Crime author Steph Broadribb’s working life has been spent dividing her time between the UK and USA. She’s an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and trained as a bounty hunter in California.
These days, she lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens. I’ll hang fire making any puns about the animals jumping bale (boom tish) and get on with the questions – welcome to the blog, Steph!
Firstly, congratulations on the success of your debut novel, Deep Down Dead. Was the novel a result of your MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University, London or did you go there with the idea bubbling away in your mind already?
I got the idea when I was out in the States just before I started the MA programme. I’d been sent a brief for a pre-course assignment – writing a chapter that introduced a new character – and had to email it to my tutor and fellow students before we met for the first lecture. It was when I was driving from the mountains of West Virginia and into rural Virginia that I had the idea – inspired by the discovery that the taillights on my hire car weren’t working and finding out that the nearest place I could get them fixed was over a hundred miles away! I stayed overnight in a rundown motel and from then on only drove in daylight. But it got me thinking – what if you had to keep driving and your taillights were out? And what if you got pulled over by a State Trooper because of it? And what if when they leaned into the car to take your licence they heard banging in the trunk from the person you’d put in there? It started me thinking about the sort of person who might travel with a person in their trunk and why – and that’s how Lori Anderson came about!
What did you enjoy most about doing an MA in Creative Writing?
The way the tutors Claire McGowan and Laura Wilson encouraged us to experiment with our writing – style/point of view/sub-genre/everything really – to find what suited us best and what we enjoyed. The whole programme was highly experiential – we wrote fresh pieces each week to submit and critique in ‘live workshops’ – it got you used to feedback fast, and into the routine of writing to deadlines and self-editing.
Another huge part of it for me was the camaraderie of being part of a group of writers all going through the same thing. We experienced the highs and lows of writing together, celebrated the good stuff and commiserated on the tough stuff, and supported each other through the novel writing process. We still meet now as a writing group and workshop our current WIPs.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about your own bounty hunting experience, so how did you get involved in that?
Once I decided Lori was a bounty hunter, I felt that in order to make her authentic as a ‘woman in a man’s world’ I needed to know more about bounty hunting and what it’s actually like to do the job – I guess you could say that I’m into ‘method writing’! So I got in touch with a bounty hunter who’s licenced by the State of California to train bounty hunters and bondsmen and asked if he’d train me. He said sure, so I jumped on a flight and headed to Sacramento. As well as learning about the many aspects of the job – the tracking work, the legal side, and how to keep safe, I also got to meet some fascinating people working in the business – both men and women – and find out what life as a bounty hunter is really like.
Hopefully you’ve never had to bury a dead body (if you have, please don’t tell us where it is!), but it’s evident that the experience and training you undertook has become such an important part of Lori’s character. Did she appear on the page fully formed, or did it take you a while to get to know her?
Her voice arrived fully formed, and I knew there was a dreadful secret lurking in her past but it wasn’t until I’d finished the first draft that I found out what it was (although I knew it was connected to her husband, Sal and JT). When I realised – I was on a train from Scotland to London at the time – I wrote those chapters in one rapid burst.
Writing in first person is something that I’d find a little out of my comfort zone, but it works so well in Deep Down Dead. Was it a conscious decision to write in first person?
That was the way she came out naturally! I’m fairly happy writing in first person or close third, but I wrote Lori as a first person narrator from the start. Maybe it was partly because I was travelling through the American South at the time – my inner voice kind of sounded like Lori, although my outer voice didn’t at all!
The success of Deep Down Dead has been phenomenal, and you must be so pleased. What’s next for Lori, and when can we expect to see her again?
I’ve been overwhelmed by all the support for the book from crime writers, bloggers and readers. It was a nerve-wracking thing sending the characters and story I’d been working on for so long out into the world, I’m just so delighted that people seem to be enjoying them.