1) What inspired you to become an author?
It was a diary that I kept whilst taking a year out to travel that ignited my interest in writing and encouraged me to sign up for a creative writing course. I didn’t see myself as a fiction author though, and initially studied non-fiction, writing articles for newspapers and magazines. It wasn’t until I started the fiction side of the course that I fell in love.
2) How did you get into writing crime?
From Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven in my early days to sitting around the TV with my family watching Poirot, I’ve always loved the twists and turns of mysteries and the thrill of the chase so I guess it was the obvious genre for me.
3) Would you ever consider co-writing, if so which author would you write with?
I’ve enjoyed the works of other author partnerships like Nicci French so yes, I would consider co-writing. I think it would be interesting to have somebody else to bounce ideas off. But who to write with? Goodness, it would have to be somebody I knew really well, that has a similar writing style and were in tune with. Sorry, I’ll have to come back to you on that one!
4) Are there any topics you wouldn’t want to cover, in a book?
I think I’d struggle with paedophilia. Lots of other writers have tackled this subject well, I know, but I do feel compelled to read a lot of true crime around the theme I choose and I’d really struggle with that issue.
5) Do you use a police ‘source’ to help with authenticity and keeping it ‘real’?
Not having a police background myself, I knew that when I started writing police procedurals I was going to need a lot of help to get as much of the finer detail as real as possible. I’m really lucky to have developed good friendships with several working and retired detectives. Some of them, like Ian Patrick and Glyn Timmins, are also now crime writers themselves.
6) If you weren’t married would you marry Jackman?
Haha! The thought of marrying somebody that is the figment of my own imagination sounds a bit weird. He is a great character to work with though!
7) Would you say that writing books gets easier, or harder, the more you have under your belt, and why?
That’s a good question! I’ve developed habits which I think ease the process – I write a four/five page outline of my plot before I begin now, something I didn’t do when I first started, and it does give me a sense of direction. I also don’t panic when I reach that dreaded half way point and some elements don’t feel right, because I know I’ll have time later to go back and knit them together. The challenge in creating something new and original still exists though. I often find myself saying to my husband, ‘I’m sure I’ve used that theme before,’ and have to look back and check in the other books! Plus, like many authors, I’m cursed with inherent self-doubt – I want every book to be my best effort.
8) How do you keep track of your plot as you write/edit? To make sure everything flows and is relevant to your plot. Do you use a spreadsheets, cards …?
I write a detailed outline, usually 4-5 pages, before I start. Things do change as the story unfolds, but I change my outline too so that when I finish my first draft and do my initial read through, I can check back and ensure that everything weaves together.
9) When you’re writing, do you read new books or stick to old faves to avoid cross-pollination?
Since I’m writing or editing most of the year in some capacity, I don’t stop reading the genre I love otherwise I would really miss it! It can be tempting to fall into technical mode and analyse a book you are reading, especially if it is the same genre, looking to see how the writer introduces twists and turns and what can be done differently. But that would spoil the reading experience for me, so I learnt very early in my writing journey to turn off the technical mode when I’m reading and purely read for pleasure. I’m mildly conscious of cross-pollination, but I don’t worry too much about it. We always put our own slant on our stories!
10) Do you need to have visited every location you use, or do you rely on your imagination alone?
I do prefer to visit locations if I can to get a feel for the backdrop of the story. The Scottish Highlands setting in The Truth Will Out is a place where I’ve holidayed annually for the last 20 years so I really ‘felt’ the picturesque setting. I’ve also enjoyed getting to know Stratford upon Avon, the setting for the new DI Jackman series, really well – we’ve had so many family weekends there, my husband calls it his second home! There are some places I haven’t visited – In Before It’s Too Late there was a Chinese character from Beijing and I had to enlist the help of the International Chinese Student Liaison Officer from Northampton University to help re-create his experience of the area and paint a picture in my mind. Although I’d still love to go to Beijing and see it for myself!
11) Do you feel pressure to make your female characters ‘likeable’?
I don’t think that characters need to necessary be likeable to be popular, so I don’t really feel that pressure. As long as they are well layered and believable and the reasons for their actions are understandable, I think they can still work.
12) Any advice on writing a synopsis?
hat’s a tricky one and something all writers seem to struggle with, especially as many agents ask for a one page synopsis. I usually write a four/five page line outline of my story and hone it down slowly until it contains the basic key elements.
13) Are there any quirks or bad habits about your characters that you don’t like and wish you could change?
I have a detective in the Jackman series, a peripheral character called Keane, whose clothes, although reasonably smart, never match – he looks like he gets dressed in the dark. It seemed like fun at first, but now I feel I want to mother him and sort out his dress style, lol.
14) Do you find your plot lines by reading newspapers or hunting out stories online?
Some of my story ideas do derive from news reports. The idea for Before It’s Too Late came from a piece on Sabine Dardenne’s own story of being kidnapped and I thought it would be interesting to follow the story of a kidnapped victim in a completely different setting, live time. However, it’s only ever a prompt. I’d say most of my writing comes from a fascination with people. I like to put ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances and see how they react.
15) How far do you see writing as a solitary experience and how far as a collaborative one?
Collaborative at the beginning, when I’m researching, as I’m looking for opinions on storylines and how to make them work and where to fit in the procedural elements etc. They become more solitary when I sit and write as this is quite a personal process with me and my ideas. When the book is finished, it opens up again as it is read by beta readers who give their feedback on how it works and fits together. Then, of course, there is all the work done by the publishing team: editors, cover artists and publicists to put it together and get it ready to share with the world. And finally, the wonderful book bloggers and reviewers, like yourself, who help to spread the word.
16) Do you read the same genre as you write?
I do! I love the twists and turns of a good mystery, so a lot of my reading pile consists of detective fiction and psychological thrillers. I do try to vary it though and read outside genre. Book clubs are great for encouraging that. This year our village book club has read The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory and Us by David Nicholls, two books I wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise.
17) Is there a book, completely different to anything you’ve written before, that you’d absolutely love to write?
I’d LOVE to write a travel diary. There’s loads of places on my bucket list to visit, but walking the Santiago de Compostela and writing a diary of my experiences along the way would feature pretty highly … But at the moment I can’t imagine writing anything but crime, although if pushed I think historical fiction might be interesting. It would be fun to study a different era for a setting. Problem is, I’d get so bogged down in the research the book would be a long time coming!
18) If you didn’t write crime … What sort of criminal would you be?
I think I’d aim to be a very savvy criminal. I’d make sure I wasn’t at all connected to the victim(s). Most crimes are committed by people the victim(s) knows and this is the first area the police scrutinise.