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.
I was reading your early blog posts from a few years back, and you’ve had an amazing journey, but one thing that really stands out is how hard you’ve worked to get where you are now. What does a typical day entail for you?
It’s really impossible to describe a typical day as every day brings new experiences and different challenges. Over the past month, for example, I’ve spent a week on a Greek island teaching creative writing, two weeks in the USA at the largest American crime festival in New Orleans, followed by meetings in Miami, and I’m now in the North of England appearing at Saddleworth Literary Festival.
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.
Looking back to when you started out writing the Geraldine Steel novels, what three key pieces of advice would 2016 Leigh give to 2007 Leigh?
This is a tricky question! As a new writer, you cannot predict how busy your life might become. So I’d say it’s very important to pace yourself, and take care of your health. I’d advise any new writer to enjoy the ride because, when you become successful, you never know how long that success is likely to last. But if my 2007 self knew what I know now, I don’t think I’d have done anything differently.
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.
The second Lucy Hall mystery, Girl in Danger, has just been published and is going great guns, and the next Geraldine Steel book is out in December – what’s next for Leigh Russell?
The edits for the next Geraldine Steel book, Deadly Alibi, have to be sent to my publisher in a couple of weeks’ time. Immediately after that, I’ll be working on the edits for the third Lucy Hall book for my other publisher. So next for Leigh Russell will be head down and working on edits. I do have a few book signing events coming up before Christmas. And as well as writing the next Geraldine Steel book, I plan to spend as much time as possible with my family over the winter.
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!