Fast and furious writing with Mel Sherratt

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…

Mel, welcome to the blog. You’re writing in three series, and two genres, which is something that really appeals to me – do you find that contributes to being able to produce so much, and if so, how?

I’ve only been published for five years. My 12th book has just been released and I handed in the first draft for my 13th earlier this week. That makes me sound very prolific, and I guess in some ways I am. But a lot of those books were written long before I self-published my first one in December 2011. I’d been writing for years before that trying to get a traditional deal and the first one I published, Taunting the Dead, was actually the fifth book I had written.


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.

How do you research your novels – do you have expertise in the field, or do you rely solely on research? What sort of experts do you typically consult?

I tend to either use Google to search out a subject or I’ll buy a book on the topic. My plots are usually hard hitting dramas. For instance, my new book, The Girls Next Door, covers the law of Joint Enterprise, where in the UK, a person may be found guilty for another person’s crime just by being present at the scene. That law is being looked into now, which is why I had to set the book in 2015, before the changes came into force. The book also contains kidnap, bullying on social media, teenage gangs and grief. Again, I write the first draft with minimal research and then gather what I need afterwards.

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. ​
How do you maintain such a great output of novels? Now that you’re writing full-time, what does a typical day look like in your household?

Gosh, it has been manic in my life for the past eighteen months. I kept my pen name to myself but when I ‘came out’ and republished the books with a publisher, I wrote a brand new Marcie Steele novel too. So I had two to re-edit and one new one to write. I also wrote a fourth novel for The Estate Series and two DS Eden Berrisford novels. But it’s so easy to say ‘oh, yes I can do such and such by that date without thinking it through, I nearly ran myself into the ground this year and from now on, I’m going to be doing two a year. Indeed, this feature has been on my desk since the end of April… sorry, Rachel! [ RA: No worries, it was worth the wait! 🙂 ]

So a day in my life would depend on what I am working on. If I’m drafting a book, I write about 2-3000 words daily for about three or fours weeks until the story is down. If I’m editing it can be long days and nights to keep the story in my head. I do nothing else when I am editing as I don’t have the brain space, so everything has to be scheduled and planned in to take this into consideration. Social media is usually done as and when I take a break and during the evenings.

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!

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