My guest on the blog today is author Carol Wyer who, after spending time teaching English in Casablanca before setting up her own language company, now writes for a number of blogs, magazines, and publishers. If that wasn’t enough, Carol also performs stand-up comedy!
Her crime thrillers introduced readers to Detective Robyn Carter in Little Girl Lost, and has continued with Secrets of the Dead, her most recent publication.
With such a busy schedule, and the third Detective Robyn Carter investigation (The Missing Girls) already available for pre-order, I grabbed a nanosecond with this busy author to have a chat.
Welcome to the blog, Carol.
After writing non-fiction books and women’s fiction, what attracted you to writing in the crime/thriller genre? Was there a particular author that inspired you to do so?
My fascination with thrillers and twists, and a little horror, began when I was young and bedbound through ill health for several months. My mum would fetch me books from the library and one day brought home Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. I devoured it. I read every one of her novels after that. My father was a Dennis Wheatley fan so when I ran out of library books, I read his collection.
Humour has always come easy to me so I fell into writing humorous novels but I always wanted to peel off and write thrillers. Part due to the success of my women’s fiction novels and part due to lack of confidence in my ability to write a gripping thriller (after all, there are some fantastic writers out there) I didn’t pursue that avenue, until 2014. That year, I put together a collection of short stories under the heading Love Hurts, revealing both the light and dark side of that emotion.
I was invited to read the stories out to a live audience on air at BBC Radio Derby. They went down very well, especially the darker stories. This encouraged me futher and I jotted down some ideas for a psychological thriller.
Having completed Life Swap in 2015, which had the mother of all twists in it, I decided to dive in. I sent the synopses for Little Girl Lost to Bookouture, and the rest, as they say is history.
I’ve been inspired by so many crime writers like Ian Rankin, Tess Gerritsen and many, many more, but really I owe my love for twists and surprises to those two authors who saw me through my bedbound days – Agatha Christie and Dennis Wheatley.
Do you outline/plot your novels, or do you prefer to start at the beginning and see where the story takes you? Why do you prefer this method of writing?
Before I put pen to paper, I run the plot through my mind like a film – each character has an acting role and if a scene doesn’t work, I mentally shout ‘cut!’ and we redo it. DI Robyn Carter has even begun to offer up her own suggestions for plots!
I suffer from insomnia so the early hours of the morning is a great time to entertain myself doing this. If I don’t like the direction it’s headed, I rewind and start the film again. Once I’ve got a sense of plot and am happy with characters, I begin the first draft.
With all the thrillers, I’ve had to be far more disciplined and I’ve had to plaster my walls in Post-it notes – much like those DI Robyn Carter uses to solve her cases – with details on each character.
I then have copious pages in one A4 book dedicated to each character and a diagram of each plot with twists. If I don’t do this, my timeline goes haywire and the twists unravel.
Each thriller is carefully constructed and making one tweak can result in a huge amount of rewriting, so I try to stick to my synopses.
What does your writing space look like? Do you have any pre-writing rituals to get you “in the zone”?
I work in what I call my garret, which is empty apart from a desk and a cupboard.
There are no windows, only skylights, so although there is a fabulous view from there, I can’t see it when I’m writing. I prefer minimalism.
I can’t work with clutter and I prefer to write in silence, so living in the middle of rural Staffordshire works well for me.
The only other object in my room is a large blue stability (or balance ball) on which I sit.
I had to give up my lovely, leather swivel chair due to severe back problems.
I confess I have rituals. Before I begin a new book, I always clean my desk, line up my pencils and pens in order of size, put my notebooks in a neat pile, and make sure I have a packet of large sticky notes to jot down any ideas that might come to me while I’m writing.
At the start of this year I made a resolution to give up sweets. Hitherto, I always made sure I had organised my bags of chewy sweets in my ‘sweet box’. I was addicted to Haribo and would consume packets and packets of them. At least now, I no longer have to go for a post-book visit to the dentist.
Once my desk is prepared, I can begin the process. I start by actually writing everything down in a notebook, longhand. Up until recently, I wrote the entire book out before typing, but due to the tight deadlines, I no longer do that, I just start typing.
How do you structure a typical day to ensure you avoid distractions and hit your word count targets?
I don’t use word count targets. I employ the Wyer technique of ‘how much of this can I tip out of my head, before I forget it?’ That means I can work a fourteen-hour day solidly, without any breaks, other than to stretch every hour, and glug water, or it can mean I’ll write two-three hours in the morning.
If I’m researching for a book, I try to work for a couple of hours in the morning, same again in the afternoon, and a few overnight if I can’t sleep. However, once I get into the actual first draft, I tend to work like a human dynamo until it’s written.
I slow down after that and rewrite sections. I don’t even look at the word count until I’m at about chapter sixty. Having written thirteen novels, I know that’s about when I’m headed towards the finish line.
We all occasionally hit a brick wall with our creative endeavours – what do you do to overcome any stumbling blocks?
I do most of my creative thinking when I’m walking, a passenger in a car, or in the bath so, when I hit a stumbling block, the first thing I do is shut down my laptop and do something else altogether, like go out, or clean the house.
Once I’ve had a couple of hours away from my desk, I’ll then go for a walk. I live near a large reservoir with some great routes around it.
An hour there, walking through cool woods or over flower-filled fields and watching the birds swooping into the hides dotted about, will often yield an idea. Failing that, a long soak in a bath will fix it.
Writing crime fiction can be a harrowing experience – a lot of our research doesn’t make it into the books, and we can learn about some very dark and disturbing killers. What do you do to relax and switch off from the criminal world?
This is where performing stand up comedy comes into its own. I’m always on the hunt for material for future comedy gigs and since much of my routine is observational comedy, I can usually find something amusing.
I watch a lot of comedy DVDS too – reruns of Fawlty Towers for example, or light-hearted dramas.
My default setting appears to be humour and it’s a rare day when I don’t find at least one funny thing to giggle at.
What can you tell us about your latest book, Secrets of the Dead?
Secrets of the Dead is a twisting, hopefully heart-stopping read set in Staffordshire.
Detective Robyn Carter is investigating the murder of a barman in Lichfield when she is called to the scene of another crime - a young mother drowned in the bath, clutching a receipt saying ‘all debts paid’.
There are no witnesses. The victims had no debts. Her team can’t find a link between the victims, and the cracks are starting to show.
Just when her leads have dried up, Robyn discovers photographs in two of the victims’ houses, which she thinks could unlock the case. But as she hones in on the killer’s shocking motive, one of her own is put in terrible danger.
Finally, where can we find out more about you Carol, and buy your books?
You can buy all my books from the following retailers:
You can find out more about me via my website, and follow me here on social media:
Carol, thank you very much for joining me on the blog this week!