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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your approach to researching your books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you’d like to add?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is the audience for Unfettered Journey?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything you’d like to add?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything you’d like to add?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have anything to add?

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

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

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

Tess Makovesky Interview: “I like to focus on the psychology of human behaviour”

For my final interview of January 2021, I speak to Tess Makovesky about her crime fiction writing and how it’s evolved over the years.

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

I’ve always loved crime fiction. My grandmother had a stash of it in a cupboard under her dressing table, which introduced me to the likes of Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers at a young age, and I also loved gritty TV series like The Professionals. When I started writing, those influences, plus a natural tendency towards gallows humour, seemed to steer me towards gritty but also darkly comic work. I like to focus on the psychology of human behaviour and what makes people make the choices they do, even if those choices lead to disaster. And my short, sharp, even breathless style seems to suit thrillers and comedy noir.

What is your career background and how did you become a published writer?

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a “career background” as such but I did have a whole series of jobs to pay the bills. All I ever really wanted was to be a writer, though, and I’m so lucky my dream has come true. I wrote under another pen name for many years, and when I started to write crime fiction as Tess I had a lot of short stories published in magazines and anthologies. However, when it comes to having books published, I’m very much indebted to the Crime & Publishment writing courses organised by fellow crime writer Graham Smith. I attended one a few years ago and met Darren Laws, the head of publishing company Caffeine Nights, who expressed interest in my books. He rejected the first novella I submitted but accepted my second offering which went on to become Raise the Blade. Since then, my darkly comic novel Gravy Train has been published by All Due Respect and I have at least one other book in the works.

Tell me all about your books. What was your inspiration?

I have two main sources of inspiration for my crime books: the city of Birmingham (the original one in the UK), and the occasional, wonderfully macabre news items that float to the surface in the local press. In the case of Raise the Blade, this involved a body being fished out of one of the city’s many canals (it famously has more miles of canal than Venice). A conversation with Graham Smith (again) also helped to crystallise the idea of a series of murders, all linked in some way and all leading back to the murderer. Gravy Train was inspired by another news headline, this time of someone finding a bag of money in a different bit of the canal. I also wanted to emulate the format of the movie La Ronde, which I’ve read about but never actually seen. In the movie, ten separate stories are linked as each one features a character from the previous scene. I used a similar format to weave together a whole series of apparently disparate characters, all of them chasing around the city streets after the same bag of money!

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

I’ve collaborated with many authors on anthologies and on running an online magazine (under my other pen name). However, I think I’d struggle to write an entire book with another author because I’m quite possessive about my work – I suspect there would be blood shed at the end of the day! Although I’ve always fancied doing one of those ‛round robin’ type stories, where one person writes a sentence or scene and you have to continue it. That always sounds like fun.

What books do you read yourself and how do they inspire you?

To be honest I’ll read almost anything as long as it’s well written, with engaging but realistic characters and a good or interesting plot. In terms of crime fiction that means well-known names like Peter May and Ann Cleeves, but also relative unknowns such as Joel Lane. I like to think I learn something about the art of writing from every book I read, whether it’s about pacing or using sentence structure to enhance tension, or even just about what makes a ‛good story’.

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

Like many other people I’ve struggled to cope with the pandemic. So far I’ve been relatively lucky in terms of the immediate impact on me, but I’ve found it really hard to read, watch, or write about crime for most of the year and that doesn’t look like changing any time soon. I managed to write one short noir story last year, and have been working on and off (but mostly off) on edits of my next book, a blackly comic noir with a working title of Embers of Bridges, which is set around (and even in) the canals of Birmingham. If we start getting some better news I’ll hopefully find myself in a happy enough place to finish that and if so, then I’d like to self-publish it at some point during the year. So hopefully my readers can look forward to that, but obviously I can’t make any promises while this virus is still raging.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to, moving forward?

At the last count, Crime & Publishment had helped launch the careers of nine different writers including Amit Dhand, Mike Craven, Lucy Cameron, Les Morris, Graham Smith, Sharon Bairden, Noelle Holton, and Angela King. They’re all fantastic writers and I’m really looking forward to more great books by all of them in the months and years ahead. I’ve also just discovered the Elsie and Ethelred series by L C Tyler and would love to read more of those.

Anything you’d like to add?

First of all, many thanks to Hannah for letting me witter on about myself to this extent. Second, if anyone’s interest has been piqued, you can find out more about my books, stories and works in progress at my website, www.tessmakovesky.com. Thanks for listening!

Huge thanks to Tess for answering my questions; it’s been amazing to hear from you!

Andrew James Graham: “I want the reader to be taken on a journey”

Andrew James Graham talks me through his writing and the techniques he uses in his work.

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

I feel my writing style is quite descriptive. I want the reader to be taken on a journey into the world I’ve created. To not only tell them what the characters are doing but also feel, taste and smell the situations they are in. I want the reader to think, almost act like the detective in trying to work out who the killer is, making them laugh along the way. I got into crime fiction writing mainly by watching crime shows on TV. I’ve always been a fan and thought I’d try writing a crime novel myself.

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

I worked for many years as a Housing Officer in some of the most economically and socially deprived areas of North Tyneside. I worked closely with Probation Services, Drug and alcohol treatment centres and Homeless charities. I’ve always found that real life people and situations are always far more interesting.

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 inspiration is often the wonderful characters that I have come into contact with over the years, be it through work situations, or on public transport or even the local supermarket. When it comes to writers block I try to think of subplots for my characters. I think about a particular incident or character that I have had to deal with in the past. How would they react to that situation? What would they do? How would it affect their life?

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

I love British Crime fiction, in particular, Ian Rankin, Peter James, Martina Cole, Mark Billingham and Peter Robinson. I love the way their characters interact with each other with workplace banter. Ian Rankin is especially good at this in his Rebus Novels.

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

I would love to work on a screenplay with Quentin Tarrantino. I just love his dark humour and how he writes the dialogue between his characters. It would also help me get an insight into how he successfully gets his ideas from paper onto the big screen. Pure genius.

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

I have started writing my next novel, so finishing that would be good.  I’m also really hoping to improve my website as well as putting together a newsletter and increasing my mailing list. I also hope to be more active on twitter and in the creative writing groups on Facebook.

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

I would like to get my hands on any new book from my favourite authors. But there is always a new book to read as the first time you pick it up it’s new to you, even though it could have been 20 years since it was first published. I’m also always looking for new authors from my part of the world, as I find Tyneside an excellent backdrop for crime thrillers. Trevor Wood’s new novel, One Way Street is one I would like to read.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I think 2020 has been an awful year for a lot of people, but one positive thing to come from 2020 is that more people have had time to rediscover their love of reading, whether it be through Kindle eBooks or the good old fashioned paperbacks. I hope that as the New Year progresses and this COVID virus is finally controlled, people continue to read, and they will hopefully give my book a try.

It’s been a pleasure Andrew, and thank you very much for answering my questions.

Lewis Hastings Interview: “I believe I have the skill and flair to create a thriller across many sub-genres”

Lewis Hastings, author of the Seventh Wave crime trilogy and Jack Cade novels talks me through his work and how he draws on his career in law enforcement to help him write compelling novels.

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

Good question! I think my style is influenced heavily by my imagination and my life experiences, which provide a continuing stream of stories and certainly kick-started my Jack Cade novels. It’s a long story (I’m a novelist, I know you’ll forgive me!) but the Seventh Wave trilogy actually started as a result of a chance meeting with an Eastern European female – a case of hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I was the interviewer, she told her story, and what a story. It became so compelling that I knew that once I had starting writing the first book Seventh it needed at least one more book to complete the story. In fact, it took three (Seven Degrees and Seven of Swords) and each book is substantial but readers tell me repeatedly that the stories are big enough to warrant it.

My work drew me towards crime fiction, but I believe I have the skill and flair to create a thriller across many sub-genres, for example, there are elements of psychological thrillers in the trilogy, there are police procedural elements and there is good old-fashioned adventure.

The key difference for me and my readers is that the trilogy is based heavily on a true story. My new novel The Angel of Whitehall is heavily based on the life of a wonderful old naval officer called Tom. If you ever get chance to read the book, you’ll see who he was and why he was dear to me.
 

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

I have been very lucky to have an extensive international career in law enforcement and intelligence – I still work in this sector (hence no author photo!) – I have written for many years, but it was a cathartic moment with my dear old dad as he lay in an English hospice in 2014 that drove me to write in a professional capacity. The short story is that as I read a passage of a novel I was writing to him, he said “Son, tell that story to the world, get them to make it into a film too…do it for me…”
 

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

As I mentioned earlier, I think the reason people enjoy the books is that they are more than just police procedurals. Don’t misunderstand me, they contain very detailed and accurate procedural matters because I have ‘worn the T-shirt’ as far as many of the scenes are concerned.

What readers tell me (and it means so very much to hear this) is that they love the atmospheric scenes, the detail, the dark passages and the unexpected humour, the chase, the occasional love story and good old-fashioned, well-drawn characters. I am humbled by the reviews.
 

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

I rarely read. I know authors should in order to learn. But my work is so frantically busy at times that my down time tends to be driven by the urge to write. If I do read it tends to be British thrillers, my favourite being Peter James.
 

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

It would have to be Peter James. For two reasons, the first is that I enjoy his style and the obvious research, the second is that Peter was a rare beacon a few years ago when he replied to a letter I sent to him, asking for advice. He did more than that and allowed the real ‘Roy Grace’ to read my first novel. ‘Roy’ was very kind, really enjoyed the book and offered some advice, which I took. As a result, Seventh and its sequels are much sharper.

One thing I learned from this was that there will be a budding author out there now, desperate for recognition. All I can say is don’t give up; you just haven’t found your publisher yet! I also don’t rule out supporting authors in the future and already do that via a UK forum which offers subject matter expert knowledge to help writers.
 

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

Loads! I have just released The Angel of Whitehall with Hobeck and I am currently working on what was a novella and has now become book five in the Jack Cade series. It brings back an old foe and I am loving how it is unfolding…
 

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

At the moment I am enjoying working with the other members of the Hobeck Books team, so I know I need to read their work! I’m also hoping to be able to do more interviews, to help reviewers, bloggers and podcast hosts such as Robert Daws and Adam Croft on the Partners in Crime podcast which is easily the best example out there.

Anything you’d like to add? 

In closing, I would like to thank you for approaching me, it means a lot. Authors are not the solitary souls that people imagine, we are often gregarious and need some compliments from time to time! I only really started writing novels in earnest a few years ago, so to be picked up by the wonderful Hobeck Books team so quickly was humbling and exciting. That my readers enjoy what I write and can ‘see’ the scenes unfolding is reward enough.

I’m repeatedly told that all of the novels should be made into television dramas or films because of their storylines, and depth and colour. I wouldn’t stop anyone doing that…

Good luck with your work which is so important to authors. Stay safe and well in these interesting times. Thank you.

Thank you for answering my questions, it’s great to speak to a fellow Peter James lover. Also, thank you for offering advice to budding authors; they need all the support and guidance they can get in this competitive market.