Shakespeare, Jane Austen and the like. As impressive as the classics are, I regularly found that interpreting these often complex works and the coded language of their creators, a mystery in their own right!

As an adult, and having chosen a career in the police service, I not surprisingly immersed myself in the works of a wide range of crime fiction and thriller authors, some the megastars of their genre, and some not so well known. Those who impressed me the most, created characters that were gritty and believable, often through clever use of dialogue and imaginative disclosure of their personal lives and life experiences.

I have also been drawn to stories with a regional or local theme, especially those relating to areas I know well. The Brighton based Roy Grace books by Peter James are a notable example. When I started writing, I wanted to take this concept a step further, transporting the reader to a place when they turned the first page, that by the time they had read the last, they never wanted to leave. It was a challenge that I found irresistible and still do.

So, when I retired, after thirty years of policing, I started work on my first novel, The Drumbeater. It was a project that I had long wanted to embark upon and now at last had the time to commit to. It was to be a work that embraced all the elements I have described above, and with a sizeable chunk of historical context, the other great interest that has remained with me since my youth.

How do you draw on your past as a policeman in your writing?

I was lucky enough to experience a wide range of policing activities during my long career with Sussex Police. I worked as a uniformed patrol officer, a detective and a firearms officer, to name but a few. Then, as I worked my way up through the ranks, I experienced these activities from different perspectives, for example, managing significant incidents including those involving firearms, rather than being part of the front-line response. All in all, I developed an oversight of the world of policing that few authors who have not been in my position can ever aspire to. So, when it came to creating the characters of police officers in my books, I’d like to think I fully utilised my experience to ensure they were plausible, engaging and hopefully interesting. The cops featured in my books are creations that relate to one or more real people, incorporating character traits I have come across over many years: straight talking, courageous, cynical and often possessing a wickedly dry sense of humour. Most importantly they need to be human, flaws and all, but not dysfunctional. There are too many of them in the world of crime fiction already!

When it comes to describing police operations, I have tried to depict these and the processes behind them in as realistic a way possible. Having said this, a certain degree of licence is needed to progress the story apace and keep the reader hooked.

Taking all this into account, making my protagonist, Detective Inspector Neil Strachan, a Scottish policeman, presented its own challenges. The policing and legal systems in Scotland differ somewhat to those in England. As such, they have their own distinctive procedural elements and links to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. So, my work was cut out from the start, requiring some considerable research! Thankfully, those Scottish police officers, serving and retired who have read the books, have provided me with very favourable feedback, so much relief all round!

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

My first Novel, The Drumbeater, centres on the sleepy Scottish fishing village of Glendaig. Very little has ever happened there, until one day in 2009, two hillwalkers discover skeletal remains buried on a remote beach. The evidence points to murder, to a crime dating back seventy years to World War Two. From here on in, the story diverges. The narrative follows Detective Inspector Strachan, graduate historian, and now career cop, as he slowly unravels the mystery surrounding the buried bones. Alongside this, the reader is introduced to the residents of Glendaig seventy years earlier, and a tale of subterfuge, escape and astounding loyalty. The two strands of the story finally coalesce, to provide what I hope is a memorable climax.

The Well of the Dead was released last year as a sequel to The Drumbeater. Set in April 2010, the novels centre around the brutal murders of distillery owner, Duncan Fraser, and his wife Laura, which shock the small rural community of Glenruthven in Strathnairn, to the east of Loch Ness. Neil Strachan once more finds himself delving into the past. This time, he and his new partner, Sergeant Holly Anderson, go head to head with a ruthless and violent criminal, apparently obsessed with his Jacobite ancestry.

Again, the story furcates between 1746 and 2010, as Strachan investigates an ancient clan feud and a mystery dating back to the Battle of Culloden. As if this isn’t enough, he also finds himself forced to confront personal problems of his own. His long-term partner, Catriona Duncan, is acting strangely, causing him to suspect that she is having an affair. The young detective’s determination to bring the Frasers’ killer to justice, and to uncover the truth behind his erring partner’s behaviour, test him both personally and professionally. He finally reaches the point where his judgement becomes blurred and his reputation is on the line. I’ll leave it there!

As I have alluded to before, I think the books appeal not only to fans of crime fiction, but to the thriller genre in general. Readers with an interest in Scotland and its turbulent but romantic history, or in the case of The Drumbeater, more recent military history relating to World War Two, will hopefully enjoy these books. But I’ll leave the final word to two of my reviewers who I suppose sum it up from a reader’s perspective.

“There’s so much here for devotees of police procedurals right through to lovers of beautiful Scottish landscapes and, with a sea mist drifting from many of its pages, this book (The Drumbeater) will also find an enthusiastic welcome from those interested in naval history.”   Marcus Case

“Reminded me of holidays spent in the Highlands and made me feel like packing a bag to return there straight away, or at least once I’d read the book right through to the end.”   Caryl Williams

Tell me more about Inspector Neil Strachan. What do you believe attracts readers to your character?

When I set about creating the character of Neil Strachan, I asked myself what sort of cop I wanted him to be. Not surprisingly, plausibility was very much on my mind. One thing was for sure. I didn’t want him to be one of those dysfunctional characters that often feature in detective stories. You know the stereotype, heavy drinker, probably alcoholic, living alone in some seedy flat due to a failed marriage. I could go on. That is not my experience of a modern detective, whatever their rank, in today’s police service. Yes, real cops have their problems and reflect society as a whole, but seldom to the extent portrayed in popular fiction. In fact, I defy anyone to go into a bookshop and find me more than a handful of examples of a police related protagonist who leads a near normal life!

Thankfully there are colourful characters still to be found in CID offices, but senior detectives must also be highly professional these days. They need to be part psychologist, part scientist and part lawyer. Oh, and an old-fashioned copper too, when required! They also need to manage large teams of people, deal effectively with the media and a host of other agencies. That’s a little difficult when your life is all but falling apart! So, Neil Strachan was going to be different, an academic, young in service, and career driven, a modern police manager who relates well to his staff but is certainly no pushover. He is also a red-blooded male, passionate in his beliefs, but not without flaws, and harbouring a touch of youthful immaturity at times.

I suppose he is the amalgam of several ex colleagues, including me, when I was a young detective, struggling to make a name for myself. Overall, I’m pleased with the finished product; Strachan is a nice guy from a generally stable background, masculine in every way, but by no means perfect. It seems to have worked, particularly for one lady reviewer who admitted that she’d developed a crush on him by the time she had finished reading The Drumbeater!

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

The Highlands of Scotland is a magical place, where history and folklore percolate every inch of its desolate and moody landscape. So, who couldn’t be inspired by this gem of a location? The theme of the Neil Strachan mysteries has been to inject aspects of Scotland’s turbulent past into a modern-day crime thriller. So, as far as historical inspiration is concerned, the options are almost endless. Having owned a home in the Highlands for eleven years, I have travelled extensively around the region, and have read widely about its history. There are of course, aspects of this subject that interest me more than others, for example, military history. I was partly inspired to write The Drumbeater, having read about a high security prisoner of war camp in remotest Sutherland, a camp that held the most notorious of all captured German servicemen, including U-boat crews. Historically, no one ever managed to escape whilst incarcerated in Scotland… but what if someone had been successful? I had also read about Operation Drumbeat, a not so well known element of the U-boat war in the Atlantic during 1941-2. So, I asked myself, how could this secret German initiative be woven into the story? The Drumbeater is the result.

Moving on to my second book, the iconic Culloden Battlefield was a short drive from our Highland home, a place my wife and I visited on many occasions. My fascination with the story of the battle and the Jacobite rebellion that led up to it, was quickly piqued. Once again, I read widely about this short conflict and its final, brief, clash of arms. From those stories, some almost lost in the fog of time, The Well of the Dead was born. The well, incidentally, is an actual location in the heart of the battlefield, and the events that took place there in 1746 play a pivotal role in the book’s plot.

Touching briefly on the issue of writer’s block, I have to say I have never personally recognised this as a problem. I do occasionally gaze out across the fields from my study window, seeking the best choice of words to reflect what I want to convey to my readers, but I never struggle with the development of my plot and characters. This is perhaps because I fastidiously pre-plan the progression of the story in skeletal form, chapter by chapter. So, by the time I come to engage in the fun bit… the creative writing… all the historical, technical and plot related elements are already in place. I also raise a detailed background profile of all my major characters, so detailed in fact, I get to know them intimately. Though, much of what I create in these in-depth profiles never finds its way into the finished book!

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

This is a difficult one. There are of course many authors I would aspire to emulate and learn from, but perhaps, if I were pushed, I would seek to collaborate with Scottish author, Peter May. Having read many of his books, particularly those relating to the Isle of Lewis, I believe we would probably see eye to eye when it came to devising a plot! He too, writes thrillers that seek to immerse the reader in the very landscape in which his story is based. He evocatively brings the hebridean scenery to life, with considerable attention to small details and creates characters that are believable and beautifully portrayed. Like my books, specific themes, run through his storylines, some relating to the present day, such as the crisis relating to the global bee population in Coffin Road, and some to the past. An example of the latter would be the mass emigration of Scots following the Highland clearances in Entry Island.

I also enjoy May’s writing style and would refer to my comments in your first question to qualify this view. Here is an author who allows the reader to concentrate on the story and enjoy his descriptive narrative, without the constant need to reach for a dictionary!

I wish I had read his books before embarking upon mine. There is a lot they could’ve taught me, and if I had the chance to work with him, he still could.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

A year has now passed since the publication of The Well of the Dead, during which time I’ve been busy extending and renovating our Georgian cottage. However, I’m now getting the urge to put Neil Strachan through his paces once again and have been laying the foundations of a new mystery that may well feature the remote and mystical island of St Kilda. Watch this space!

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

He may not be a crime writer, but I have recently developed a liking for books by author Leslie Thomas who wonderfully evokes the trials of everyday life in wartime Britain. I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying The Dearest and the Best, a novel based in the New Forest, an area close to our home He’s by no means a new writer when it comes to reputation, but his books are certainly a new addition to my kindle!

When it comes to crime fiction and thrillers, Mark Billingham’s two new DI Thorne novels, Love Like Blood and The Killing Habit are certainly on my “to read” list, as is Panic Room by Robert Goddard, another of my favourite authors.

Of course, it goes without saying, I will be looking forward to Peter May’s next offering, when it comes. I’ve just read his latest book, I’ll Keep You Safe and can honestly say this has been his best Hebridean thriller so far (in my view).

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you so much, Hannah, for inviting me to talk to you about my writing experience to date and my books. It has been my pleasure to contribute to your brilliant site, and to join the host of very talented authors who have been previously featured.

Thanks ever so much for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been awesome. You can read more about his work HERE.