Tag Archives: John Steinbeck

The Intel: Leigh Russell

blogger-image-940411775Some people have crime authorship sequenced into them at a genetic level. Take Leigh Russell. An incredibly prolific author, she can write two, perhaps three crime novels a year. She’s the author of the Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson crime series, and her first novel Cut Short was shortlisted for for CWA Debut Dagger Award for Best First Crime Novel.

Now she’s begun a series starring a brand new, globe-trotting heroine – Lucy Hall. In Journey To Death Lucy arrives in the Seychelles determined to leave her worries behind. The tropical paradise looks sun-soaked and picture perfect – but as Lucy soon discovers, appearances can be very deceptive. A deadly secret lurks in the island’s history, buried deep but not forgotten. And it’s about to come to light…

For many years Leigh taught pupils with specific learning difficulties. She guest lectures for the Society of Authors, universities and colleges, and runs regular creative writing courses. She also runs the manuscript assessment service for the CWA. She’s even got her own YouTube channel. Oh, and she only wears purple.

Leigh’s an enthusiastic and fascinating writer, and a generous interviewee – so Crime Thriller is thrilled that she gives us the intel on Lucy, her extraordinary writing routine and how a writer must nurture their own voice…

Tell us about Lucy Hall…

At twenty-two, Lucy Hall is struggling to recover from a broken engagement. Hoping to cheer her up, her parents invite her to accompany them on a holiday to the idyllic island of Mahé in the Seychelles. The trip takes a dark and twisted turn as a secret threatens to destroy them. As she fights for her life, Lucy learns that she is far tougher and more resourceful than she had realised. 

Where did you get the inspiration for Journey to Death?

I was intrigued by a first hand account of a political coup that took place in the Seychelles in the late 1970s. This true account was the inspiration for my story. Apart from the historical background, the narrative is fictitious, as are the characters. Like all my books, it started with the question, ‘what if?’, this time set against a beautiful tropical island background.

The novel is set in the Seychelles – what kind of research did you do on the tropical paradise?

My story was virtually written when I went to the Seychelles to check on the location. We spent two weeks walking along sandy beaches watching the fishing boats setting out at dawn, swimming in the warm ocean, and watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean. It was a magical trip. I spent time at the British High Commission, visited several police stations, walked around the market in the capital, Victoria, and went up into the Cloud Mountain, all of which feature in the book. Everyone I approached was incredibly generous with their time and expertise, and it all helped to add depth and credibility to my narrative.

image002You’re incredibly prolific, you write two or three books a year, and yet you’ve said you have no writing routine – how do you manage to fit it all in?

I ask myself that question all the time! The only answer I can give you is that I love writing. It’s fitting everything else in that’s the problem. I spend a lot of time on research, and also appear at literary festivals along with all the rest of the promotional activities required of authors. It’s great fun, but I am often exhausted. My typing is quite fast, but a book is not about putting words on the page. It’s about thinking and ideas, backed up by working out and research. Once my story is in place, off I go. My schedule is incredibly busy but I like to work hard, so as long as the ideas keep coming, I’ll keep writing.

You run the manuscript assessment service for the Crime Writers Association – what’s the one piece of advice you would offer aspiring crime writers?

The one piece of advice I would give is to trust yourself. Other people will challenge and question what you do all the time, and it’s vital for a writer to be able take advice on board when it feels right, but you need to have that inner core of belief in yourself as a writer or your voice will be lost.

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

A number of negative reviews appeared on amazon shortly after one of my books reached number one on kindle, but you have to learn to take negative experiences like that on the chin. I try to focus on the many positive reviews, and the encouraging messages fans send to my website, which I find really inspiring. I think most authors worry that readers might not like their books, so it’s important to be reminded that there are fans who appreciate what you do. So far I’ve been thrilled by the positive response my books have received. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Lucy Hall is also well received.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Having spent four years studying English and American Literature at university in the UK, my reading taste is quite varied. I admire so many authors, it’s very hard to pick just a few, but names that spring to mind are John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Edith Wharton, Kazuo Ishiguro, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte… I could go on. Among contemporary crime writers Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver and Peter James, all of whom are fans of my books, Val McDermid, Ruth Rendell, Michael Robotham, Alexander McCall Smith… again I could go on. There are so many great writers around, we are spoilt for choice, thank goodness!

Give me some advice about writing…

The late great William McIlvanney wrote: ‘I didn’t tell people how to write. I encouraged them to write and to see that defying my advice was possibly as valuable as following it.’ To my way of thinking, this is excellent advice. There are no rules in writing, other than to make your writing work. If you want to try something that has never been done before, of course there might be a reason why no one else has attempted it, but why not give it a go? If you don’t try, you will never know if you could have succeeded. And challenging yourself is part of the thrill of writing.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on the second book in the Lucy Hall series. This one sees Lucy in Paris, which of course required more research. We stayed in several locations near the centre of the city, visiting sites like the Eiffel Tower, and exploring fascinating areas off the tourist map. While we were there, we tried out different sorts of French food and wine…  Yes, all this research is hard work!


Journey To Death is available now as a paperback and in ebook, published by Thomas & Mercer.

The Intel: Piu Marie Eatwell

Piu Marie EatwellIf macabre Victorian litigation is your thing then you’ll be kicking yourself for forgetting to read our review of The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse. But don’t despair, take your head out of your hands. Simply scroll down a bit, a little bit more, nearly there, to see that triumphant review. Alternatively, click here.

The Druce Portland affair was one of the most drawn-out legal sagas the Uk has ever seen, and Piu weaves an eccentric tale of tunnelling dukes, desperate widows and dirty, rotten scoundrels, spanning the Victorian and Edwardian eras. So — and you know where we’re going with this by now — Piu is here to give us the intel on the whole lurid affair.

Born in Calcutta and raised in the UK, Piu has lived in Paris for the last decade, where she found the inspiration for her first book, about the French, called They Eat Horses, Don’t They? Liu talks double lives, intensive research and slogging…

Tell us about The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse

The Dead Duke, his Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse is a historical true-crime story. It re-tells the fantastic story of the alleged double life of the 5th Duke of Portland, a Victorian eccentric who burrowed a maze of underground passages beneath the family seat of Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire. A celebrated court case of the time alleged that the Duke had lived a double life as a businessman in Baker Street. It dragged on for ten years. Was it true?

The story has as many twists and turns as a novel —  how did you come across this Victorian cause celebre? 

I was snooping around some second-hand bookshops looking for a new story, when I came across this in a tatty, 1970s book about ‘Victorian Scandals.’ I was hooked.

What does the whole affair tell us about the Victorians and Edwardians, do you think?

It tells us a lot about the duplicity and hypocrisy of the era. The Victorians prided themselves on their strict sense of ‘morality’ and high standards of honour in public and private life: the reality, of course, was very different.

The book is packed with a delicious cast of scoundrels and chancers – which of the participants in the case really came alive for you as you researched them?

I have to admit to a secret crush on the 5th Duke of Portland. Even after all this research, I still don’t know what made him ‘tick’. Why did he dig hundreds of miles of tunnels under his estate? Was he a genius, or just plain crazy?

The Dead Duke, The Secret Wife And The Missing CorpseHow long did it take you to research the affair?

It took me about a year to research and write the book, with three visits to the Manuscripts and Special Collections Department at Nottingham University to review and make notes on the documents. Following such a long and complicated case was a huge undertaking.

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

Dedication and self-motivation. Also, the sheer craft of writing. People tend to think of writing as ‘inspiration’, but actually it’s about 5% inspiration and 95% sheer slog: writing, re-writing, putting pen to paper when you’re tired, complying with deadlines, being rejected, and plodding on. I always say – when people tell me they have a ‘book in them’ – to write three, rip them up, put them in the bin, and then write another! If you can do that, you might have a chance….

Who are the authors you admire, and why? 

There are so many! I tend to be influenced by people I’m reading at any one time. At the moment I’m reading a lot of American literature as research for my next book (set in 1940s California), so I would say Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath), and Truman Capote (In Cold Blood). All of them capture the strange ‘doubleness’ of America: on the one hand the American dream, and on the other, the American nightmare.

Give me some advice about writing…

All the points made above about craft, determination, and diligence.

What’s next for you?

I like to alternate true crime with books about France (where I live). So I’ve got a new trivia book about France coming out next Spring, and a project on the Elizabeth Short/ “Black Dahlia” murder, which took place in Los Angeles in 1947, in the pipeline.

The Intel: Tony Black

Tony Black

Photo: Ian Atkinson

You no doubt read Crime Thriller Fella’s review of Tony Black’s Artefacts Of The Dead earlier in the week, of course you did. If you didn’t, serious questions will, I’m afraid, have to be asked about your commitment to this blog. Redeem yourself forthwith by scrolling down and taking a look at it now, or by clicking here.

Now it’s Tony’s turn to endure The Intel Inquisition. He’s the author of a dozen novels, including The Last Tiger, about the demise of the Tasmanian Tiger. He’s also written a number of crime series featuring protagonists Gus Dury, Doug Michie and Rob Brennan. Artefacts Of The Dead is a procedural, and a character study of a man at the end of his tether. It’s out now in paperback, and on ebook, published by Black And White.


Tell us about Artefacts of the Dead…

Where to start? I suppose, on one level, it’s a murder investigation and a police procedural. There’s a serial killer on the loose, terrorising the scenic seaside town of Auld Ayr on the west coast of Scotland … but that’s not really what it’s about. It’s about a badly-bruised individual, a police officer who’s getting on and recovering from a near-fatal stabbing to the heart. He’s stared into the abyss and started to wonder what it’s all about. DI Bob Valentine is re-evaluating his life, the lives of others, and his place in the world around him whilst simultaneously trying to solve a grotesque, at times perverse, and possibly even supernatural murder.

How would you describe your protagonist DI Bob Valentine?

See the above for a taster. Bob’s cracking under the strain of the case. He’s a man approaching the end of his career and wondering what he’s achieved, he’s not looking for a last hurrah, but when the investigation reveals links to a child disappearance several years earlier his conscience tells him that someone needs to sort the mess out, and the only someone available is him.

Poor old Bob goes through the wars in this novel, just like your other protagonists – why do you like putting your characters through the ringer so much?

William Golding once said a writer’s job was to “chase their protagonist up a tree and throw stones at them”. Creating trouble for a character is what drives drama and tension, and it’s a lot more fun than having them naval gazing or collecting butterflies.

You’re an extraordinarily prolific writer – what’s your secret?

It might look that way at the moment, I’ve had three books out this year but a couple of them were written some time ago and Artefacts of the Dead was started a couple of years back. It’s just the way the publishing schedules have panned out.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

There’s no typical day at all really. Sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes I write in the middle of the night. I’m juggling writing with a one-year-old at the moment so setting any schedule is a complete waste of time. When I’m writing a new book, though, I do try to write every day, however little.

Artefacts Of The DeadWhat’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

I suppose that would have to be is that it really doesn’t get any easier. It’s all uphill, and a struggle. No two books are the same, they’re all like climbing Everest, just from a different route on every occasion. If you start to think it’s getting easy, that’s the quickest route to complacency and possibly the worst thing a writer can do.

How do you deal with feedback?

I love feedback. Writing is all about feedback, from the off. Agents, editors, reviewers. They all have their say and most of it is useful – if it’s not, you can always choose to ignore it. A thick-skin is an essential ingredient of the writer’s make-up, you wouldn’t last five minutes without it.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Hemingway, Steinbeck, McCullers. More than any others I think they’ve all made me look at a part of the world in a way I hadn’t before.

Give me some advice about writing…

Beyond the most basic craft aspects, most writing advice is better to be ignored.

What’s next for you?

I’m not writing at all at the moment, haven’t done since the beginning of the year and I think that’s going to continue right up until the end of the year. I’m researching a lot of subjects that interest me, reading tons and tons, but essentially letting the cistern fill up. I’ve got lots of ideas about what I’d like to write next, including setting a crime novel in America, but who knows what will finally pull me in.

The Intel: Peter May


We love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them. I’m absolutely delighted to say Peter May, author of the bestselling Lewis Trilogy — The third novel, The Chess Men is out now — has agreed to share with us a little about how he goes about the critical business of getting words on a page.

What’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?

The germ of an idea comes first. Then I work on characters, and really all story comes out of character, so the rest generally just falls into place.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I spend four to five months developing characters and plot, and doing my research (which is really the fun bit). Then I write (in about 7 days) a very detailed synopsis, which can be up to 20,000 words long. At that point I can look at the whole, and discern where the flaws might be, and what further research is needed. My storyline then provides a safety net for me as I embark on the writing of the actual book, even although story and characters quite often evolve differently. It allows me to write quickly (something I learned to do as a journalist), and to focus on the quality of the writing. I get up at 6am and write 3000 words a day, however long that might take me. I always end my day when I reach the 3000th word, even if it is mid-sentence. That way I always know how I will begin the next day, and so I never have writers‘ block. The book is usually finished in about 7 weeks.

Who are the authors you love, and why?

As a young man the writers I most admired included Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, HE Bates and JP Donleavy. I don’t get much time these days to read for pleasure – most of my reading is for research. But the best book I’ve read recently was (much to my surprise) a Stephen King novel called 11/22/63. I am not a fan of horror or supernatural novels. This doesn’t really fall into that category. It does involve time-travel, but if you are prepared to suspend disbelief in that one respect, then King takes you on a wonderful journey through the late fifties and early sixties as the main character attempts to prevent the assassination of JFK. He is a terrific writer and a master storyteller.

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

That even although you believe that what you have written is great, sometimes it really isn’t, and you have to accept the judgment of an experienced and objective eye – usually your editor. So while it can often be a painful process, you have to be prepared to re-think and re-write. Nine times out of ten it will turn out better.

How do you deal with feedback?

I think people who lavish my books with praise have infinitely good judgement, and that anyone who criticises them must be a complete moron. Seriously, though, you have to be prepared to accept that everyone has different tastes, different likes and dislikes, and not everyone is going to like your work. Hard though that is, you have to learn to be philosophical. As far as direct contact from readers is concerned, I now receive thousands of emails a year and my wife and I labour very hard to try to answer them all.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

Entirely. Whether those experiences come from my own past, or from those things I have learned on my many research trips, my life wholly shapes the things I write about. The Lewis Trilogy is a typical example. In The Blackhouse, Fin’s relationship with Marsaili is very much based on an on- off relationship I had with a girl I met on my first day at school. In The Lewis Man, I used the experience of my father’s descent into alzheimer’s to shape the character of Marsaili’s father, Tormod. In The Chessmen, I borrowed heavily from my own experiences playing in a band during my teens and early twenties to colour the lives and experiences of the Celtic rock band “Solas”.

Give me some advice about writing…

Don’t do it if you think it will bring you money, fame or a glamorous lifestyle. Writing is hard, often unrewarding work. Most writers are driven to write by some inexplicable compulsion that must be coded into their DNA. It is a tough and often lonely road that the writer travels, so don’t even embark on it unless you, too, are driven to it.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Don’t try to write for the marketplace. Write what’s in your heart, and above all what you know about. Don’t waste time sending an unsolicited manuscript to publishers – they won’t read it. Try to find yourself an agent who believes in your work. These days publishers will only read manuscripts submitted by agents. If you can’t find either, then publish yourself. The technology makes it easy these days to produce and sell either hard copies or e-books. But be aware that the competition is fierce and that it is a full-time job just to get your book noticed.

What’s next for you?

I have another two books to write for my current contract, plus the final book in the Enzo Files series. Then…. I don’t know. A very long holiday!

The Chessmen by Peter May is published by Quercus at £7.99, and is available from Amazon here.