Today I interview Trish Finnegan about her debut novel, Blue Bird, and how she came to create it.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.
I’m not sure I have ever defined it. I just write and it comes out as it is. If I look back on earlier writing I did, I can see a difference but it wasn’t deliberate. Now, my writing is “tighter”. By that I mean I try not to write anything that is not relevant to the story. Even stuff that seems irrelevant in the start will be somehow connected to the end. When I’m editing, I cut thousands of words from the work and save them in an offcuts folder. Recycle, recycle. They might be useful in another piece of work.
In first person, I like to write as I would speak, without many of the ums and ahs. That doesn’t mean that Blue Bird is a memoir, it definitely isn’t. Samantha is not me.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?
I was a police officer in the 70s and 80s. I left when I had my family (1 girl, 2 boys. No part time working for policewomen in our force in those days). I retrained as a medical secretary. Then my daughter developed serious health problems and I needed to be home, but I also needed to earn, so I became a registered child minder. Once my youngest went to high school, I returned to the police as a civilian, working in the control room.
My husband was also a police officer, reaching the rank of superintendent. When he completed his service in 2006, we started our own business. Now my husband freelances part time and I write and wrangle grandchildren.
I have always enjoyed writing; I just didn’t always have time for it. I wrote my own little stories for my children. Sometimes writing was an escape from reality for me.
I didn’t plan to get into writing professionally. Blue Bird had been buzzing about in my mind for years. When I found I had more time, I started to attend writers’ events, especially those in Winchester and York. I got to speak to agents and book doctors. As my skill developed, I worked on Blue Bird and received a lot of advice. One piece of advice was that in its early form, Blue Bird straddled genres. To make it work I had to decide if it was a crime or a romance or something else. I looked hard at it and I realised that it had become quite dark in places. I lost some characters and rewrote it again (and again), concentrating on crime.
Initially, I got a lot of rejections. You need a thick skin to be a writer. Then I found Si and Pete at Burning Chair and, as they say, the rest is history. Even if you have a decent novel, finding an agent or a publisher is the hard part, but when you do find one, life is good.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
I find inspiration everywhere and anywhere. I might see something on the news or in the paper and I start thinking about how I would handle it, or, if it is crime related, how it would have been handled differently when I was a police officer. Policing has changed a lot over the years. This “what if” thinking often triggers an idea, which I might or might not use.
I tend not to get writers’ block. If anything, I have the opposite problem. I get so many ideas I’m sometimes undecided on which one to run with. When that happens, I leave the piece I’m working on and do something else. When I go back, I usually find that I have settled on a solution.
When I was writing Blue Bird, I did think back to my days in policing a lot. I had become irritated by the number of protagonists that were high-ranking male officers. I thought back to my days as a young, naïve, bobby who had joined the cadets straight from an all-girl school. Learning the job while trying to find my feet in a male environment, and seeing things I never expected, or wanted, to see. It’s only as I looked back I could appreciate some of the incredible things I did.
This inspired me to make my protagonist a female recruit, with a traumatic past. In the early versions, Sam was a bit childish, so I strengthened her character until she told me what she wanted to be. Sometimes the character takes over and I love it when that happens. Sam is now damaged, but strong and is working on her issues. Also she has developed slight maverick tendencies.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
Ian Rankin, because he is the boss. I love his Rebus series and I love his writing. When I read my first Rebus book, I didn’t like the character very much. I felt that if Rebus and I had worked together, we probably wouldn’t have been friends. Then I started to feel a bit sorry for the paedophile character! Now that is great writing. To take control of a reader’s feelings and turn them upside down is incredible.
I would love to see what Ian Rankin would make of my characters. I would enjoy a novel where Siobhan, Rebus’s sidekick who is now a DI, gets to work with a young recruit like Samantha.
I have to say that as I worked through the series, Rebus grew on me. Now I can’t wait for Ian Rankin’s next book.
What books and authors do you read yourself and how do they influence your writing?
Ian Rankin, obviously. I also enjoy Noelle Holten who writes The Maggie Jamieson series. Also Graham Smith, who is a prolific writer. He also writes as John Ryder. I also enjoyed Neil Lancaster’s Tom Novak series.
Sometimes I take a break from crime and I have enjoyed reading the Chronicles of St Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor. It’s hard to explain those books. They’re about an organisation of disaster-magnet historians. They study historical events in contemporary time. Yes, time travel, but they don’t call it that. It’s a little bit sci-fi and a little bit historical and a good read.
I don’t consciously emulate other writers so I couldn’t say how they influence my writing. The nearest I can think of is that Ian Rankin has Rebus aging as the series progresses. Sam will progress in her service as my series goes on. I didn’t deliberately copy Ian Rankin, but I thought it would be daft to have Sam as a perennial recruit getting into adventures. Life isn’t like that so she has to mature.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I’m working on the sequel to Blue Bird which should be ready next year. I’m also writing ideas for the third and fourth books in the series. Most exciting at the moment is our new grandchild that is due in early March 2021.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?
Noelle Holten’s latest Maggie Jamieson book is due out 16th October, the day after Blue Bird. I’m looking forward to reading that. Also, there’s another Jodi Taylor book due out in early 2021 that I want to read.
Do you have anything to add?
Enjoy your writing. Don’t make the mistake of changing your work in progress to suit individuals. At first I was like a pendulum, swinging back and forth with every bit of feedback. Then I realised that I was never going to please everyone. I decided that if I had one or two criticisms, that was fine. However, if I got a lot of feedback that a character or chapter was a problem, then it was a problem that should be addressed.
So, write what makes you happy, what fires your passion. Someone out there will like it; you just have to find them.
Thank you for this interview. I have enjoyed answering your questions.
Huge thanks to Trish for answering my questions. You can find out more about her book HERE.