With an unconventional route to publication as gripping and twisty as her novels, Jane Isaac's new release, Beneath the Ashes has just been released, and I was over the moon when she invited me to include this interview as part of her official blog tour. Let's get stuck into the questions!
To cut a long story short, after a lovely day at their Kensington offices I signed up with one of the agents and they submitted the novel to the big publishing houses. The result was disappointing: we had lovely feedback, they all seemed to like the work, but nobody offered to sign the novel. My agent suggested I submit to the independent publishers and I signed with US based Rainstorm Press within a month.
Rainstorm Press were only able to distribute books online in the UK, so when I finished my second book, The Truth Will Out, I decided to throw myself back into the slush pile and try for a British publisher. Luckily I signed with Legend Press and Beneath the Ashes will be my third title with them.
You have two series, the DCI Helen Lavery series, and the DI Will Jackson series – when you get a new idea for a story, what factors determine which of your fictional detectives gets the case to solve?
In theory, the themes could relate to either one of the characters as they both head homicide investigations. The progression of the DI Will Jackman series is largely due to my publisher and I’ve already written the third in this series, The Lies Within, which is due to be published in May 2017.
I am also working on an outline for a new DCI Helen Lavery novel though, and very much look forward to working with her again.
After all this time, with four novels under your belt, what writing process do you find works best for you? Do you outline at all, or simply make a start and see where the story takes you?
When I wrote my first book I didn’t outline or plan at all, I just worked through chapter by chapter. It was a completely self-indulgent process (At the time I didn’t know whether it would ever be published or even if I would ever even finish it!), which took me around eighteen months to complete.
I have sped up a bit as I’ve gone along. With my last two books, I’ve had to write to a deadline which rather focuses the mind, and I’ve got into the habit of writing a three/four page outline of the story in advance now, before I jump in, so that the novel does have some sense of direction, although inevitably things do change along the way.
When you’re not writing or promoting your work, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Since I still have a day job and a family to look after, spare time is quite rare. I enjoy trudging over the fields where I live in rural Northamptonshire, UK with my Labrador, Bollo. I also love indulging my other passion of travel and am always daydreaming about what country or city I can visit next. Needless to say, my bucket list is endless!
Huge thanks for hosting me, Rachel. I loved answering your questions!
Thanks for being a guest on the blog, Jane and all the best with Beneath the Ashes.
I'm chuffed to bits to welcome Mel Sherratt to the blog today, a prolific author of gritty crime fiction and women's fiction. I first discovered Mel through her DS Allie Shenton books, and as the first novel in her new DS Eden Berrisford series, The Girls Next Door, was published last week, I thought it was high time we sat down for a chat...
I started out writing women’s fiction, but my writing became darker. I began to work as a local housing officer, which gave me a great background in community spirit and the daily problems faced by some. So I wrote the first three book in The Estate Series.
When those were rejected, I wrote Taunting the Dead, a British police procedural/psychological thriller. When that took off, I dusted down the three estate books that had been rejected and self-published those too.
Off the back of that success, I signed with Thomas & Mercer, who then asked for more books to follow on from Taunting the Dead. So that was the start of the DS Allie Shenton Series, which is set in my home city of Stoke-on-Trent. There are three of those now and I’m not sure if they will stay as a trilogy or not.
Now, I’m writing a third series featuring another Detective Sergeant, Eden Berrisford. This one is a mixture of all the books I’ve written so far. It’s set in the same fictional city as The Estate Series and a few of those characters pop in and out of the book too.
So in terms of producing so much, it’s the reason why I set the third series, DS Eden Berrisford, in the same fictional city as the first, to make it easier for me to keep on top of everything.
As for my lighter side, I’ve written three novels under the pen name of Marcie Steele, and I’m not sure I’ll ever write any more. But never say never – I suppose if a good storyline pops into my head I’d be off writing it.
Not a short answer to that question, sorry!
How much of your novels do you outline, and how much do you allow the story to develop on its own while you're writing?
My books always have multiple characters and usually three subplots, so I tend to work out beginnings, middles and endings for each subplot, marry them together and then start writing. I’m a fast and furious first draft writer, and I tend to get about 50-60k words down of the whole story, go back and read it and then address plot holes and add in any new things that I have thought of during the first draft. So the book grows organically.
I also know so many crime writers now that I have a ton of information at my hands. My best crime writing buddy, Caroline Mitchell, used to be a serving police officer so she is always my first port of call, and then I have a Facebook group where we can pose questions and others answer them. It’s a wealth of knowledge as there are so many crime writers from all walks of life. I also speak to the local chief constable if I need to.
It's often said that minor characters don't know they're minor characters - all your books have a great supporting cast; is there one in particular that you think you'd like to give his/her own story to, if you had time? (Or if you’ve already done so, why this particular character?)
In The Estate Series, I guess the main conduit is housing officer, Josie Mellor. When I wrote this series, I wanted standalone novels with resolved storylines in each book. It was really the estate that was the main character, if that doesn’t sound weird. On hindsight, as Josie Mellor features in each book, sometimes as a major character or as a minor one, I wish I had created her as the series character.
That said, during that series, I write about a minor character in one book who will then go on to be a major character in the next book
What’s next for you this year?
Hmm… difficult question. I have a few projects lined up but I can’t say much more than that at the moment. I’m sure there will be more from DS Eden Berrisford, possibly another book in The Estate Series, or even a spin off, and then who knows…
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Mel - it's been great to have you here!
If you mention the name Leigh Russell amongst crime-writing circles, one phrase keeps popping up: hard-working. Leigh's novels have a legion of fans, but her success is down to her determination and drive as much as her excellent writing.
I managed to catch up with her for a spare nanosecond to ask her more about her life as a full-time author these days.
So a typical day might begin with anything from watching boats on the Mississippi, covering myself in sun block before eating breakfast on a verandah gazing out over the Atlantic Ocean, or putting on my gloves and admiring York stone buildings. Next month promises to less varied. I'll be at my desk, working hard on edits for my next two books, for my two UK publishers. It's a fantastic life, but does involve hard work along with all the fun.
How has your writing process changed at all over the years? If so, how?
Delivering two manuscripts a year is a challenge. In many ways my process hasn't changed that much, but I do have to work fast. When I started, I used to write everything out long hand, and then type it up afterwards. At some point I made the transition to composing my work directly onto the keyboard. This means I can write more quickly, which has been a great help. I do all my work on an iPad which allows me to work anywhere - on a train, in a plane, in a hotel room - the physical environment makes no difference to me.
I get the impression you can write anywhere, but do you have any rituals before you start writing?
No. I did to begin with, but I don't have time for rituals these days! I just get on with the job.
You’ve been travelling a lot over the UK summer – it seems an age ago that we met at CrimeFest, and at the time of writing, you’ve just returned from Bouchercon in the USA. What tips would you give to a newcomer going to a writing festival in order to get the most out of the experience?
My advice would be the same in every situation - just enjoy the experience. Literary festivals are a great opportunity to meet fellow authors and fans of the crime fiction genre. If you like meeting people, you'll enjoy literary festivals. If that doesn't appeal to you, there's nothing wrong with staying at home and writing.
You’re always so busy – what do you do to relax these days?
No time to relax! I am extremely busy, but I've also been very lucky. That's why I try to put something back. So I do a lot to helping aspiring writers, and support libraries, and recently offered to donate my opening royalties for Girl in Danger to the National Literacy Trust.
Finally, how long do you think it’ll be before your grand-daughter has her own library card?
Like many readers, I'm campaigning to protect our library service, and fought to keep my own local library open. We won that fight, but it's an ongoing struggle. That said, I know my daughter will be taking my granddaughter along to her local library as soon as she's old enough to appreciate books. But she won't be reading my crime novels for a while!
The past 24 hours has been a whirlwind of activity, with the cover reveal for the first novel in my new crime thriller series featuring Detective Kay Hunter, Scared to Death.
I've been humbled by all the support for this new endeavour, and I can't wait to share the book with you when it's published on 6 December. There are pre-order links available for iBooks, Kobo and Nook below. If you have a Kindle and would like to be included in a very exclusive special offer nearer the time, all you have to do is sign up to the newsletter and check your emails ;)
Here's some more information about Scared to Death:
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