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Crime Author of the month interview with Helen Forbes


1. How did you get started writing?

I started writing when I was studying law at university as a mature student.  I felt I needed a pastime that would take my mind off my studies.  I had become very interested in Scottish history and culture and I wanted to write fiction set in Scotland.  I used to write after my daughter had gone to bed and my studies were done.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel?

I didn’t really plan to write a crime novel.  My first two (unpublished) novels were historical fiction and contemporary fiction.  I then wrote a short story about two boys living next door to each other, with very different lives. Someone said it would be a good start to a novel; it would be interesting to know what happened to the boys as they grew up.  I decided to develop that idea, and somehow, one of the boys became a detective, and the novel became a crime novel.  That short story is now the prologue to In the Shadow of the Hill.  I’ve always been very fond of reading crime fiction, so it’s maybe not too surprising that I eventually turned to crime myself.

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

Neil Gunn; Niall Williams; Barbara Kingsolver; F Scott Fitzgerald; Andrew Greig; Anne Donovan.

As for crime, I enjoy so many different crime writers, it’s hard to say which have influenced me, but I guess Ian Rankin, Lin Anderson, Karen Campbell and Val McDiarmid are among my favourites.

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

Very much so; I’ve had my fair share of rejections, although it was different with In the Shadow of the Hill.  The first agent I approached asked for the whole manuscript very quickly, enthusing about how much she loved the style and the pace and the setting.  She asked me not to sign with anyone else, and said she would be in touch as soon as she’d read the book.  I waited.  And waited.  I’m still waiting.  I then tried a couple of other agents, and got no response.  I then went straight to ThunderPoint publishing – success!

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

I like most of them, but I guess Betty McLaren, psychiatric patient and mother of one of the main male characters, has a special place in my heart.  She’s funny and tragic and very likeable.  I’m also fond of the recovering heroin addict, Sharon MacRae, whose life as a single mother of two boys is anything but easy.

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

I read a lot of books on police procedure.  I attended a great crime writing weekend in Elgin, where we heard from authors, police, forensic specialists and court staff.  I also did two short online forensic courses with Futurelearn.  A trip to the island of Harris was essential, not least to take lots of photos and videos, especially at the scene of the dénouement.  They were invaluable for referring back to later.

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

Not directly.  I’m often temped, but it could be dangerous!  I may have combined interesting characteristics from several people into a character from time to time.

8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Crime Fiction Novels out there?

It has been said that the characters are flawed but likeable, the plot fast-moving and exciting, and the twist at the end completely unexpected and mind-blowing.  I also think my crime novel has a strong social commentary.  The Highland and Island setting seems to be popular at the moment, and there are no other police procedurals set in Inverness or Harris … yet!

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

I honestly don’t see myself in any of them.  If pushed, there may be a similarity between me and DS Joe Galbraith, in that we both tend towards being more introvert than extrovert, but I think that’s the only similarity with any character. 

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

I’m working on the second DS Galbraith novel.  It involves some of the characters from the first novel, including a new and improved Sharon MacRae, whose difficult son, Ryan, is implicated in two murders, and the gloomy DI Brian Black, frustrated as ever by the lack of progress.  ‘So,’ he says, ‘we’ve got two bodies, a runaway whore, a missing school boy whose thumb print is on the murder victim’s zip, a mysterious pimp that no one’s ever heard of, and a slightly dodgy and unattractive SNP councillor.  Have I forgotten anything?  Oh, aye; we’ve also got a sock.’  

11. In your novel which scene was your favourite to write and why?

It’s not a scene, as such, but I really enjoyed developing the twist, which is weaved throughout the book.   Deciding how to reveal it to the reader was hard work, involving much thought and several rewrites. 

12. As an up and coming thriller writer, do you have words of advice you can share?

Read widely.  Keep at it.  Go to retreats and writing courses.  Develop support networks and friendships with other writers.  If you hit a block, drink lots of wine. 


An elderly woman is found battered to death in the common stairwell of an Inverness block of flats.

Detective Sergeant Joe Galbraith starts what seems like one more depressing investigation of the untimely death of a poor unfortunate who was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

As the investigation spreads across Scotland it reaches into a past that Joe has tried to forget, and takes him back to the Hebridean island of Harris, where he spent his childhood.

Among the mountains and the stunning landscape of religiously conservative Harris, in the shadow of Ceapabhal, long buried events and a tragic story are slowly uncovered, and the investigation takes on an altogether more sinister aspect.

In The Shadow Of The Hill skilfully captures the intricacies and malevolence of the underbelly of Highland and Island life, bringing tragedy and vengeance to the magical beauty of the Outer Hebrides.

Amazon Author Page


One response to “Crime Author of the month interview with Helen Forbes

  1. writeanne

    Interesting interview. I enjoyed finding out more about the background and development of this very good read.

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