Publication Day Interview with Isobel Blackthorn, author of A Perfect Square

A perfect square

It gives me very great pleasure to welcome Isobel Blackthorn to Linda’s Book Bag with a publication day interview. Isobel’s latest novel A Perfect Square is published today by Odyssey Books and is available for purchase direclt from the publisher and your local Amazon site.

A Perfect Square

A perfect square

When pianist Ginny Smith moves back to her mother’s house in Sassafras after her breakup with the degenerate Garth, synaesthetic and eccentric artist Harriet Brassington-Smythe is beside herself and contrives a creative collaboration to lift her daughter’s spirits: an exhibition of paintings and songs. Ginny reluctantly agrees.

Mother and daughter struggle to agree on the elements of the collaborative effort, and as Ginny tries to prise the truth of her father’s disappearance from a tight-lipped Harriet, both are launched into their own inner worlds of dreams, speculations and remembering.

Meanwhile, another mother and artist, Judith, alone in a house on the moors, reflects on her own troubled past and that of her wayward daughter, Madeleine.

Set amid the fern glades and towering forests of the Dandenong ranges east of Melbourne, and on England’s Devon moors, A Perfect Square is a work of remarkable depth and insight.

An Interview with Isobel Blackthorn

Hi Isobel. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Congratulations on your latest novel A Perfect Square.  

Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

I’m a Londoner originally, and currently living near Melbourne, Australia. Growing up I wanted to write creatively but I suffered from a crushing lack of self confidence. It wasn’t until my late forties that I decided, sod it, what have I got to lose? So I dedicated myself to the art of writing as only a  forty something can. Now I’m a fifty something and my passion is even stronger!

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

I think it was in 2007 when I finally received the endorsement I needed, from my then new boss and literary agent. She would say to me, ‘Is this a writing weekend, Isobel?’   And on Monday it was, ‘And how’s the writing?’ No one could ask for more encouragement than that.

I know art and music feature in A Perfect Square. If you hadn’t become an author in your 40s, would you turned to art or music instead as a creative outlet or something else?

To be honest I don’t know what I would have done. At that critical turning point I was growing an awful lot of organic vegetables and I was passionate about self sufficient lifestyles so maybe I would have done that instead!

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

I am meticulous about research. Doing a PhD teaches you that. Really that’s what a PhD is, proving you can do good research. I apply it right down to the smallest detail. I read scholarly works, books rather than websites, and I only rely on Google Maps if I’ve already actually been to a place.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Without doubt I find dialogue easiest. Next comes reflection. Description can be hard work but it’s like painting a picture, so worth the effort. But action! I think for me that’s the hardest. I labour just getting a character through a door.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I’m at my best in the early mornings. And I have two writing spots. My desk, and the couch. In my current home my couch faces a giant cactus, and beyond, in the neighbour’s garden, a palm tree. I stare at them a lot. I cannot write anywhere except at home.

I love Melbourne where you’re based – particularly all the sculptures. How far does living in that area influence your style as a writer?

It definitely makes my writing  urban, and connects me to my roots. My latest work, still in formation, is set in Kensington, a suburb of Melbourne which contains Holland Park! I adore Melbourne. For me, it’s somewhere between the rest of the world and the vast interior that is Australia. I guess Sydney could to that too, but for me it’s too hot.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

Well, my last book which I’ve just put down is Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper. He’s an Australian author, and he wrote this book just a few years ago. It’s breathtakingly good. I’m so distinctly British in the way I write that I struggle to feel that I fit in to the literary scene in any sense that might be taken. But why I came across The Street Sweeper I knew that I did.

You  describe yourself as an activist. How far does this influence your writing?

Every book I write had an element to it concerning social justice. If anything this dimension to my writing gets stronger with each work. My passion just grows and grows. Arundhati Roy gave up fiction after winning the Booker with The God of Small Things, and I respect her for that. I’ve decided that if I chose that path I’d burn out. So I pour all my passion for social and environmental justice into my books and have my characters do the hard work on my behalf.

I love the cover design to A Perfect Square. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

drago tree

Truthfully, my publisher and I were on Lanzarote promoting my previous release, The Drago Tree, and trawling through hundreds of images, mostly artworks. We wanted to convey something of synaesthesia at first. We found a number of artworks in Deviant Art, and that one that is now the cover spoke to both of us the strongest. It conveys more the metaphysical dimension of the story.

If you could chose to be a character from A Perfect Square, who would you be and why?

Oh I’d be Harriet! Every time I think of her, Jennifer Saunders springs to mind. So Ab Fab!

If A Perfect Square became a film, who would you like to play Ginny and why?  

An Australian actress naturally, so she would have to be Cate Blanchett. Now wouldn’t that be simply amazing!

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that A Perfect Square should be their next read, what would you say?

Art, synaesthesia, occultism, wrapped in a dark mystery that’ll  keep you guessing until the end.

Thank you so much, Isobel, for your time in answering my questions.

About Isobel Blackthorn

isobel

Writer Isobel Blackthorn grew up in London and South Australia. She currently lives in Melbourne and has a deep passion for the island idyll of Lanzarote.

She’s the author of a collection of short stories, All Because of You (2012, 2016 ), and the acclaimed novels, Asylum and The Drago Tree (Odyssey Books, 2015). Her writing has appeared in e-journals in Australia and the US.

You can find out more about Isobel on her website and by following her on Twitter. You’ll also find Isobel on Facebook.

The Writer’s Voice, A Guest Post by Faye Bird, author of What I Couldn’t Tell You

WICTY Banner2

As an aspiring writer I’m delighted to be featuring a guest post by Faye Bird, author of What I Couldn’t Tell You, all about the writer’s voice today. What I Couldn’t Tell You is a young adult thriller published by Usborne on 1st May 2016 and is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon, W H Smith, Waterstones or via the publisher and other good book sellers.

What I Couldn’t Tell You

WICTY Front Cover

When love turns to jealousy, when jealousy turns to rage, when rage turns to destruction…

Laura was head over heels in love with Joe. But now Laura lies in a coma and Joe has gone missing. Was he the one who attacked her?

Laura’s sister Tessie is selectively mute. She can’t talk but she can listen. And as people tell her their secrets, she thinks she’s getting close to understanding what happened on that fateful night.

Voice

A Guest Post by Faye Bird

When you start out writing and you go to talks and panel sessions with industry folk – agents and publishers – there is much talk of a writer’s “voice.”

“A writer needs to have a voice,” they all say.

Most of the audience nod their heads, but I think to many the notion of a voice feels like an unknown and often massively intangible thing.

We know what it means for a character in a book to have a voice – it’s ultimately the voice of our story, and it needs to feel authentic, intrigue us, entertain us, draw us completely in.

But what is a writer’s voice? And where does it fit? And how do you even know if you’ve got one in the first place?

When I was working as a literary agent representing TV scriptwriters I felt pretty clear about what a writer with a voice was; he or she was, as all those agents and publishers say on those panels say, the writer I wanted to represent, and I most definitely knew when I had read a script by a writer who had one.

So here goes – here’s my best attempt at describing what it was that the writer with a voice had, from when I thought I knew…

A writer who handles their story with confidence – by which I mean someone who creates characters you wholly believe in, characters who behave in a thoroughly convincing way, but about whom you are still constantly asking questions along the way.

A writer who handles their story with ease – stories by their very nature are complex, but a writer with a voice, with the confidence of a voice, will make the complexity of his or her story look simple.

A writer who handles their story with originality – it’s a love story, it’s an adventure story, it’s an adventure love story about vampire eating pirate dogs in space. It doesn’t matter what it is. It is the way it is told that makes it original.

And lastly it is a writer who is ultimately an illusionist – as you read each sentence the graft that went into the words will be hidden, and so too the graft that has gone into capturing the potential enormity of its meaning. A seemingly simply sentence about a brief moment in time, a feeling or an otherwise ordinary event may not appear at first to say that much, but in the vast scheme of things it may well say EVERYTHING!

These are at the writers who I think have a voice, the writers I love to read, and the ones that I aspire to try and be as good as when I sit down to write.

About Faye Bird

faye bird

Faye writes fiction for young adults. Before becoming a writer she worked as a literary agent representing screenwriters in film and TV. She studied Philosophy and Literature at Warwick University, but has otherwise always lived in London, and still does now. Her second novel, What I Couldn’t Tell You, was published on 1 May 2016.

You can follow Faye on Twitter or visit her website. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

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A Life Without You by Katie Marsh

A Life without you

I was delighted when a copy of A Life Without You by Katie Marsh arrived from Emma Knight at Hodder in return for an honest review, but it wasn’t until I’d finished reading in floods of tears that I read the acknowledgements and found myself mentioned – and promptly burst into tears again!

A Life Without You was published in paperback on 15th July 2016 and is available from Amazon, W H SmithWaterstones and all good book sellers.

A Life Without You

A Life without you

Can you ever outrun the past?

It’s Zoe’s wedding day. She’s about to marry Jamie, the love of her life. Then a phone call comes out of the blue, with the news that her mum Gina has been arrested. Zoe must make an impossible decision: should she leave her own wedding to help?

Zoe hasn’t seen Gina for years, blaming her for the secret that she’s been running from ever since she was sixteen. Now, Gina is back in her life, but she’s very different to the mum Zoe remembers. Slowly but surely, Gina is losing her memory.

As she struggles to cope with Gina’s illness, can Zoe face up to the terrible events of years ago and find her way back to the people she loves?

A Life Without You is a stirring and poignant novel about the power of the past – and the possibilities of the future.

My Review of A Life Without You

When Zoe’s wedding day preparations are disrupted by the mother from whom she’s been estranged for years, she doesn’t fully realise the pull of family and how her life will be affected.

When you have so loved an author’s first novel (My Everything, my review of which is here) it is with trepidation that you read and review the second. My goodness I needn’t have worried. A Life Without You is just as emotional, just as stunning and just as beautifully written.

If I’m honest, I’m struggling a bit with this review. I don’t seem able to construct a sentence that conveys how affected I felt by reading Katie Marsh’s A Life Without You. It might be because my own father is no longer the man I have always known, following his terrible stroke a month ago that, although he and I have never been estranged like Zoe and Gina, I can relate to every difficulty Zoe and Lily face in the latter part of the book. I didn’t just read about their emotions. I felt them as if they were my own. But even readers with no experience of parental illness cannot fail to be engrossed in what happens to Gina.

There is a really well constructed plot in A Life Without You, with secrets emerging slowly that give insight into the characters and the real reason Zoe has shut Gina out of her life, but that is not the main feature of the story. It is the themes of love, the past, family and relationships that make this such a stunning read. I don’t know how she does it, but Katie Marsh seems to put on paper what the rest of us feel inside. There is also a lightness at times that balances the more emotional aspect so effectively. I think it is the realism of situations in A Life Without You that makes this such a powerful read.

I really enjoyed the structure of the writing. The more Gina slips into memory loss, the more of her letters to Zoe we read so that we gain a full understanding of who she is as a person. Gina’s relationship with Alistair must be so familiar to so many readers.

Indeed, even though Zoe is at the heart of the novel, her non-wedding being the catalyst for events, it is Gina who steals the show, perhaps giving us all an important message. When those we love are slipping into dementia or some other illness, they are still those we love, albeit changed.

I was incredibly moved by A Life Without You and the experience of reading it will stay with me for a very long time.

About Katie Marsh

katie

Katie lives in south-west London with her family. Before being published she worked in healthcare, and her novels are inspired by the bravery of the people she met in hospitals and clinics across the country. Her first novel My Everything (available here) was picked by the Evening Standard as one of the hottest summer debuts of 2015.

She loves strong coffee, the feel of a blank page and stealing her husband’s toast. When not writing, she spends her time in local parks trying and failing to keep up with her daughter’s scooter.

You can follow Katie on Twitter, visit her website and find her on Facebook.

A Guest Post from Driving Me Wild co-author Maria Benson

driving me wild

I’m delighted to be welcoming Maria Benson to Linda’s Book Bag today with a fascinating guest post all about how our past affects our present – including our mental health. Maria is joint author with A. L Ford of Driving Me Wild. Driving Me Wild was published in e-book on 3rd August 2016 and is available for purchase here.

Driving Me Wild

driving me wild

In a dating scene full of well-educated, ambitious and attractive players, is the “terminally single” woman her own worst enemy?

That’s the accusation hurled at Aimee Chase, a young Chicago sports marketing executive who finds herself confronted with professions of love from Michael Blake, a handsome but bland high school classmate. When Aimee tries but fails to let him down easy, habitually nice Michael hits below the belt, implying she’s too damaged to appreciate a good man. Check, please: An insulted Aimee showers Michael in her glass of sweet-but-smoky Merlot.

Truth is, Michael’s accusations drew blood. With a romantic history littered with cheaters and bad boys–including a married one with a very big job who is still in her life–Aimee fears that she has sabotaged her chances of ever finding the right guy. Months later, as her career implodes and she finds herself enveloped in a high-profile scandal, she’s not sure what to think when a suddenly captivating Michael reappears.

Thrilled to find that this “safe” guy now makes her weak in the knees, Aimee ultimately has her ecstasy interrupted by the revelation that Michael has transformed into a promiscuous, cold-hearted pick-up artist he thinks women like Aimee want. When he’s caught with related baggage but declares his fidelity, should Aimee toss aside a promising relationship, or just accept that “it’s complicated?”

A First Step to Relationship Happiness

A Guest Post from Maria Benson

Working in the mental health field for the past decade has led me to one universal truth: We are all products of our environments.

In my work as a therapist, I often hear people deny the role of the past in present-day problems via comments like, “That doesn’t matter anymore- I’ve put it behind me,” or “I just try not to think about it.”

The bottom line is, you shouldn’t be asking yourself if past experiences affect you today. You should be examining how your past experiences are affecting you.

Refusing to look inward and really discover what makes us tick- our passions, fears, triggers, and vulnerabilities- will, without fail, cause us to sabotage relationship after relationship. Often without us even really understanding where it went wrong.

In my new novel, Driving Me Wild, the lead protagonist Aimee Chase is blindsided by present-day dysfunctions caused by her past experiences. Aimee is a wildly successful young executive who is rocking it professionally, but early on she’s confronted with the inconvenient fact that every important male relationship in her life – whether with her neglectful father, her high-profile but married boyfriend, or with Michael, the “sweet but boring” guy trying to win her heart – is a train wreck.

Sound familiar?

Our personalities are pieced together by so many factors- genetics, our families, societal pressures, prior failed dating relationships, and so on. When we counter imperfections in any of these factors, we develop the dreaded baggage. This baggage drives our behavior before, during and after each relationship. It’s why we’re always searching for a new boyfriend instead of taking time to be alone with our thoughts, or it’s why we settle for those we know deep down aren’t right for us.

Whether we find ourselves sabotaging good relationships OR allowing abusive behaviors to develop and persist, the solutions often lie in the roots of the past experiences that generated such behavior. Confronting that past is the first step of someone who believes they deserve to be happy.

By the time clients come to me, they are taking this crucial first step, but years of toxic behaviors influenced by the past have greatly complicated their relationships.  Whether they are dealing with serial infidelity, an inability to communicate due to fears about being emotionally vulnerable, or unpredictable rage and violence, the road to healing can be a long one.  How much heartache might they have been spared if they had known years earlier how to address the impact of the past – and its associated baggage – on their approach to relationships?

I can’t be there at the front end for every client, but as an author I’d like to think that I can reach people earlier. By telling stories about the search for love, I can encourage readers to think proactively about how the past impacts their present relationships.This can be a key step in saving your marriage, freeing you from a destructive relationship, or just getting into the healthiest state possible while awaiting your future partner.

Her journey is full of tears, laughter, betrayal and trauma, but the willingness to do this hard work helps Driving Me Wilds Aimee ultimately find the path – and romantic relationship – that is right for her.

So, do you believe that tackling the reality of your past is a first step to happiness? If so, how are you acting on that today?

To read an extract from the first chapter of Driving Me Wild please click here.

About the Authors

Maria Benson is a graduate of Hanover College and the University of Indianapolis. She has dedicated her Indianapolis-based practice to helping women find their identity and voice in the face of adversity. A licensed mental health counselor, Maria is also an experienced practice administrator, adjunct professor and trainer.

You can find out more on Maria’s website and follow her on Twitter.

Published by Random House/Villard, Penguin/NAL and Grand Central under pseudonyms, A.L. Ford’s seven prior novels include the bestselling and the critically acclaimed, and have been favourably reviewed in prestigious publications. A high technology marketing professional and an MBA, his most important job today is passing along life lessons to his son and daughter. He and his family live in southwest Ohio.

If I Forget You by T.C. Greene

 if i forget you

My thanks to Alison Davies at Atlantic books for a copy of If I Forget You by T C Greene in return for an honest review. If I Forget You is published by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic, on 1st September 2016 and is available for purchase on Amazon, Waterstones and other good book sellers.

If I Forget You

if i forget you

When Margot and Henry meet, they fall deeply in love.

And then they lose each other.

But Henry can’t forget Margot and Margot is haunted by her memories of Henry. They live in each other’s minds.

Twenty-one years later, they meet, by chance, on a Manhattan street. And that’s where their story truly begins…

If I Forget You is a beautiful exploration of what it means to find the person you are destined to be with, but then spend a lifetime apart.

My Review of If I Forget You

In 2016 Henry spots the love of his life from 1991, Margot. She sees him but she runs away, leaving him wondering what might have been.

T.C. Greene is a consummate writer. Given that Henry is a poet, Greene’s writing matches the intensity and quality a reader might expect from Henry. Having read the first few pages of If I Forget You, I knew I was going to be captivated by the style. The continuous present tense suggests that, despite everything, the love between Henry and Margot has endured the intervening years.

I don’t usually enjoy plots that go back and forth in time, but this one worked so well, gradually peeling back the time and memories so that a full picture is given to the reader. I think those wanting a racy, thrilling plot will be disappointed. This is not what If I Forget You is about as it builds more quietly into a hugely satisfying read.  However, I had several ‘Oh no!’ moments where I wanted events to turn out differently and this made me read on rapidly as I needed to know the outcomes.

What I thought was interesting about how much I enjoyed If I Forget You, was the fact that I didn’t much like Margot and yet I still wanted to know what happened to her and cared about how she was affected by events. I think it takes a highly skilled writer to be able to hold the reader’s attention this way.

I also loved the setting. The backdrop of New York took me back to living and working there and I thought T.C. Greene presented it perfectly. I rarely mention artwork but I thought the cover for the book portrayed New York wonderfully.

However, what moved me most about If I Forget You was the intensity of emotion. The rawness of grief, guilt, obsession and love mix with indifference and the euphoria of joy to create a wonderful picture of humanity.

Anyone who has loved and lost cannot fail to be moved by this If I Forget You.

About T.C Greene

Thomas Christopher Greene is the author of three novels, Mirror Lake, I’ll Never Be Long Gone, Envious Moon and most recently The Headmaster’s Wife. He is the founding president of Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Montpelier, Vermont with his wife and daughter.

You can find out more on T.C Greene’s website.

A Setting Guest Post from Michael J. Sahno, author of Miles of Files

Miles of files

I’m very pleased to be hosting Michael J. Sahno on Linda’s Book Bag today as I was interested in why Michael has chosen an insurance company setting for his latest novel Miles of Files. Luckily Michael agreed to write a guest post to explain. Miles of Files is available for purchase in e-book and paperback on your local Amazon site.

Miles of Files

Miles of files

In Miles of Files, the main character, Paul Panepinto, an employee at Flambet Insurance, learns that his manager Graham Woodcock is stealing from the company. Paul struggles with whether or not to report the boss at the risk of losing his position.

Eventually, Graham fires Paul anyway and Paul is forced to pursue justice, but the story doesn’t end as expected.

Readers move through a fast-paced adventure with many twists and turns, including high points, drama, comedy, and an edge that Sahno captures through his writing.

Why An Insurance Company?

A Guest Post by Michael J. Sahno

Recently, I was asked why I chose the world of insurance as my setting for my third novel. Did I want to surprise readers? Did I feel it was a microcosm of society in general? Or did I have a personal experience I wanted to use?

It’s an interesting way of looking at a book: why would you put your protagonist in a job that looks incredibly boring, working in an industry that most people probably don’t really want to read about?

I had to admit I was somewhat taken aback. I had barely considered it. In fact, my own work experience over about a twenty-year period had barely touched on the insurance industry, falling more into the mortgage industry and market research. Upon reflection, however, I recalled just how I put the setting into motion: having worked in stressful, tedious settings, I wanted to convey the experience – and also show that there’s plenty of drama there below the surface – without being blatantly autobiographical. Thus was born Flambet Insurance, which the main character thinks of as “an insane asylum, a place where even the most well-adjusted among them ate antacids like candies and ran from task to task taking desperate sips of coffee from Styrofoam cups.”

Of course, there were major considerations far beyond that of the setting or the jobs the characters held. In my first novel, Brothers’ Hand, I began with no plan, no outline, and no character sketches…just scenes that unfolded naturally. It was a very organic process. I used the first-person point of view for my second novel, Jana, as the main character speaks to the reader directly.

Brothers hand

For Miles of Files, I wanted to paint with a broader palette, and I actually had a few things in mind. For one, I wanted to have tiers of characters like Charles Dickens did in Dombey and Son: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The tertiary characters are mainly commentators, who pass on information about primary and/or secondary characters. I wanted to make sure each character was unique and different enough from the others that the reader could easily identify them, so I went through the Myers-Briggs personality types and assigned them accordingly. It was kind of fun, and it also enabled me to really differentiate each character from the next.

The thing that became of great interest as I moved forward in the narrative was the fact that I was actually writing my first crime novel. I always find the research portion of novel writing to be quite interesting, even though it’s not necessarily fun to do. You need to know a lot more than your reader does, so if you’re writing about an unfamiliar industry, you’d better get it right!

In the book, the main character, Paul, finds out his boss, Graham, is stealing from the company retirement plan, but not in a traditional embezzlement: he’s actually created these fake employee files, complete with nonexistent social security numbers, to make it look like he’s paying out benefits to former employees. On top of that, Graham also sets up a “blackout” period during which employees cannot monitor their 401(k) plan…thus enabling Graham to not only steal a lot of money from the owner but also to steal a little bit of money from each employee. It’s (evil) genius.

Working on the forensic computer analysis aspect of this, along with the law enforcement angle, was like going down the rabbit hole. I was surprised by some of what I learned, and the reader will be too. It’s probably considered literary fiction by most, but I certainly think people will find the narrative a compelling one as well.

About Michael J. Sahno

mike sahno

Michael J. Sahno was born in Bristol, CT. He earned his Bachelor’s from Lynchburg College and his Master’s in English from Binghamton University. Sahno has been a professional writer since 2001. His novels cater to an imaginative audience, particularly those who enjoy literary fiction with a twist of drama and plenty of humor. Sahno is a member of the Florida Writers Association and American Library Association, and the founder of Tampa Literary Authors.

You can follow Michael J. Sahno on Twitter, find him on Facebook and visit his website.

Murder by Death, a Guest Post from Steven Dunne, author of Death Do Us Part

Death do us part

I am absolutely thrilled to be welcoming Steven Dunne to Linda’s Book Bag today. I love featuring authors I’ve actually met and when they are as talented as Steven Dunne, the excitement is doubled. Today, Steven’s latest book in the DI Damen Brook series, Death Do Us Part, is released in paperback. Published by Headline Death Do US Part is available for purchase from Amazon, Waterstones, Hive and all good book sellers.

It gives me great pleasure  to be hosting a guest post from Steven Dunne today all about why murderers kill.

Death Do Us Part

Death do us part

DI Damen Brook is on a rare period of leave and determined to make the most of it by re-connecting with his daughter Terri. But with her heavy drinking proving a challenge, Brook takes the opportunity to visit a local murder scene when his help is requested.

An elderly couple have each been executed with a single shot to the heart and the method echoes that of a middle-aged gay couple killed the previous month.

With the same killer suspected and the officer currently in charge nearing retirement, Brook knows that he has little choice but to cut short his leave when forced by his superiors to take the lead on the case.

Brook believes that he can catch this ruthless killer, but already distracted by Terri’s problems, is he about to make a fatal mistake and lead the killer right to his own door?

Murder by Death

A Guest Post by Steven Dunne

One of the most frequently asked questions of a crime writer is, ‘What is your favourite way to kill people?’ When asked I always end up explaining what I write and why the deaths in my books about serial killers in the East Midlands generally fail to be exotic. I’m not alone in this. I know Agatha Christie wasn’t averse to a dramatic poisoning or two in her work but, in the main, victims are dispatched without fuss. The reason for this is that Christie, like me, was interested in the psychology behind why people kill, particularly those who are actually planning to murder someone. Anyone can kill, given the right circumstances, but to plot someone’s demise and then act upon it requires a degree of evil which sets the perpetrator apart from the majority of the human race. This is what fascinates and appals about serial killers.

the reaper

Since The Reaper was released in 2009 up to my sixth novel Death Do Us Part – out this month – I have not been exploring so much the who and how of serial killers but the much more interesting question of why. Why do men and women cold-bloodedly and with malice aforethought, plan to kill their fellow human beings? Often with Christie, serial murder had a profit motive with the killer positioning him or herself to claim an inheritance by eliminating a wealthy relative. Having set events in motion, subsequent murders were then committed to advance the cause or to cover tracks. One of my favourite examples of this template is Death on the Nile, one of her best works.

Obsessive love and revenge also feature heavily in her work but it took Christie’s genius to turn what are usually spur of the moment crimes, committed in moments of great passion and thus invariably messy and bloody, into cold blooded acts planned down to the smallest detail. The Murder on the Orient Express has a revenge plot at its heart, carried out with such unbelievable precision that even the world’s greatest detective is sorely challenged to solve the case.

My own work has a fiendish Christie-style mystery at its heart but my detective, DI Damen Brook, chases modern serial killers. And each killer I create has started with a simple question that I’ve asked myself before I write a word. In The Reaper it was, “How can I make a serial killer seem like the hero to readers?” The question for Death Do Us Part was, “How can I create a serial killer who thinks they’re doing the victims a favour?” From there, I can build a psychological profile of my killer which informs me how and who they would kill. The profile leans heavily towards motive and away from any salacious interest in method of killing. My serial killers don’t derive pleasure from the act of killing but from the removal of their victims.

Perhaps it’s my past career as a teacher that requires my killers never to take a casual attitude to the taking of a human life without some kind of reason, however twisted it may seem to us. Thus the killers that DI Damen Brook of Derby CID is hunting are more concerned with speedy and efficient deaths, leaving no trace and few clues so the killing can continue. Of course, the more planning that goes into a crime, the harder it is to catch the killer which requires a very special detective. Christie knew instinctively that it’s pointless having two superstar sleuths like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot if you plan to pit them against clumsy villains like armed robbers or impulse killers. In all my work, DI Brook must stretch himself to the limit and use “the little grey cells” to solve the fiendish puzzle and bring the killer to justice.

About Steven Dunne

steve-dunne1

Steven has had a variety of jobs including Public Relations Consultant, freelance Journalist and supply teacher. In 1988, he began teaching English in Croydon before moving to Derby in 1996, where he began to think about writing a novel. in 2015, Steven’s book A Killing Moon won the East Midlands Book Award.

A killing moon

You can find out more about Steven Dunne and his writing by visiting his website, following him on Twitter and finding him on Facebook.