Steven Powell Interview: “I would encourage all readers to return to their local bookshops”

I’ve been privalleged to speak to Steven Powell, an acedemic and author of several studies on crime fiction, including 100 American Crime Writers and several books about James Ellroy. He discusses his passion for all things crime fiction and how he came to study the topic for a living.

Talk to me about your scholarly work. What drew you towards studying crime fiction?

I have always loved the written word, and I was studying a Victorian Literature MA at Liverpool University when I realised, as fascinating as that period is, it was not something I wanted to pursue in further research. The course was heavily slanted towards poetry and the realist novel and ignored say, Penny Dreadfuls, and other elements of Victorianism which we now recognise as the harbingers of detective fiction.

With the encouragement of my future wife Diana, I decided to do a PhD on the author I have always been the most fascinated, even obsessed with – James Ellroy

What drew you towards James Ellroy? Why are you so passionate about his work?

I remember spotting a copy of Ellroy’s American Tabloid in a bookshop in my early teens and just getting hooked immediately. His portrayal of history is so urgent, visceral and immediate. When you read him, it feels like you’re there: whether he is portraying 1950s Los Angeles or the Mob hatching deals to build casinos in the Caribbean in the 1960s. He has experimented with various prose styles and persona and found a formula which, as he might put it, ‘will leave you reamed, steamed and dry-cleaned, tied, dyed, swept-to-the-side, screwed, blued, tattooed. These are books for the whole fuckin family if the name of your family is the Manson family’

What’s your approach to researching your books?

Over the past twenty years or so, there has been an expansion of scholarly interest in crime fiction, when previously genre works could be dismissed as not worthy of critical attention. It’s exciting, but it also leaves significant room for development in how we can conduct research into the genre. I read a heck of a lot: novels, critical material, contemporaneous material. Personally, I love interviewing authors, editors, agents, anyone involved in the publishing biz. For Ellroy, I have visited his archive at the University of South Carolina and know him well personally. He has been very generous and cooperative with my research. I’ve written and/or edited three books on James Ellroy so far.

When you wrote 100 American Crime Writers, who were your favourite authors in the collection?

One of the most difficult challenges of editing that book was to narrow the list of writers down to one hundred names and still do justice to the long history of the genre and experiments in sub-genre. Of the ‘newer’ writers I’m a big fan of Megan Abbott and James Sallis. My personal favourites would be the great Charles Williams and David Goodis.

Did you learn anything interesting that you’d like to share while researching that book?

Crime writers have suffered for their art and many of them paid a heavy price to pursue the craft they love. It’s no secret that getting published is difficult today and even harder to make a full-time living out of, but it was no easier back in the days of Black Mask magazine and Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks. I really grew to appreciate the sacrifices writers make, and the sacrifices made by the people who love them. I loved putting that book together and still receive great feedback about it. Recently, a companion volume titled 100 British Crime Writers, was published, edited by Esme Miskimmin. I contributed a few chapters to that edition.

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

I do, but I’m currently sworn to secrecy about it. I would expect my next book to be published in late 2022, and when it is, you will be the first to know Hannah!

What’s your personal opinion on the future of the crime fiction market?

Whichever way you look at it, the future is bright. Crime fiction is so naturally popular, whether it be dark Scandi tales or vintage British Golden Age Detective Fiction, and it lends itself so well to film, television, theatre and music. COVID has presented its challenges but lockdown has, I feel, proved the wellbeing benefits that come from reading, and someone out there must be writing a great (lockdown) room mystery. I would encourage all readers to return to their local bookshops, be it Waterstones or independent businesses. They deserve our support, especially as we ease our way out of lockdown.

Anything you’d like to add?

Only to thank you Hannah for inviting me on and for everything you do for the written word. Worship the book and spread the word!

Huge thanks to you Steven it’s been great to learn more about you and your work. If any of my fabulous readers are interested in finding out more about his work, you can check out his website HERE.

Rick R. Reed Interview: “My writing style varies from project to project”

With more than 50 titles to his name and a string of high-profile awards, it’s safe to say that Rick R. Reed has made a smash in the literary world. He talks to me about his career so far and his next exciting project.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. How did you come to write so many different novels?

I have always been a storyteller and have always been fascinated by and comforted by the written word. I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid and have been doing so professionally since 1991, when Obsessed, my first novel came out from Dell.

My writing style varies from project to project, but I prize simplicity in prose and showing and not telling. I believe fiercely in my characters and making them sympathetic and/or fascinating to read about. I’ve often been told even my evil characters are compelling. My style comes from wanting to NOT draw attention to myself, but creating what constitutes a movie in the reader’s mind. After all, every book (every piece of art, really) is a conspiracy between the creator and recipient.

I’ve written so many books (40+ at last count) because I have yet to run out of stories I want to tell and characters whose lives I want to delve into.

What is your background in writing and how did you become a professional writer?

I have a degree in English with Creative Writing emphasis. As I said above, though, I have always been passionate about telling stories and have been writing since I was a child. This use of my imagination, along with voracious reading, has provided my writing “education” as much as my formal, university-set training. I became a professional in 1991 when I got my first agent and was picked up by Dell, a major publishing house.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good books and how do you incorporate these into your work?

Creating characters who are real in the reader’s mind. Showing and not telling, ie expressing feelings, thoughts, hopes, dreams and more through action and dialogue, rather than simply informing the reader. A good story that has a beginning, middle, and end.

A satisfying conclusion. That doesn’t have to mean a happy ending, but it does mean that when the reader closes one of my books, he/she/they come away feeling their expectations have been met and they’re glad they came along on the journey with me. Between the lines, something that resonates as universal with readers regarding the human condition.

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

My favorite writers are Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Highsmith, and Ruth Rendell. These three women capture a kind of dark, quirky mindset that resonates with me and inspires me to write about obsessed people on the fringe.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

Inspiration comes from all over—dreams, news items, snatches of overheard conversation, other books and movies. I write most every day and always in the morning, when I’m at my best. I usually aim for 1,000 words per day.

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

I guess it would have to be the great Patricia Highsmith, mentioned above. I’d love to do a crime-based novel with her.

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

My next book releases on May 3 from NineStar Press. It’s called Wounded Air. This is what it’s about:

Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.

Huge thanks to Rick for answering my questions. You can find out more about him and his work here.

Gary F. Bengier Interview: “My time in Silicon Valley informed the kind of hard science novel that I wished to write”

Gary F. Bengier talks to me about his latest novel and how he came to define his writing style.

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

I think that a writer must count his ‘reader attention coins’ carefully, rewarding the reader enough to keep turning pages, while expending the coins in measured amounts to pursue objectives beyond entertainment. My overarching objective with Unfettered Journey is to pass on a particular view, a philosophy of life that might offer a path to purposeful existence to some. But few readers want straight-up philosophy, so only there did I spend reader attention coins. To balance that need, I eschewed other contemporary literary flourishes and techniques (non-chronological storytelling; unreliable narrators; flights of literary prose about scenery, etc.) that might slow the story pace, and otherwise tried to tell a story filled with rich characters you might love, with a tight, action-packed plot.

The themes of Unfettered Journey are universal, dealing with the human condition. The futuristic setting avoids many details about our existence that might age the story. This future is a hard-science view, with details that I hope will stand up to the reality, though none of us can know the nonlinear future.

Please tell me about your career background and how you draw on it in your writing.

Prior to taking up writing, I had a successful career in Silicon Valley. When I retired from that, I had the freedom to pursue passion projects; further education (astrophysics, mathematics, and philosophy) and writing were two. My time in Silicon Valley informed the kind of hard science novel that I wished to write. I had the chance to participate in a broad spectrum of exciting technologies—computer peripherals (hard drives, printers, computer screens), chip design software, bioscience, scientific equipment design, streaming video over the Internet, and the Internet as a marketplace. These gave a respect for the hard work to build technology. It makes me somewhat jaded by grandiose promises by many futurists. But it does not cause me to give up trying to realistically guess our future worlds.

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

Let me focus my answer of just this book, Unfettered Journey. The philosophical ideas behind the novel had been percolating in my head for thirty years, and the novel story and characters for over a decade. That is the inspiration’s long gestation.

The hard work of writing the novel took only three years. That process was a blend of free association thinking and planning. I like to plan, so I outlined the novel—only a skeleton at first, then with more detail as the story became clearer to me. Then I roughed out the scenes. Along the way, my characters began to wake me up at night, to whisper in my ear (“No, I won’t do that…”). That’s when the writing truly became a lot of fun. The interaction of characters and story, in a roughly planned structure, then allowed me to dive deep into my experiences, dredging up gems of ideas that fit the scenes perfectly. That experience is one joy of writing fiction. I think the extended creative process left me blissfully free of any writer’s block.

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

I read across a broad set of topics, virtually everything, from nonfiction science, physics, philosophy, history, economics, and politics; to fiction both classic and contemporary. My favourite fiction writer is William Faulkner, because of the universal themes that he explored through his books set in the fictitious Yoknapatawpha County. In the process of writing Unfettered Journey, I read many writing craft books, attempting to improve my style, and often read craft suggestions followed by writing some scenes, then repeating the process to burnish the language. Now I am happy to set those aside and return to the stacks of ‘to be read’ books waiting on my credenza.

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

My focus this year is on the international launch of my novel. The French translation recently launched, and the Italian translation will be released next month. Then the German and Spanish editions are not far behind. I’ve had a blast working with my translators, and have learned much about the challenges of making a ‘transcreation,’ which is a literary translation that captures the nuance of the language and culture while reflecting the essence of the novel.

Who is the audience for Unfettered Journey?

The question raises a challenge for my novel, because it does not neatly fit into any genre category; it is truly a cross-genre book unlike others. While the novel is speculative fiction, sometimes grouped into sci-fi, this is a very different sort of novel, outside the usual boxes. Both men and women have found the novel thrilling. Everyone loves my powerful female characters. These are real people, people that you can relate to, people that you can like. It is for the intellectual reader, someone who is comfortable thinking about deep questions. But Unfettered Journey is simultaneously an adventure novel, as the characters confront social injustice, and the difficulties of living with and without modern technology. The story traces a long arc, and I hope will leave my readers thinking about these questions long after they have closed the cover.

Huge thanks to Gary for answering my questions: it’s been fascinating to find out more about your work and future plans.

Jane Hobden Interview: “I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking”

Crime writer and former paralegal Jane Hobden talks me through her work and how it’s evolved into her latest novel, Guilty.

Tell me about your books. What drew you towards writing psychological thrillers?

I have always loved thrillers whether it be crime, suspense or psychological.  Basically, I write something that I would love to read.  I like to be kept guessing until the end or have something that I didn’t expect happen. 

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

My background is in criminal law where I worked as a paralegal.  I really enjoyed that job – every day brought something new.  I have spent a lot of time in Courts and Prisons preparing a persons’ case for trial including meeting a wide range of clientele who, in most cases would be absolutely terrified of the process and the fear of facing a prison sentence.  I find that it brings both the best and the worst out in people. 

I first started writing in 2011 at a time when I was in a job that I didn’t particularly like.  I found that it helped with my work stress levels having something to focus on.  My first book The Hartford Inheritance I self-published in 2014.  Since then, I’ve changed jobs and as with most people, life has been too fast paced to be able to concentrate on writing anything new save for a dystopian future YA book that my kids could read.  Then Covid-19 happened and we had no option but to slow it all down.  That’s when I started writing again – this time a crime thriller. 

Please tell me about your books. What sets them apart from other similar novels?

Guilty strays far from the traditional one-dimensional thriller.  I want the reader to not know who is guilty until the very end.  I’ve tried to show the assault from different viewpoints, allowing the reader to sympathise with each emotion that the characters feel.  I want the reader to consider if they would behave in the same way. 

Tell me about the books you write. Where do you find your inspiration?

I’ve always had a ‘healthy’ imagination shall we say.  I love crime dramas.  As my husband would say, unless there’s a dead body in a tent, Jane wouldn’t turn the TV on for it.  I love the thrill of it.  I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking.   I don’t think I’d be able to write in any other genre. 

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

I’m definitely reaching for the stars here but I’ve got to say J K Rowling.  What she created in Harry Potter is nothing short of a phenomenon.  A book loved by children and adults alike.  The detail involved.  So much thought goes into every single one of her characters and every storyline leads in a different direction.  She’s definitely my idol. 

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

I’ve already started my next novel, which has the working title Beneath Ground.  Another psychological thriller but this time I’m dealing with Stockholm Syndrome. 

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

One of the books I recently read was a book by a debut author called Abigail Dean.  The book is called Girl A, I’m sure most people have heard of it by now.  It is absolutely amazing.  I loved it from cover to cover and read it in days.  I’m very much looking forward to her new book, which is due for release in the summer I believe. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you, Hannah, for reading and reviewing Guilty.  It really means a lot for someone of your calibre to get involved. 

Massive thanks to Jane for answering my questions: I’m very excited to review Guilty in the coming weeks.

Roderick O’Grady Interview: “I would like to write more books for young people”

Children’s author Roderick O’Grady talks to me about his debut novel and his future writing career.

Tell me about how your debut book Bigfoot Mountain. Why do you think readers will enjoy it?

It’s about a young girl of 12, who recently lost her mum, living with her step dad in a remote cabin, at the foot of a mountain range, near the sea in the Pacific Northwest of North America. One day she and her friend Billy find four HUGE footprints in the woods… Her stepfather Dan thinks its hoaxers but Minnie thinks she knows better. She and Dan are struggling emotionally- he is withdrawn and grief-stricken, whilst she is very sad but feels compelled to keep busy.

The events that transpire in the woods and around their cabins help them become closer and help them deal with their grief. I think readers will enjoy that it alternates between what Minnie discovers- sometimes with Billy, sometimes with Dan, sometimes alone, and events from a young Sasquatch’s point of view. He’s been watching the humans. Their stories begin to intertwine. I’ve created a community of Sasquatches who have had to move over to this side of the mountain due to forest fires and as guardians of the forest have to manage the wildlife that has also fled the fire and is crowding the mountain slopes. The story is about seeking balance, understanding the rhythms of nature and, ultimately, it’s about love and connection.

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

I used to be an actor when I lived in New York but gave it up on my return to London as I had children to support. After 18 years I returned to an acting career, at the age of 56. When I was ‘resting’ between acting jobs I decided to write a story revolving round a magically beautiful forest where large bipedal hominids roam… The only writing I had done before was having a go at writing film screenplays, none of which ever saw the light of day.  I wrote a road-movie, a time travel comedy, a New York based romantic drama, a thriller based in the world of building contractors and the Russian mafia, a period tale of an escaped female slave busting a people-trafficking and smuggling ring on the Devon coast in 1750. It was good practice in some ways though, as I learned about creating snappy dialogue, making it specific to the character in tone and rhythm and learned how to create a overall tone for a scene; the ‘exposition’ in screenwriting terms.

Also structure is hammered in to novice screenwriters as absolutely key if you’re writing a ‘commercial’ movie. So that practice all helped hugely. It also made me a very visual writer and I think served me well in writing the novel. I always doubted that I could write enough, that I could come up with enough story and was very pleasantly surprised when it came in at 47 thousand words.  I didn’t really plot the book, I just let it flow. The sequel has a more complicated plot though and that took a lot of work. But this first one, Bigfoot Mountain is a linear story told from two perspectives. It required much research- on Sasquatches (I’ve read many books by interested scientists and so-called researchers) but also on the flora and fauna of the area, which I loved doing.

As a new author who’s just got their debut published, what are your thoughts on the industry currently? How can it become more accepting to new authors such as yourself?

I was surprised and naïve on entering the profession-  there are SO many children’s’ novels being published every month! I had no idea how hard it is to make a living from writing. And I wasn’t expecting to have to engage on social media so much in order to make the book ‘discoverable’. It’s out on 29th of April so I am busy engaging on social media and actually I’m looking forward to visiting schools, and independent bookshops. I will be introducing myself and bribing the shop staff, with biscuits, to do a special Bigfoot Mountain window display! 

On the subject of the publishing industry, I’m encouraged that many literary agents allow submissions to be sent in, as finding an agent is so hard these days, but it takes a lot of digging and questioning to get the bottom of what a publisher will actually be doing for the author, with the work, in the process of getting the book to market. Children’s publishing is different from adult literature too and getting one’s head round it all requires a novice writer to find the right people of whom to ask the right questions. I don’t know any writers or anyone in the business so it’s been a long and interesting journey.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

To relax I dabble in thrillers and books about the environment- rarely do the two genres meet… perhaps that’s a gap in the market! I love children’s classics- Varjak Paw by SF Said and of course Pax by Sara Pennypacker. I finished and admired Overstory by Richard Powers recently, which is about trees, beautifully written and with engaging multiple story lines. These writers inspire me to try harder, and to take more time over my prose, in order to describe the natural world to the best of my ability.

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

I enjoy Patrick O’Brien for a rollicking sea-faring yarn and would love to plot a story with him though he is sadly no longer with us. His work reminds me how important well developed characters are. I enjoyed the charm and simplicity of AA Milne’s writing and I would have liked to maybe come up with more characters, in that series.  Again, Milne worked with well-developed characters.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I am planning to write a third book in the series. I finished the sequel, during Lockdown One but am not sure when that’s going to be published.

Where do you see your literary career going? What would you like to achieve over the coming years?

I would like to write more books for young people. And I would like to write for the screen- how that will manifest I’m not sure. But with children’s books which I really love writing now that I’ve had a go at it with Bigfoot Mountain, I try to make my characters fun to spend time with- it’s important that they be spirited, positive and funny, like children are inclined to be naturally. I think if characters in a story can be daring, kind, fun, and determined, it’s helpful to young readers. I try to write memorable scenes, and exciting profound moments that will hopefully stay with the reader.

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

I feel like I’m distinctly behind the curve with new writers and really just want to browse in some bookshops and talk to the staff about exciting new writers. Staff in independent book shops always have good advice and are usually up to speed on new works. That will happen hopefully from April 12th this year when ‘nonessential shops’ can reopen! Hoorah! Personally I think bookshops are essential retail…

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I really hope young people and their older siblings, their parents and teachers all enjoy Bigfoot Mountain and take on board the message about understanding the bigger picture; that we are all connected, through the earth, through the energy in the earth passing through plants, rivers, seas, and animals, and that we must learn to respect and love our natural world.

Thanks to Roderick for answering my questions: I love a good children’s book about nature so I’ll be interested to check out your debut!

John Cox Interview: “I was a prolific reader at an early age”

As part of his blog tour to celebrate the publication of his debut novel, Ashes Of The Living, I interview up-and-coming crime fiction author John Cox.

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

When I first started writing, I focused on paying attention to how many of my favorite thriller writers wrote. Not so much the storyline but rather the style. Did they like first person or third person? How they describe a character’s actions or what a piece of steak tasted like? I tried writing short stories first to see how I would describe an action scene or provide an atmosphere for a tense situation. Most importantly, I have always been drawn to thrillers because the best ones keep you reading until 3 in the morning, and even then, wanting to keep going!

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

I grew up in a family of teachers who focused on English classes and writing. I was a prolific reader at an early age and wanted to create stories like the ones I was reading. My main passion is telling a good story that other people want to hear. When I got into college, I received some constructive advice and earned awards and accolades that told me that what I was doing was working. I was inspired to start focusing on longer and longer stories until I had my full novel that eventually became my first published work.

Tell me all about your upcoming novel Ashes of the Living. What was your inspiration?

Ashes of the Living is about what grief and anger can do to someone’s morality. My protagonist Detective Tyler Morgan loses everything and must continually ask himself what lines he is willing or not willing to cross to get to his version of justice. I was inspired by my interest in noir and thriller novels and wanted to blend the styles in a book that was fast-paced but still took enough time to examine what people are willing to do in times of duress. It has always been a fascinating subject for me! This is a story about revenge and what a single-minded goal can do to you.

What was your experience getting your work published? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with budding authors looking to get published?

To get my work published, I had to learn to accept that not everyone will respond to your inquiries for review. The book industry is so large that you may have a fantastic story to tell, and publishers and agents will not be able to have time to read it, or perhaps it is not in a genre they can currently accept new writers. Sometimes, being a new writer can be disheartening trying to get others to see your work the way you do. Don’t ever give up on this because the day you are successful is the best feeling in your life.

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

Donald Westlake who also wrote under the pen name of Richard Stark. He turned the crime and thriller genre on its head in the 1960s by writing about topics or characters that were controversial by having morally gray themes or elements. Unfortunately, he has passed away, but if anyone wants to see the groundwork of modern thrillers, I highly recommend his body of work.

What does the future have in store for you? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

I am focused on my next novel and cannot wait to share further details as it progresses. I do not want to give too much away because it is tied to the ending of Ashes of the Living, but I am focused on writing about what inspires me, humanity, and how our perception of it can change continually.

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

I have enjoyed Chris McDonald’s work recently and recommend anyone check out his DI Erika Piper series. This is a new author to keep an eye on! He has great talent and is very interactive with his fan base.

Is there anything you want to add?

I am proud to be a part of the writing community and all the phenomenal people I have met in the last several years. Always keep reading, writing, and sharing with others those stories that inspire or move you!

Thanks to John for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to be a part of your blog tour!

Rebecca Wait Interview: “I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships”

Teacher and writer Rebecca Wait, author of the amazing thriller Our Fathers, The Followers and other incredible contemporary novels talks to me about her writing and how she uses her experiences to inform her work.

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

Despite the subject of Our Fathers, I’ve never really thought of myself as a mystery or thriller writer until recently. My previous novel The Followers also occupies quite clear crime/ thriller territory, though it was never marketed that way (and when asked, I always describe my books in unhelpfully vague terms as ‘contemporary fiction’). But I read a lot of thriller and mystery novels, which I think often distil some of the most important elements of novel writing, with their emphasis on clear story-telling, narrative momentum and pace. The very best also display depth of characterisation, psychological acuity and emotional heft – which essentially makes for the perfect novel.

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

I’ve always written stories, and decided when I was still quite a young child that I would be a writer one day (whilst having no idea, obviously, what it involved). I finished my first novel not long after graduating from university and was taken on by my agent off the back of that (she’s fantastic, and is still my agent now). Then I secured a book deal for that first novel, and everything followed from there.

This all makes it sound like it was very easy for me, but in terms of publicity and book sales I would describe my success as pretty modest – it’s often felt like two steps forward and one step back, which I think a lot of writers would echo. Our Fathers has been my most high profile book to date. I’d never have been able to make a living from writing alone. I qualified as a secondary school English teacher after university, and have been balancing teaching and writing ever since. I’m lucky that I enjoy both jobs, so it’s worked out well for me, though occasionally I feel a bit frazzled and short of headspace.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you think readers are drawn to them?

Well, I hope they offer the things I look for myself in the books I read: a gripping story, well-drawn characters and emotional impact. I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships, and those micro-interactions between people that carry so much more weight than might appear. So I suppose one of my main focuses has always been the gap between what’s on the surface and what’s below the surface. It also occurs to me that all three of my published novels have some kind of trauma at their heart: my most recent two deal with the lead up to and aftermath of a violent crime, whilst my first, The View on the Way Down, focuses on a catastrophic tragedy that befalls a family. So there’s a lot of darkness there, but I also try to inject some warmth and humour.

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 definitely find inspiration from teaching – not specific events, but just being out there in the world, interacting with people; and my students can be very funny. Similarly, an evening in the pub with my friends (though that feels a long time ago now) can get my ideas going. I also read a lot of non-fiction, especially medical and psychology books, which sometimes spark ideas. The novel I’m currently working on is about a particularly dysfunctional family, and so I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books about distancing yourself from a toxic mother (I should add here that my own mother is lovely; unfortunately too lovely for the purposes of my research).

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

I’m not sure I’d be a very good collaborator when it comes to novels; it all feels so internal that I can’t imagine I’d play well with others. But if I could force another writer to collaborate with me, I’d ‘collaborate’ with Hilary Mantel on a novel.  (I put collaborate in inverted commas because I wouldn’t really plan on helping much. I’d just watch her beadily to see how she works, make some mental notes, and then claim 50% of the credit when the book came out.)

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

It definitely varies depending on my mood. At the moment, I only seem to be reading thrillers. I’m in a lockdown slump, and really need a strong storyline to carry me through a book. Usually I read more widely: lots of contemporary fiction, lots of non-fiction, plus as an English teacher I obviously read a lot for my job and at the moment that’s taking up most of my mental capacity. I’m doing Middlemarch with my A-Level class at the moment, over Zoom, which is fantastic, but also quite high-effort for us all.

In terms of influence, I think it’s quite indirect for me: I notice when I read what other writers are doing well (and sometimes, what they are doing less well), and that can give my own work a steer. For example, if a plot development has been really carefully seeded throughout a book, I might go back and look again at how those clues have been planted, and how the reader might have been misdirected.

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

I’m excited about the novel I’m working on at the moment, which I’ve almost finished now. I really am pleased with it. But it’s hard to sustain giddy levels of excitement during lockdown. At the moment, I get more excited about my next meal than about my work. For instance, I’m making pancakes later. It’s all I can think about.

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

I really enjoyed Romy Hausmann’s novel Dear Child, so I’m looking forward to her next book, which is out later this year. And Elizabeth Strout has a new novel out in October – I can’t wait for that.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for the interview!

Many thanks to you Rebecca; it’s been an absolute pleasure learning about your writing and background!

Sophie Hannah Interview: “Writing had been my hobby since childhood”

As a massive fan of her reimagined Poirot novels, I’m really pleased to be able to share my interview with Sophie Hannah. She shares a unique insight into her work from the very beginning, so if you’re a fan of any of her work, either her standalones or her Poirots, then you should definitely read what she has to say.

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

As a reader I’ve been a mystery addict since I started with Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series at the age of seven. I discovered Agatha Christie when I was twelve, then moved on to Ruth Rendell. My favourite writers have always been crime writers. So, it was probably inevitable that I would gravitate towards crime and thrillers as a writer; I have a very strong affinity with the genre and it’s what I most love to read.

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

Writing had been my hobby since childhood, but I first became a published writer as a student. I published my first picture book (Carrot the Goldfish – inspired by my husband’s observation that a piece of carrot peel in water resembled a goldfish!) and two poetry pamphlets while doing my degree and MA. Then when I was working as a library admin assistant after graduating university—I’d chosen a very easy, undemanding job in the hope that I’d have lots of time and mental energy free for my writing, and this plan worked brilliantly! — I published my first full-length poetry book. On the back of that, I was offered the most amazing opportunity: a two-year Creative Arts fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, which is where I started to write novels. I published three non-crime novels before discovering my natural niche of crime, and Little Face, my first crime novel, was published in 2006.

How did you get to become a published writer? What was it like getting your work published? 

One of my university tutors really encouraged my poetry writing. He suggested I send off a selection of poems to magazines and then later to a small press publisher, and I started to have regular publication success. People wanted my poems! My first book was a limited edition, 200-copies-only pamphlet, but I really felt as if I’d made it and was now a properly successful writer. The same tutor was also the MD of Carcanet, one of the main UK publishers of poetry, and not long after that he published my first full-length poetry book, The Hero and the Girl Next Door. When it came to publishing my novels though, it was a much harder work.

My wonderful agent at the time absolutely ripped apart my first novel, Gripless, which was agony but she was totally right about everything that was wrong with it. Her feedback enabled me to make loads of improvements and finally it got published. It didn’t sell too well, however, and neither did the next two novels. They simply weren’t commercial in a straightforward way, so I can understand why they didn’t, and I still love them regardless. I then went through two more agents and lots of disappointment before finding my amazing agent Peter Straus, who I’m still with now, and having my big breakthrough with Little Face, whichbecame a surprise word-of-mouth, massive bestseller, sold to 34 countries and led to publishers all over the world saying to my agent and to Hodder (my UK publisher) ‘Please send us lots more books like Little Face by Sophie Hannah’.

Tell me all about your books. Why do you believe readers and critics enjoy them? 

It’s always my aim to create an irresistibly suspenseful hook – to present the reader with a seemingly impossible mystery that they won’t be able to resist because they’ll be desperate to know what’s going on. In Little Face, for example, a mother insists that her new-born baby is missing and that an unknown baby has been left in her place. The baby’s father, however, is equally adamant that his wife is lying or insane.

In my latest standalone psychological thriller, Haven’t They Grown, the protagonist encounters the children of her estranged friend who, twelve years after she’s last seen them, are still three and five years old – no taller and apparently no older than they were more than a decade earlier. My readers can be sure of a complex and twisty ride, followed by a satisfying solution. They tell me they never see what’s coming, which is very important to me, because I’m often disappointed by the guess-ability of solutions in thrillers.

How did you find reimagining the Poirot novels? Talk me through your process of making them unique while still being true to Agatha Christie. 

Thanks to my lifelong and obsessive Agatha Christie fandom, the blueprint for her particular and genius approach to storytelling is somehow imprinted in my DNA. However, Agatha Christie is the greatest crime writer of all time, so the last thing I wanted to do was to try (and, obviously, fail) to ‘be’ her, or copy her—I was very clear about this from the start. I wanted to stay faithful to the Christie-esque elements that readers love — the irresistible premise, the intricate plot and un-guessable solution — but I’m still writing as me.

How did you come up with the character of Inspector Catchpool? What was it like to create a character as part of such a renowned series? 

Poirot belongs very much to Agatha Christie and I didn’t want to seem to be appropriating him. Catchpool is my middleman. I invented him so that he could kind of represent me in the book: he’s a new person working with, and writing about, Poirot, and so am I! To be honest, I have never seen writing continuation novels as being all that different from writing a non-continuation novel. We use true/already-existing elements in our fiction all the time. The novel I’m writing right now, for example, is completely original and not a continuation novel, but it already contains some real places and some real things in the world. Poirot, though a fictional character, is a very real thing in the world.

Are there any other classic crime fiction series that you’d like to reimagine? 

I’d love to have a go at Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series! I think mystery is the perfect genre to hook in young readers—why would anyone ever want to read a book that wasn’t a gripping page-turner? That’s certainly how I felt as a kid.

Do you prefer writing non-fiction, fiction, or poetry? Is the process different when writing each type of text? 

The process is the same for all of them, really. I don’t have a preference, because whatever I’m writing at any given moment is always the thing I love the most, and the need to satisfy my inner perfectionist means that I have to commit fully to my current project, finish it to the absolute best of my ability and make it as good as it could possibly be. 

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

Mainly and overwhelmingly, it’s crime fiction and thrillers: I re-read my Agatha Christie collection every few years. Ruth Rendell, Nicci French and Tana French are also firm favourites. I’ve just read an amazingly gripping book called The Housewarming by SE Lynes, and now I’m desperate to read the rest of her novels!

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

Some of my best ideas come from real-life dramas, grudges and weird experiences. I’m absolutely fascinated by psychology and am always trying to understand what might motivate a person towards a particular action or behaviour. I also have a habit of taking something I’ve seen or experienced in the course of my everyday life and asking, ‘What if…?’ to build up that scenario into something dramatic enough to be the subject of a thriller.

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

Cameron Mackintosh. I’ve co-written (with my friend, composer Annette Armitage) two musicals: The Mystery of Mr.E  (a murder mystery musical) and Work Experience (a musical locked room mystery)Very small and local productions of both have been staged in my hometown of Cambridge, and were huge, sell-out successes. The Mystery of Mr. E also did a small, national tour, which was thrilling. The pandemic has put paid to further plans for the moment but watch this space! And my dream would be to have Cameron Mackintosh collaborate with me to stage both at the West End. So, Sir Cameron, if you’re reading this, please get in touch!)

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

My current most exciting projects are, firstly, my online coaching programme for writers, Dream Author, which launched in 2019 and has had the most incredible success so far in terms of the difference it’s made to members’ lives and writing success levels. The programme offers psychological, practical and commercial help (and any/all other help a writer might want or need!) to writers in all genres and at all levels of experience—we have bestselling authors as well unpublished writers just starting out.

I created the programme because I’d noticed that so many writers I knew were creating unnecessary suffering for themselves just by the way they were thinking about their writing, not analysing or challenging the thoughts that were harming both their wellbeing and their ability to work towards their goals. When we learn to think about our writing situations and ambitions in the most helpful way, the positive results can be really dramatic. Anyone who’d like to find out more should visit the Dream Author website: https://dreamauthorcoaching.com/. You can sign up at any time!

I’m also at the moment currently writing Book 11 of my Culver Valley crime series. My detectives Charlie and Simon haven’t had an outing since book 10 in 2016, and I’m hugely exciting about this one coming out later in the year. Details will be available very soon and anyone who’d like to receive news of this latest book, or any of my other projects, can sign up to my newsletter at: https://sophiehannah.com/.

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

There is one in particular I’m very much looking forward to but it’s a top-secret project at the moment so I can’t divulge any details! Once it is officially announced there will be lots of excitement, however.

Do you have anything to add?

In the past couple of years, I’ve discovered how much I love podcasting and my How to Hold a Grudge podcast (based on my self-help book of the same name) now has five seasons available on iTunes, Spotify and all podcasty places! I discuss, with various guests, all things grudge-related. In the latest series we’ve covered apologies, complicity, forgiveness, plus the grudge worthy overlooking of Agatha Christie’s Mary Westmacott novels, the US Election and literary prizes.

I’ve also created a private weekly podcast for Dream Author members only, which covers all of the programme’s core topics. There’s a bonus episode on the Dream Author homepage all about building resilience, which anyone can access and you can find How to Hold a Grudge on iTunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/how-to-hold-a-grudge/id1439465411

Huge thanks to Sophie for answering my questions! As a huge fan of your work it’s amazing to find out more about your writing process.

Ericka Waller Interview: “I love character driven books”

Dog-lover and author of Dog Days Ericka Waller talks me through her writing process and all the work that goes into turning her ideas into amazing novels. She also tells me about her dogs, so she’s automatically awesome!    

Tell me about your career background. How did you become a published author?

That’s a long story. I always loved reading and writing. I did well in English but didn’t go on to university. I fell into marketing, which I didn’t really enjoy. Office life was not for me. Chats round the water cooler and drinkies after work. It felt like being the weirdo at school again.

The sudden loss of a close friend (aneurysm while at work) made me realise life was too short. She left three children under nine without a mum. I’d just had my first child. Suddenly my life felt like a bomb. I left my job to get my NCTJ in journalism. I already wrote a blog about my life as a mother. I ended up becoming a columnist for the Brighton paper. I had two stabs at getting a book published during that time, and then finally got accepted onto the Faber course for Novel Writing. 

The rest is history. That is a very short version, which does not include my anxiety, or the many almost misses and luck along the way. Nor does it do credit to my husband who demanded I not give up and forced me on the train to London for the course each week.

Tell me all about Dog Days. What inspired you to write it?

Grief, suicide, sadness and awkward women! I lost a very close friend (yes, another one) very suddenly. He was involved in the Shoreham Air Disaster. I think I needed to exorcise my grief, hence George. George has more than a dash of the friend I lost, Maurice, in him.

My husband also lost a friend, to suicide. I saw the black hole it left in people’s lives and realised how you never really know how people are feeling.

I wanted to write a character who turned out to be a lot more vulnerable than he appeared. Debunk the myth it’s a selfish thing to do. It’s tragic yes but I don’t believe it’s selfish.

I suffered from post-natal depression after all three of my children and found it fascinating to wake up with a completely different head to the one I was wearing the day before.  I thought about books like The Yellow Wallpaper and the idea that women think themselves in and out of things. It’s so damaging!

There is still a lot (too much) pressure on women to have a baby, start an organic candle making business, lose weight, breastfeed forever and enjoy every second of sleepless nights, nipple hairs, a lack of pelvic floor and never being able to anything for yourself without guilt weighing you down. Real life is had. I wanted to write a complicated woman, neither mad nor bad, just struggling.

Why do you think readers will enjoy reading your book?

Hopefully because, all of the above aside, it’s funny and honest and real and encourages the reader to live in the moment and enjoy what and who is important in life. It may change opinions on suicide, post-natal depression and even really grumpy old men! Obviously, it’s a hard sell on getting a dog…

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

I love character driven books. Anne Tyler is my favourite author. Her characters are so real, so happy and sad and honest. I still think about them. I also love Katherine Heiny, Mary Beth Keane, and Dianne Setterfield. I love irrelevant character traits damaged people. I am not plot driven. I care more about the people than the story. I love Fredrik Backman, Hanya Yanagihara for the worlds they create, and oh god I could go on and on and on.

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

Music and poetry yes. I think my brain absorbs a bit of everything, people, places, experiences, sounds, memories, and trauma, chews it up and then spits it back out a while later as a book. It’s not a conscious decision I make. I didn’t choose to write Dog Days. George, Dan and Lizzie moved into my head and refused to leave till I exorcised them. I do like to explore films and books I’ve not read or seen before in between writing, to see what comes out afterwards. I watched a lot of Poirot and listened to a lot of Dean Martin while working on book two…

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

Anne Tyler I think, probably. Yes her, or Fredrik Backman because I love them so very much. Can I have two? Can we live together while we write?

I’ve got to know- how many dogs do you have and why do you love dogs so much?

I have three dogs. A Labrador called Buddy, a miniature dachshund called Wiener and a Griffon called Enzo. I love that they love me unconditionally. I need that. I am impossibly hard on myself and finickity to live with. A real Virgo-pain-in-the-arse. My dogs love me when I win, when I lose, when I cry, when I fail, when I fall. They offer me a constant I’ve not always had in my life. You won’t be surprised to hear I lost my aunt a few years ago. I lived with her growing up. She was my second mother. She was more than that to be honest. Anyway, she used to say to me: ‘It doesn’t matter what has happened. It doesn’t matter how you feel. Get up, get up every day, wash your face with a clean hot flannel, make a pot of tea, then take your dogs for a walk.’ I do that, every day, regardless of how bad I feel and I always end up feeling better.

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

Helen Paris who was on the Faber course with me and has her book Lost Property coming out in April. Everything about her is exceptional and her book is so good I can’t talk about it without feeling emotional.

I’m also loving some of the translated literature coming out. Look out for Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas, and Lonely Castle In the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura!

Anything you’d like to add?

To anyone writing, don’t give up. To readers, give something new a go.

Thanks for taking the time Ericka, it’s been ace to hear about you and your writing (and your dogs)!