Patricia McDonald Interview: “My approach is to firstly visualise myself as each character”

Pat McDonald

In my first interview for 2018 I spoke to Patricia McDonald about her work and the influences behind it.

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

After many years of writing formally and academically, I found the crossover into fiction required a loosening of my prose style into a more informal one. My approach is to firstly visualise myself as each character, how they would act, think, talk and relate to each other. Writing a book is similar to reading one; if you can’t see or hear the character then it is impossible to read the story they are involved in. It’s the author’s job to talk to the reader and a great compliment when a reader tells you they liked the ‘inner voice’. Writing style is as much about format and presentation and in this I like to experiment a little, otherwise one book is much the same as another. My humour series (The Penny Series) is written as the thoughts of Benjamin Matthews my anti-hero and to write the book from his view point came out of a need to keep a sense of humour whilst recovering from my first brain tumour operation. To have a male humour author write ‘Pat speaks fluent bloke’ was a superb compliment.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

My career as a Social Scientist took me into research in health care including medical (heart disease), mental illness (working in an old Asylum) and mental handicap and latterly many years with the police. I went back to writing fiction when I found myself one of the first casualties of the cuts in policing budgets after seventeen years of service as a project and programme manager. I began where I left off and approached my writing career like any other programme of work, and since crime, criminals and policing was then the biggest part of my world, I sat down and began my first book Getting Even!

Please tell me about your books. What defines your writing style?

My first books are: The Blue Woods trilogy: Getting Even; Revenge is best served cold; Rogue Seed and Boxed Off. These were meant to be my one crime book. The truth is I had a real difficulty in ending stories and the first book (662 pages!!) had to be carried on to the next as ideas flowed fast. I created all three as a book in its own right, centring on characters Luc Wariner and Addie Carter of a Major Crime Unit. I believe my main writing style is characterisation; it is certainly something I admire about other writers. I try to make them real believable people, who have real lives and this aspect of writing is important to me, the crime and investigation, and police procedures are secondary. I believe that is true for both police personnel and even for criminals, neither of them defining themselves by solving crimes or committing them, these are incidental to their lives. I have been described as gritty, but I prefer realistic with an edge.

Later and more recently I have moved on to explore paranormal themes (Breaking Free and Echoes of Doubt) and humour (A Penny for Them, The Penny Drops, and A Bad Penny – coming soon), whilst still maintaining the crime genre.

I have just begun The Ravages of Time which brings an asylum theme into a modern day detective story. I like to explore how peoples’ past lives influence their present day choices rather than write a story in a vacuum of their current lives.
Pat McDonald Books

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I describe myself as a ‘free flow’ writer; I sit in front of a blank page or screen and begin to write. I do not plan my stories; they evolve, as do my characters and what happens to them. In this respect I have to read and reread for continuity and unresolved issues. I like to intersperse ‘back story’ in italics to enhance the main story or develop the character.

I use the title of my books as a theme that runs throughout, usually relating to most or all the characters, whilst the main crime story plays out around them. For example, Breaking Free is about Livia’s attempt to break from her past, one which she has blocked off certain parts of. In so doing she finds an old chest in the attic of a house she as just bought, it contains the journals of a WW1 woman with a similar name and the telephone calls she is getting at 03.33 asking her to help the plaintive voice, sets her off on a quest to set someone else free; being stalked herself reminds the reader of her needs in Breaking Free.

I also try to leave certain things open for the reader’s own imagination to ponder on or may even want to reconnect if it’s a series.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I read anything and everything (within reason). As a child I read the children’s section of my local library and was granted permission to move up to the adult section (supervised choice) before the appropriate age. I read a large number of classic authors, joined a book club and bought as many as I could, mostly thrillers, psychological thrillers, historical fiction etc. I think that makes me a bibliophile (together with the number of lode bearing book cases around my entire house!)

Since social networking/connecting with so many authors I read/review a variety that catches my eye and some that are particularly good i.e. Gary Dolman, Ian Hutson, Aaron David, J.P McLean and numerous others. I believe you have to read to be able to write as some have influenced me greatly. Without Aaron David and Ian Hutson’s brilliantly funny work I would never have attempted humour, I found it encouraged me in that direction. And being a ‘free flow’ writer I get triggers from other people I meet and writer’s work, that isn’t their plots, maybe just a word that reminds me of some experience that leads me on to write something new or something within the book I’m currently writing.

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

I have collaborated on writing books academically and know it’s the hardest thing to do (at least for me). I wouldn’t want to on fiction and I’m afraid I don’t understand how people can take other author’s well-established characters and continue the story. I suppose it could be seen as a compliment to Jane Austin or Emily Bronte and I may have wished I’d written something superb that other people have written, but I just don’t understand why anyone would want to write in another person’s style.

Collaboration to me is like taking a jigsaw puzzle and splitting the pieces in two, the picture created may never resemble anything like each of you imagined.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I have just published Echoes of Doubt (a month ago), which takes a character, Bart Bridges, who dropped out of Boxed Off where he entered the Witness Protection Programme. As Cyrus Bartholomew, ex PI, he has become the clock maker in his shop Time and Tide, in an unremarkable seaside town where he has been living for two years. Feeling safe from his adversaries he begins to doubt his own safety when the old gentleman next door in the art gallery is found violently murdered in his bed.

My book A Bad Penny (third in the Penny series) is about to go into the publishing process. I have come to like to have two books in progress at the same time, one serious and one amusing. So I have The Ravages of Time and also just begun Pennies from Heaven, both to keep me focussed as I am suffering from the side effects of the Gamma Knife surgery I had a few months ago for a returning brain tumour and writing and editing helps me to accommodate them.

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

I always have a few books ready and waiting to read now I have submitted to this Kindle thing which came free on my last telephone upgrade, that isn’t to say I don’t buy other people’s books, I always do even if I’m given an advanced copy.

I await with bated breath for Gary Dolman’s book about, Grace Darling, English lighthouse keeper (who I believe he is related to down the years), for J P McLean’s next book in The Gift series, for Aaron David’s sequel to The Tale of the Ancient Marina (‘All the loft insulation you can eat’), for Ian Hutson’s ‘dog with the Bakelite nose’ to join his ‘cat with electric goggles’, newcomer to my world Michael Spinelli to follow up on WAKE (a story that stopped me from eating until I had finished it! I can afford the weight loss) and so many more talented authors.

Anything you’d like to add?

A message to all writers, beginner writers and anyone who aspires to write – just do it, write all those ideas in your head down and forget about trying to conform to someone else’s idea of how you should do it. You may never be a Shakespeare, an Agatha Christie or a Stephen King; you may actually excite the reading world by just being YOU. Everyone has a story to tell.

Many thanks to Pat for taking the time to answer my questions; you can learn more about her work HERE.



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