Paul Asling Interview: “I think my life in London and my background have influenced my fiction the most”

London crime and romance writer Paul Asling shares a unique insight into his work and why he’s deeply passionate about the UK’s bustling capital city.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and mystery writing?

Good question. I think my writing style has slowly developed over many years. I have read many true-life crime books, along with fictional crime novels and short stories. I try to get a balance between the two in my writing.

I have always enjoyed reading crime fiction, and I thought, as I had the time, I would try my hand at writing a crime fiction novel. It was not a simple task, and it took a lot longer than I thought, but the result was my first book, Love You Till I Die.

What attracts me to crime fiction is I can use gritty imagery to deal with the most dangerous situations that people can find themselves in. It also allows me to enjoy writing about the complexity of people, as well as giving me the chance to explore both the good and bad aspects of my different characters.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

My background is varied. I started off working in the West End of London as an apprentice Gas Fitter in the 60s and then as a London Taxi Driver in the 70s. I had a complete career change in the 80s when I got into management and then joined the legal profession. 

I think my life in London and my background have influenced my fiction the most. I started off by writing short stories about situations I’d encountered in my life growing up in London, and its characters I’d met on the way. I think this has given my writing an added layer of depth and grit.

What is it about London that makes the city such a central part of your books?

I think London is one of the most exciting and inspiring cities in the world. Day and night, it’s filled with its own smells, tastes and sounds. The city is full of extraordinary history, vitality and diversity. It also displays a remarkably rich and varied tapestry of local characters. Probably the best piece of advice I was given when I started writing was, ‘write about what you know’. And I know London inside out.

What books do you enjoy reading, and how do they influence your work?

Any work from Tony Parsons or Sebastian Faulks. I’m also a big fan of Geoffrey Household novels. I think my biggest influence would be Geoffrey Household and his descriptions of people and places.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

With writer’s block, my list of ideas outweighs the number of stories I complete, or even start. I revisit my old notebooks whenever I’m at a loss for an idea.

For me, inspiration for writing is easy. Mainly it is listening to conversations of friends I have grown up with. I attended a school in Fulham, West London (in the 60s, when is wasn’t posh) to say it was rough would be an understatement- we had our own coroner. And my first job as a teenager was a tail gunner on a milk float. The area has certainly changed from the days I was living there.

A week ago, myself and five old friends met up in a pub in Chichester. During the four-hour period, we were there enough material came out for another ten books!


I’m fascinated by people’s motivations, especially when they seem illogical. Dark, gritty stories allow me to explore what drives people. I also think my experiences of being an ex-boxer, and the various jobs I’ve had in my life, have helped me build the characters in my books.

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

I think for me it would be Tony Parsons. If ever a man wears his heart on his sleeve, it’s him. Coming from a working-class family, as I did myself, he shows what can be done. 

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My last book, The Carters’ was published three months ago. I have started another book, but over the next year my plan is to write some short stories alongside the new book.  

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

Any new work from Tony Parsons, Sebastian Faulks, or John Grisham.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank you, Hannah, for allowing me space on your fantastic blog.My books can be found at: https://amzn.to/3itO0nF

Thanks to Paul for answering my questions, it’s incredible to hear your thoughts and learn more about your work.

Michele Rodriguez Interview: “I see fiction writing as a soul cleansing process that can give voices to the previously voiceless”

In today’s interview I’m speaking to Michele Rodriguez, author of the CPS crime fiction series.

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

My writing style is much like any of my writings in that it is a work in progress.  My focus on developing a crime series came out of a direct desire to share the perspectives and stories of child protective services (CPS).  When working as a caseworker for my state’s CPS, I often felt that it was awe inspiring how little the public knew about the process or the atrocities.  I wanted to investigate both the families’ perspectives and the CPS workers’ perspectives in order to garner understanding, support and reform for CPS.  These are lofty goals but most of my writing originates from a push to understand, explore and share.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

My background is in non-profits, social work and teaching.  I began and ran my own non-profit to promote empathy and compassion through action—youth volunteerism.  I then worked at a child advocacy non-profit for children in foster care, followed by work at a women’s homeless shelter and then as a caseworker for child protective services. Most recently, I joined Teach for America and taught English Language Arts at a middle school in Camden, NJ.  A motley background. 

These career choices unknowingly pushed me forward to writing professionally as the number of intense stories I was collecting in my mind’s database was too much to bear.  I felt compelled to write.  I draw on my personal experiences through my work to influence everything in my writing including character traits and behaviours, settings, and recurring themes.  I see fiction writing as a soul cleansing process that can give voices to the previously voiceless.

How do you draw on your work as a social worker to create your series?

My work as a CPS social worker is directly correlated to my creation of the CPS series, obviously.  I enjoy intertwining the reality of the processes that take place from a CPS caseworker perspective in the series.  This includes both the good and the bad as there is an overwhelming amount of both in practice.  This is also an unexplored area in literature which has made the writing of the series important to me.

Talk to me about your books. What do you think draws readers to them?

My books within the CPS series are equal parts crime and thriller/horror.  A reader knows upon picking one up that they will be reading about an actual atrocity that happened to a child.  Every book in the series is a fictional account of an actual child protective services’ case that has ended in tragedy and press headlines.  I think readers are drawn to this format because, like me, they want to understand how it could happen. 

There are overarching questions that I address—why couldn’t society protect our most vulnerable children from such horrific crimes?  Who is at fault?  Are there things that can be done that would change future outcomes?  Are there actually heroes and villains?

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

The CPS series is easy to write.  Well, that may be an unfair assessment as easy is not the best descriptor.  I’d say, the basis for the story has already been hashed out in the press, so it is easier to write than my works of literary fiction that were inspired from within.  I can write character descriptions, motives and actions quickly, allowing me more time with the plot and setting.  As such, I have not had any writer’s block as I’ve fully researched all available media on the incident prior.  I pull it back up often during the process to reflect, but that’s about it.  In this way, inspiration is overflowing and relentless which comes with its own set of issues.

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

This is an interesting question.  I would like to work with John Steinbeck on a second novel that picks up where Grapes of Wrath left off.  When reading this book with my son, I found that much of what was written applies currently.  I was struck with this desire to ask Mr. Steinbeck what he thinks about the condition of the world today.  His book ends with a homeless mother breastfeeding a dying man during the dust bowl in the United States.  There is no happy ending, only lessons to be learned.  I worry that we have yet to learn these lessons and think this needs new exploration through writing.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

The CPS series is my focus right now and I continue to be excited about it.  I hope to release the first book, CPS: Headless, officially in March of 2021.  Until then, I continue to refine and work, refine and work. 

I was told that I must establish an online presence and am new to the online writing world entirely.  Navigating this is also exciting and overwhelming.  With that in mind here’s some of my details if you wish to follow me: Twitter @CPS_Author, website @ michelerodriguez.net, Facebook @ AuthorMicheleRodriguez, Patreon @MicheleRodriguez.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Since the pandemic in March led to school closing in New Jersey where I live, I have been reading books with my fourteen-year-old son.  This has been a brilliant and bonding experience for us.  Over the summer we completed Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, Night by Elie Wiesel, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  We are currently muddling through J.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  As such, I have put off reading or anticipating new books or modern writers.  The silver lining here is that I have a lot of good reading to anticipate in the future!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for this opportunity. 

Massive thanks to Michele for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to learn more about your amazing work. 

Nicola Cornick Interview: “Bias in historical reporting has always fascinated me”

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As a fan of novels with strong female protagonists, I’m proud to share my interview with Nicola Cornick, whose work focuses on pioneering, innovative women in history.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. Why did you choose to write historical fiction?

Thank you very much for inviting me to your blog today. It wasn’t a conscious choice to write historical fiction. I started writing when I was a child and simply told the stories that I was interested in. As I loved history, all of these were historical! Now that I write timeslip fiction I do have to write a contemporary thread in my novels as well and although I hope I have improved at this, it doesn’t feel instinctive like it does to write a historical setting.

What is it about strong female historical figures that interests you and why do you choose them as the subject of much of your work?

As part of my studies for my Public History MA I looked at those people whose history had either not been recorded at all or was recorded from someone else’s perspective. Bias in historical reporting has always fascinated me, whether it’s the victor’s account of a battle or a monk’s perspective on a specific historical woman, for example. At the same time, I was working at Ashdown House as a researcher for the National Trust and became interested in the story of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia. So much of the writing about Elizabeth portrays her as a stereotypical beautiful princess, a damsel in distress, and she actually used this propaganda herself to gain support, so in part that’s not surprising. However, I also found that most writers dismissed her cultural and political achievements completely. This prompted me to look not only at the bias against Elizabeth but also to extend that to other women who are either missing from the historical record completely, or are a footnote to the history of a more famous man. I was sure that they also had a story to tell – and they do.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I studied history at university but then wasn’t sure what to do with it so I worked as a university administrator for many years before I became a full-time writer. My writing was always there is the background but I wrote and re-wrote the same manuscript about ten times before I mustered the courage to send it to a publisher, so whilst I did get my first book published, it still took twelve years to do so! It then took another ten years before I could give up my day job to focus completely on writing. 

How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I seldom consciously draw on my own past when I’m writing fiction but I do find that elements of my life experience and aspects of the people I meet slip into my writing all the time. Sometimes I don’t even make the connection until much later; evidence that the unconscious mind is working away all the time, I suppose!

Talk to me about your books. What do you think draws readers to them?

I’m thrilled that readers are drawn to my books and particularly appreciate it when they let me know they have enjoyed a book. For years I worked in an office environment where teamwork and feedback helped to motivate me. Going from that to solitary working was quite a shock.

From what readers have told me, they enjoy the fact that I write about strong women and explore their roles in a variety of historical settings. I try to make the history elements of the book as authentic as possible and people seem to appreciate learning some of the lesser-known characters and aspects of an era in an accessible way. I want the books to be page turning and entertaining, and readers seem to enjoy the humour!

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

Wow, what an interesting question! From my experience I’d say that collaborating with other authors can be quite a challenge but you can also learn a lot in the process. I’d love to work on a writing project with Sir Walter Scott. I recently discovered that he stayed in my village when he was researching a book and I imagine we could have some fascinating conversations about writing style, the popularity of historical fiction, marketing (since he was terrific at that) and how important is historical accuracy (since he wasn’t such a stickler for that!)

What do you like reading and how does it inform your work?

I love reading crime fiction and am currently reading my way through Elly Griffiths’ Dr Ruth Galloway series. As I reader I particularly enjoy writing that has a strong sense of place. I enjoy a lot of romantic fiction in all its guises. My other reading is mainly non-fiction history and travelogue, or books that combine the two.

Out of interest, how do you think future historical fiction writers will react to the pandemic? What do you think that future novels will focus on?

It’s fascinating to speculate on the different ways in which the pandemic might be viewed with hindsight. There seem to be some common themes and responses to pandemics throughout history that will no doubt emerge again; anger and despair with the fate that allows such things to happen and fury with governments who are accused of being in denial or acting too slowly or inefficiently. Pandemics have always led to rumour and misinformation and a big theme in the current one will probably be the role of social media.

What future projects can you share with us? Is there anything you’re particularly excited about?

I have a book out next summer, which tackles one of the biggest historical mysteries of all time – the murder of the Princes in the Tower. As I like to focus on lesser-known female figures in history, it’s written from the point of view of Anne Lovell, wife of Francis Lovell who was King Richard III’s closest friend. I’m pretty excited about that book; I’ve wanted to write it for a long time.

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

I have a lot of new titles on my kindle that I’m looking forward to reading on my holiday later this month including the Golden Rule by Amanda Craig and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, plus the latest in some romantic fiction series by the ever-fabulous Lucy Parker, Emily Larkin and Anna Campbell.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for inviting me and for such thoughtful questions.

Massive thanks to Nicola for doing my interview; it’s amazing to hear about your work and what you love to read!

Naomi Hirahara Interview: “I’ve always been curious about the outside world”

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Historical mystery writer Naomi Hirahara discusses how she researches and creates her incredible books and brings the past back to life with her work.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. Why did you start writing historical mystery novels?

Context is important to me—the history of how a person or place came to be. An academician in Japan called my books “journalistic,” an observation which I first interpreted as derogatory but now I believe to be pretty accurate. I’ve always been curious about the outside world. My Mas Arai mysteries are contemporary but have a cold case aspect to it—a historic event is woven into each of them. The mystery that I’m currently working on is a completely historical novel, set in 1944. I’ve written historical non-fiction, too, but with a novel I can use my imagination to color between the lines.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I worked as a journalist for a community daily newspaper for ten years. I didn’t know if I could be in a position to write fiction fultime, but devoted my free time working on my debut novel by taking college extension courses. I went freelance in 1997 and ever since then have been able to cobble together a solo writing career.

I’m developing a workshop on creating characters for an upcoming mystery writing conference. I’m going to use an image of cigar box as a place where we store our influences—individuals who’ve made a big impact on us, books, experiences and relationships. I believe when we write fiction, we are opening up that cigar box to access all these treasures. That’s why age can be an advantage, as long as we live our lives ever mindful and present.

As someone who writes about the American/ Japanese experience, how do you research your work? What’s the most interesting lesson that you’ve learned while researching a novel?

My years as a journalist have come in handy because I conducted a lot of interviews for stories and recording oral histories. Transcribing some of those interviews has been helpful in absorbing word choice and cadence. I’ve travelled to various historic locations, ranging from Angel Island in San Francisco to Gold Hill, where the first Japanese colonists settled in mainland U.S. from 1869-1871. Today there are so many digital resources available, from http://www.densho.org to http://www.ancestry.com to http://www.newspapers.com. What can be interesting is examining the holes of histories and contemplating why there is a void.

Talk to me about your upcoming book Clark and Division. What can fans expect from your novel?

I’m currently working on rewrites and I’m so excited for readers to be introduced to my characters. It’s set in 1944 and follows two twentysomething Japanese American sisters, Rose and Aki, who were released early from an American wartime detention camp in California’s Owens Valley to a new life in Chicago. A tragedy befalls the family in Chicago and it’s up to the younger sister, Aki, to sustain her parents while finding out what happened to Rose.

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

Chester Himes, who wrote A Rage in Harlem. During World War II, he lived in the Los Angeles home of a Japanese American woman writer while she was held in a detention center and it would be fascinating to integrate our different points-of-view in one manuscript.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

After I complete my rewrites for the Chicago book, I’m going to be working on the second installment of my Hawai’i-based series. It’s called An Eternal Lei, and will deal with endangered flowers and sustainable tourism. After that will be another historical novel, Crown City, which will be set in my hometown of Pasadena, California.

What do you think that the current social/ political climate will do to the literary market in the future? What stories and plots do you hope to see/ plan on writing about?

It’s too hard to predict how today’s reality will impact publishing. Books have always served to whisk readers away to new worlds, sometimes fantastical ones and other times stories that focus us on real problems. I plan to continue to unearth hidden stories, my specialty.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I just finished reading Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong and plan to host a Zoom book club for other middle-aged Asian Americans to discuss its contents. Hong is also an accomplished poet and I plan to also read her poetry collections, especially the works that explore English language as spoken by immigrants.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

The WriteNow! writing conference which I’m currently preparing for will be held on September 11-12. It’s the annual conference organized by the Desert Sleuths chapter of Sisters in Crime. Because of the pandemic, it will be both virtual and free. So sign up here: https://desertsleuths.com/write-now/.

Thanks to Naomi for answering my questions; it’s been fascinating to here from you!

Anna Campbell Interview: “I love to play with the tropes of historical romance”

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Anna Campbell 

Today I’m pleased to share my interview with historical author Anna Campbell, who creates delightful novels and brings the past back to life. 

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards historical fiction??

Hi Hannah! Thanks so much for having me as your guest today. What an interesting question. I think I write intelligent historical romance that’s heavy on dialogue, usually incorporates an element of steam, and often includes a wry sense of humour. I like to think I go deeply into my characters emotions, too. I started writing the sort of historical romance I enjoyed reading – something that reflected the period and place of the setting while still telling a full-blooded love story. I’ve always loved history, right from when I was a little girl oohing and aahing at the illustrations in my books of fairy tales and watching Errol Flynn movies on black and white TV. The Adventures of Robin Hood has much to answer for!

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past experiences when writing fiction?

I always wanted to be a writer. I started my first novel in grade 3 although I didn’t actually slog through to finish a book until I was 17. In my working life, I had a variety of jobs, all of which were a great way to learn about human nature, and I travelled to many places, which have since appeared, in my stories. I sold my manuscript, No Ordinary Duchess, to Avon in New York at auction in 2006 and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since. Including Claiming the Courtesan, which is what NOD became, I’ve published 11 books with traditional publishers, but I reached a point where I found that I wanted a little more flexibility in schedules and pricing and tone. I’ve been an indie writer since 2015.

Talk to me about your books. What do you think it is that makes readers enjoy them?

I mainly write books set in the first 30 years of the 19th century, although over the last 12 months I’ve stretched my range to cover 18th century Scotland. I love to play with the tropes of historical romance like marriage of convenience or feuding families, but I use a richly imagined period background to give the stories a feeling of being grounded in real life, however larger-than-life the plots and characters might be. I love writing sparky dialogue – my women are always strong and smart. In fact, I’d say my heroes are too! I love giving exceptional people a happily ever after. There’s always quite a lot of passion in my books and I think readers enjoy watching simmering sexual attraction ripen into lasting love.

What books do you like reading yourself and how do they influence your writing?

I’ve always been a voracious reader. My mother gave me my first Mills and Boon when I was eight and I’ve read romance pretty much ever since. These days, though, my choices would probably lean more towards crime or nonfiction. Nonfiction in particular is a wonderful source of ideas for stories. I ask myself how a particular scenario might play out if it was set in the Regency (for example, with Captive of Sin, I’d been reading a lot of books about Russian/British rivalry in the mid-19th century in Central Asia and that sparked my hero’s background in the 1820s). In terms of fiction, I really like Elly Griffiths and Nicola Cornick and Mick Herron right now.

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’m not sure I believe in writer’s block. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block after all! I’ve certainly had days when I can’t write and there are things that have happened in my life that have stopped me writing for a while (a death in the family, for instance). But I think that’s just normal. Sometimes if the pages aren’t happening, I just need a break (reading a good book or a swim in the summer always help!). Or I need to take some time to think a bit more about the scene I’m about to do. If I’m really stuck, I have a couple of trusted writer friends who are always ready to have a natter about plot issues.

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

A writer I admire tremendously is the late, great Dorothy Dunnett who wrote two wonderful series set in the late middle ages and the renaissance. If you’ve never read her Lymond Chronicles, rush to your nearest library or bookshop and buy them. They’re unlike anything else. I’d love to be her assistant – I doubt I’d rise to being a genuine collaborator but it would be a privilege to be there to watch how her mind works.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m currently in the throes of finishing a long series of 10 books set in the Highlands of Scotland called The Lairds Most Likely (The Highlander’s Forbidden Mistress came out at the end of June). I’ve had plans to write a series set around the season in Regency London for a long time, but other projects have got in the way. Now I’m finally ready to start these new stories which are going to be sparkling and glamorous and sexy. The first books should be out first half of next year so watch this space.

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

I recently read The Dutch House by Anne Patchett and very much enjoyed it. I’d read her nonfiction before (it’s great!) but now I’m looking forward to exploring her fiction. I’m also gradually making my way through a re-read of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling historical romances. Most recently, I enjoyed The Corinthian. Next stop might be The Toll-Gate, I think.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Keep on reading!

I’d like to say thanks to Anna for answering my questions- it’s been amazing.

Heather Barnett Interview: “People from my past pop up in my writing”

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Today I have the pleasure of interviewing thriller writer and fellow copywriter Heather Barnett about her debut novel and upcoming projects.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What led you to start writing thrillers?

I love the thought that there’s more to life than meets the eye, and I’m naturally drawn to the humour in a situation: both those things always inform my writing style. Which might sound odd for a thriller writer, but my debut is more of a light-hearted mystery than a gritty thriller.

I didn’t set out to write a thriller: I had an idea about a top-secret organisation and when I started exploring it, the story lent itself naturally to the pace and twists of a thriller.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

My background’s in marketing and my day job sometimes involves copywriting, but it’s a very different kettle of fish to my fiction. I’ve always loved writing and have written short stories, poems and novels throughout my life, but this is the first time I’ve been published. (Unless you count a poem in a children’s anthology when I was ten. Which I do.)

People from my past pop up in my writing – never as whole characters but I’ll amalgamate different personality traits and mannerisms to create the people in my stories. I love larger-than-life characters so whenever I meet someone like that in real life I’m mentally tucking them away for future inspiration.

Talk me through your debut novel and why you think readers will love it.

At its heart, Acts of Kindness is about the power of human kindness – so I hope from that point of view people will find it up-lifting. It’s also a bit of escapism to transport readers into a world that’s softer round the edges than ours, peopled with characters you can root for, characters you can laugh at, and a few you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley.

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 think for me inspiration is a cumulative process. It’s more like mixing together different ingredients that combine to create a new whole, than one single light bulb moment. The inspiration for Acts of Kindness was witnessing commuters helping a woman who’d fallen down the stairs at Paddington station, intermingled with wondering what was behind some grand stone gateposts that I used to drive past in Wiltshire. Those disparate things swirled around in the back of my mind and came out as the secret OAK Institute, which is at the core of the book.

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

Jane Austen. Without a doubt. There wouldn’t be any collaboration though, just me watching on in awe and supplying her with pens, paper and cups of tea.

Do you have any projects coming up in the future that you are particularly excited about?

Yes, I’ve written a romantic comedy called Lord Seeks Wife that will be published by Serpentine Books in summer 2021. It’s like a modern-day PG Wodehouse set in a quintessential English village with plenty of eccentric characters and some unexpected twists.

Are there any new books that you are looking forward to reading over the next few months?

It was my birthday recently so I’ve got a whole stack of new books to read including The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel and Humankind by Rutger Bregman.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for asking me to do the interview Hannah!

Thanks Heather for answering my questions, it’s been lovely to learn more about your amazing work.

Paul Gitsham Interview: “My earliest scribblings were science fiction based, but often with elements of crime mixed in”

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Paul Gitsham is the author of the DCI Warren Jones series, as well as a teacher, Trekkie and fan of true crime documentaries- the perfect person for an interview with the Dorset Book Detective! He shares insights into his work and how he’s created such an iconic police procedural series.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing crime fiction?

I was always a book lover, filling my library card each week. I also loved writing stories and always wanted to be an author, but for most of my life it was little more than a hobby. My other passion is science, and after gaining a PhD in molecular biology, I spent some years doing research as a biologist, before finally retraining as a science teacher. But in all that time, I kept on reading and always had something I was tinkering with.

The first DCI Warren Jones novel, The Last Straw, is about the murder of a reviled university professor, and so my background in academia became really useful.

How does your experience as a teacher influence your writing?

The most obvious example is the novella, A Deadly Lesson. The story centres on the murder of a deputy head teacher in her office late one night. Being so familiar with the way modern schools work not only allowed me to write an accurate story, it also suggested ideas and plot twists that I could incorporate into the story.

Like anyone who works in a profession, I cringe sometimes when I see teaching portrayed either in books or on TV. Schools are dynamic, changing places and education evolves constantly. It’s really obvious when a writer is a non-teacher and hasn’t set foot in a school since they were pupils!

The other way in which being a teacher influences my writing is that Warren’s wife, Susan, is a biology teacher and I do bring that into their home life.

What drew you towards writing crime fiction novels?

My earliest scribblings were science fiction based, but often with elements of crime mixed in. When I finally realised that the murder subplot of a Sci Fi novel I was working on was becoming the dominant thread of that story, I finally realised that somebody was trying to tell me something!

By this time, my taste in books had largely gone full-circle; the first books I read as a child were Enid Blyton, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew etc. I then read a lot of science fiction before drifting back to the crime genre. By the time I sat down to write The Last Straw, I was almost exclusively reading crime and thriller.

Please tell me about the DCI Warren Jones series and why you believe that they’re so popular?

The DCI Warren Jones series are modern police procedurals, set in a fictional Hertfordshire town. Starting with The Last Straw, they now number six novels and 4 novellas, with this year’s A Price to Pay, the most recent.

I really love a good, twisty plot with some red herrings. Something that many of my readers comment on is how normal Warren is. I realised very early on, that I didn’t want to write a broken, alcoholic divorcee – not because I don’t like those characters – but because I didn’t feel I could necessarily add something substantial to the host of brilliantly written characters that already exist. So instead, Warren is happily married without any substance-abuse problems or dark, depressive tendencies.

Many readers have found it a refreshing change! That’s not to say I don’t put him through the wringer, and he has experienced more than his fair share of tragedy, but he still passes the ‘Friday night pint test’ – i.e. would I like to go for a pint with him on a Friday evening? And yes, I think I would!

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

My partner and I are big true-crime fans; we watch a lot of dodgy documentaries on Freeview! Interestingly, it’s not the story that inspires me -after all, that tale has been told. It’s the tiny little detail that sends my imagination flying off at a strange tangent. I keep a file of ideas on my phone, usually little more than a single sentence, and I am forever adding to them. But nine times out of ten, anyone reading what I jotted down during the programme would probably struggle to make the connection between the idea and what was on screen!

In terms of writer’s block, because I write out of sequence and fit it all together at the end, it’s rarely a big problem. If a section isn’t behaving itself, I put it one side and write something different.

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

This is where I have to leave the crime genre and proudly display my geek credentials: I am a HUGE fan of Star Trek and the novels based on the series. I own hundreds and have read even more. Back in the late nineties, two Trek authors – Judith and Garth Reeves-Stevens – teamed up with William Shatner and wrote a series of fantastic novels continuing the story of Captain Kirk after he supposedly died in Star Trek: Generations. They finished after three trilogies and I doubt there will be anymore. I have read them all at least half-a-dozen times. It would be a dream to continue that series, but collaborating with the Reeves-Stevens (ideally with Bill Shatner involved, obviously). If you are reading this Pocket Books, please don’t be shy about emailing …

What do you like to read and how does this influence your own writing?

Aside from the aforementioned Star Trek novels that I still love to pick up now and again, I have been reading a lot during lockdown. Will Dean’s Tuva series are an inspiration when it comes to describing environment – I read Red Snow during a mini-heat wave but had to stop myself from turning the radiators on as I was transported to Sweden.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series is a masterclass in character growth. Harry is an unmovable constant – yet he never stops changing. It’s a wonderful paradox and I love being immersed in that series. If I could make a returning reader of my Warren Jones series feel just a taste of the warm, comfortable feeling I get when I pick up the latest Bosch, then I will have succeeded beyond my dreams.

Do you have any projects or new books coming up that you are particularly excited about?

The eBook of A Price to Pay came out in June and I’ve been exchanging notes with my audiobook narrator ready for the audio and paperback release on August 6th. By far the bulk of my sales are Kindle, but there is still something special about having the paperback sitting on my shelf, and hearing Malk reading out my words.

I am also into the final stages of next summer’s book, snappily titled DCI Warren Jones Book 7, Title TBC.

I have a ton of editing and rewriting to do, but two days ago, I wrote the scene where Warren finally charges the killer with the murder. It is a wonderful feeling.

Are you planning on using the current crisis in any of your future works, and how do you think it will affect the world in which your characters live?

In terms of the DCI Warren Jones series, I am in the fortunate position that the series’ chronology runs a few years behind the real world. I have another couple of books to go before I have to start thinking about what the hell I’m going to do about 2020 – a year that if you had pitched it to an editor as dystopian fiction 12 months ago would have been rejected as too dark and unrealistic.

The big changes will be to the standalone that I have been writing in my ‘spare’ time. I wrote a large chunk of it over summer 2019, before putting it to one side to start the next Warren Jones. I had been planning on finishing the first draft this summer before starting Warren Jones 8. However, half the book is set in July 2020. Changing the date it is set in will need significant work but won’t be impossible, however things are so uncertain at the moment that it feels risky to assume that everything will be back to normal next summer and just change all the dates to 2021 – I really don’t want to have to do it again!

So, I have decided to push on and write the next couple of Warren Jones before coming back to the standalone when I have the benefit of hindsight. I have written enough that it will definitely be finished one day, but I’m not sure exactly when!

What new books or debut authors are you looking forward to reading and finding out more about in the future?

Last weekend was the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone Locked Up online festival in aid of the Trussell Trust. My partner and I spent a LOT of money at Waterstones the day after it concluded. I’ve bought/pre-ordered a couple of old favourites: Steve Cavanagh’s next Eddie Flynn – Fifty-Fifty will be devoured at an indecent pace. As will Alex North’s latest, The Shadow Friend. Last year’s The Whisper Man was brilliant.

We have all of Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra’s signed and face-out on the bookshelf, so we are intrigued to read Midnight at Malabar House, the first in his new series. And finally, from the New Blood debuts panel, Nadine Matheson’s The Jigsaw Man sounds like it’s just up my street. It’s not due out until next spring, so I will see if I can persuade someone to send me an arc!

Huge thanks to Paul for answering my questions- it’s been a blast!

Jim Eldridge Interview: “I left school at 16 and worked at a variety of jobs, but I always wanted to write”

Jim Eldridge

Having just finished Murder At The Fitzwilliam, I’m very pleased to share my interview with the author, Jim Eldridge.

Please tell me about your books. What do you think makes them so popular with readers?

I’ve been very fortunate that the readers who discover my books seem to respond well to them, first during the time I was writing children’s books, and latterly when I’ve been writing historical crime fiction. This new direction in my career as a writer took place in 2016 with the publication of Assassins, a crime novel set in 1921 featuring Chief Inspector Stark and his assistant, DS Danvers, published by Severn House.

I had been a scriptwriter for TV and radio for 40 years since 1970 until 2010, and then primarily writing children’s books, with over 90 published. The book was well received and led to a sequel Shadows of the Dead. Shortly after this my new literary agent (my previous agent only dealt with children’s books) introduced me to Susie Dunlop, publishing director at Allison & Busby, and from this came my Museum Mysteries series, which I’ll expand on in my answer to Question 4.

Again, fortunately, these have been well received by readers, and I believe that’s because the readers like and have sympathy for the lead characters, Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton, as they did for DCI Stark and Sgt Danvers in the two Stark novels. During my 40 years as a scriptwriter I learnt that what audience, and readers, want is a good story with sympathetic lead characters, and interesting other characters, and they like to follow those lead characters through a series and see how they and their situations develop.

You write across a range of genres and for a variety of readers: how do you adjust your writing style?

Yes, I have written across a wide range of genres, both as an author and a scriptwriter. For me, whether I’m writing for adults or children of any age (I’ve written for picture books aimed at 3-year olds, as well as television series for young children and sitcoms for adults) the key is much as I set out in my answer to the previous question: what audience, and readers, want is a good story with sympathetic lead characters, and interesting other characters. This applies whether the lead character is human, animal, an extra-terrestrial alien, or even a plant. Will the readers like that character?

The only real adjustment is in the language used: for very young readers the words have to be very simple so they can understand the story; with the level of language increasing as readers get older. Even this is aimed at an “average” reader for this age range, because I’ve known 8-year olds reading books written for adults, and 14-year olds struggling with simple texts. Often this is because they are dyslexic, and I have written some books for the specialist publisher, Barrington Stoke, aimed at the dyslexic teens. My background as a teacher helped. From the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, in addition to scriptwriting, I was a teacher, working mainly in schools in disadvantaged areas in the Luton area. I came to specialise in working with children with literacy problems, and was proud of the fact that every child who left my sessions left able to read.

What is your background in writing and how did you get into writing professionally?

I left school at 16 and worked at a variety of jobs, but I always wanted to write. During the late 1960s I was a performance poet, including an appearance as guest poet on John Peel’s Radio 2 late night show. In 1970 I got commissioned to write a thriller novel, basically pulp-fiction.

It was called Down Payment on Death and appeared in 1971. In that same year I pitched an idea for a radio sitcom to the BBC about a small rural railway station. They liked it and a pilot was made, starring Arthur Lowe as the stationmaster, with a support cast of Kenneth Connor, Liz Fraser and Ian Lavender. It was called Parsley Sidings. The audience liked the pilot show, and I was commissioned to write a series, and then a second series. In all, I wrote 21 episodes.

The main factor for me was that I was paid a lot more for my work as a scriptwriter than I was for the thriller novel; so although I wanted to continue writing crime fiction (my favourite genre), the bigger money was more attractive, especially with a family to support. And so I became a scriptwriter, first writing sitcoms and sketch shows for BBC radio, and then for television for BBC and ITV.

By 1983 working in comedy had begun to pall, the atmosphere in comedy is often stressful with lots of egos trying to dominate, so I changed to writing for children’s television. This was hugely enjoyable. For the next 24 years I wrote for various children’s TV series, including creating series of my own (Uncle Jack, Time Riders, Monster TV, and Powers were just some) and BBC radio comedy-drama (my Radio 4 series King Street Junior ran for 100 episodes over 20 years from 1985-2005). In all, during my time as a scriptwriter I had 250 TV scripts and 250 radio scripts broadcast. I wrote not only for BBC and ITV but also for American TV (e.g. Disney). But by 2010 things at both BBC and ITV were changing, including all my producers taking retirement. It was time for a change.

What’s the inspiration behind your murder at the museum series? How did you create Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton? 

As I mentioned earlier, I’d left scriptwriting behind and continued writing books for children (which I’d been doing at the same time as scriptwriting since 1990), but deep down I wanted to get back to where it had all began for me in 1970, crime fiction for adults.

In particular, historical crime fiction, which had become my favourite genre. I had acquired a new agent, and – as previously mentioned – she arranged for me to meet Susie Dunlop, publishing director at Allison & Busby to talk ideas. Susie was the one who raised the topic of a series of historical crime novels investigating murders in famous museums. We both agreed that late Victorian times would be best because that had been a time of great social change and scientific discoveries. Susie wondered if we could base it around Frederick Abberline, the famous Victorian detective who led the investigations into Jack the Ripper. I liked that idea very much, but my concern was that if our lead character was a real person it could limit us to where Abberline had actually been at different times. I’ve always felt that if a real person is used in a fictional story, it should fit with what that person was actually doing, and where, at that historical time. After discussion, we agreed a compromise: that our detective would be a fictional member of Abberline’s squad. And so Daniel Wilson, private detective, ex-Scotland Yard, was born.

But every lead detective needs a partner, someone to discuss cases with. Who would be Daniel’s partner?

During my time as a scriptwriter I often worked on scripts where a relationship of clashing opposites was at the heart of things: two people with opposing ideas, or life experiences that meant they were at odds with one another, but eventually (and reluctantly) they realised they were tied to one another. I’d always enjoyed writing this, and realised that audiences like it, too, as they waited for this ‘odd couple’ to face up to what everyone else could see – that they were made for each other.

We had in Daniel someone who’d risen through the ranks to become an Inspector at Scotland Yard. He came from the poorest of backgrounds (just how poor we only discover in the new book, Murder At The Natural History Museum. He still lives in Camden Town in London, what was then an notorious slum area. So his partner needed to be the opposite of all of this. A woman of the same age, educated, upper middle-class, socially aware, highly intelligent, well known in her own right. And so became: Abigail Fenton from Cambridge; studied at Girton College, and gained fame as an archaeologist, especially with her work on the Pyramids in Egypt. Forthright, determined, and not afraid to upset people.

For those who want to know how things developed between them, please do check out the first in the series: Murder At The Fitzwilliam.

nat history 2

When choosing books to read, what style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

 I often find myself returning to books I have read and enjoyed before: namely: P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster; Simenon’s Maigret stories; Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes; and Edward Marston’s Railway Detective novels. I also love Raymond Chandler, and George Orwell’s work, including Animal Farm, 1984, and his essays.

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

This is a difficult one because some writers can be very prickly to work with. For example, I admire George Orwell, but by all accounts he could be quite difficult. When I was scriptwriting I often collaborated with other writers; scriptwriting is one of the most collaborative forms there is – which is why the list of writers credited at the start or end of a TV show or film is often quite lengthy.

One of my most enjoyable collaborations was co-writing with the wonderful and brilliant Malorie Blackman on all three series of her ITV children’s sitcom Whizziwig, developed from her book of the same name. But some were not as emotionally enjoyable. On reflection, I think I would choose P G Wodehouse.

By all accounts he was happy to collaborate when writing all those Broadway musical comedies he worked on, and I would have learned so much from him.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My next book will be Murder At The Natural Mystery History Museum, the fifth in my Museum Murders series, which will be coming out in hardback in August. And then, early next year, Murder At The Ritz Hotel, the first in a new series set during World War 2 and featuring DCI Edgar Coburg, a veteran of World War 1 is out. I am very excited by both of them.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward coming up?

I always look forward to any new book by Edward Marston in his Railway Detective and Home Front historical crime series; and Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, set during WW2. As someone born towards the end of WW2 and who grew up in the 1940s, this period resounds within me.

Anything you’d like to add?

Just thank you, Hannah, for letting me share this with you and your readers.

Thanks to Jim for answering my questions; you’ve given some really insightful responses!

 

Emma Grant Interview: “My whole everyday life influences my writing”

PROMO Emma Grant headshot1

This week I’m speaking to Emma Grant, a hypnotherapist and coach who writes self-help books, to find out more about her work and how she aims to help people with it. 

What is your career background and how did you get in to writing?

I’ve always naturally loved writing from a very young age, poems used to wake me to be written in the middle of the night as a child and even as a teenager I would write plays and short stories for my best friend. As I got older and settled down with a family and started running my Childcare and Hypnotherapy/Coaching businesses, there was no time to write. Then when I hit my thirties the muse came looking for me and gave me daily inspiration that turned into my latest two parenting self-help books.

Tell me all about your writing and how you came to create self-help books. What’s your motivation and why do you think your books can benefit readers?

In my role as a Hypnotherapist / Coach and Counsellor, I could only help clients one on one and over the last 16 years in my child care business, I could see parents struggling with the same issues over and over, so writing a parenting self-help book, seemed the most obvious choice to reach and help as many people as I could and share my experiences, knowledge and therapy skills.

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

At the moment I’m reading 3 books at the same time, one is fiction but focuses on a character that, as a therapist, I so badly want to help and is a character I’ve come across with the same issues in my hypnotherapy business. The 2nd book is a memoir and I swear the author could be writing my exact life story and the 3rd is a kind of spiritual, self- help, non- fiction, business PR and media book. My preferred choice and type of books I like to read, are non -fiction books that teach me something I don’t know, I just love learning! I always think they help me become a better writer of non- fiction, self -help because I always think – how can I convey what I know to my reader, who doesn’t know what I know, in an easy, simple to read and understand way, so they put the book down feeling reassured, uplifted, motivated and inspired in some way.

Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)?

My whole everyday life influences my writing; no person or experience is ever wasted on me. (Maybe I shouldn’t have said that? I’ll have no friends or clients now, through fear of becoming an example in one of my future books!)

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

There’s no question about this, I’d love to collaborate with my friend Jana because she covers both of those examples in your question (living and dead) and she has unique abilities that the world needs to know more about, in order to enjoy everyday life more in the present moment.

What’s next for your writing? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

My current WIP, my 3rd book is a weight loss, self-love, self-help book. Its grounded in my nutritional therapist knowledge, so its practical with good weight loss advice, yet, it also embraces my therapeutic approach with a spiritual twist. I’m loving writing this book so much and its definitely changing me in profound ways.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Mary Swann-Bell, author of Post its and Polaroid’s, Snippets And Snapshots Of An Otherthought Life is a beautiful, honest writer. Katherine Turner author of Finding Annie is another raw and talented writer and Sarah Lloyd makes the practicalities of PR seem more fulfilling and authentic in her new book Connecting The Dots- Making Magic With The Media- Uplevel Your Brand On Your Terms. All three women are new authors that I’m sure will have many great books to come.

Anything you’d like to add?

What readers need right now is positive, uplifting books to comfort, reassure and help heal the world. I feel so blessed to be a writer, right now, that can help contribute to that. Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed. My books are available world wide from all good book stockist and you can find my parenting blogs here.

Thanks to Emma for answering my questions, it’s been great!