This author really needs no introduction, given the phenomenal success of his debut crime thriller, The Girl in the Ice, but I wanted to add a personal note here before we get stuck into the questions.
As a hybrid author, it’s often the case that you’re faced with barriers to reaching out to readers and people in the industry, so when I was about to launch the first book in my Kay Hunter series it was with some trepidation that I approached Robert Bryndza for a publicity quote for Scared to Death.
I shouldn’t have worried. This affable, humble, fun author jumped right on board with the series and really helped me launch the series with a bang. I’ve been a fan of his writing ever since The Girl in the Ice was first released, and so with the imminent release of the latest novel in his DCI Erika Foster series, Last Breath I figured it was high time we got together for a proper gossip. This blog post is the result…
The first novel in your crime series, The Girl in the Ice, introduced us to Detective Erika Foster who’s a DCI based in London. She’s been through a traumatic period of her life both professionally and personally when we first meet her. Did you set out to create a crime series with a lead detective, or did you have the other characters or the plot in mind first? How did the story develop?
Yes, I set out to write a crime series, but my first draft didn’t quite fit what I wanted. The idea for the book came to me a few years ago. Where we live in Slovakia, there is a huge exhibition centre with large grounds. Tucked away amongst overgrown trees and next to a lake is a derelict underwater restaurant. We stumbled across this one summer day, and it even it was a bright sunny day, it was quite eerie. I thought it would be a great place to stash a dead body, just before the winter, when everything freezes. The original version of The Girl in the Ice had Erika Foster living in Slovakia and recovering from her husband’s death. It was a much darker, more pared down story with only a few characters. I liked this version, but it would have only worked with a stand-alone story, and I wanted to write a series. I took the original manuscript to my publisher who suggested moving the action to the London. This is when it really took off, the other characters evolved quickly and the story changed where Erika Foster clashes with the British Establishment when investigating the death of a young woman who is the daughter of a political figure. The underwater restaurant became a frozen lake in the grounds of the Horniman Museum in South London.
What attracted you to writing in the crime/thriller genre after doing so well with your indie-published romance books? Was there a particular author who inspired you to do so?
I always wanted to write drama as well as comedy, and I think reading The Cuckoo’s Callingby Robert Galbraith really inspired me to go for it. JK Rowling had just been unmasked as the real author, and it struck me that I could do whatever I wanted. I was also finding the romantic comedy/romance genre limiting and I wanted to stretch my wings and try something new.
DCI Erika Foster’s fourth investigation, Last Breath is out on 12 April and features a killer who uses a fake identity to stalk his victims online. What sort of research did you undertake for your latest novel?
For Last Breath I used my experience of social media, which is thankfully good, but it stuns me every day just how much the world has changed and how it has changed people. It’s great to connect with people, it’s great to care about causes it brings to light, but sometimes I wish we would all get some perspective. And I include myself in this.
The starting point for this book was overhearing a conversation on the bus, when a young guy was trying to chat up a girl, but she was having none of it! She refused to fall for his advances, and tell him which stop she lived near on the tube in London. She was quite right not to tell him anything, but when he left the bus she went back to her phone and I could see she was tweeting something about a weirdo who accosted her on the number 24 bus, and then she was checking in on FourSquare. She was giving away far more information than she realised, and this was the starting point. How easy would it be for a serial killer to find victims on social media, and then fake a profile to meet with them. In terms of research, I work with a retired Police Superintendent to make sure the police procedure in my books is correct. I also read widely, google and try to talk to people.
Do you outline/plot, or do you prefer to start at the beginning and see where the story takes you? Why do you prefer this method of writing?
I outline less and less as time goes on. I need to have a clear idea of what I want to do, it’s like an image in my mind. With The Girl in the Ice it was the body under the ice, with The Night Stalker it was an intruder breaking into a house and waiting for its inhabitants to arrive home. Dark Waterwas inspired by a quarry in my home town in Nitra.
It was drained by the police when they believed a murder weapon had been dropped into the water, and I was stunned at how deep it was when emptied, and amazed at all the things they pulled from the mud. This set me thinking about finding a skeleton of a person who had been missing for years, and how the discovery would affect the family. I find if I don’t plan too much, the story evolves in exciting ways.
What does your writing space look like? Do you have any pre-writing rituals to get you “in the zone”?
Since October I work in a small office, which is a single bedroom with lots of bookshelves and a cosy armchair. I always start the day with a strong cup of coffee, and I have a really good cup of coffee and I steam the milk and all that jazz. Apart from that I don’t have any other rituals. Before October I wrote on the sofa or sitting up in bed, as long as I can concentrate, I can write anywhere.
How do you structure a typical day to ensure you avoid distractions and hit your word count targets?
No internet connection is essential to avoid distractions. I try to start work around 9am, break for lunch at twelve until one and then I work through until 4pm, earlier if things are going well. I hate working late and weekends.
You keep a busy writing schedule – what do you do to relax and switch off for a bit?
I love to read, but my writing schedule has been so full-on that I can only really relax with non-fiction. When I try to get into fiction, I start looking at it from a technical point of view. I hope this will pass in the future, and I can enjoy it. I watch a lot of Netflix, and I love walking the dogs and cooking.
The past two years have been an amazing journey for you, and the Erika Foster series keeps going from strength to strength. What’s been one of your favourite memories to date?
There have been so many, it’s been an incredible experience, but it was amazing when The Girl in the Ice went to number one on Amazon.com. More so because my parents were staying at the time so we were all able to celebrate.
What have you got planned for the rest of 2017?
I have two more books to write, and I want to travel!