N. M. Brown Interview: “I spent most of my teenage years gleefully devouring horror novels”

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With a focus on serial killers, Norman M Brown’s writing takes readers deep into the heart of a mystery. I invited him to talk me through his work and how he crafts his often terrifying narratives.

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

My writing style is very much an extension of how I speak. I try to keep my novels short enough to read on flight or on a couple of hours, but still pack a punch in terms of plot. My typical narrative voice is conversational, but that is intentionally designed to ease readers in a world that is brimming with dangers. I try to keep the descriptions lean, and reduce chapters down to the most relevant information. If my writing were compared to painting I’d be more of an impressionist than a realist. This is mainly because, I often feel a little cheated when I pick up a book that is packed with superfluous description of every object in a room, or if there’s a ten-page explanation of the coffee shop in which the protagonist briefly pauses. I love writers who can establish an atmosphere or scene through a couple of key descriptions or objects. That leaves space for the reader to add elements from their own imagination.

In regard to my interest in Serial Killer fiction, like many crime writers, I spent most of my teenage years gleefully devouring horror novels– from the Gothic vampires and undead of Victorian classics, to the contemporary monsters of Stephen King and Clive Barker. Later on, as undergraduate, I learned how these monsters often serve as mirrors reflecting the fears and anxieties of the society which spawned them. In that respect, serial killers-whether real or imagined- are our 21st century monsters. The problem is that they are no longer so easily identifiable by their hideous appearance on their sprawling castle in the mountains. The work in our offices, live in our streets and smile to us as we pass them. That’s what fascinates and scares me. My novels are my attempt to exorcise those fears.

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

I have written fiction throughout my entire adult life, but my interest in writing a Crime Thriller was a direct result of forgetting to take my Kindle on holiday two years ago. I arrived in the villa and sighed with genuine relief when I discovered a fully stocked bookcase. However, the books were almost all Crime Thrillers One the first books I read was The Black Echo by Michael Connelly. I enjoyed the book so much that I decided to set myself a personal challenge – to create my own detective and take him on a journey that people would hopefully want to experience. Having taught high school English for a couple of decades, I knew the elements of setting and character that appealed to me, so it was simply a case of sitting down with my laptop and tapping it out.

Tell me about your books. How did you come to write them and what was the inspiration behind them.

The Girl on the Bus has an element of personal experience: about twenty years ago, I took a bus from Stirling to Inverness in the Highlands , a journey of over three hours through the picturesque but isolated Cairngorms National Park. The trip was lovely and the scenery stunning. Stirling merged into Perth then Perth into Pitlochry. As I sank into my bus seat, complete with curtained window and a complimentary cup holder, I lost myself in the pages of a cheap paperback book. Occasionally, I would drift off and wake with my face sliding on the cold glass of the window.  But at some point, as the bus weaved its way through the rugged mountains, I realised that the dramatic landscape outside was quite devoid of civilisation. If anything happened to the coach party out there, no one would ever know. Then, in the typically morbid spirit of any crime fiction fan, I considered how terrible it would be if anyone on that solitary bus was actually a killer. Glancing nervously around at my fellow commuters, I studied their faces for traces of psychopathy, and concluded that they all had potential (it was Scotland after all). I then hit on an even more worrying possibility. What if everyone on the bus, including the driver, were actually killers? It would be a mobile crime scene. And what if that bus picked up a naïve passenger who felt safe because there were plenty of other people on the bus with them? That idea grew into my first published novel.

Carpenter Road was the result of the research I had carried out for the first book. The story was inspired by the setting. When writing the first Leighton Jones novel – The Girl on the Bus- I wanted to make the central character as real as possible, without getting too tangled up in backstory. I therefore tried to include just enough details from the past to give the reader a sense of the Leighton’s history, and hopefully make him a little more three dimensional.

In that capacity, there are a couple of times in the book when police officers make references to a historical incident at Black Mountain involving Leighton Jones. We never find out what this incident was, but some of Leighton’s colleagues seem impressed by it. We are also told that the incident also resulted in Gretsch becoming Chief of Oceanside P.D. In his typical style, Leighton is reluctant to speak about it. Carpenter Road is the story of that incident.

I got the seed of the idea when I was originally researching the San Diego area whilst writing the first novel. As I poured over the maps, I made notes on any places of interest. Most of the time I was looking for good places to hide a sinister old bus. However, sometimes I would simply notice an intriguing place name. One such name was Black Mountain. When I first read those two words, my mind was flooded with images. It sounded like the perfect place for the climax of that novel. To me, the name conjured up images of a craggy place – some fusion of Tolkien’s Mount Doom and Castle Dracula.  After pouring a cup of coffee, I sat down at my computer and began looking at images and street views of Black Mountain. I felt my heart sink…

Rather than some sinister location, Black Mountain was actually a rather picturesque area of California, complete with a private development of luxury homes. However amongst the many images, I discovered one that hinted at a darker side to this beautiful part of the country. It was a picture taken from the fascinating website: hiddensandiego.net, featuring an old mineshaft in Black Mountain Canyon. Obviously, there was no way to take my scary old bus into a mineshaft – although I did eventually use the idea of it tumbling into a canyon – so I saved the images in a folder of potential locations.

In that same folder were images relating to a second place name that had also struck a chord with as I read it was Carpenter Road. For some reason it reminded of the absolutely terrifying The Walrus and the Carpenter by C.S. Lewis – you can easily find it online if you’re brave enough. I had read the narrative poem at university and it gave me nightmares. In the poem, the eponymous characters are described walking along a beach where they encounter a group of little oysters. The seemingly respectable convince compliant little oysters to accompany them on a walk to some distant rock. Upon stopping for a rest, the oysters look in horror as their two new friends produce bread and vinegar and begin to feed. Many academics have debated the significance of these two characters, but to me they were simply killers.

Once I had completed The Girl on the Bus, I sat down in front of the computer to write the prequel and opened the folder of locations. Seeing images of both Black Mountain and Carpenter Road together was enough to ignite my imagination. I therefore decided to write a story involving a character that shows up – like the Walrus and the Carpenter– in desolate places to kill whoever they want. Fortunately, for me, Carpenter Road in Oceanside is a fairly deserted place at night and fits the idea well.

As for Black Mountain and the old arsenic mines, I decided that this would serve as the belly of the beast for Leighton Jones. A mineshaft is dark and remote. Not the sort of place you want to enter to confront a serial killer.  So the settings helped inspire the story. Of course I still had to consider how a traffic officer – as Leighton was at the time – would become embroiled in the case. I figured that the simplest way would be to start off with a car, a missing person, and a witness that nobody would believe. At that point I knew I had a story that even as the writer had me hooked. Hopefully it will have a similar effect on some readers too.

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

I like Cormac McCarthy. He has a wonderful for voices, and his prose is sometimes so sparse that it almost seems like poetry. I also like the old masters – especially Ray Bradbury who imbued much of his writing with a feeling of real affection for all aspects of life. In terms of my own genre, Michael Connelly gets my respect for his meticulous research, and the scale of the world he has built around Detective Harry Bosch.

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

Michael Connelly for the reasons given above. I would love to see how Leighton Jones would cope with working alongside Harry Bosch.

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

Yes, my third Leighton Jones novel, Toys in the Dust takes my protagonist to his first unofficial missing persons case. It is loosely based upon two of the oldest, most disturbing cold cases in history: Maria Ridulph and The Beaumont Children. However, I wanted to write about an abduction case in which the child escapes from their captor, and has to rely on their wits to survive.

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

I have been looking forward to Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia. I have always been drawn to stories involving woods and forests. Add a disappearance or two and you have me ready to turn those pages.

Anything you’d like to add?

Just my thanks to you for taking an interest in my work.

It’s been great to hear from you, thanks ever so much for answering my questions. You can find out more HERE.

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Rona Halsall Interview: “I’ve always had writing at the heart of my work”

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This week I caught up with thriller writer Rona Halsall to find out more about her debut novel and upcoming projects.

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

Well I didn’t start off writing psychological thrillers, although they’re one of my favourite genres. I didn’t think I’d be able to work out plot twists and plant little clues – all that planning! So I started writing romance. I finished writing my first book and pitched it to an agent at a literary festival. She said she really liked my writing style but didn’t think the story was commercial enough. So I put that to one side and started again. This time I wrote more of a mystery/suspense. When I finished I sent it to the same agent who said she thought my voice would be better suited to psychological thrillers and she suggested a re-work of the story. So, with her help to work out a suitable plot, I did a complete re-write and I so enjoyed it, I realised this was the genre I wanted to write.

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

I was a business adviser and management consultant for twenty-five years, which involved a lot of writing in the form of business plans and grant applications and notes from meetings. So I’ve always had writing at the heart of my work. When I turned fifty, I decided that I’d better get a move on if I was going to write a novel and when my husband took early retirement, I had a career break to do a bit of writing and this has been my work ever since.

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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 have had quite a nomadic life, living in lots of different places and I think I have been through quite a wide range of life experiences – lots that can be spun into stories.

Inspiration also comes from news stories or things that friends say, bits and pieces online and personal experience. Also, once you start researching an idea it can lead you weird and wonderful places!

If I find I’m stuck with a storyline, I tend to take the dogs out for a walk and let my mind sort things out while I get a bit of fresh air and exercise. Or, if the weather’s really horrible, I’ll read the news or do a bit of admin and let my mind wander.

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

I think it would be Lisa Jewell. I love her characters. They are always so fresh and real and different and that’s such a hard thing to achieve. I also admire her writing style, which flows so easily and is a joy to read.

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

My second book, Love You Gone has just gone on pre-order and is going to be published on 15th November. I’m really happy with the way it has shaped up and the cover is just gorgeous!

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

The new one by Fiona Barton, The Suspect. I love her books – they are so interesting, seeing things from the view of a journalist. Her plots are really twisty and her writing is a joy to read.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

My debut novel Keep You Safe is out now. This follows the story of Natalie, who has been separated from her baby son for three years. She was wrongly accused of a crime and imprisoned. Now she is free she knows that her son’s life is in danger and she is desperate to get him to safety. But who can she trust?

Readers can keep up to date on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RonaHalsallAuthor/

And on Twitter:@RonaHalsallAuth

It’s been a great pleasure hearing your thoughts and learning more about your books Rona, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Rachel Amphlett Interview: “I grew up surrounded by crime fiction and thrillers”

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Creator of not one but three unique crime fiction series and a myriad of standalone novels Rachel Amphlett talks to me about how she creates the characters that her readers have come to love.

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

I grew up surrounded by crime fiction and thrillers. I think like a lot of crime writers, I started off with the Famous Five series and went from there, working my way through my parents’ and grandparents’ collections of Ed McBain, Dick Francis, Alistair MacLean – all the greats. A defining moment for me was when my granddad loaned me his copy of Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed when I was 12 years old – I loved it, and so I think becoming a writer in this genre was a natural progression. It just took me a few years to get around to it

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

Before I became a full-time writer I’d played guitar in bands, helped to run a pub, been a TV/film extra, worked in desktop publishing, project administration and things like that. I started writing on my commute into work by train seven years ago. Every morning I’d plonk myself in a corner of the carriage, open my laptop and make sure I hit my daily word count target by the time the train pulled into the station at the other end. I went full-time last year when I was made redundant – I’ve had so much support from readers around the world that I didn’t need to find another job, for which I’m extremely grateful.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular, and what draws readers to them?

I think it’s the characters. That’s why I get hooked on series I like to read – I have an investment in what happens to those people and how they cope with what happens to them.

With the Detective Kay Hunter series, I have a resilient detective who has been through the wringer personally but has a loving partner (Adam, a vet) who supports her and she’s a real team player. I think that’s important, too – she’s not a lone wolf, and her team of detectives are as integral to the stories as Kay herself.

My Dan Taylor series of spy thrillers are similar in that I hope readers are invested in the main character and those around him. The Dan Taylor books are fun to write because I can take those characters anywhere around the world, drop them into a messy situation and see how they get themselves out of it.

That’s very similar in style to my new English Spy Mysteries series featuring Eva Delacourt – here you get to meet a woman who has been hiding for a number of years before suddenly being thrust into the spotlight again with no idea who to trust. You get to go on that journey with this character as she tries to fathom who has betrayed her while attempting to stop a terrorist.

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

I’ll read every interview I can get my hands on with Peter James, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly and Jeffery Deaver. That’s how I learned to understand how to write crime fiction – all their interviews are filled with great advice, and of course I love their books, too.

I read outside the genre, too. I think it’s important to listen to different voices and styles to avoid becoming stagnant. Two of my favourite authors on the fringes of crime and another genre are Jim Butcher (the Harry Dresden series) and CJ Sansom (the Shardlake series).

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

Well, I’m currently in the process of moving back to the UK after 13 years in Australia so things are a little crazy right now! However, I’m busy plotting and drafting the next Detective Kay Hunter story and I’ve got the first book in a new crime series drafted – that won’t be released until sometime next year. I’ve just got to find somewhere to live first…

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

CJ Sansom’s new one, Tombland in the Shardlake series is out in October so I’ll be snapping that up on publication day. I’m also looking forward to Peter James’ Absolute Proof, out the same month. There are so many good books to look forward to later this year!

It’s been great to hear from you Rachel- thanks for taking the time! You can find out more about Rachel HERE.

Stuart Gibbon Interview: “Even though I had left the police I still wanted to help people”

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Something new for the Dorset Book Detective this week- I spoke to crime fiction consultant Stuart Gibbon, Founder of GIB Consultancy and co- author of The Crime Writer’s Casebook to learn more about how he shares his expertise with writers to enhance their work.

Tell me about how you use your experience as a detective to support writers. How did you come to start consulting for author?

I joined the Metropolitan Police as a teenager in the early 1980’s and spent the next 20 years policing the streets of London. I then transferred to Lincolnshire Police where I served another 12 years before retiring from the police service in 2012. A large part of my police career was spent as a Detective, including several years as a DCI in charge of murder cases.

Even though I had left the police I still wanted to help people and share my experience and knowledge. I decided to set up a consultancy service (GIB Consultancy) to help writers to make sure that their police actions and procedures were accurately portrayed. The service is well-established now and I have authors contacting me, normally via e-mail, to ask questions or request a fact-check of their work.

Most of my contacts are crime writers but several have been writers of other genres who want to include a police element such as a missing person or a burglary investigation. Although my specialism is crime I am able to advise on anything police-related.

Can you give me some examples of the authors you have consulted for? Are there any big names you’d care to share with me?

I have worked with a number of very talented writers in the last few years. They include CL Taylor, Sheryl Browne, Barbara Copperthwaite and Carolyn Jess-Cooke to name but a few. It’s very rewarding to be able to help with advice and great to read the finished article which includes your input. I think it helps to get the procedural details right as it’s far more likely to engage the reader.

Have you ever written any novels yourself, or do you intend to start writing them in the future?

Quite a few former police officers now write crime fiction but I haven’t taken the plunge yet. That’s not to say it will never happen but, for now, I have more than enough going on to keep me occupied!

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Tell me about The Crime Writer’s Casebook. Who is it aimed at and how do you believe it benefits them?

I first met crime historian Stephen Wade at a literary festival in Lincoln about three years ago. We kept in touch and decided that it would be a good idea to write a book together, combining Stephen’s encyclopedic knowledge of historical crime with my experience as a police officer. ‘The Crime Writer’s Casebook’ was published in December last year. We didn’t think that there was anything similar available which contained so much information about crime all in the same place. The book contains modern-day police procedures together with true crime case studies spanning from the eighteenth century to recent years. Although the book is primarily aimed at crime writers as it contains information about rank structure, murder investigation and other subjects that will help writers to accurately portray these areas, I think it would engage anyone with an interest in crime, whether as a reader or writer. The genre is now the most popular and this is reflected in the rise in true crime and crime fiction being published. We’ve had some really good reviews and feedback so we’re pleased that people seem to enjoy the book and find it useful.  

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

As well as the writing consultancy I’ve been doing some TV work in relation to recent Murder cases in the UK. The series is called ‘999 Killer on the line’ and features true crime cases where the person who called the emergency services turns out to be the murderer. The series recently started on the Crime & Investigation channel (Sky channel 156) at 9pm on Monday evenings. I will be featured in two episodes (Monday 6th and 20th August). If you’re interested in true crime cases I think you’ll enjoy this series.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

If you have read The Crime Writer’s Casebook we would be grateful if you would review it on Amazon. It’s currently available to buy on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Straightforward-Guide-Writers-Casebook-Guides/dp/1847167500/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1507907264&sr=8-1&keywords=crime+writer%27s+casebook or at most major book stores. If you are a writer needing help with police procedure and you can’t find the answer in The Crime Writer’s Casebook then I can be contacted on Twitter (@gibconsultancy) or via e-mail – enquiries@gibconsultancy.co.uk

Thanks very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work and our book.

Thanks for taking the time, it’s been great to hear from you.

 

 

Elizabeth Heiter Interview: “Inspiration can come from anywhere”

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Continuing with my quest to find out more about exciting new genres I spoke to Elizabeth Heiter, romantic suspense writer, to learn more about this style of writing and what draws her readers to it.

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

Since I was very young, I’ve always loved suspense. As a kid, I plowed through Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy mysteries. Younger than I probably should have been watching him, I was intrigued by villains like Darth Vader. What I’ve always appreciated about suspense is the puzzle aspect: as a reader, I enjoyed trying to unravel the mystery before the big reveal. As a writer, I like creating that puzzle, including all of the clues and red herrings. The other part of suspense that appeals to me is that (in many mysteries), at the end of the book, you can get the kind of closure real life often doesn’t offer. The protagonist prevails, the mystery is solved, and the villain pays for his crime. I like the vicarious closure in that.

As a suspense writer, I often identify myself within the psychological suspense sub-genre, because I’m equally drawn to characters. Why do people make the choices they make? What causes two people with the same background to take vastly different paths (e.g., one a serial killer and the other a profiler, as in my debut book). So, for me, character is equally as important as plot.

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

My degree is in English Literature, and I knew since I was a kid that I wanted to be an author, so many of my educational and professional decisions were based on that goal. In high school, I co-wrote my first finished manuscript (a YA action-adventure) with my critique partner. After college, I got involved in writing organizations to keep honing my craft and learning about the industry. And because I knew I wanted to write suspense and realism is important to me, I also began seeking out research opportunities (e.g. visiting places like the FBI Academy at Quantico and the CIA at Langley). Early on, I put together a career plan to help guide me in making decisions. In 2012, I sold my first five books, which were in two genres – both psychological suspense and romantic suspense; that was also the beginning of my journey as a multi-genre author.

Talk me through romantic suspense as a genre and how you would define this style of fiction?

In romantic suspense, the suspense plot and the romance plot (which involves two people overcoming personal and plot conflicts in order to fall in love) are so intertwined it would be difficult to pull them apart. Quite a bit of suspense fiction contains a romance; the difference in romantic suspense is both the amount and the role romance plays in the plot. One of the things I love about romantic suspense is that it really gives me a chance to dig into my characters’ flaws and force them to grow in order to earn their “happily ever after” at the end of the book. For a writer like me, who’s fascinated by why people make the choices they do, romantic suspense really gives me room to delve deep into character.

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

Inspiration can come from anywhere. As a suspense writer, I definitely get ideas from real incidents. I’ll see something in the news (a headline or some small detail about an action someone took) and I’ll wonder, “what if this happened instead”? Whenever I plot my books, I’m constantly asking myself “what if” and “how can I make this worse”? In my opinion, character and plot are equally important, and I think the strongest books have the “right” combination of character and plot (meaning that the plot is in some way the worst possible thing for this particular character to face). So, if I’m ever having trouble developing a story, I dig into character and motivation. And I never underestimate the power of a little caffeine and chocolate when I’m feeling writer’s block!

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

I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare. I love that so many of his plays contain elements of multiple genres: suspense, romance, drama etc. Back in high school, with the same critique partner I co-wrote my first finished manuscript, I made a complicated project involving a new play containing half a dozen Shakespearean endings. So, I think my dream collaboration would be with Shakespeare! (Although I suspect he might be a bit of a prima donna!)

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

Currently, I’m working on a new romantic suspense involving a woman searching for her long-lost sister in the wilds of Alaska. If she has any shot at succeeding, she needs the help of local a local ex-Marine and his Combat Tracker Dog, but that ex-Marine is fighting his own demons in the form of a new disability and PTSD. For years, I’ve wanted to set a book in Alaska, so this book has been a lot of fun to write. It’s called K-9 Defense and it releases in Spring 2019.

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

My friend and fellow suspense writer Jennifer Hillier recently released a book called Jar of Hearts that I’ve been waiting for since she first told me what she was working on over a year ago! I’ve got the book sitting on my desk as a reward as soon as I meet my own deadline.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

If readers want to know any more about me or my books, they can visit my website at www.elizabethheiter.com.

Thanks ever so much for taking the time to answer my questions, it has been fascinating hearing more about your work.

Simon Bower Interview: “As long as I can remember, I have adored a good crime thriller”

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For anyone looking for a good book to read while they laze on the beach and enjoy the heat wave, Dead in the Water is a great thriller to keep you entertained. I interviewed Author Simon Bower to learn more about the novel and how he drew on his own experiences of international travel to write it.

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

As long as I can remember, I have adored a good crime thriller. While I can appreciate some literary fiction, my personality dictates that I prefer fast-paced heart thumping suspense and mystery to beautifully crafted clauses! When I wrote Dead in the Water, I spent considerable time defining the writing style. Specifically, my first decision was to couch each chapter in the viewpoint of one of the characters. This provides a limited viewpoint that also allows a scenario to be explored from two different points of view, and at times with humour (an early example of this in the book is when Charlie and Ana see their relationship from very different points of view). I also decided to write Charlie’s chapters in the first person – it really immerses the reader in his psychological character. Finally, the vantage point of parts 1 and 2 of the Dead in the Water, is at the end of part 2, so part 3 transcends naturally into a present tense suspense. This real-time style can be liberating for the writer and the reader, since anything at all can happen. So I was attracted towards the writing style that I love and I wrote the book that I wanted to read.

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

I have always enjoyed writing and wrote a number of pieces for personal exploration during the past twenty years that I have spent living away from the UK. Undoubtedly, these projects guided the maturity of my work and allowed me to structure Dead in the Water from the outset. In terms of profession, I have lent myself to a whole array of jobs and industries in quite a few different continents – some of my most influential jobs have been when working in the communications field. Despite my keen interest I writing, time has always been in short supply. So the catalyst to put into words my plot for this book was the opportunity that presented itself a few years ago to concentrate on writing full time.

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

In order to have characters with sufficient depth, emotions, speech style and motive, I base my characters on exaggerations of real people that I know. I might not know them well, but it helps to ensure consistency of thought and the liveliness of reality. The crime elements come from a release of constraints, thinking like a kid who has not yet understood the moral lines and laws accepted in our society. What could you get away with if moral boundaries were removed and you didn’t care about the risk of a life in prison?

Dead in the Water is one of a new wave of hybrid genres. It’s a thriller, but before that it’s realistic and a mystery too. Three books in one. The one constant throughout my work is a very strong sense of place. I draw inspiration from locations I know intimately, taking the reader to parts of France, to Amsterdam, New York, London and Oxford, to name a few. When I wrote the manuscript, it was not one contiguous drafting journey – I dipped and delved into different parts of the book, and this meant if I ever met a wall, a way around it soon appeared by working on another point in the story, then going back to it.

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

Writing the first draft for Dead in the Water was a solitary endeavour. However, developing it with my editor, Kate Taylor, was a productive collaboration. Suddenly I could share the responsibility and she was terrific at editing out superfluous details. However, I have not really considered collaborating to write a book, like Clive Cussler and James Patterson tend to do. Although I love the idea of working with Iain Banks, who has sadly left us, it would probably be most fruitful to work with someone who could bring a truly different perspective to the table – a CIA agent, or a convicted killer.

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

I’ve begun planning a sequel to Dead in the Water. It certainly won’t be simply an extension of the first, but so many people are craving to know what happens next. I won’t say too much, to avoid spoilers, but it would also be set globally, have some of the same characters and occur after the end of the first book.

Other than that, I have a keen interest to work on a book that is more speculative in nature. I enjoyed Matt Haig’s The Humans in part owing to its completely normal setting, but with an utterly abstract twist.

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

I’ve mentioned a few writers, but the one that keeps getting away is Terry Hayes. I enjoyed his debut novel I am Pilgrim, despite some reservations of stereotyping, and very much look forward to his belated next release The Year of the Locust. I also like to check out new writers and I have a few of those to try out. One example is Strangers on a Bridge, by Louise Mangos – the plot sounds intriguing.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

My book has been released by a UK indie publisher, Middle Farm Press, and the odds are stacked against ‘David’ when ‘Goliath’ and all the collaborators hold all the cards. Dead in the Water is stocked in some bookshops but for now, our distribution is limited mainly to the biggest online consumer direct suppliers. We are working on improving this, but need to demonstrate demand, so we are most appreciative for the support we get for either the eBook or paperback. Finally a hearty thanks to Hannah for conducting this interview and I hope you enjoy Dead in the Water!

Thanks for answering my questions Simon, it has been awesome to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Juliet Bell Interview: “It helps that we both respect each other’s ability”

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Apologies for the delay in posting- I’ve been in Australia exploring tropical Queensland. As a treat now that I’m back, I’m sharing an interview I undertook with two incredible writers- Alison May and Janet Gover, who, coincidentally, is from the incredible country that I’ve just had the fortune to visit. Together they write as Juliet Bell, creating intriguing re-workings of classic novels, something I was keen to find out more about.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards creating modern retellings of classic novels?

We first discussed The Heights in the bar at a writing conference. We’d both taught workshops that day, and both used Wuthering Heights as examples of very different points we were making. We only knew each other slightly, but over a glass of wine we started talking about how many people misremembered the Bronte book and focussed on the romance, rather than the darkness of the story.

Janet had always wanted to do an adaptation set against the Thatcher years and the miners’ strike, but being Australian didn’t think she could write a North of England book. Alison is from Yorkshire, so fairly late in the evening, we announced we would do it together. A week or so later, when the wine had worn off, we talked again and decided that wasn’t actually a completely terrible idea.

Sharing a pen-name with another author must be an incredible experience. Please talk me through how you work together to create your books. How do you combine your collective skills?

Spreadsheets. We both love a good spreadsheet. Well, perhaps Janet more than Alison, but she’s coming around. We have started each book with a really good plan of how to divide the work and we stick to it – for at least the first two, or maybe three, weeks. We both have our own solo writing careers and deadlines, and of course the same family commitments everyone has. Neither of us normally plots our books in advance, but when writing together we have to, which is where the spreadsheets come in.

With The Heights, we ran out of time, so Janet was still writing Cathy and Heathcliff when Alison started writing Kate and the second generation. With Jane Eyre, we are each writing one main character’s point of view. We both review and comment on and edit the whole book, which sounds crazy but seems to work.

It helps that we both respect each other’s ability – and that we meet regularly for pizza and wine.

The Heights - hi res

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

Alison: I started writing seriously in my mid-twenties, when I signed up for an evening class in creative writing as a distraction from a not altogether fascinating day job. The evening class turned into a part-time degree. At the start of the course I thought I was going to be a very Serious and Important playwright. I started a terribly earnest play about Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton as my dissertation piece. When it got to six weeks before the deadline and I hadn’t actually written any words I admitted that serious theatre might not be my calling and wrote the opening of a romantic comedy novel instead. That novel eventually turned into my first published book, Sweet Nothing, which came out in 2013.

Janet: I started writing stories when I was a kid growing up in the Australian bush. There wasn’t much else to do apart from ride horses and read – and I did a lot of both. I went to University in the ‘big city’ and then became a journalist and television reporter. That was fun – I got to travel and meet a lot of interesting people. Then I discovered computers, fell in love with them and set out on a second career in IT. That was when I started writing fiction seriously. I thought switching from writing fact to writing fiction would be easy. How wrong I was. But I stuck with it and now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

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

We are both always coming up with shiny new book ideas- it’s terribly distracting. The problem is locking them in a drawer until current book is written.

Actually writing is much trickier than having ideas. Alison, in particular, actively dislikes writing first drafts. She sees them as a necessary evil to get to the editing, which is where the actual real work of creating the book gets done. Her tip is to get through the first draft as quickly as possible, even if it’s terrible. Then at least you’ve got something to work with.

The Bronte adaptations are obviously inspired by the original books, and by the women who wrote them. The books have themes and characters that still resonate today. That’s a remarkable achievement.

Juliet Bell is the place we take our shared fascination with misunderstood classic literature, and heroes who aren’t actually all that heroic.

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

Alison: Without even looking I know Janet will say Neil Gaiman, which is interesting because I’m going to say Terry Pratchett. Basically we both want to have written Good Omens! Obviously Pratchett is no longer with us, and realistically if I’d every tried to collaborate with him I would probably just have ended up gabbling at him incoherently in a pathetic fangirl sort of a way.

If I go for someone who’s still alive, I’d indulge my secret dream of writing a musical (despite having zero musical ability) and go for Tim Minchin.

Janet: A really tough question, but I’d have to say Neil Gaiman. He’s one of my favourite authors. He has such a brilliant mind. I’ve seen him speak a couple of times. He is funny and thoughtful and angry and all those things that make a great writer. He’s also very cute in scruffy writerly way. Of course, if I ever found myself face to face with him, I’d probably explode in a mass of fan-girl excitement, so possibly not the best collaborator in the world.

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

We are now in the final stages of writing the second Juliet Bell book. It’s another Bronte book – Jane Eyre of course. Rochester is another ‘romantic hero’ we don’t love. His behaviour is not so heroic, and we don’t just mean locking his wife in the attic.

We’ve set this book in Australia. This is Janet’s revenge for having to write about Yorkshire in The Heights. It’s also a modern setting with the kind of isolation that still allows someone to be kept in an attic without the neighbours anyone catching on.

Jane’s story of fighting to make her way in the world still resonates today, but we have done a couple of radical things in this book. We’re excited (and maybe a little bit afraid) to see people’s reactions.

We don’t have a final title yet – our working title is simply Thornfield. Whatever the final title, it will be out in November in both eBook and paperback.

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

Alison: So many – I’ve just read AJ Pearce’s Dear Mrs Bird which came out in April and is wonderful. I’m always excited for Julie Cohen’s new books – her last one Together was one of my favourites of last year. I also work a lot with newer and developing writers, and there are a few – Pippa James, Kirsten Hesketh and Erin Green spring to mind straight away – who have projects in the pipeline that sound amazing. And, Janet’s latest solo book – Marrying the Rebel Prince is at the top of my To Read pile at the moment. That looks like it’s going to be fantastic fun.

Janet: This would be a very, very long list. My list of ‘must buy’ authors is quite long and varied. And I love finding a new author – especially if they have a long backlist. But – and I mean this honestly – I’m really looking forward to Alison’s new solo book, All That Was Lost – which is out in September. She’s told me a bit about it, and it sounds amazing.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Janet: We often meet readers who say they’re nervous about emailing an author, or telling them how much they love a book. Please don’t be. We don’t get out much and hearing from readers is really important to us. So, if you like a book, email the author, or tweet to them. Write a review for them. Those are the things that make us happy as we sit in our tiny offices, staring at those terrifying blank documents on our computers.

Alison: Yes. Absolutely, do get in touch. Chat to us. Talk to us about books, writing, biscuits, or even an interesting stain you’ve found on your pyjama top. We are expert in all of these areas.

Thank you for having us Hannah x

Thanks you both for your time, it has been a pleasure. You can find out more about their partnership and the work they produce together HERE.