If there was one author you could co-write a novel with (they can be alive or dead) who would you choose and why?
I would love to write a book with Agatha Christie because I think we wouldn’t squabble too much. She loved plots and puzzles but wasn’t so interested in character and psychology. I’d love to hand over the plot to someone else and concentrate on the fine subtle details of character development and dialogue! And who better than Agatha Christie – she had a mind like a steel trap and a very inventive approach to evil-doing.
You entered into the literary world, before you became a successful author, as a children book editor. What did you learn about writing while editing those books?
I learned all about being a good author – the boring bits, like checking the manuscript obsessively because it’s not the editor’s job, despite what many people think, to correct spellings and make your work consistent. That’s your job. The editor backs you up! And I learned a huge amount about pacing stories. Children are very unforgiving; they tell you when they’re bored. You can’t let the pace drop. I learned that the best way to see if a passage of writing works is to read it out loud. It’s amazing what trips you up and what stands out as unnecessary when you hear it instead of reading it.
You began your writing career with your D/C Maeve Kerrigan adult mystery series, but last year you released your YA novel How to Fall. Why did you decide to start a YA series? What were some additional challenges that you encountered writing a YA novel?
I’ve always been a huge fan of YA and I loved editing it. I played around with a YA idea when I was supposed to be writing my second book for adults. It didn’t work, but an editor who read it approached me to try a YA crime novel. I love writing the Jess Tennant books and I particularly enjoy working out how to get a teenage girl involved in a serious criminal investigation! There’s a strong romantic element to the plots too, and I will cheerfully admit that’s one of my favourite parts. Because Jess isn’t a police officer, it can be hard to resolve things in a believable way. Peril is a regular feature of her life. If I had Jess as a daughter, I’d never let her leave the house.
What do you think would be the hardest or most challenging genre to write a novel in and why?
For me, probably literary fiction. I read it but I miss the sense of climax you get in a crime novel – justice must be done. In literary novels, that’s not a given. Sometimes the stories fade out and I’m not sure how satisfying that is for readers. In general, I think you should write books you would like to read yourself. I fear I’d lose heart.
What do you think are the essentials to make a great crime mystery novel? How do you think your Maeve Kerrigan series differs from the many other mystery novels out there?
I think great crime novels need all of the elements of a great novel: compelling characters, believable dialogue, pace, a good setting that’s evoked in a vivid way, plus a little something extra – a mystery that must be resolved. The best ones are those that end with a villain who the reader feels is the only person who could have committed the crime, but also the last person they suspected. Then again, I love novels that turn that idea on its head. Donna Tartt’s THE SECRET HISTORY is about how to get away with murder – or not – and it’s just as compelling as a generic whodunit.
The Maeve Kerrigan series is strongly focused on the characters, and really, they are what the readers remember and love. The series characters’ personal lives and relationships are a big part of the books. I also benefit hugely from having a prosecutor husband, so every book is grounded in fact and every aspect of the police investigation is as accurate as I can make it.
There are some very dark themes and aspects within your Kerrigan series, what appeals to you about the dark and disturbing aspects of human nature?
I think readers and authors of crime novels are definitely fascinated by the dark side. It’s a strange thing – every newspaper is full of examples of violence and cruelty yet most of us are lucky enough to encounter it in fiction only. But if you go back to the very beginnings of English literature, the great Anglo-Saxon poem BEOWULF is about good confronting evil. Turning our fears into fiction and vanquishing them is a human tradition. I send Maeve into battle against some very awful individuals and so far she has always triumphed.
Maeve is a very interesting character and at times seems innocent but jaded at the exact same time as she is just starting out her career, what do you think are the defining characteristics of Maeve’s character? As she is starting at the bottom in the unit as a D/C and has a lot ahead of her, do you have a planned number of books for her series?
I see Maeve as someone who wants to fit in but can’t – she’s an outsider in many ways. It’s a male-dominated world and she’s female; she’s young but better at her job than many of the older detectives in the unit. Her background is a traditional Irish one but she’s grown up in London, in a very different world, so she isn’t what her parents expect and she isn’t the same as her contemporaries. Although Ireland and England are close geographically, they are worlds apart culturally.
As for being jaded, she has to prove herself again and again, and that gets exhausting! I think she’d like to believe the best of people but she’s taught herself to expect the worst rather than being disappointed all the time. I love it when other characters underestimate her and she proves them wrong.
I wanted to write about a young woman in a tough world because her life is complicated in a way that a male character’s life might not be. Will she choose family and a gentler career path? Will she become a senior detective and make her work the focus of her life? Will she prove that she’s not there to balance the genders or because she’s attractive, but because she deserves to be there? I like the different perspective she gives on the investigation – she does the leg work and she has to persuade her superiors to trust her. I’d like to keep writing her for another few books, definitely, but although I’ve mapped out the next three or four, I’m not sure where she’ll end up yet.
The police procedural content within your book is really well done and I think accurately shows to be how a Detective would follow the evidence as well as the hierarchy within the police culture. Where did your information and knowledge come from as you do not have a history in this or similar occupation?
As I mentioned briefly earlier, my husband is a prosecutor – a criminal barrister, technically. He wears a wig and gown in court, the full traditional costume, and he has many years’ experience of the legal system. He’s a great source of information on procedure and as he’s worked with many, many police officers, he has access to officers who can answer any questions I may have. He also works as a volunteer police officer in his spare time so he has personal experience of the immediate aftermath of violent crime, arresting people, giving evidence and so on. He is probably the ideal partner for a crime writer.
Do you have any information on upcoming works or events that you are able to share?
The fifth Maeve Kerrigan novel, THE KILL, will be out in the US in the spring next year. The UK is a year ahead at the moment. I’m working on the sixth now. So basically, if you like them, there will be more!
What is one book (other than one of your own) that you think everyone should read?
BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel. It’s not an easy read but it’s hugely interesting: a vivid study of how we convince ourselves to do the unthinkable. The novel focuses on the trial and execution of Anne Boleyn but I think it has echoes of the very darkest moments in world history. Cromwell sees himself as a good man doing what is right, when what he is actually orchestrating is a tragedy and an outrage. Very clever!
I Just want to say Thank You once again to Jane for being part of my Blogoversary. I am looking forward to continuing on in her Maeve Kerrigan series, I love it when I am able to start a new series that already has mutiple books released mean I don't have to wait to get my hands on the next book. Jane has very kindly supplied a Giveaway (US) to go along with her interview. Please fill out the Rafflecopter information to participate.
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