Christine Gabriel Interview: “I love everything about dark fiction”

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This week I invited Christine Gabriel to talk me through her work and how she has come to define a unique writing style that appeals to her vast readership, including Iron Man. 

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

Great question! What most people don’t know about me is that I can successfully write in multi genres. Dark fiction is what I chose to put out as my debut novel. I love everything about dark fiction, and how you can entwine it with reality to the point that you can’t determine what’s real, and what’s fiction. It’s so much fun!

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

I’ve been in the marketing field for almost 15 years. With my marketing knowledge, I was able to approach publishing houses with what I could do for them. They loved that I could help market my own book, along with their own efforts.

Then I signed with a publishing house – which shall remain nameless – and was terribly disappointed by their marketing/communication efforts, so I recovered my rights, and decided to move on.

One afternoon, I happened to be surfing Twitter, and saw PitMad was trending. Curious what Pitmad was, I decided to investigate. That’s when Pandamoon Publishing caught my eye. I sent them an email and have since been with them for over 5 years! What a happy ending, right?

Tell me all about the Crimson Chronicles series. What was your inspiration?

A good friend of mine, Stephanie Gerold, had asked me if I would write her a book about vampires. I gave her a firm no. Vampires were way overplayed at this point. Well, she kept asking, and I finally caved in. I agreed to write her a book – but without vampires (Shh, I did put ONE vampire in the book, just for her, and darn it, he ended up being everyone’s favourite character.)
crimson moon book cover

How do you draw on your own experience when writing?

I was bullied all through high school, so I spent quite a bit of time in my bedroom, writing amazing stories I could escape into. I use a lot of that experience in my writing. If I’m having a rough day, or if writer’s block hits, I think back to those dark moments in my life. I use those experiences in a positive way to help me write better and write more. It’s such a rush when you see the shock on your old classmate’s faces when they see you, and how you’ve changed. They’re even more shocked when they see what you’ve accomplished – especially when they told you would amount to nothing.

Have you done any other work that you are particularly proud of?

I’m currently working on a Women’s Fiction novel titled Real Men Don’t Cry. This book has made me go through an entire box of Kleenex already, and I haven’t even finished it yet. It’s going to be a good one.

What’s next for the Crimson Chronicles series? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

There are quite a few exciting things happening with the Crimson Chronicles Series. Though I can’t release any information yet, just know it’s super exciting, and fans will love it! One thing I can share with you is that Crimson Forest will be available as an audio book this fall!

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

There are a few new books I’m super excited to see released this year. Meg Bonney will be releasing her second book in the Everly series – Rosewood Burning. Her first book was phenomenal.

Another book I’m looking forward to is Nola Nash’s debut novel, Crescent City Moon. I’m a huge fan of New Orleans, and voodoo – so this book is right up my alley!

Anything you’d like to add?

I love connecting with my readers and fans. Interacting with them is what makes this worth it for me. If I can help someone escape their reality, even if just for a short period of time, that’s why I write. I do this for you guys!

Many thanks for answering my questions, it has been a pleasure having you on my blog.

 

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Mary Morony Interview: “I was fortunate enough to be born into a highly dysfunctional family”

Mary Morony

Ever heard of Southern Fried Fiction? Neither had I, so I chatted to the pioneer of this innovative genre, Mary Morony, to find out more!

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

What I write I call Southern Fried Fiction. I explore very heavy topics—alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, racism, and sexual abuse, just to name a few. Despite the subject matter, I like to think I have a deft hand with humor so things rarely get too maudlin or hard to handle. It is a delicate balance. I used the dual narrative in the first book to juxtapose all manner of family dysfunction with a Sallee’s wide-eyed innocence and Ethel’s down to earth common sense.

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

I have a B.A. in English with a focus on creative writing from the University of Virginia. I started my first book, Apron Strings long before The Help. It languished on my computer until I heard Katherine Stockett speak at the Virginia Festival of the Book. She relayed a story.

In one of her talks an audience member stood and said to her that the woman who raised her didn’t love her. She was paid to pretend that she loved her. After hearing that I had to publish my book. Raised by my family’s black maid, I knew for a fact that I was loved. The relationship of black domestic has been unfairly marginalized but from my perspective it deserves better and, as a righter of wrongs, I endeavoured to do so. Ethel my and Sallee, my protagonists are based on my relationship with Lottie the woman who raised me.

Tell me all about the Apron Strings Trilogy. What was your inspiration?

I was fortunate enough to be born into a highly dysfunctional family. In the South idiosyncrasies are a badge of honor, at least in my world. Being basically lazy—writing came easily—and fascinated by the characters that swarmed around my childhood household it was too easy to pass up.

Have you done any other work that you are particularly proud of?

Surviving my life with my sense of humor intact is a huge source of pride, as are my four remarkable children.  I am the mother of four. My two oldest children’s father committed suicide when they were very young. My next child’s father died from a very virulent form of cancer before she was born. I’m happy to say the fourth child’s father still survives. We’ve managed to stay married for the last 30 years. Rather than feel sorry for myself, I chose to use what I learned from all of those life lessons to write my novels.

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

Mark Twain is my favourite southern author. I tremble at the thought of his wicked wit and biting satire turned on me but would loved to have been able to have collaborated with him in his early years. He got a little too grumpy toward the end of his life.

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

In January, I had the pleasure of visiting Kampala Uganda with a Young Living Essential Oil group. While there, I visited a NGO created to help young girls, 12-20 year-olds out of the sex trade. The girls gave a presentation for us. A few brave souls shared a tiny bit of how they came to this place called Rahab’s Corner.

I still cannot describe what happened to me without emotions and tears welling up.  It was if I had been electrocuted, my whole body started to quake and buzz. Sitting still proved impossible. Simultaneous joy and abject fear rendered me speechless, as I fought back the desire to wail.

As soon as I was able to get myself together enough to speak coherently, I told my husband what had happened and what I thought it meant—I needed to come to Rahab’s Corner, get to know the girls, and write a book about them. Without hesitation he agreed, that in its self is God at work!

Not knowing why, I brought along copies of my three novels to Africa. I gave them to Moreen so that she might get a sense of my writing style and my ability to tell the girls’ stories. This project would segue beautifully with my previous work, as one of my major themes is redemption. Granted, I write about trauma in American families, but the effects of trauma and the healing power of redemption are the same the world over.

No stranger to intense drama and trauma in my own life, I am acutely aware of the healing power of story. Turning your personal horrors into a venue for healing not only cleanses the soul it changes the world, as Moreen’s- the founder of Rahab’s Corner-own magnificent story testifies.

The time seems so ripe, at least in the States, for a book like this.  The advantage a book would make is twofold. It would not only help the girls heal by turning their tales into vehicles of healing for themselves and others it would shine the spotlight on the great work done at Rahab’s Corner and Pure and Faultless Foundation. I am so excited to be invited to come to Rahab’s Corner and to write Moreen’s remarkable story. I leave in July for as long as it takes.

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

My upcoming trip to Uganda is as far into the future as I can see.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for the interview.

I’d like to thank Mary for taking the time to answer my questions; it has been truly fascinating to hear her thoughts. You can find out more about Mary and Southern Fried Fiction HERE.

Jem Tugwell Interview: “I like to explore the blurring of people and technology”

Jem Tugwell

As we gear up for the Bank Holiday weekend, thriller writer Jem Tugwell discusses how technology is offering unique opportunities for creativity in crime fiction.

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

I grew up reading the books my parent’s liked. Books like the Lord Peter Wimsey series and all the standalone Dick Francis books. I like thrillers with pace, action and good characterisation. When I had the time to start writing, I joined the City University Crime Writing MA, and one of the things the course teaches you is to write what you like to read. I try to follow this advice.

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

I started working in IT in the City and eventually founded a software house with my wife. We built and ran it for 10 years before selling about 10 years ago. Since then I have written a book on Finance, we have built a house and I now have the time to scratch the writing itch that I have had for years. I don’t currently write full time, but this is the goal.

Please tell me about your books. What defines your writing style?

I like to explore the blurring of people and technology and how willing people are to give up privacy and control for convenience. My debut book, Proximity, explores the themes of embedded technology, a stretched health service and the health and safety nanny-state and paints a world that could easily be only a few years away. Is this world of unexpected consequences, utopia or dystopia? That’s a very personal decision.

Although Proximity does have a futuristic element to it, I would classify it as an alternate police procedural, rather than sci-fi – there are no spaceships, aliens, superheroes, etc. It’s more of a Black Mirror future set in a city.

Proximity opens 10 years after the compulsory introduction of embedded technology which provides convenient and secure messaging, connectivity, banking, and security: but it also knows exactly where you are all of the time. It controls the food you eat, and the risks you take. Proximity crimes, such as murders and muggings, are non-existent, and the police force has been downsized.

In this world, having a missing person is impossible, but this is the challenge presented to DI Clive Lussac and DC Zoe Jordan. With technology working against them, they have to solve a missing person case that escalates into a triple murder. Who can subvert the technology? Who can commit the ‘impossible’ crimes?

I tend to write shorter sentences to make for a faster read and try and put in enough description to fire the reader’s imagination, rather than describe everything in a prescriptive manner.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I know it’s unfashionable to say it, but I am a plotter. I think it comes from my background in designing software and buildings where you make mistakes and waste time without a solid base. I will plot down to the scene or chapter level and make sure it all fits together before starting writing. A scene may just have a one sentence that describes its purpose, and that’s what I will use as inspiration when I write the scene.

I like writing from a first person point of view as it allows you to really get into a characters head and see their thoughts. Film, TV and theatre are usually third person stories and books are one of the few mediums that allows a first person story.

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

I try and read widely, usually crime but I also like some sci-fi and non-fiction. As I said before, I will always pick up a Reacher book, and will read Gerald Seymour, Wilbur Smith, Fredrick Forsyth books as well as debuts. I look for an interesting premise, something a bit different. I can read and reread The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin for its scale and imagination.

I shy away from gratuitous sex scenes, horror, and over described books. I’ve read a lot of physiological thrillers recently and have decided that I don’t really want to read three pages on the protagonist’s trip to the supermarket unless it is key to the plot.

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

I would have loved to meet and work with Spike Milligan. I always loved his sense of humour and I can imagine many a happy hour talking drivel and going off at tangents. As I mentioned before I love the Lee Child Reacher books so a collaboration with Lee would be an amazing learning experience of style and structure and plot. I think there might be quite a long queue for this.

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

It’s very simple. Finish Proximity and get it published. I’m open to offers!

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

I can read almost any writing style without a problem, but holes in the plot and key story points that are driven by coincidence drive me mad. I have a big pile of different books that I bought and haven’t got around to reading yet.

I really like the sound of The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave when it comes out.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you, Hannah, for interviewing me for the blog. As a new, unpublished author, trying to finish my book, find an agent and publisher, it is refreshing and motivating to be given the opportunity.

Thanks for taking the time, it’s been a pleasure hearing from you. You can find out more about Jem HERE.

Julie Reichwein Interview: “I hope that I can shine a light on how truly awful being a victim is”

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Fresh from the success of her latest book, I caught up with Julie Reichman to learn more about writing thrillers in the Me Too era.  

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards psychological thrillers?

I like many authors am an avid reader. I would say that literary agent, Paula S. Munier, who wrote a few great books on writing a story that sells helped me more than anything. Paula Hawkin’s,The Girl on the Train, spoke to me as far as writing style. I loved how she broke the chapters down into first person for each individual character. I felt like you really got to know the characters and that’s what I wanted for my book. I also like psychological thrillers because I feel like I am good at assessing people. My background isn’t of police work, but I’ve watched enough shows and read enough books to pick up general points but not the truly technical end of it. I am however very good at creating fictional characters based on psychological research, and I enjoy studying criminal psychology.

Tell me about how your background and how you draw on it to create your books?

My background is one of being self-employed for most of my life. I’ve dealt with people for my entire career, so I’ve met many interesting types of people. I’m also an avid traveler and love to learn about people in different cultures, so I feel I have a large pool of entertaining characters to draw on.

Talk me through your novel Fire & Fury. How is it influenced by other works?

I didn’t set out for it to be referred to Tarantino style, but I will say that people are busy in their lives. They’re worn out when they get home, so they don’t want to read something that doesn’t draw them in quickly and hold their attention. I’m the same. My goal was to keep the story moving at a fast pace without sacrificing the story, the characterization, or the plot. Apparently, I hit the mark because all of the professional book reviews that have come in have said I wrote a gripping, compelling, full-bore, relentless story with strong characterization. This obviously makes me happy to read. The two authors who influenced me the most in the writing of this book were Paula Hawkins and Stephen King.

What is the novel’s relevance in the Me Too era and how do you believe that readers relate to it?

I chose this story to tell because I became interested in learning about sexual assailants and the criminology of it because of an incident that happened to me in college. I was stalked by the mailman and came within feet of being raped or killed, but I was saved by my dog and the fact I was on the line with 911. The stalker took off. In 1982, there were no stalking laws, so I had to move. A few years later, it happened again. Again I had to move. So sexual assault has always been something I’ve been interested in and I wanted to do a story about it. The murdered girl in my story was inspired by someone I know. While she wasn’t murdered, the reaction of her family destroyed her, and I wanted to understand more about it. As I read up on it, I learned that children who are sexually molested by a parent are often isolated because the mother turns against them and so do their siblings. The abused child is abandoned by her family. The wife sees her as a mistress and the siblings are jealous because of the attention the father pays to the molested daughter. The abused child then abuses substances and spirals out of control by getting into bad relationships. My story tries to bridge a modern day rape where a powerful man rapes women he feels he can intimidate with a cold case of a girl who was sexually abused by her father and enters into debasing relationships which culminates in her death. The Detective quickly learns both cases are connected. I live in Santa Fe, which is a multi- cultural town and so I wanted to bring race into it as a factor as well because women of color are more likely to be raped than Caucasian women.

What aspect of your books do you feel attracts your readers and makes your work so hard to put down?

I will let the reviewers answer this. “Author Julie Reichwein has put together a gripping, relentless, super fast psychological thriller and I wouldn’t expect less when it comes to… revenge! This novel is divided in 69 chapters and each one of them is allocated to a specific character at a time. I really enjoy this kind of organization as it strengthens characterization, we come to know each one of the characters really well – ie. their motives, thoughts, traumas, fears, backgrounds, etc.”

“And certainly she did a thorough research about the different characters, for instance, sexual assailants and their psychology. For the characters have very strong personalities and their souls are masterfully exposed in their sick, gritty, dirty and dark glory, sometimes their behaviors borders on the ridicule but I think it adds to their authenticity.

“Reichwein is very good also when it comes to describing scenes, she makes it look effortless as she uses the exact right amount of description – not wordy but also not lacking in detail, this will make the reader easily visualize the scene in his/her mind.”

Where do you find the inspiration for your work? Are there any specific exercises or tricks you use to get your creative juices flowing?

Every time I didn’t like a sentence or a paragraph or a page etc I would go back and reread, The Girl on the Train, or one of Stephen King’s books. I wanted it full- bore from start to finish, and I didn’t stop editing until I was 100% satisfied. I would also go back to Paula Munier’s book about the first 10 pages, and I would make sure I was keeping the story well-paced with strong characterization. When I was at the point that I was ready emotionally to kill some of the characters, I felt like my readers would be there, too.

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

Stephen King. I’m not a horror reader in general, but I am a Stephen King fan. He gets you into the story and the characters like no one else. He’s the true master.

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?

I have two more books that I have final edits to finish. Kilos & Killer Heels and Killer Heels- 1/2way to Hell.

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

I just discovered Iris Yang’s Wings of a Flying Tiger. It’s a story about a wounded American pilot in China during WWII when Japan occupied the country. One cousin risked everything to help this pilot.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I tried to bring the true sordidness of sexual assault and the emotional devastation it causes to my story. Many crime writers address the issue from a clinical angle where I tried to address it from an emotional point of view. Not just from the abused but from the abuser as well. I hope that I can shine a light on how truly awful being a victim is, so that those fortunate enough to not have been victimized can understand the toll and emotional devastation of sexual assault.

Thanks Julie, it has been truly fascinating to here from you. You can find out more about Julie and her work HERE.

 

Minnette Coleman Interview: “I started creating my stories as soon as I learned how to form letters with a pencil”

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Following on from my newfound interest in historical fiction I decided to have a chat with Minnette Coleman, renowned historical author about how she creates such engaging novels that transport the reader back to times long past.

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

I’m a story teller, not sure if that is considered a real ‘style’, but it is how I envision my writing. I like to feel that I am looking at you as I tell my story. My desire is to talk to the reader, not at the reader, and make them feel that I am with them when they take a journey with my words. I purposely try not to copy other writers, other styles, although one can’t help it if, from time to time, a little bit of substance from an influential author seeps in. With my first book The Blacksmith’s Daughter someone tried to peg my style as akin to the writers of the 19th century. Not sure where that came from, unless it had to do with the calm and purposeful way I wrote the tale.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

Writing is in my blood. My parents met at a poetry club. My father went on to becoming an award- winning journalist and City Editor for The Atlanta Daily World, the second oldest African-American daily newspaper in the United States. His mother was a poet and my mother continues to write poetry to this day. I started creating my stories as soon as I learned how to form letters with a pencil. After that I wrote everything I could just to keep in practice. And I mean everything. I kept diaries about events that I deemed important in my life and looked at them from time to time when I needed a reference for an idea.

Of course my past included family, and family was the source of my first two novels. My first professional writing job was covering The Atlanta Jazz Festival years ago. I didn’t care that much for doing that. I preferred fiction sweetened with a little bit of fact, and that’s when I started drawing on my past to create historical fiction.

Please tell me about your books. Are they all historical fiction? How do you work to entice the reader to read them?

To entice readers I give them a picture, which I paint with my words. I have to see everything as if no words were spoken. If I can’t see it, I have to start over again. And since my books are all historical fiction, I have to make sure the picture I paint lifts the reader to that time or era. From hairstyles to clothing, my readers have to see it as I do, as if they were with me on this journey. In my latest novel The Tree: A Journey to Freedom, I go back to history of the Underground Railroad and the Quakers and abolitionists to build the tale of Epsie as she decides to become a ‘running away’ and find the mythical tree in the North Carolina woods that, once reached, almost certainly guarantees freedom.

In No Death by Unknown Hands, I followed the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in the southern United States and let my story unfold in a community setting as my young protagonist lived through the changes of the times– change I created from my dad’s articles, my family background and from a vivid imagination that allowed me to dwell in my research on the early 1950s.

For The Blacksmith’s Daughter, I led the reader to the blacksmith’s shop. But only after you got to hear the cock crow in the early mornings, see the fine table setting that was presented with the blacksmith’s breakfast and allow the reader to fall in love with his loving wife, five beautiful single daughters and a cripple son.

In each story I gave the reader the fear I felt while running from the dogs bred to hunt slaves or while hiding in the trees, the smell of the greasy bacon and the fresh biscuits first thing in the morning, the feel of the water flowing through your hair while someone else washed it. As a story teller, you take your hand and fill it with these magical pictures and pull the reader in. When you close your hand and they want more, you know you have a great story. I get excited thinking about what story I will tell next.

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 first two novels were based on characters and events in the past. My paternal grandfather was one of the last blacksmiths in Atlanta, Georgia, so I created a story around what it would have been like had he become extremely wealthy in land dealings in the early 20th century. And of course I wanted to be a journalist like my dad when I was younger, so No Death by Unknown Hands was an ode to that desire.

With The Tree I looked back to when I lived in one of the original buildings of Guilford College, my alma mater, and the deep and extremely scary cellar where we stored our trunks and suitcases. I thought this would make a great place to hide run-away slaves. Historically this space wasn’t used for that purpose, but combine it with the 300-year-old tulip poplar tree on campus that is now part of the National Parks Services ‘Network to Freedom’ and you have a setting for a journey to freedom.

As for writer’s block-don’t you hate that? You get a good idea going and then it falls off a cliff. Lots of time I sleep on it. When that doesn’t work, when I don’t wake up in the middle of the night or the next morning with an answer, I wait. That could take forever in the general sense, but when I say wait I mean I start telling myself the story of the scene I am working on again and again and usually the muse makes a return. Guess it’s tired of the replay and wants me to move along.

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

Oh, I’m so glad you asked that. I have two so give me a moment to explain. They are both deceased but they both stay with me. The late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, that’s the first one. I thought about him when I wrote The Tree. I would have him teach me how to tap into the style of magical realism. Then we could collaborate on a tale of our cultures crossing for the good of the current world.

Octavia Butler is my other choice. At one time I wanted to write science fiction. I got to meet her once and we had a conversation about the value of getting people to read more. Perhaps she could have kept me on the path to science fiction.

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

Wow! Where do I start? I am pleased to be working on a child’s version of The Tree. The cover of the current novel was done by my very talented nephew, Ricky Townsley. He also is working on the illustrations for the children’s version.

Recently I did an article for the Friends Association of Higher Education on the connections between Black and Quaker history. It should be out and online this month. And there are other tales that I am working on. So many stories to tell, so little time. It is hard to pick one, but I am sure it will have an historical nature even if it is about today.

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

Last summer I read The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemison. Extremely interesting and exciting sci-fi. I am going to finish the series. I am also looking forward to the May 2018 release of a book by Zora Neale Hurston never published before. The title is Barracon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo. My understanding is Ms. Hurston got a first hand interview with someone who was stolen from an African village. So exciting!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I used to teach workshops for teen journalists on how to get a good

interview. I always told them to have the interviewee talk about themselves. People love that. I have to admit, I am no different: I have thoroughly enjoyed talking with you about my work. Thanks so much for this opportunity!

Thanks for taking the time, it has been truly awesome to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Clive Allan Interview: “I have also been drawn to stories with a regional or local theme”

Clive Allan

Former Policeman Clive Allan talks me through his work and how he draws on his experience in the force to enhance his atmospheric novels.

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

To answer your first question, I suppose I would really need to go back to my childhood, and the books I read when I was very young. The very British Enid Blyton mysteries, featuring the Famous Five and others, initially come to mind. Then, when I was a little older, the American Hardy Boys series was a favourite of mine. The simple, colloquial writing style employed by the authors of these childhood books made them eminently readable, allowing me to concentrate fully on the plot and characters. Henceforth, my love of mysteries and thrillers was born. In later years I studied English literature at college, and was introduced to Shakespeare, Jane Austen and the like. As impressive as the classics are, I regularly found that interpreting these often complex works and the coded language of their creators, a mystery in their own right!

As an adult, and having chosen a career in the police service, I not surprisingly immersed myself in the works of a wide range of crime fiction and thriller authors, some the megastars of their genre, and some not so well known. Those who impressed me the most, created characters that were gritty and believable, often through clever use of dialogue and imaginative disclosure of their personal lives and life experiences.

I have also been drawn to stories with a regional or local theme, especially those relating to areas I know well. The Brighton based Roy Grace books by Peter James are a notable example. When I started writing, I wanted to take this concept a step further, transporting the reader to a place when they turned the first page, that by the time they had read the last, they never wanted to leave. It was a challenge that I found irresistible and still do.

So, when I retired, after thirty years of policing, I started work on my first novel, The Drumbeater. It was a project that I had long wanted to embark upon and now at last had the time to commit to. It was to be a work that embraced all the elements I have described above, and with a sizeable chunk of historical context, the other great interest that has remained with me since my youth.

How do you draw on your past as a policeman in your writing?

I was lucky enough to experience a wide range of policing activities during my long career with Sussex Police. I worked as a uniformed patrol officer, a detective and a firearms officer, to name but a few. Then, as I worked my way up through the ranks, I experienced these activities from different perspectives, for example, managing significant incidents including those involving firearms, rather than being part of the front-line response. All in all, I developed an oversight of the world of policing that few authors who have not been in my position can ever aspire to. So, when it came to creating the characters of police officers in my books, I’d like to think I fully utilised my experience to ensure they were plausible, engaging and hopefully interesting. The cops featured in my books are creations that relate to one or more real people, incorporating character traits I have come across over many years: straight talking, courageous, cynical and often possessing a wickedly dry sense of humour. Most importantly they need to be human, flaws and all, but not dysfunctional. There are too many of them in the world of crime fiction already!

When it comes to describing police operations, I have tried to depict these and the processes behind them in as realistic a way possible. Having said this, a certain degree of licence is needed to progress the story apace and keep the reader hooked.

Taking all this into account, making my protagonist, Detective Inspector Neil Strachan, a Scottish policeman, presented its own challenges. The policing and legal systems in Scotland differ somewhat to those in England. As such, they have their own distinctive procedural elements and links to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. So, my work was cut out from the start, requiring some considerable research! Thankfully, those Scottish police officers, serving and retired who have read the books, have provided me with very favourable feedback, so much relief all round!

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

My first Novel, The Drumbeater, centres on the sleepy Scottish fishing village of Glendaig. Very little has ever happened there, until one day in 2009, two hillwalkers discover skeletal remains buried on a remote beach. The evidence points to murder, to a crime dating back seventy years to World War Two. From here on in, the story diverges. The narrative follows Detective Inspector Strachan, graduate historian, and now career cop, as he slowly unravels the mystery surrounding the buried bones. Alongside this, the reader is introduced to the residents of Glendaig seventy years earlier, and a tale of subterfuge, escape and astounding loyalty. The two strands of the story finally coalesce, to provide what I hope is a memorable climax.

The Well of the Dead was released last year as a sequel to The Drumbeater. Set in April 2010, the novels centre around the brutal murders of distillery owner, Duncan Fraser, and his wife Laura, which shock the small rural community of Glenruthven in Strathnairn, to the east of Loch Ness. Neil Strachan once more finds himself delving into the past. This time, he and his new partner, Sergeant Holly Anderson, go head to head with a ruthless and violent criminal, apparently obsessed with his Jacobite ancestry.

Again, the story furcates between 1746 and 2010, as Strachan investigates an ancient clan feud and a mystery dating back to the Battle of Culloden. As if this isn’t enough, he also finds himself forced to confront personal problems of his own. His long-term partner, Catriona Duncan, is acting strangely, causing him to suspect that she is having an affair. The young detective’s determination to bring the Frasers’ killer to justice, and to uncover the truth behind his erring partner’s behaviour, test him both personally and professionally. He finally reaches the point where his judgement becomes blurred and his reputation is on the line. I’ll leave it there!

As I have alluded to before, I think the books appeal not only to fans of crime fiction, but to the thriller genre in general. Readers with an interest in Scotland and its turbulent but romantic history, or in the case of The Drumbeater, more recent military history relating to World War Two, will hopefully enjoy these books. But I’ll leave the final word to two of my reviewers who I suppose sum it up from a reader’s perspective.

“There’s so much here for devotees of police procedurals right through to lovers of beautiful Scottish landscapes and, with a sea mist drifting from many of its pages, this book (The Drumbeater) will also find an enthusiastic welcome from those interested in naval history.”   Marcus Case

“Reminded me of holidays spent in the Highlands and made me feel like packing a bag to return there straight away, or at least once I’d read the book right through to the end.”   Caryl Williams

Tell me more about Inspector Neil Strachan. What do you believe attracts readers to your character?

When I set about creating the character of Neil Strachan, I asked myself what sort of cop I wanted him to be. Not surprisingly, plausibility was very much on my mind. One thing was for sure. I didn’t want him to be one of those dysfunctional characters that often feature in detective stories. You know the stereotype, heavy drinker, probably alcoholic, living alone in some seedy flat due to a failed marriage. I could go on. That is not my experience of a modern detective, whatever their rank, in today’s police service. Yes, real cops have their problems and reflect society as a whole, but seldom to the extent portrayed in popular fiction. In fact, I defy anyone to go into a bookshop and find me more than a handful of examples of a police related protagonist who leads a near normal life!

Thankfully there are colourful characters still to be found in CID offices, but senior detectives must also be highly professional these days. They need to be part psychologist, part scientist and part lawyer. Oh, and an old-fashioned copper too, when required! They also need to manage large teams of people, deal effectively with the media and a host of other agencies. That’s a little difficult when your life is all but falling apart! So, Neil Strachan was going to be different, an academic, young in service, and career driven, a modern police manager who relates well to his staff but is certainly no pushover. He is also a red-blooded male, passionate in his beliefs, but not without flaws, and harbouring a touch of youthful immaturity at times.

I suppose he is the amalgam of several ex colleagues, including me, when I was a young detective, struggling to make a name for myself. Overall, I’m pleased with the finished product; Strachan is a nice guy from a generally stable background, masculine in every way, but by no means perfect. It seems to have worked, particularly for one lady reviewer who admitted that she’d developed a crush on him by the time she had finished reading The Drumbeater!

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 Highlands of Scotland is a magical place, where history and folklore percolate every inch of its desolate and moody landscape. So, who couldn’t be inspired by this gem of a location? The theme of the Neil Strachan mysteries has been to inject aspects of Scotland’s turbulent past into a modern-day crime thriller. So, as far as historical inspiration is concerned, the options are almost endless. Having owned a home in the Highlands for eleven years, I have travelled extensively around the region, and have read widely about its history. There are of course, aspects of this subject that interest me more than others, for example, military history. I was partly inspired to write The Drumbeater, having read about a high security prisoner of war camp in remotest Sutherland, a camp that held the most notorious of all captured German servicemen, including U-boat crews. Historically, no one ever managed to escape whilst incarcerated in Scotland… but what if someone had been successful? I had also read about Operation Drumbeat, a not so well known element of the U-boat war in the Atlantic during 1941-2. So, I asked myself, how could this secret German initiative be woven into the story? The Drumbeater is the result.

Moving on to my second book, the iconic Culloden Battlefield was a short drive from our Highland home, a place my wife and I visited on many occasions. My fascination with the story of the battle and the Jacobite rebellion that led up to it, was quickly piqued. Once again, I read widely about this short conflict and its final, brief, clash of arms. From those stories, some almost lost in the fog of time, The Well of the Dead was born. The well, incidentally, is an actual location in the heart of the battlefield, and the events that took place there in 1746 play a pivotal role in the book’s plot.

Touching briefly on the issue of writer’s block, I have to say I have never personally recognised this as a problem. I do occasionally gaze out across the fields from my study window, seeking the best choice of words to reflect what I want to convey to my readers, but I never struggle with the development of my plot and characters. This is perhaps because I fastidiously pre-plan the progression of the story in skeletal form, chapter by chapter. So, by the time I come to engage in the fun bit… the creative writing… all the historical, technical and plot related elements are already in place. I also raise a detailed background profile of all my major characters, so detailed in fact, I get to know them intimately. Though, much of what I create in these in-depth profiles never finds its way into the finished book!

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

This is a difficult one. There are of course many authors I would aspire to emulate and learn from, but perhaps, if I were pushed, I would seek to collaborate with Scottish author, Peter May. Having read many of his books, particularly those relating to the Isle of Lewis, I believe we would probably see eye to eye when it came to devising a plot! He too, writes thrillers that seek to immerse the reader in the very landscape in which his story is based. He evocatively brings the hebridean scenery to life, with considerable attention to small details and creates characters that are believable and beautifully portrayed. Like my books, specific themes, run through his storylines, some relating to the present day, such as the crisis relating to the global bee population in Coffin Road, and some to the past. An example of the latter would be the mass emigration of Scots following the Highland clearances in Entry Island.

I also enjoy May’s writing style and would refer to my comments in your first question to qualify this view. Here is an author who allows the reader to concentrate on the story and enjoy his descriptive narrative, without the constant need to reach for a dictionary!

I wish I had read his books before embarking upon mine. There is a lot they could’ve taught me, and if I had the chance to work with him, he still could.

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

A year has now passed since the publication of The Well of the Dead, during which time I’ve been busy extending and renovating our Georgian cottage. However, I’m now getting the urge to put Neil Strachan through his paces once again and have been laying the foundations of a new mystery that may well feature the remote and mystical island of St Kilda. Watch this space!

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

He may not be a crime writer, but I have recently developed a liking for books by author Leslie Thomas who wonderfully evokes the trials of everyday life in wartime Britain. I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying The Dearest and the Best, a novel based in the New Forest, an area close to our home He’s by no means a new writer when it comes to reputation, but his books are certainly a new addition to my kindle!

When it comes to crime fiction and thrillers, Mark Billingham’s two new DI Thorne novels, Love Like Blood and The Killing Habit are certainly on my “to read” list, as is Panic Room by Robert Goddard, another of my favourite authors.

Of course, it goes without saying, I will be looking forward to Peter May’s next offering, when it comes. I’ve just read his latest book, I’ll Keep You Safe and can honestly say this has been his best Hebridean thriller so far (in my view).

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you so much, Hannah, for inviting me to talk to you about my writing experience to date and my books. It has been my pleasure to contribute to your brilliant site, and to join the host of very talented authors who have been previously featured.

Thanks ever so much for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been awesome. You can read more about his work HERE.

Christoffer Petersen Interview: “I think the setting for my books helps to define their style”

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As the Beast from the East continues to keep the UK cold and damp, I talk to someone who knows the true meaning of tough weather; Denmark based Arctic explorer Christoffer Petersen, whose novels are set against a backdrop of the harsh Greenlandic landscape. He talks to me about his books and how they are enhanced by their unique setting.

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

I think the setting for my books helps to define their style, especially the crime books. Before I lived in the Arctic, I read a lot of Jack London stories and became fascinated with how the environment was just as much a character as the characters themselves. It’s like the ring in The Lord of the Rings; it has a voice, and I’d like to think I capture that in my style of writing. Of course, I have to show it through my characters, something I did a lot with Fenna Brongaard in my Arctic thrillers, but less so with David Maratse in the crime books, as he is more in tune with the environment. He is Greenlandic, after all. I let Jack London influence my style of writing when I write short stories featuring Maratse.

I think I was forced into crime fiction when Maratse, a Greenlandic policeman, demanded his own series. That might sound silly, but when you spend enough time with your characters, it is easy to imagine them wanting something. Crime is the best genre for Maratse, and, during my time in Greenland, I had a lot to do with the police in the local communities where I lived, and I even worked at the Police Academy in Nuuk during my last year in Greenland. However, Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith is perhaps where my interest in crime books started. I read about Arkady Renko when I was in my teens, and the character and the writing, not least the setting, continues to be a big influence on me.

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

I started out as an outdoor instructor and canoe guide, working in England, Scotland, Canada and the USA. I spent a few months each year for a few years as a sledge dog handler in Norway, England, and the USA, while working odd jobs, before I trained to be a teacher in Denmark and moved to Greenland in 2006. I had always tried to write, including terribly depressing poems in my early twenties, but it was in Greenland, particularly during the winter months of complete darkness, that I really started. I decided to learn how to write for a career by enrolling on the Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. I started studying by distance learning while in Greenland and graduated in 2015. The Ice Star was my final project together with an accompanying contextual essay where I studied environmental determinism in literature, looking specifically at how Mary Shelley used the Arctic to define her characters in Frankenstein. The MA gave me the academic foundation and tools to begin to write well, and that was when I knew I had to be a full-time writer. I have been working towards that ever since and decided to go for it in January this year.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

First, I love that the question suggests that my books have become popular. They are certainly selling, and there are lots of people leaving reviews on Goodreads. As to why they have become popular, I think that has a lot to do with the return of Nordic Noir, helped massively by the British interest in Danish crime fiction and series on television. Forbrydelsen (The Killing) has certainly boosted interest in the genre, along with more recent crime series set in Iceland. My books are on Amazon, and I am consistently listed alongside Icelandic writers such as Ragnar Jónasson and YrsaSigurðardóttir. The series Trapped is set in Iceland, and I think it always helps crime books when crime series on television capture the interest of viewers.

Greenland is, of course, the setting for my books, and it is geographically close to Iceland. Both countries are stark, raw, beautiful, and fascinating. The challenging environment provides plenty of scope for isolation, survival, and murder. Crime books set in the Arctic are not new, but they are gaining in popularity.

However, I hope that Fenna’s story in particular is popular in part because of who she is. I wanted to create a strong independent woman that gets the job done, no matter how uneasy it makes her feel. She operates within a world of men, but it is her actions, not her sex, that defines her.

What defines your writing style? Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I tend to experiment with my writing in the short stories, imagining how Jack London might approach writing crime novels. I have used the idea of the unnamed narrator in my short stories, but tend to stick to a close-third POV in my thrillers, and a more omniscient third person style in the Maratse crime novels. I remember being very impressed by John le Carré’s Tailor of Panama when the main character’s lie is revealed by another character, and the reader is left with the feeling of being left out for a page or two. I would be very happy if I could emulate that particular writing foil.

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

I mentioned Gorky Park, but I would be remiss if I didn’t name Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. These are two books that have seriously influenced me. Both authors set the bar very high. I’m not even close, even standing on tiptoes and reaching. I love John le Carré’s trilogy featuring George Smiley, I can easily get lost in Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy, and I absolutely loved Dan Simmons’ The Terror. I save Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series for those guilty pleasures, and when I really want to explore a strange new world, no-one does it better than China Miéville.

Now, you might ask, where are all the female writers? And more crime writers for that matter. Well, I don’t want to read too much crime for fear of being “inspired”. As for female writers, Ursula le Guinn’s Wizard of Earthsea was a game-changer of a book, and E. Annie Proulx’ The Shipping News changed my life and sent me on a quest to kayak alongside icebergs and whales in the Arctic. Proulx’ Brokeback Mountain is also a beautiful and universal love story – far better than the film. Sadly, I read less than I used to, now that I write as much as I do. When I need a break from words I see a lot of films.

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

I think this is the most difficult of your questions, Hannah. If the purpose was to learn through collaboration, then I think Wilbur Smith could teach me everything I need to know about writing long and exciting chase scenes through open terrain. Martin Cruz Smith could teach me about character, and Peter Høeg could inspire me lyrically. I’d like to sit by the wood burning stove in the cabin listening to Jack London mutter as he wrote, and I’d be pleased to add an idea here or there. I could learn so much from screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. Specifically, I would want to pick his brains about dialogue. Cormac McCarthy, because I read The Road, and then I read Blood Meridian and found a sentence at least one page long. I need to know how to do that. As for actual collaboration, Michael Ridpath, if you’re reading this, let’s collaborate.

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

Actually, yes. I am in the process of writing a series featuring a Scottish-born Danish detective called Freja Hansen. It is set partly in the Scottish Highlands, and partly in the area of Denmark where I live called Sønderborg, in southern Denmark. The introductory short story is called Fell Runner and comes out in June.

I lived in Scotland for seven years, got my BA in Outdoor Education from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, and met my Danish wife when working in Aviemore. My real surname is Scottish, so, it’s a bit like coming home to write about Freja solving crimes in the Scottish Highlands.

I do have more crime books in the Greenland crime series coming out later this year, and I am not quite done with Fenna’s story. So, more Arctic thrillers on the way, too.

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

Philip Pullman. I didn’t mention him earlier, but Northern Lights was yet another book that encouraged me to keep moving north to the Arctic. I bought La Belle Sauvage on pre-order – both digital and hardback – and I can’t wait for the next in the Book of Dust trilogy. Neal Asher has a new science fiction book coming out called The Soldier which I am excited about, and I have to keep an eye on the Icelanders. I am currently reading Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series.

Anything you’d like to add?

I really appreciate you taking the time and interest to ask me about my books and my writing. Thanks.

Thank you for speaking with me Christoffer, it has been a pleasure. You can find out more about Christoffer and his Arctic adventures HERE.