Cass Lynch is still staying aboard Khalida and her Norwegian shipmate Anders and his pet Rat seem to have settled happily into Shetland life too. Naturally, they take an interest in summer visitors, especially the friendly yachting couple who’ve come to Shetland for the archeology. They were going to walk up to the Trowie Mound, an unexcavated Neolithic chambered cairn – but when they don’t return, and their yacht departs mysteriously in the middle of the night, Cass contacts old adversary DI Gavin Macrae, who takes advantage of his holiday to come up and investigate. He’s got wind of art theft which seems to centre around Shetland – but how can this link to a ghost baby wailing from the island of Linga? Then one of Cass’s sailing pupils goes missing, and she has to risk finding out the secret of the Trowie Mound by herself ..
When she wangles the job of skippering a Viking longship for a film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived – even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, which she ran away from as a teenager. Then the ‘accidents’ begin – and when a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass realises that she, her family and her past are under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae. Cass must call on all her local knowledge, the wisdom she didn’t realise she’d gained from sailing and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear them all of suspicion – and to catch the killer before Cass becomes the next victim.
1. How did you get started writing
I’ve always written – my mother has a notebook I filled with accounts of things I’d done when I was six! That expanded to full-length fantasy stories as a teenager, then to proper novels as soon as I’d left University.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel
Trad crime is one of the genres I’ve always enjoyed reading, so it made sense to try my hand at it. Also, it’s vey popular, so I hoped it would be easier to get published – mistaken! Because it’s very popular, everyone tries to write it, which means there’s a lot of competition.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing
My absolute favourite crime writer is John Dickson Carr, and I love the way his plots twist, so I try to copy that, to surprise my readers. Of the modern writers, I adore the eccentric characters in Fred Vargas’s books – they always make me feel my characters aren’t quite mad enough.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest
It’s very, very hard – and I started in the days when it was easier. My first rejection letter, for a historical novel, was back in 1986. I wrote a second historical novel, then I got an agent, the wonderful Teresa Chris, with my first detective story. That was about a different set of characters, though still set in Shetland, and I’d written three others before ‘Death on a Longship’ finally found a publisher.
5. When you started writing Death on a Longship what was your inspiration for it
There were several things which contributed, including the longship Skidbladner in Unst, and being an extra in a Shetland-set film, but it was a casual conversation with an actor friend which gave me the main plot driver, the lengths which Hollywood will go to to cover up. She was saying a well-known actor was known in the business to be gay, and if I said the name writs would shower round my head … but the lengths that person’s gone to, to appear ‘straight’ are quite incredible and very sad.
6. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one
I’m very fond of my difficult, obsessive Cass, with her skewed view of the ‘land world’ as something that’s not quite her problem. I like her independence and determination. I hope she and Gavin or maybe she and Anders will work something out.
7. Why did you choose to set your novels in Shetland
I’m not sure I could set them anywhere else! I’ve lived in Shetland for over thirty years now, and don’t go to the mainland very often, so it’s an alien world. Also, Shetland’s great for saving me work – instead of having to worry about correct procedures for what the police know, and how, I just use a character to tell Cass the village gossip, which is generally as well-informed! It’s a close community, with everyone connected to everyone else, and that’s interesting to plot with.
8. In Death on a Longship do you have a favourite scene or chapter that you enjoyed writing
I always enjoy writing. I head for my desk at 8.30, and across each day I’d expect to write for eight or nine hours. Action scenes are most fun to write – you really feel as if you’re there with the characters, and the words just fly onto the screen.
9. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novel
For Death on a Longship, very little, mostly connected with the film world – I asked my actor daughter and her director husband for details. For the third Cass novel, ‘A Handful of Ash’, I had to find out about historical Scottish witches – that was interesting.
10. Are the characters in your books based on any real life
No. I’d consider that an intrusion on someone else’s privacy. The only possible exception is Peerie Charlie, as my own grandson was the same age as I wrote the book – but my grandson’s now seven, while Charlie’s not got to four yet, so he’ll develop differently. However I like to have faces to write from, so I cut pictures of unknown people who look interesting out of newspapers, or search the internet.
11. Since you have started writing have any well known authors given you any advice
I’ve had a lot of help over the years, through writers’ workshops and weeks with Arvon. I’d really recommend taking every chance to try out new ideas in workshops and classes. I’m also a member of a local writers’ group – I kind of resisted that at first, because I thought I’d be better to spend the evening writing, but I was totally wrong – that looming meeting makes me write for it. We’re now all best mates, and sharing what we’re doing is a fun evening out (the evenings also include cake and wine).
12. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa
Definitely! As I write, it’s almost an acting job, for there are bits of me in almost every character – particularly, of course, in Cass. I love sailing, and her boat, Khalida, is my own beloved Karima S. I also have her stubborn nature, her lack of awareness of what others think, and – I hope – her determination. However I’m more interested in people than she is, and I like living on land too. She’s my love of sailing gone obsessional. Anders is my inner nerd allowed to run riot. Gavin comes from the loch where my family spent wonderful summers throughout my childhood. As you write, though, even if someone is completely different from you, you still have to find that little spark of yourself who is like that, and use it to help make the character come alive.
13. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned
Now Cass is more at peace with herself, the books are slightly more action based. In ‘The Trowie Mound Murders’ (Cass 2) then Cass gets mixed up with international art theft but she also needs to take a good hard look at how she feels about her friend Anders. So far she’s rather taken him for granted … but what does he feel about her? In ‘A Handful of Ash’ (Cass 3) then she’s in Shetland’s ancient capital of Scalloway, and finds herself battling a modern witch coven; I hope the big scenes will be quite spooky. Now I’m working on Cass 4, where she finds a skeleton by a waterfall … that’s all I know about it!
14. You have already been compared to some of the well known female crime writers, how does that make you feel
Oh, wow! – thrilled and flattered and sure I don’t deserve it! But I hope that each book is tricksier, sharper, and more fun for the reader.
15. As a up and coming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share
Oh, loads! – but here are my two key rules:
1. Just keep writing, every day; set a time and stick to it. As a full-time teacher, I used to get up at 6.30 to squeeze in half an hour before I went to school, and it made all the difference to keeping my story ‘live’ in my head.
2. Enjoy your writing! Write about what interests you, and keep your story moving. If you’re ploughing on with backstory or description, and you’re feeling bored, remember what Raymond Chandler said, ‘If things are getting dull, send in a man with a gun’. Think of the worst thing that could happen to your characters at that moment and do it to them.
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