How did you get started writing?
I come from a big family, and I mean BIG, I have six sisters and two brothers. Growing up with so many siblings meant it was sometimes a bit difficult to get heard. My way of standing out was to to tell stories. And I’ve never stopped. However, I never thought to write a story down until my mum died. After her funeral I was helping my dad sort out her things. We found a small case full of Mum’s private letters and dairies, all written in German – you see, mum was a Christian German girl, who came to Scotland after the end of World War 2. I’d studied German and began to translate the documents for my father. As I read, the more shocked and horrified and saddened and dismayed I became. I discovered that my mother and her family and thousands and thousands of other ordinary Germans had suffered terribly under Hitler. I felt compelled to tell Mum’s story and decided the best way to do this was to write a book about her life. That book is The Blue Suitcase – and writing The Blue Suitcase is how I got started writing.
What drew you to write a crime novel?
I love reading crime fiction and have many fond memories of staying up to the wee hours, gripped by a crime story, unable to put my book down until I had discovered who had done it and why – and that they were safely locked up! I believe a good crime novel can tell us as much about the dark side of society as any literary novel, and I am fascinated by the dark side of society – I think most of us are.
Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
Oh, I love all the great and the good crime writers from Agatha Christie to Lawrence Block to Val McDermid to Dashiell Hammett to Sara Paretsky to Raymond Chandler to Henning Mankel to our very own Ian Rankin, to Tony Hillerman, to Andrea Camilleri to Sue Grafton. I also have a special love for American writers like Shirley Jackson, Eudora Welty, Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Hood, Henry O and Lorrie Moore, and the wonderful Canadian writer Alice Munro… in fact there are so many good good writers, way too many to mention :o)
What was the inspiration behind Foods of Ghosts?
I used to live and work on Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, which is where Food of Ghosts is set, and, according to the world Tourism Organisation,the third most remote country in the world.While there someone I knew drowned. It was an accident but I felt the accident was the indirect result of a kind of bullying. It set me thinking about why people behave the way do and the circumstances that can drive ordinary normal people to kill. The seed for Food of ghosts was sewn!
When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
The first time I sent out the manuscript for The Blue Suitcase a very lovely, lovely, lovely agent called, Kate Jones, who at the time worked for ICM in London, was really interested. We talked at length over the phone and I looked forward to being represented by her. However, very, very sadly for her and her family, she tragically got breast cancer which spread to her liver and she died. I felt a bit a drift after that and unsure who to approach next. This is when my husband, who owns Pilrig Press, a micro publisher here in Edinburgh, offered to publish me. We’ve never looked back.
There are many interesting characters in Food of Ghosts, do you have a favourite one?
DS Louisa Townsend, of course, but me next favourite is Tererei, Joe’s mother.
You have also written a novel called the blue suitcase which is not a crime novel but set during WW 2, do you find it easy to switch between genres like this or is it quite difficult?
It can be difficult to switch because the books are not only different genres but they are also set;in different places and cultures at different periods of times. But at the same time, it also refreshing to to switch from one to the other.
Why did you decide to set your books in the Gilbert Island of Tarawa?
I lived on Tarawa for five years. I loved being there. It’s an extraordinary place, with extraordinary people, before I’d lived there I’d never even heard of it. Most people haven’t – it really is very remote. I thought it could be very timely to bring Tarawa and Kiribati to readers in the Western hemisphere because not only this is a place worth knowing about, if global warming predications are correct, the islands may soon be under water and cease to exist.
What kind of research did you have to undertake for your book?
For The Blue Suitcase I had my mum’s dairies and letters to guide me,. But I also went to the library and studied everything I could about Silesia( where my mum was from in Germany) from 1900 to 1945. I lived on Tarawa for five years, so that gave me the knowledge to write Food of Ghosts. I also have my friend, Jim, who is an ex-detective, who has given me excellent police procedural advice.
Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
In The Blue Suitcase, yes, of course, the characters are based on my mum and her family. In Food of Ghosts the characters are totally fictional, but inspired all different people I met while living on Tarawa and elsewhere.
Since you have started writing have any well known authors given you any advice?
I’ve been lucky to meet a lots of lovely writers, such as James Robertson and Sara Sheridan, and Ian Rankin and Doug Johnston and Shari Low and James Brett, and Janice galloway and Chris Brookside and Mark Billingham and Pat Barker. I have always found writers to be very generous with their time and advice. They know what it’s like, there is no easy way to becoming a writer.
Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
I think of my characters as opposites of me. They can do the things I would never dream of.
What do you see for the future of Detective Sergeant Louisa Townsend in your books.
DS Townsend is going to visit a number of other Pacific countries and solve crimes there – the next Pacific novel, which is the second in a series of five in the Pacific, and which I am in throws of editing, is set on Fiji. Ultimately, though, she will return to Edinburgh.
You have been compared in your writing to some of the big names in Scottish Crime Fiction already, how does that make you feel?
Gosh! Totally honoured to be compared to any big name, but especially to anyone in Scottish Crime – my favourite of all crime fiction.
As a blossoming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share?
Don’t give up.
DS Louisa Townsend Novels
Food of Ghosts
The Blue Suitcase
Amazon Author Page