As a massive Henning Mankell fan I was delighted to see his name appear as an inspiration for Tara Collins, the author of the bestselling Inspector Jim Carruthers series. She talks to me about her work and how she created such an engaging character that appeals to so many readers.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?
The first crime fiction book I ever read was Peter Robinson’s In a Dry Season, about thirteen years ago. The blurb on the back hooked me and when I read the novel I was spellbound. The books are set in Yorkshire and I particularly loved Peter’s wonderful sense of place. When I decided to turn my hand to writing crime fiction myself I knew I wanted to create a series with a strong cast of characters and an interesting setting. I base my own novels in the East Neuk of Fife, which is a beautiful area of Scotland.
What is your career background and how did you get into writing?
I don’t write full time. I still have the day job and I fit the writing around that unless I’m on a final edit of a book and then I’ll take time off work. I’m a Massage Therapist by trade, which I love, but my original background is in philosophy.
Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe the Inspector Jim Carruthers series is so popular?
I’m delighted to say that my debut novel, Robbing the Dead, published February 2017, became an Amazon No 1 bestseller for Scottish Crime Fiction and the follow up, Care to Die, became a Top 10 bestseller. Both books were published by Bloodhound Books in 2017. They have been described as ‘fast paced with interesting storylines’ but it’s the characters and the setting that readers really seem to like.
My two main protagonists are Detective Inspector Jim Carruthers and DS Andrea Fletcher. When we meet Carruthers he’s a DCI, but he’s struggling both on a professional and personal level with the return of his old adversary, Alistair McGhee, whom he blames for his marriage break up. I won’t say any more than that. Fletcher seems to be settling in to her role as DS just fine until she receives some shocking news…
As I said the Inspector Carruthers mysteries are set in the East Neuk of Fife, which is an area close to my heart. My fictional setting is a place called Castletown, which is closely modelled on St Andrews. I did toy with the idea of keeping the town as St Andrews but realised early on that I needed to grow the town so it ended up becoming fictionalised. Anyone familiar with St Andrews will definitely recognise it in Castletown though. There’s something really powerful in crime fiction about having a strong sense of place, isn’t there and I think Fife makes a wonderful setting for my series.
What defines your writing style? Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?
That’s such an interesting question. I use fairly short sentences, which make for a faster read and shorter chapters as I near the end of the book. I use weather to enhance the mood. I’m on to Book 4 now and I’ve noticed that every book I write always starts with a suspicious death from the outset, which hooks the reader. That was originally unintentional but it seems to work so I’ve kept it and it’s become one of my writing devices.
What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?
I only read crime fiction at the moment so anything I can get my hands on really. One thing I don’t enjoy is gratuitous violence so I do tend to shy away from that. I’ve started reading the Icelandic crime writers and particularly enjoy the work of Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Ragnar Jonasson. I love the way the weather informs his writing in his Ari Thor series. I’m also looking forward to getting my hands on Snare by Lilja Sigurdardottir. I also love Peter May, Ann Cleeves and Henning Mankell.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
Ooh, that’s a good question. I’ve met Peter Robinson several times at different writing workshops. In fact I spent a week at the University of Tallinn with him while he was researching his latest novel, Watching the Dark, a few years ago. He was the tutor of the creative writing course I was on. Do you know he’s as good a tutor as he is a writer? As I love the DCI Banks series so much and he was nice enough to give me a review for my second book, Care to Die, which he said he really enjoyed, I think he’d have to be my writing partner.
Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?
Yes, I have my third book in the Inspector Carruthers series being published on 24th April 2018. It’s called Mark of the Devil. I had to do a lot of research on both international art crime and wildlife crime, which was fascinating. I’ve also started writing book 4. I had a strong idea in my head of the plot for book 4 but the storyline and characters are leading me in a completely different direction, so I’m just seeing where that takes me. I’m not a plotter at all so writing is always an adventure, albeit at times a rather nerve wracking one!
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the New Year?
I’m looking forward to reading Ian Skewis’ next book. I loved his debut novel, A Murder of Crows. I’ve just finished Jackie McLean’s second novel, Shadow. That was really good too. There are so many books I’m looking forward to reading including novels by Amanda Fleet; Gail Williams; LJ Ross; Marsali Taylor; Jackie Baldwin and Claire McLeary. In fact I’ve just started Claire’s debut novel, Cross Purpose. The list is never ending.
Anything you’d like to add?
I would just like to take the time to thank you, Hannah, for interviewing me for your blog. It’s been really lovely having the opportunity to talk about my books and other writers I admire. Can I also just say, as writers, how grateful we are to our bloggers?
Thanks for taking the time, it has been great hearing from you.