The Intel: Elena Forbes

Elena ForbesJigsaw Man by Elena Forbes is the latest in the series to feature DI Mark Tartaglia and Sam Donovan. It kicks off when Tartaglia has to investigate the death of a female victim — a woman he had previously spent the night with at a West London hotel. In another investigation, the body of a homeless man found in a burnt-out car turns out to be a corpse assembled from four different people. Enter the Jigsaw Man. A bad day at the office, indeed.

Elena’s first Tartaglia novel Die With Me was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award. Four novels later, we’re delighted that Elena, who lives in London, has agreed to give us the intel on her leading man, the challenges of writing a series, her journey to publication — and, of course, her writing regime.

Tell us about DI Mark Tartaglia and Sam Donovan…

Tartaglia was born and brought up in Edinburgh, of Italian background. I like the fact that he is an outsider in London, which gives him a fresh perspective. He and Donovan have worked together for a few years and the dynamic between them is a major strand of the stories.

How have the characters developed over the course of the series?

The first four books take place over a year and the relationship between Tartaglia and Donovan has changed dramatically over that period. They have both been tested by their experiences together and the arc of their story has been important to me. Jigsaw Man shows them both at a very low point and at their most disillusioned, although there is some light at the very end of the book.

Where did you get the inspiration for Jigsaw Man?

To be honest, I really can’t remember. As with my previous books, the story develops in little fragments, which gradually grow together until I’m ready to start writing. It then evolves further during the course of the writing.

Jigsaw ManWhat are the challenges of writing a procedural series?

There are many pluses – you know your characters and it’s exciting to begin a new story with them. I really enjoy the research, which carries on from one book to another. I guess the challenge is to keep it all fresh but I’ve only written 4 books in the series, so this hasn’t been something I’ve needed to worry about so far.

What was your journey to becoming a published author?

My first two books weren’t published. I have no gripes about it – they were terrible! Tartaglia started off as a minor character in one of them and I discovered I liked writing about him. My third book Die With Me was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger and was eventually published after many re-writes.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

It’s the same as any type of work, there are good moments and bad moments and a lot of it is about not trying to make it perfect first time. It’s also about sitting down at the desk every day and seeing where things go. Some days are really bad and most of what I write gets deleted, but when I’m on a roll, it’s the best thing in the world. It’s very difficult to interact with family sometimes – I really just want to be locked away at my desk writing.

How do you deal with feedback?

It depends where it comes from. Like any creative process, criticism can be both beneficial and also destructive. Writing is a fragile process and I’ve learned who to trust and what to tune out. In the end, I am writing for myself – what I would want to read – and I am my first point of call as an editor. However, I get to a point when it’s all too familiar and I need a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. I have a wonderful agent and editor, both of whom have been enormously helpful in terms of feedback and helping me craft the books into better shape.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I admire a whole range of authors – Peter Robinson, Michael Connelly, Le Carre, to name a few. I like different things in their writing but probably the main theme is depth of characterisation. I’ve just finished Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. It’s about 20 years old but I’ve never read it before and it’s brilliant in terms of characterisation. I also really enjoyed reading Gone Girl recently. The idea of an unreliable narrator was fresh and interesting and her voice was very strong.

Give me some advice about writing…

The best advice I was given is to just get on and do it! And do it regularly. The main thing is to make a habit of it and if you do it regularly, you will find that it will start flowing through your mind and all sorts of interesting things will start to come. It’s very important to keep a notebook with you. Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is really worth reading too.

What’s next for you?

I’m writing a stand-alone thriller at the moment. It wasn’t a deliberate move to do something different, I just had this really good idea that didn’t fit into the mould of a police procedural. However, I’m going to see if I can bring Tartaglia into it somehow.

Jigsaw Man is published by Quercus in hardcover.

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