Another awesome interview for you today as I chat to Alison O’Leary about her novel Street Cat Blues.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?
Like most writers, my writing style has evolved over time so that some of my early efforts are completely unlike anything that I might produce now – thank goodness! Looking back at things that I wrote a number of years ago, they seem quite cringe making, but I think that’s all part of the learning process.
I discovered crime fiction via Agatha Christie when I was about twelve and was totally drawn in to the world that she created. I had nothing in common with it (and let’s be honest, who did?) but I found it totally fascinating. I guess it was a form of escapism but none the worse for that. From Agatha I progressed to writers such as P D James and Ruth Rendell and have enjoyed crime fiction ever since.
As well as being very fond of crime fiction, I am also interested in true crime. Of all the crimes, murder is the big one and I was always interested in how very ordinary some murderers are and sometimes how trivial their motive.
What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing crime fiction?
I always knew that I wanted to write but, of course, like everybody else, I had to earn a living. I taught law for a number of years but in the background I was always scribbling away. I had more than my share of rejections and learned, like many writers, to live with it. As time went on I began to attract some interest from agents and publishers, which at least told me that I wasn’t completely wasting my time.
It finally dawned on me that the key to success is persistence. I think that some potentially very good writers give up too early. Of course, there are always the stories of the lucky few who land a massive publishing deal plus film rights first time round but that kind of scenario is rare. For most of us it’s a question of keeping on keeping on. And, of course, in the digital age there are increasing opportunities to see your work in print. Apart from the possibility of self-publishing (which has been made much easier now) there are also quite a few smaller independent presses who may be willing to take a chance on a new author because they publish eBooks.
I’m a law graduate and studied Criminology as part of my degree. I also later taught it so I guess I kind of knew that crime was always going to be my genre.
Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?
Without wishing to sound too pretentious, inspiration can come from anywhere – it could be a news story or an overheard conversation. Sometimes it comes from real cases. I always keep a notebook or scrap of paper handy because sometimes a plot development or an idea for a character can suddenly come to me at odd moments; on a train for instance or even sometimes in a meeting when I’m supposed to be concentrating on something else! However, I suspect that, in common with many writers, if I waited until I was in the mood for writing I doubt I’d get much done! The thing about writing is that you just have to do it, whether you feel like it or not. But the joy of it is, once you’ve made yourself sit down at your desk and stop surfing the internet or sending text messages, the thing takes over and you find yourself immersed in the story again.
What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?
I like murder mysteries and also psychological thrillers but I’m not keen on too much blood and gore. I’m also probably not a great fan of police procedurals, but having said that, if they’re done well then they can be a great read. These days I think a lot of books cross genres so a romance might also have a crime within it. I’m also a bit of a fan of non-fiction, particularly biographies and autobiographies. I guess when all’s said and done; a good book is a good book, irrespective of genre.
If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
Although he’s not a crime writer, one of my favourite all-time authors is P G Wodehouse but I’m not sure we’d get much work done. I think we’d be wasting too much time laughing. He wrote such perfect prose that always seemed to exactly capture the mood. One of my favourites is when he describes his aunt Agatha as having the demeanour of one who, picking daises on the railway, has just caught the down express in the small of the back.
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I’m currently working on the sequel to Street Cat Blues and I’m pleased at the way some of the old characters are interacting with the new ones. It’s in the early stages so I’m not sure yet where it’s going to take me – the ideas are coming thick and fast.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?
I do read things other than crime and have recently discovered Lisa Jewell. I really admire her ability to tie the characters in so well with the plot. I also enjoy Erin Kelly and Claire Mackintosh.
Many thanks for answering my questions- I always love hearing from an Agatha Christie Fan!