Tag Archives: William McIlvanney

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: Shari Low

Shari LowSo you’re probably hard at work thinking about what books to pack when you go on holiday. You’re thinking, glamour! You’re thinking, gossip! You’re thinking, dark secrets!

Author Shari Low and showbiz presenter Ross King have teamed up – becoming Shari King in the process – to write Taking Hollywood, a tale of scandal and secrets in modern-day LA. In the novel, three Glaswegian friends become major Hollywood players – but the events of a fateful night many years ago threatens to tear their lives apart, and a nosy investigative journalist is on the case.

Taking Hollywood is released on August 14th, so you’ve got plenty of time to pre-order it right here!

In the meantime, Shari Low has kindly taken time out to answer questions about her sizzling summer read, about the joys of writing with someone else, and working in the dead of night…

Where did the inspiration for Taking Hollywood come from?

Ross and I had talked about writing a book for years, but we thought it would probably be a biography of his extraordinary life. It was only last year that we decided it should be a novel. We met to have a chat about it and many hours (and many cups of tea) later, we had the concept, characters and storyline mapped out. We realised early in the conversation that we wanted it to be a dark blend of Hollywood drama and Glasgow crime. The book we ended up with is exactly the one we envisaged that day.

Are the characters secretly based on any real-life Hollywood stars?

Absolutely not – although we’ve taken many of the elements of Hollywood life and celebrity scandals and woven them into the story. No actual A-listers were harmed in the making of this book.

Why are we so fascinated by Hollywood scandals and secrets?

I think it’s human nature to be curious. I can sit in a café and people watch all day (in a non-stalker, non-restraining order kind of way). A fascination with celebrity just takes that a step further. It’s intriguing to see the risks and dramas that the famous indulge in and just like we all love to watch a great movie, it’s sometimes captivating to watch a scandal play out. And of course, many big names make it so easy for us to be astonished by their antics. Thank you, Charlie Sheen.

How do you write in a partnership – and avoid tears and tantrums?

Ah, pass the tissues! Actually, there was never a moment that came even close to either tears or tantrums. Ross and I have been friends for over 25 years and we are both pretty straight-talking. We also work in industries where you have to be able to take criticism and listen to the opinions of others without flouting off in a diva strop. There were a couple of lively debates, but it helped that we had exactly the same vision from day one. I’ll keep my diva strops for book 2.

What rules did you set yourself about working together?

No egos, total honesty, and we wouldn’t stop until we’d created a novel that we were both proud of. Other than that, we pretty much just took it day by day.

Taking HollywoodTake us through a typical writing day for you?

The writing content varies, depending on whether I have deadlines for my two newspaper columns  (an opinion page and a literary page). However the hours remain fairly consistent. And long. I work from around 9am until 4pm, then the next few hours are dedicated to the usual chaos of family stuff.  I’m usually back at my desk at around 9pm and work until some time pre-dawn. I’m lucky not to need much sleep and I’m very nocturnal so I work best at 3am when everything around me is silent. However, it’s a schedule that’s depressingly conducive to bloodshot eyes and wrinkles.

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

That’s such a good question and it took me a while to come up with an answer because 15 books down the line, I’m still not sure I have it sussed. Or ever will. I suppose the most significant thing I’ve learned is that I need to start trusting that it will all come together. When I’m mid-book, I’m invariably a hot mess of panic, doubt and anxiety, yet somehow, every single time it all falls into place. I’ve no idea how that happens, but my blood pressure would be a lot lower if I just had faith and confidence in the process.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

So, so many, for lots of different reasons. I grew up on the work of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins and Shirley Conran. Later, I became a huge fan of Martina Cole, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Val McDermid, William McIlvanney, Iain Banks.

I never miss a new release from Marian Keyes or Tasmina Perry. I’ll stop, because I could honestly go on for pages, but not before mentioning that my favourite book of all time is Nobel House by James Clavell.

Give me some advice about writing…

There’s no set way to do it, just find a method that works for you, start typing and have faith. See, I’m absolutely trying to learn that whole trust thing.

 What’s next for you – will you and Ross be working together again?

Definitely! We envisage this as a five book series and we’re currently in the midst of book two. I’m due a diva strop any day now.