For my final interview of January 2021, I speak to Tess Makovesky about her crime fiction writing and how it’s evolved over the years.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards thriller and mystery writing?
I’ve always loved crime fiction. My grandmother had a stash of it in a cupboard under her dressing table, which introduced me to the likes of Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers at a young age, and I also loved gritty TV series like The Professionals. When I started writing, those influences, plus a natural tendency towards gallows humour, seemed to steer me towards gritty but also darkly comic work. I like to focus on the psychology of human behaviour and what makes people make the choices they do, even if those choices lead to disaster. And my short, sharp, even breathless style seems to suit thrillers and comedy noir.
What is your career background and how did you become a published writer?
I don’t know that I’ve ever had a “career background” as such but I did have a whole series of jobs to pay the bills. All I ever really wanted was to be a writer, though, and I’m so lucky my dream has come true. I wrote under another pen name for many years, and when I started to write crime fiction as Tess I had a lot of short stories published in magazines and anthologies. However, when it comes to having books published, I’m very much indebted to the Crime & Publishment writing courses organised by fellow crime writer Graham Smith. I attended one a few years ago and met Darren Laws, the head of publishing company Caffeine Nights, who expressed interest in my books. He rejected the first novella I submitted but accepted my second offering which went on to become Raise the Blade. Since then, my darkly comic novel Gravy Train has been published by All Due Respect and I have at least one other book in the works.
Tell me all about your books. What was your inspiration?
I have two main sources of inspiration for my crime books: the city of Birmingham (the original one in the UK), and the occasional, wonderfully macabre news items that float to the surface in the local press. In the case of Raise the Blade, this involved a body being fished out of one of the city’s many canals (it famously has more miles of canal than Venice). A conversation with Graham Smith (again) also helped to crystallise the idea of a series of murders, all linked in some way and all leading back to the murderer. Gravy Train was inspired by another news headline, this time of someone finding a bag of money in a different bit of the canal. I also wanted to emulate the format of the movie La Ronde, which I’ve read about but never actually seen. In the movie, ten separate stories are linked as each one features a character from the previous scene. I used a similar format to weave together a whole series of apparently disparate characters, all of them chasing around the city streets after the same bag of money!
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I’ve collaborated with many authors on anthologies and on running an online magazine (under my other pen name). However, I think I’d struggle to write an entire book with another author because I’m quite possessive about my work – I suspect there would be blood shed at the end of the day! Although I’ve always fancied doing one of those ‛round robin’ type stories, where one person writes a sentence or scene and you have to continue it. That always sounds like fun.
What books do you read yourself and how do they inspire you?
To be honest I’ll read almost anything as long as it’s well written, with engaging but realistic characters and a good or interesting plot. In terms of crime fiction that means well-known names like Peter May and Ann Cleeves, but also relative unknowns such as Joel Lane. I like to think I learn something about the art of writing from every book I read, whether it’s about pacing or using sentence structure to enhance tension, or even just about what makes a ‛good story’.
What does the future have in store for you? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?
Like many other people I’ve struggled to cope with the pandemic. So far I’ve been relatively lucky in terms of the immediate impact on me, but I’ve found it really hard to read, watch, or write about crime for most of the year and that doesn’t look like changing any time soon. I managed to write one short noir story last year, and have been working on and off (but mostly off) on edits of my next book, a blackly comic noir with a working title of Embers of Bridges, which is set around (and even in) the canals of Birmingham. If we start getting some better news I’ll hopefully find myself in a happy enough place to finish that and if so, then I’d like to self-publish it at some point during the year. So hopefully my readers can look forward to that, but obviously I can’t make any promises while this virus is still raging.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to, moving forward?
At the last count, Crime & Publishment had helped launch the careers of nine different writers including Amit Dhand, Mike Craven, Lucy Cameron, Les Morris, Graham Smith, Sharon Bairden, Noelle Holton, and Angela King. They’re all fantastic writers and I’m really looking forward to more great books by all of them in the months and years ahead. I’ve also just discovered the Elsie and Ethelred series by L C Tyler and would love to read more of those.
Anything you’d like to add?
First of all, many thanks to Hannah for letting me witter on about myself to this extent. Second, if anyone’s interest has been piqued, you can find out more about my books, stories and works in progress at my website, www.tessmakovesky.com. Thanks for listening!
Huge thanks to Tess for answering my questions; it’s been amazing to hear from you!