Posted on

February 2016 crime author of the month interview with SJI Holliday


 1. How did you get started writing?  


I’d always written stories at school. I used to staple them together into little books and I drew the covers! But then I went on to study science and left it all behind until 2006, when I went on a round-the-world trip. On a train between Beijing and Moscow, I read Stephen King’s excellent writing manual/biography ‘On Writing’ and I started to write a novel – a supernatural thriller. That novel remains unfinished, but I’d been bitten by the bug and I knew I had to carry on. I wrote loads of short stories and abandoned several other novels before I finally completed Black Wood.


2. What drew you to write a crime novel?  


Mainly it’s because I’ve always read a lot of crime (and horror) over the years and I knew I could only write something that I’d like to read myself. Also, it’s because the story I wanted to tell in Black Wood was based on a real-life ‘almost’ crime – something that happened to me as a child that sparked an idea about what could’ve been…


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


I always mention Stephen King, because as a teenager I was completely absorbed in the worlds he created. He draws you in and tells great stories. I’ve also been influenced by James Patterson – the way he combines different points of view and uses short, hooky chapters; and most recently, Belinda Bauer, whose Shipcott Trilogy (Blacklands, Dark Side and Finders Keepers) inspired my own Banktoun Trilogy – three different stories linked mainly by location.


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


I was very lucky to secure an agent before I’d finished writing my first novel – this is quite unusual, although we’d been in touch for a few years before I actually had anything to send him. But he didn’t manage to find a home for Black Wood straight away – it took several rejections and a partial re-write before it was picked up.


5. There are many interesting characters in your novel. Do you have a particular favourite?  


I have a soft spot for Sergeant Davie Gray – and so do most of my readers – so it’s safe to say he’ll be making a return in my second novel, Willow Walk. I like him because he’s just someone who lives in the town who happens to be a policeman, rather than it all being focused around his job. He’s an integral part of the community and seems to attract and feel responsible for a wide range of troubled souls. Mainly damaged women.


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


Not much really, I did very little in the way of technical research, but I did spend a lot of time watching a horrible video on YouTube where a man was skinning a rabbit. People who’ve read the scene have said that I must’ve done it in real life as it was so realistic. Thankfully, I’ve never had that dubious pleasure. Thank God for the internet!


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


Not specifically, but some share traits of people I’ve met over the years. The main character in Black Wood, Jo, was inspired by someone I knew a long time ago – but the real person only provided the spark, the character took on a life of her own.


8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Scottish crime fiction novels out there?  


That’s difficult, because there’s a lot of fantastic crime fiction set in Scotland, written by scores of very talented authors. I think mine are a little different because they’re not set in a major city or on a remote island – they’re set in a fictional small town, and they’re not your standard detective series, mainly because my police are local bobbies, not CID. Also, being a trilogy, there are links – mainly the setting – but each book is very different to the last, something between a standalone and a series. I’m not sure anyone else is doing that right now.


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


Not particularly, but I think it’s impossible for the writer not to influence their characters thoughts and actions in some way – they come out of our subconscious, after all. Plus, it’s fun to make your character say something that you’d never say out loud yourself!


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


The second novel in my trilogy, Willow Walk, is out in May/June this year. This is the blurb:


When the past catches up, do you run and hide or stand and fight?


When a woman is brutally attacked on a lonely country road by an escaped inmate from a nearby psychiatric hospital, Sergeant Davie Gray must track him down before he strikes again. But Gray is already facing a series of deaths connected to legal highs and a local fairground, as well as dealing with his girlfriend Marie’s bizarre behaviour. As Gray investigates the crimes, he suspects a horrifying link between Marie and the man on the run – but how can he confront her when she’s pushing him away?


As a terrified Marie is pulled back into a violent past she thought she’d escaped, she makes an irrevocable decision. And when events come to a head at a house party on Willow Walk, can Gray piece together the puzzle in time to stop the sleepy town of Banktoun being rocked by tragedy once more?


11.What was your favourite scene to write in your novel and why?    


Not one particular scene, but the sections called ‘The Woods’ were fun to write. They’re dark, disturbing and intentionally vague, and they frame the entire novel. They tell the story of what happened ‘that day in the woods’ (the part that is based on a true-story… and when I say based, I mean based!)


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

Write the book you want to write, and don’t give up. Finishing a book is hard. Finding a publisher is hard. But if it’s what you want, you will get there in the end. Take comfort in the fact that every single author has felt what you’re feeling right now!

Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo’s story. Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But what is the connection between Jo’s visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands? 


Twitter: @SJIHolliday

Amazon Author Page

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s