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March crime question – British Crime Author Interview Special with Leigh Russell and Nick Qunatrill

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Leigh Russell

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Leigh Russell studied at the University of Kent, gaining a Masters degree in English. For many years a secondary school English teacher, she is a creative writing tutor for adults. She is married, has two daughters, and lives in North West London.
Her first novel, Cut Short, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award in 2010. This was followed by Road Closed, Dead End, Death Bed, Stop Dead and Fatal Act, in the Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel series. Cold Sacrifice is the first title in a spin off series featuring Geraldine Steel’s sergeant, Ian Peterson.

1. How did you get started writing?
The inspiration for my debut, Cut Short, came to me when I was walking through my local park. As I passed a copse of tangled trees and shrubs, a man came round a bend on the path walking towards me. I wondered what would happen if someone saw a body in a park, and was able to describe a stranger who had been in the park around the time a murder was committed. The whole idea spun out from there. I became fascinated by the story of the killer in the park, and wrote compulsively, in the evenings after work. After about six weeks the story was finished, and I realised I’d written a book! Fortunately it was picked up straight away by a publisher. That was six years ago, and I’m now writing my ninth book for my publisher, with another three already commissioned. It keeps me busy!

2. What drew you to write a crime novel?
A lot of people ask me about the appeal of crime fiction. I think its popularity is partly due to the conflict it presents between good and evil. In an age where the role of religion is decreasing, I think part of the appeal of crime fiction is that it gives us a moral compass. Of course we see bent coppers, and villains who are really good, but basically it is clear who are the good guys, and who the bad ones. It also gives us an opportunity to play out our fears in a safe environment. And however disturbing the story, at the end of the book we know that some sort of moral order will be restored. As for what drew me to write crime in the first place – there was no Grand Plan to become an internationally bestselling author, with two successful series published, or even to write a book. But I had an idea one day, and here I am.

3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
I have always read widely. It’s impossible to say who in particular has influenced me. My favourites aren’t necessarily crime writers, although a lot of literature that isn’t identified as ‘crime’ revolves around a crime, from Greek drama and Shakespeare, to the most recent publications.

4.  When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
I was very fortunate to be noticed straight away by No Exit Press, the prestigious crime imprint of Oldcastle Books, who offered me a three book deal. My debut, Cut Short, was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award in 2010, and has regularly appeared on bestseller lists ever since. So far it has been followed by Road Closed, Dead End, Death Bed, Stop Dead and Fatal Act in the Geraldine Steel series of murder mysteries. Following the international success of that series, a spin off series for Geraldine’s sergeant launched last year. Race to Death will be out as an ebook in May as the second in the Ian Peterson series.

5. There are many interesting characters in your Novels, do you have a particular favourite one?
I’m fascinated by my characters, particularly the killers. What is it that drives people to behave in such an extreme way? But I’m interested in all of my characters, even the very minor ones. Sometimes they take off in unexpected directions. When that happens I have to decide whether to cut what I’ve written about them, or develop their role in the narrative.

6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novels?
Writing a crime novel requires a lot of research. I talk to all sorts of people, from firemen to market traders, detectives to DNA experts. I’ve always found people very helpful and happy to share their expertise. As well as meeting people, I visit locations and possible crime sites. Last year we were given a private tour of York races, where a murder takes place in Race to Death, and the epilogue in that book is set on a Greek island. That was an enjoyable piece of research! 

7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life people?
I never base my characters on real people. They are complete flights of fancy, presumably composites of people I’ve met or read about, snatches of conversations I’ve overheard, or characters I’ve encountered in fiction.

8. Since you have started writing have any well known authors given you any advice?
Of course. There are too many to mention them all. Jeffery Deaver kindly told me he was an overnight success, and it only took him twenty-five years. Lee Child claims that nothing of any value is ever achieved in the morning – a comment that is certainly true in my case! It’s very gratifying that both of those fellow authors are fans of Geraldine Steel. I have learned a lot from fellow authors.

9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
Not really. I suppose I am very focused on my work, like Geraldine, but beyond that I don’t think we have much in common. And I certainly hope there is none of my own personality in my killers!

10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.
Here are the opening lines of Stop Dead.

‘And don’t even think about following me. Did you hear me? I said, don’t even think about following me!’
She slammed the door in his face. It was a chilly night but going back for her coat would ruin her dramatic exit. As she crossed the driveway to her Porsche, a gust of wind whipped her hair into her eyes. Impatiently she brushed it away.

Turning the key in the ignition Anna waited, drumming painted finger nails on the wheel. She glanced in the mirror. The front door remained shut. The next time Piers lost his temper she was going to leave him for good. Right now she was sitting in her car at nearly two in the morning with nowhere to go. Her resolve wavered and she struggled not to cry, telling herself fiercely that she didn’t need him. Clearly he wasn’t rushing to follow her out of the house, but she was damned if she was going to slink back in straight away. He could stay there and stew for a while first. It struck her that he might be watching her out of the window as she sat on the drive with the engine idling. Spinning the wheel, she slammed her foot on the accelerator. The tyres squealed and she narrowly avoided hitting a black van parked at the end of the drive. 
‘Arsehole!’ she shouted as she drove off down the road. ‘You bloody arsehole!’

Drops of rain streaked the windscreen as she sped along. Once out of sight of the house she slowed down, aware that she was exceeding the speed limit. Driving cautiously, she kept to the main road for fear of losing her way. Without taking her eyes from the road, she rummaged in her bag and flung her mobile phone on the passenger seat, glancing down to check it was switched on. There were no messages. An oncoming car flashed its headlights and she swerved back onto her own side of the road, cursing out loud at the other driver in her fright. 
‘Road hog!’
Her insults were pointless. No one could hear her. The rain was falling more heavily. Distracted by the rhythm of her windscreen wipers, she had to concentrate on the road glistening ahead of her in the soft light of the street lamps.

At first she was only vaguely aware of someone right on her tail. 
‘What the hell are you playing at? Do you want to get yourself killed?’ 
The other vehicle drew even closer and she swore again. He must have been off his head to approach so dangerously close. If she braked sharply, he wouldn’t be able to avoid crashing straight into the back of her car. 
‘Back off, you moron, unless you want to get us both killed.’ 
Rattled, she put her foot down, but the other driver kept up. With perverse fury she braked suddenly. A flash of panic hit her as her tyres slid on the wet road. The van swerved, shooting onto the other side of the road where he slowed down to match her speed. Instead of overtaking or falling behind, he remained alongside her, keeping pace with her as she accelerated again. 

I’m very excited to tell you that Stop Dead has been nominated for the People’s Book Prize! The winner of this prestigious award is chosen by readers. VOTING STARTS 1ST MARCH for the Spring selection where Stop Dead appears. I hope your followers will consider voting for Stop Dead http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/Finalists_index.htm
(Is that sneaky enough?)

11. Out of all the Novels you have written do you gave a favourite one that stands out to you?
Asking an author to select one novel out of his or her body of work is like asking a parent to choose one of their children over the others. It’s impossible to choose a favourite!

12. As a well known crime writer do you have words of advice you can share?
My advice is to write for your own pleasure and satisfaction, not in the expectation of finding a publisher. It’s almost impossible to find one these days. Self publishing is an alternative, although bear in mind that 98% of self published authors don’t even cover their costs. If you are serious about your writing, make sure your manuscript is as good as it possibly can be before you submit it to agents. You only have one chance to impress. And remember, there is a chance that what you write might one day be read by millions of people all around the world. It happened to me, it could happen to you! Good luck and enjoy what you do.

Geraldine Steel Novels
Cut Short
Road Closed
Dead End
Death Bed
Stop Dead
Fatal Act

Ian Peterson Novels
Cold Sacrifice
Race to Death (published 2014)

Nick Qunatrill

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Nick Quantrill was born and raised in Hull, an isolated industrial city in East Yorkshire. His Joe Geraghty crime novels, “Broken Dreams” and “The Late Greats” and “The Crooked Beat” are published by Caffeine Nights. A prolific short story writer, Nick’s work has appeared in Volumes Eight, Nine and Ten of “The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime” alongside the genre’s most respected names. In 2011, Nick became the first person to hold the role of ‘Writer in Residence’ at Hull Kingston Rovers, contributing exclusive fiction to the match day programme and assisting with the club’s literacy programme. Nick’s stories are both entertaining and thought provoking, and although the settings may be local to him, the ideas and issues resonate on a much wider basis.

1. How did you get started writing?

Nothing more than being a big reader. I was never particularly encouraged at a young age to write and I’ve never done any courses, but I found the more I read, the more I fancied giving it a try. So that’s what I did. I wrote a short story and then another. Before I knew it, I was writing a novel…

2. What drew you to write a crime novel?

I’m a big reader of them and have a genuine passion for the genre, so nothing else crossed my mind. As a writer starting out, I liked the fact it had a sort of rulebook attached to it. It gave me a framework I could make sense of.

3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?

I read widely across the genre, so (in my head), I’ve tried to learn from the way Lee Child creates relentless pace, Elmore Leonard’s amazing ear for dialogue and Ian Rankin’s vivid sense of place in the Rebus series. That’s just for starters…

4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?

I was very lucky. I knew a series of Private Investigator novels set in Hull was always going to be a hard sell, so I looked to the smaller presses who I could deal with directly. I found Caffeine Nights by following their blog and realised they were a good fit and approached them in the usual manner. From there, it happened very quickly.

5. There are many interesting characters in your novels, do you have a particular favourite one?

It had to be Joe Geraghty, my protagonist. He’s a former rugby league player who finds himself working as a Private Investigator. I deliberately wanted to move away from the usual cliches that brings. He doesn’t drink heavily, wise-crack or stumble upon femme fatales every other page. He’s a fairly decent northern man trying to make a living in tough times.

6. What kind of research have you had to undertake for your novels?

All three Geraghty novels are set in present-day Hull, so not too much. The first one, “Broken Dreams”, looks at how the death of the city’s fishing industry in the 1970s is still being felt, so that necessarily involved a bit more work. The research element is more about getting the geography and the feel of the place right.

7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?

Not directly. I suspect like all writers, I can’t help but soak up the people I meet as I go about my normal business. That said, I do like to use the names of Hull City footballers from the 1980s in my novels…

8. Since you have started writing have any well-known authors given you any advice?

I really value that the crime scene – both writers and readers – is very open and friendly. I speak to many writers, both in person and online, and it’s always nice to swap ideas and seek a helping hand when necessary.

9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?

I genuinely don’t. Geraghty was very much a construction based on the values and flaws I wanted him to carry. He’s not a superman like Jack Reacher, for example. Maybe the sense of ‘everyman’ appeals to me, but nothing more than that.

10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned?

The three Geraghty novels form a neat trilogy, so I’m working on some different characters for the foreseeable future. There’s still more I can do with him, but I’m having fun developing different possibilities. The current one features a crime fighting duo and hopefully has the potential to carry a series. I’m working on a few things…

11. Out of all the novels you have written do you have a favourite one that stands out to you?

I think all novels stand as a record of what a writer was capable of at a particular point in time. I was particularly pleased with the way “The Crooked Beat” came out, but it’s always about the next one…

12. As a well-known crime writer do you have words of wisdom you can share?

I think I’m a way of being well-known, but my advice is always to be wary of advice. Figure out what works for you and put the work in.

The Crooked Beat (2013)
The Late Greats (2012)
Broken Dreams (2010)

http://leighrussell.co.uk/

http://www.nickquantrill.co.UK

Amazon Author Page

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Leigh-Russell/e/B002HXAY1I

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nick-Quantrill/e/B003QNKHO2

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