Tag Archives: Ruth Rendell

The Intel: Stephen Booth

9780316743297 (532x800)A sense of place is as important in crime novels as the characters, and the extraordinary landscape of the Peak District permeates every sentence of Stephen Booth’s hugely-popular Cooper and Fry series. In the latest, Secrets Of Death, Booth writes about a bizarre string of suicides in the area.

When Roger Farrell is found dead by his own hand in a car overlooking the beautiful Heeley Bank, he is the latest in a long line of people who have come to the Peak District to die. Although DI Ben Cooper is reluctant to use the phrase ‘suicide tourism’, he is aware that the rate of suicides in the area is sharply increasing. And a number of them, like Farrell, are in possession of a business card that simply says The Secrets Of Death.

Is somebody ‘managing’ these suicides? And how would Cooper even define this crime? Unfortunately, the one survivor is refusing to cooperate with the police, and leads are thin on the ground. The answer may lie with Cooper’s prickly former colleague Diane Fry, who had been about to arrest Roger Farrell before his death. Can the two of them find whoever is coordinating the suicides before more people die?

Secrets Of Death is the 16th in this incredibly popular series of crime novels. Booth is a generous and engaging interviewee, and in this fascinating intel he tells us about the evolution of his characters, about ‘suicide tourism’ and his beloved Peak District — and something of an expert on the subject, he reveals the secret personalities of goats…

Tell us about Ben Cooper and Diane Fry…

I conceived these two characters as young and junior police detectives, in a reaction to all the middle-aged alcoholic loners I was reading about in crime fiction back in the 1990s. Ben Cooper is the local boy who grew in the Peak District and knows everyone. He’s from a farming family and has a real love for the area and its way of life. Diane is the outsider, a city girl and completely out of her element in a rural setting. She’s rather a damaged person who’s developed a protective shell because of what’s happened to her in the past. Ben is a character everyone loves because he has such humanity and compassion. The relationship between the two characters started off quite badly in the first book, ‘Black Dog’, and has become more and more complex ever since.

How have the characters changed since the series began?

Ben Cooper was very young and immature in the early books. But he made the break from his family and moved away from the farm, and we’ve watched him steadily mature over the course of the series. He’s been through a major personal trauma, and he’s also been promoted a couple of times so he’s now a detective inspector with responsibilities for his team. Diane Fry seemed like a high flier in the beginning and was very ambitious. But she was distracted from her ambitions (largely by her unpredictable sister Angie), and one day she realised Cooper was leaving her behind. To some extent, they’ve gone separate ways, but they both remain very conflicted over their relationship.

Secrets of Death tackles the subject of ‘suicide tourism’ – what is that?

Many people have a favourite location they like to spend time in. One day, I was looking at some benches installed at a Peak District viewpoint overlooking a stunning landscape. Each one had a plaque commemorating a deceased person who was said to have loved that particular spot. It occurred to me that if you’d decided to take your own life and you were planning it carefully, as some people do, you might choose to do it at your favourite spot and spend the last moments of your life looking at that spectacular view. That’s how I came up with the concept of ‘suicide tourism’. Ben Cooper and his team from Edendale CID are faced with a spate of such suicides. They don’t know where the next dead body will turn up, though it’s bound to be at a tourist hotspot. It isn’t doing the tourism industry much good! And of course there’s the question of whether one of those deaths wasn’t actually a suicide at all…

9780751559989How much does the mysterious character of the Peak District permeate your books?

I think of the Peak District as beautiful but dangerous. It was the perfect setting for the type of book I wanted to create. I was interested in writing about a rural area, but giving my books a darker feel and dealing with serious contemporary subjects. I recall a line from a Sherlock Holmes story, in which Holmes tells Dr Watson: “There is more evil in the smiling and beautiful countryside than in the vilest alleys of London”. That pretty much sums up the idea. The Peak District is full of wonderfully atmospheric locations, along with thousands of years of history and all the legends and folklore that go with it.

I was intrigued by the two distinct geological halves of the Peak District, known as the White Peak and Dark Peak, which are very different in character. The white and dark seemed to me to symbolise good and evil, right there in the landscape. This is also one of the most visited national parks in the world because of the cities all around it, creating conflict between millions of visitors and the people who actually live and work there. Sometimes the landscape plays a physical role in my books. The hills can be very dangerous, and people sometimes disappear or meet an unexplained death. In one book, Dead and Buried, the backdrop is of raging moorland fires, which is almost like a vision of Hell.

What are your favourite locations for your novels?

There are so many fascinating and quirky places in the Peak District. One Last Breath is set around one of the my favourite locations, the small town of Castleton. It’s in limestone country and sits on top of thirteen miles of caverns, some of which are open to the public. Frankly, there’s nothing more frightening than a deep, narrow cave in complete darkness! And there are some very creepy stories about the Peak Cavern system. I also think of the ‘plague village’ of Eyam, which features in The Kill Call. It’s become a macabre tourist attraction, with people going to look at plaques listing the names of people who died there from an outbreak of bubonic plague. They even sell souvenir plastic rats in the visitor centre!

You breed pedigree dairy goats – – what kind of personalities do goats have?

Sadly, we no longer have the goats, though we did breed them for a number of years. I always found them fascinating animals. They’re very intelligent and independent-minded (unlike sheep), and they have a wicked sense of humour. They relate to people very well, and our goats always loved being taken to shows, where they had a wonderful time showing off to the public. Remarkably, they’re also more productive than cows, size for size, and their milk is much better for people who can’t take cows’ milk. I do miss not having them any more!

How did you start writing?

I started writing stories when I was very young – pretty much as soon as I could read, I think. I went on to produce my first novel when I was 12 years old. I’m sure it was quite a short novel, and it was about astronauts landing on a planet and meeting aliens (well, it was the 1960s!). But from the moment I finished it, I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. Obviously, you can’t just leave school and become a novelist, so I figured out the way to earn a living by writing was to be a newspaper journalist. I did that for a long time, but I gave it up and I’ve made my living from writing crime novels for the past 16 years or so. So I suppose I’ve always been a writer.

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

Taking criticism is hard for a lot of writers. But I learned about it very early on. I’ve got an older brother, who read that first novel I wrote when I was 12 – and he was so disparaging about it that he remains the worst critic I’ve ever head! But I wasn’t discouraged by his harsh comments. And I think it was great experience for me to learn about taking criticism at such an early age. It doesn’t bother me now.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

There are many of them. I was a huge fan of crime fiction as a reader before I started writing the Cooper & Fry series. One of my great heroes was Ruth Rendell, who was capable of subverting the conventions of the genre. She was constantly able to come up with something new and exciting right to the end. I thought Reginald Hill was a great writer too, and I also like John Harvey, Peter Robinson – in fact anything with a really strong, believable central character.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read a lot, keep writing – and never stop!

What’s next for you?

I’m starting work on a new Cooper & Fry novel, which will be the 17th in the series. But I don’t have a title yet!

***

Secrets Of Death is out right now, published by Sphere in hardback.

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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: JR Carroll

Carroll_JRWe love writers here – east, west, north and south. JR Carroll was born and raised in Melbourne, where he still lives. He worked as a teacher before turning to full-time fiction writing. His first book, about the Vietnam War, was Token Soldiers. This was followed by a series of crime thrillers, including Catspaw, No Way Back, Out of the Blue, The Clan, Cheaters, and Blindside. His latest crime novel, 8 Hours to Die, was released by Momentum last month. JR kindly gives us the Intel on his writing regime.

How would you describe 8 Hours To Die to a potential reader?

8 Hours to Die is a ‘siege thriller’, a well-established sub-genre in which potential victims are attacked by outlaws in their own home. This is everyone’s nightmare: how safe am I in my own house? It is a gritty, ultra-violent story in which the home invaders are ruthless killers hell-bent on breaking in and wreaking havoc, told more or less in real time, to heighten the tension.

What’s the secret to writing a gripping thriller?

I think the secret to a gripping thriller is being able to produce a plot that moves along quickly and credibly and which shocks the reader with each twist and turn. And the characters – even the bad guys – have to be fleshed out and believable; we have to be able to get inside their skins as well as those of the victims. In a way, it’s classic battle between good and evil, and the reader can never be sure which way it’s going to go until the final page. Even when it’s over, it really isn’t over …

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

I usually begin with a single idea, which is enough to get the ball rolling … a particular scenario, or a character who seems to me interesting or disturbing. After that, I make it all up as I go along. This approach always involves a lot more thinking than actual writing. I like to see the ending at about the halfway point, and work steadily towards out. Sometimes I write out the last paragraph well in advance. In the case of 8 Hours to Die, the plot definitely came first.

What are the themes you always return to in your writing?

I guess every writer returns to certain themes, and I’m no different. I like the idea of events that occurred in the distant past coming back with devastating effect. An unsolved crime, a secret that won’t go away … A character who returns after a long absence. I also like the idea of flawed heroes – or anti-heroes – as that makes for a much more complicated and interesting protagonist. My fictional world is one in which nothing is black and white.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I’m a late starter – maybe 10.30 or 11am, for an hour or so, then another hour in the afternoon. But as I say, I do a lot of thinking, and I can jump back on the computer any time if I come up with a good idea. I spend a lot of time trying to work out how a particular character can develop, and how I can move the plot along through a difficult patch. I’m always trying to think up ways of ratcheting up the tension.

Who are the authors or you love, and why?

I’ve always loved fiction, but when I got into the crime business I had little experience with the famous crime writers other than Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. But as time went on I got interested in Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, Patricia Cornwell, Ruth Rendell, James Crumley, Michael Connelly, Michael Dibdin, Robert Crais. There are many more – but I suppose I owe more to contemporary American writers than anyone else. They seemed to be more visceral and stylish; a lot more of the noir qualities and the ability to place a story in a time and place that is absolutely convincing.

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

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learnt about writing is that with each novel, you have to start from scratch and invent something worthwhile out of nothing. It can be daunting, especially given that you can’t please everyone. So, with that in mind, you just have to push on and persevere with your own agenda. I’ve been rejected plenty of times early on, and I know how discouraging that can be. But if you believe in yourself enough, you’ll get there with hard work, persistence, and above all, a talent that sets you apart. I think Frederick Forsythe’s The Day of the Jackal was rejected by 27 publishers, so there’s a lesson right there!

9781760080648_8 Hours to Die_cover 2How do you deal with feedback?

Feedback is very important, when it comes from editors or people who are involved in the business and know what they are talking about. You have to listen to feedback, including negative criticism, as no book is perfect. I have always been willing to make changes at the suggestion of an editor, even major ones. Nothing is precious in the book – I’ve cut out whole chapters, completely re-arranged the structure, deleted characters, etc, and it’s all turned out for the better. Uninformed criticism I take no notice of. The advent of the Internet has created a whole universe of online experts, some of them quite feral, so you have to be wary of that.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

I studied English Literature at University, was an English teacher for years, so I’m well-grounded as far as that goes. The writers who inspired me initially were Robert Penn Warren and Graham Greene, both of whom have very dark qualities to their writing … I think the idea of crime, with a strong element of romance and escapism that is associated with, came from All The Kings Men, The Power and the Glory, Brighton Rock etc. There is something about mystery, the loner trying to right wrongs, that is bewitching and very seductive. I’d also include Colin Wilson in that – some of his psychological thrillers are absolutely superb, but he’s out of fashion now.

My own life bears no relation to the brutal world of crime fiction that I write about. Friends say, ” How in the hell can you come up with stuff like that?” because really, there’s nothing of me in those stories. It’s all fantasy.

Give me some advice about writing…

The best advice I can give about writing – crime writing – is that first, you have to read a power of books, good and bad. Get familiar with the genre you’re working in. You can’t suddenly become a successful writer in a vacuum. Read voraciously, and don’t start writing a novel until you have a damned good idea, one that will go the distance. Remember: action is character. Cut back on description, which can kill interest. Avoid purple prose. Keep the plot rolling. Try not to be a ‘stylist’ – your own style will evolve in time, if you persist. I copied F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway initially, before realising that was going nowhere. Don’t do what’s been done before if you can help it. When I’m stuck, I often read great authors to get some inspiration. That can work wonders.

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

That’s the tough part. So many people are writing novels now, it’s hard to break in. If you can, get an agent. That’s not easy either. Otherwise, make sure your book is as good as you can get it, then send it to numerous publishers simultaneously. Have a short synopsis prepared, and a sample chapter if that’s what the publisher asks for. Don’t take rejection to heart. Everyone’s been rejected. If you’re good enough, you’ll get there in the end with persistence. That can take a long time. Overnight success stories are few and far between. And, as I said earlier, be prepared to make changes.

What’s next for you?

Following 8 Hours to Die, I’m currently working on a crime story about some cold murder cases involving a detective who has his own demons from the past to contend with … he is a compromised character but utterly determined to get the job done. It’s an interesting project, and while I have a few ideas left at the half-way point, I’m not sure how it’s going to end. But then, that’s half the fun. And if it isn’t fun, why do it?