Apologies for the gap between posts, I’ve been away on a well-deserved trip back down to Dorset! Today I’m back with an exciting interview with writer Daniella Bernett, who discusses her thriller writing and how she keeps her readers on the edge of their seats.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and thriller writing?
Mysteries and suspense thrillers are terribly appealing, like a siren call to my soul. It seemed only natural that I when gathered up the courage to write my first novel, it would be a mystery (with a soupçon of romance to make things that much more interesting).
For me, mysteries have always been about the puzzle. I don’t need to know how much blood and guts have been spilled. I want to know why the crime was committed. The author dangles the answer before the reader’s eyes. The clues are like pearls that are strategically dropped here and there. It is the reader’s job to collect and arrange all of them so that they form a necklace. And voilà, the solution miraculously materializes. That’s what I wanted to do.
Specifically, talk me through your upcoming book When Blood Runs Cold. What do you think will draw readers towards it?
I’ve laced When Blood Runs Cold with layers of lies and betrayal. After all, whose interest isn’t piqued by a whisper of scandal and intrigue?
When Blood Runs Cold is about how one can never escape the past. Journalist Emmeline Kirby is reeling from the recent discovery that her parents were murdered while on assignment when she was five years old. She’s determined to find their killer. At the same time, she’s working on a story about the suspicious death of Russian national Pavel Melnikov, a man who tried to double cross Putin and Russian mafia boss Igor Bronowski. Her questions have garnered her a growing number of enemies. Along the way, two men are poisoned to prevent them from exposing these ugly machinations. If this wasn’t enough, Emmeline learns that everything she believed about her life has been a lie and she becomes a murder suspect.
Then there’s Gregory Longdon, her dashing fiancé and jewel thief-cum-insurance investigator, whose past has caught up with him in the form of ruthless entrepreneur Alastair Swanbeck. Swanbeck has ties to the underworld and Putin. He has been waiting years to exact his revenge for Gregory’s meddling in things that should have been left alone. And now, he has found his perfect tool: Emmeline.
To add a bit more tension, I’ve included a Sotheby’s auction of the Blue Angel, a flawless 12-carat blue diamond that men are willing to kill to possess.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?
After I graduated from college with a B.S. in Journalism, in the four months it took me to find employment, I wrote a mystery novel. My first job was as a copywriter at the publisher Penguin USA. One day, I plucked up the courage to show my book to one of the editors. She actually read it. She told me that it was better than what she usually sees from debut authors. However, she said that I should think more in terms of a series. I tried revising the book and submitted it to several agents, who all rejected it. Thus, I chalked it up to a good exercise. But I didn’t forget the editor’s advice. The kernel of the idea for my Emmeline Kirby and Gregory Longdon series slowly started swirling around in the back of my mind, until one day when all pieces fell into place and Lead Me Into Danger, Book 1, came to life on the printed page.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
Inspiration is derived from all sorts of sources. It could be a newspaper article; a snippet of overheard conversation; a real-life crime, or a dream. I get a lot of ideas from the sights and sounds of a city or an area that has made a strong impression on me. You’re either going to laugh or you’re going to run very quickly in the opposite direction, but oftentimes I come across a place and think, “Wouldn’t this be the perfect setting to find a dead body?”
For me, setting is an important character all its own, one that helps to establish the tone and propels my stories. ’ve been an Anglophile since I was a little kid, so naturally my characters had to be British and London had to figure prominently in my books. I also adore Venice. That enchanted city’s history of intrigues was simply begging to be featured in Lead Me Into Danger, where Emmeline and Gregory become ensnared in a hunt for a Russian spy in the British Foreign Office.
In terms of Deadly Legacy, Book 2, what set the story in motion in my mind was the 2003 heist at the Antwerp Diamond Centre. A group of Italian thieves stole $100 million in diamonds, gold, and other jewellery. Only one man was caught. The diamonds were never found. This captivated my imagination. From Beyond The Grave, Book 3, focuses on Emmeline and Gregory’s rekindled relationship. His recent resurfacing has thrown her safe world into turmoil. Therefore, I wanted to take them outside of London, where they wouldn’t be distracted by daily routines. I selected Torquay along the English Riviera in Devon because I love the sea. Gently lapping tides, a rugged coastline, romantic sunsets, and murder. A Checkered Past, Book 4, is back in London and deals with a looted Nazi painting, an IRA collaborator and, alas, a murder or two. I am passionate about the issue of looted Nazi art, as everyone should be about injustice.
In term’s of writer’s block, what I usually do is scream. No, not really. In my head, yes; out loud, no. Seriously, I sit for a bit going over the last paragraph I wrote hoping for a new burst of energy. A strong cup of tea often stimulates my brain cells. But when the muse utterly fails me, I turn off my laptop and step away to allow the plot to steep in my mind overnight. This is usually the best medicine. The next day, I come back renewed and refreshed with a different perspective. And what do you know? The words begin to flow once again.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
Agatha Christie. There are so many things I admire about the grande dame of mystery. She was truly a master at her craft. What I love the most is that Christie conceived such deliciously wicked and ingenious plots that appeal to the reader’s intellect. Jealousy, love, and greed are the primary motives for murder. Christie took these motives threw them into a pot, swirled them about, and in each book conjured up a new way to explore these emotions. Her stories endure to this day because of her astute insight into human nature and all its foibles.
I would like readers to be talking about my books long after I’m dead. I try to leave readers wanting more, like Christie did with such consummate skill. I hope I’m succeeding.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Old Sins Never Die, Book 6, will be released in fall 2020. I’m currently working on Book 7. As you can see, Emmeline and Gregory are always dragging me off on another adventure.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
My to-be-read list never dwindles, but off the top of my head these are some of the books I’m looking forward to: Summer Country by Lauren Willig; Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen; Northing Ventured by Jeffrey Archer; The Other Woman by Daniel Silva; Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini; Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
People often ask me why I chose a journalist and a jewel thief as my protagonists. A journalist is inherently curious about many subjects. His or her job is to ask questions to uncover the truth and ensure transparency. Naturally, a journalist would be intrigued by crime, especially murder. The determination to find answers and see that justice is served are all important.
Now, how does a jewel thief fit into the model of a sleuth? Aren’t lying and evading the law a thief’s modus operandi? Isn’t this in stark contrast to a journalist’s reverence for the truth and justice? Most definitely. That’s exactly the point. A portrait in contrasts. Who better than someone on the wrong side of the law to discern the twisted workings of a fellow criminal’s mind? A thief immediately recognizes things that the honest person would never even contemplate. In Gregory’s case, he has a certain code of honor. Murder is an offensive transgression, a line that should never be crossed. Thus, I have two diametrically opposed sleuths who are of one mind when it comes to the taking of a human life: the culprit must pay for the crime; otherwise chaos would reign in the world.
My website is http://www.daniellabernett.com/. You can follow me on Facebook and Goodreads.
Thanks to Daniella for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been great.