Secrets can be murder. Kate McKinnery’s a social worker, a protector of children, a fixer of broken lives. Yet her own life is built on a lie. Edinburgh’s the festival city but it’s October, the party’s over, and Kate needs answers. Her auntie Jean might know but she’s not telling and people around her are getting murdered. More secrets, but is someone dying to tell or killing to keep? Kate struggles to unmask a murderer whilst searching for the truth about her past. But how much does she really want to know? Are some secrets best left undisturbed?
1 How did you get started writing?
I’ve always written, always carried stories about in my head though never attempted a to write a novel.
2 What drew you to write a crime novel?
I read a lot of crime novels so felt comfortable with the structure and I felt it provided a focus for the story, a guide almost that sort of led me through the novel. I added to that by setting the novel over 10 consecutive days and having the murders occur in a somewhat enclosed setting, the idea being that it provided a framework which I thought might be helpful given it was my first novel.
3 Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
I’m not sure I would say any have influenced the way I write. It took me a while and writing a lot of rubbish to find my own style. I’m not keen on lots of narrative viewpoints and detailed backstory, and tend to keep a tight rein on authorial comment. I’d say Ian Rankin is particularly good at that and, of course, the sense of place. But it’s difficult to judge whether there’s an influence or simply that his style appeals to me because mine has some similarities.
4 When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
Yes and I put the book on the back-burner for a while. I made a lot of changes when I returned to it, for the better. So it’s likely that in its earlier incarnations it wasn’t really ready for publication. I chose to self-publish partly to get the book out there but also to stop myself tinkering with it. I then did get a publisher for the e-book and that’s been helpful though in terms of the process it is a bit backside foremost.
5 What was the inspiration when you first started writing Bones and Whispers?
I’d had it in mind to write a crime novel for some time and early retirement provided an excellent opportunity to get on with it. I knew someone who had spent some time in a sheltered housing complex, which, I must say, was excellent and not at all like Leapark. However, it did seem a useful setting for a crime novel in that it is a relatively enclosed community and, as I’ve said earlier, I thought that might make a first novel easier to handle. I had also worked for the Social Work Department alongside social workers and liked the idea of a social worker as the protagonist and someone with good investigative skills.
6 There are many interesting characters in your novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
I do like Kate. I find her interesting and rich in possibilities. I’m aware that may sound a bit odd given that she’s my creation but she has developed in some ways that I didn’t initially foresee. I also like that she’s from a working-class background and she never forgets that despite her middle-class lifestyle.
7 Why did you choose to set your novels in Edinburgh?
I love Edinburgh. It’s an ideal setting for a crime novel. It really is a Jekyll and Hyde city and wonderful in terms of getting a sense of place. I also think of it as having its own personality. I agree with Kate when she describes it as ‘disdainful, knowing its worth, wearing its history like a crown’. It makes me feel insignificant, a blink of the eye compared to the eons the city in some form has been in existence.
8 Bones and Whispers is already getting positive reviews and comparisons to some of crime fiction’s biggest names, how does that make you feel?
Flattered, and delighted. It’s also very encouraging and keeps me going when I get stuck on my current novel.
9 What kind of research did you have to undertake for your novel?
In the end I didn’t do much research. Initially I read bits about forensics, the police, double-checked with friends about the social work aspects. I now do research if I come up against something I’m not sure of. I think there can be a temptation to try to shoe-horn in information just because you’ve researched it regardless of whether it moves the story on.
10 Are the characters in your book based on any real life?
No and so far no one has suggested they see themselves in the novel. Obviously, we pick up loads of impressions of people we’ve met or even just noticed in the street. My characters are composites of those with a bit of imagination thrown in rather than actual representations.
11 Since you started writing have any well known authors given you any advice?
Yes, Marianne Wheelaghan. I did a class she tutored at Edinburgh University a few years ago called ‘Start Writing Your First Novel’. That helped me move what I’d already written to a different level. Later, Marianne gave me some excellent advice on early drafts of Bones and Whispers especially the need to focus in on crucial scenes and fixing them in the reader’s mind.
12 Do you see any of your characters’ personality in yourself and vice versa?
No, though again it’s possible there are aspects of my personality in a number of characters. I like the idea of crime fiction as an opportunity to go down ‘mean streets’ in a vicarious fashion from the safety of an armchair or my laptop. Kate does that very nicely for me. There are also aspects of Jean’s character that are familiar in the doubts and uncertainty about decisions she’s made in her life though I wouldn’t like to think I’m as doleful as she is!
13 If you can would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned?
I’m currently working on the follow-up to ‘Bones and Whispers’. Lots of readers have asked what happens next for Kate in relation to her personal life and I want to explore that. Of course there will also be at least one murder that Kate will decide she has to investigate which may or may not lead her to a sex-trafficking ring. Unfortunately none of it is ready for public consumption at the moment.
14 There are many crime novels set in Edinburgh, what do you think makes your novel stand out from the rest?
I think having a social worker as investigator is unusual as is the focus on a group of elderly people at the centre of a murder investigation. And possibly the narrative style in that there are primarily two characters through whose eyes we see the story unfold. I like the idea of leaving space for readers to decide who is reliable as a narrator, how much they chose to believe.
15 As an up and coming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share?
For me what works is to write even if it’s rubbish. When I get stuck, which I do frequently, I find an element of the story I think I can do something with and work on that. And, basic though it may sound, a good story is the key. Even in earlier incarnations, ‘Bones and Whispers’ did make people want to keep on reading to find out what happened next.
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