10 Questions With Diane Jeffrey

This morning I’m delighted to welcome psychological thriller writer Diane Jeffrey to my blog. Here, Diane chats about her debut novel, Those Who Lie, her favourite authors, her views on women in crime fiction, whether she has any advice for aspiring authors and her favourite music. 

                                                            
1) As a child, did you have a favourite author and do you have a favourite author now?
 
 My favourite author was Enid Blyton, closely followed by Roald Dahl. I was a good reader and I was good at English (luckily, as I was pretty hopeless at subjects like maths and geography), so when I was 9, my teacher decided that I should read more widely and banned Enid Blyton! He recommended The Hobbit, which I wouldn’t recommend to any 9 year old!!! It put me off reading Tolkein for life, although I loved the films!
Do I have a favourite author now? Not really, no. But I love Khaled Hosseini, Dennis Lehane, Kate Atkinson…
 
2) Did you enjoy English at school? 
 

I loved English at school, especially English literature. I had some excellent English teachers. I also had one – his nickname was “Piggy” — who was absolutely useless, but he made us do a lot of dictations and a lot of grammar, so I benefited from his teaching even so!

3) How do you find teaching English in France? 

I’m fortunate to be in a good school. The pupils are mostly well-behaved and motivated. The 8 am starts are a little difficult by the end of the week (I have to get up at 6:30 every day), but I have a great timetable this year and finish at 1pm at the latest every day, which allows me to write.
 
4) How did you find the time to write Those Who Lie? How many drafts did you go through before you submitted? 
 

I wrote Those Who Lie on a year’s paid study leave. I applied for a year off to learn Spanish. I did learn some Spanish, but I also had a lot of free time. So I thought: it’s now or never and decided to write a novel. It was my second novel, actually, although the first was never published.
I think there were about 6 drafts when I finally got a request for the full manuscript – I actually received three requests at the same time! And then I went through another 2 rounds of edits!!! I would cringe if I read the first draft now!
 
5) What are your views on strong women in crime fiction? 
 

I like to have a strong female protagonist in my writing. For my two psychological thrillers (Book 2 is on its way…), I wanted resilient main characters, who do their best to come out on top despite everything that is thrown at them.
 
6) How do you feel they’re different from men in crime fiction? 
 

In psychological thrillers, the main character is often female, but this is not always true, just as the culprit is not necessarily male. As a woman, I feel more comfortable getting inside the head of a female lead character than I would for a male protagonist, but I don’t think there has to be any gender stereotypes in crime writing.
 
7) Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? 
 

Don’t give up. And get in touch with published authors through social media. I would love to have taken a course in creative writing, but with three kids and a full-time job In France, I couldn’t, so I read a lot of ‘how-to’ articles. Check out The Creative Penn and Writers Digest.
 
8) How’s best for you to work – music or silence? 
 

Mainly silence, but once or twice a week at the moment while my children are swimming training, instead of getting into the pool myself, I’ve got into the habit of going to the bar opposite. I write in the corner table while drinking a beer for a couple of hours. One of the bartenders watches football. I’m not a fan of football, but I’ve found it to be great background noise for writing!
 
9) Did you enjoy a particular genre of music growing up? How has that changed since you’ve got older?
 

I’m a Rock chick at heart but I was born in the early 70s so I listened to some punk, too as I was growing up. 80s music was unbeatable IMO. Still is!!! I play the piano, so I’m also into music from films (Einaudi and Nyman…) and classical music.
 
10) I find writing is therapy for me, somewhere I escape to and where I feel I can lose myself in the written word, how do you feel when writing? 
 

That depends. Usually, it’s liberating. I enjoy afternoons typing with the sun coming through the dining room window and the dog at my feet or the fire lit if it’s cold. With my second novel, I set myself goals – deadlines, really – and so occasionally it felt like a bit of a chore. But even then, once I’m sitting down with ‘Mac’ on, I lose track of the time.
 
Thank you for your time Diane. 

Novel Research – Part Two

23RD JUNE 2017

Heading down to Costa Coffee with my writing kit, I’m more than ready to have a day of churning out words and seeing what comes out of my head onto Scrivener. 

But before that, let me finish telling you about my Crown Court experience! 

Watching from the public gallery on Monday morning, I am unable to put fascinated, enthralled, and in bloody awe into words. It was incredible!! Witnesses were questioned by the defence, then cross examined by the prosecution, and on the Tuesday, this was where it became very interesting – the defendant came into the dock. 

His barrister asked him to describe his background – and what he said during his evidence, when I went home, I’m not ashamed to admit I cried, because I found it so awful. 

After his barrister finished however, the prosecution barrister then interrogated him – and tore his defence to shreds! 

My eyes were darting between the prosecution and the defendant – I was so completely drawn in, I forgot how cold the room was, I forgot what was happening outside – all that mattered was whether the defendant was guilty or not guilty. 

After the prosecuter had finished, and the Judge calls for a lunch break, I head outside and into the warm summer air of Liverpool City Centre. Stick – my ever faithful companion – and I make our way over to Tesco, Stick making his usual repetitive tapping sound and managing to piss just about everyone off around him, as I walk into at least three people, completely unawares until I’m just looking down at the tarmac, muttering, ‘Sorry,’ into Tesco to buy lunch, and then back across to Court. 

Ready for the afternoon session to begin. 

10 Questions With Morgen Bailey

This evening I’m delighted to announce that Crime writing tutor and blogger Morgen Bailey has answered a few questions for me. Here, Morgen chats all things being a crime writing tutor, how she works best, and her all time favourite book.


Over to you, Morgen. 

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? 

I did. Roald Dahl. And he’s still my favourite. My father had a small chain (four) of photographic shops not that far away from Great Missenden and did some photography for Roald (including Sophie’s fourth birthday party, apparently) but I never got to meet him, which is really sad. They were similar ages so got on really well. And now, still Roald but picking a living author would be Kate Atkinson. I did a three-fortnight course on her first three books at one of my local colleges and was hooked. Her writing is quirky and I love quirk. I’ve been told mine’s quirky which is a real compliment. I had the chance to go to one of Kate’s book signings a while back but when I went to buy a ticket, they’d sold out. 

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I loved it and why I picked creative writing in an evening class programme ten years which brought me to where I am now. English was my favourite subject and the one I did best at. Art (especially pottery) second. I have my English teacher to thank for me liking the dark stuff as did Macbeth, Lord of the Flies, Moonfleet and Jane Eyre.

3) Did you go to university and if so, did you enjoy your degree?

I didn’t as such. Other than English and Art, I didn’t like secondary school – which is a shame as I loved my primary school so worked hard and did well going on to one of the best schools in the area. I did do the first year of a Certificate in Creative Writing degree so I have points to go towards anything else. I’ve been teaching creative writing for the past three years so did a condensed qualification for that.

4) Can you describe your job as a writing tutor – what do you love about it and do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

In person, I teach for Adult Learning (for my local council so all over Northamptonshire) so nineteen plus but most of my learners (they’re not students because they learn rather than study) thirty-something to retirement age (upwards). I currently offer eleven different courses but will be chopping that down to beginners and intermediate from the next academic year to concentrate on my writing. I also have seven online c/w video courses with Udemy and plan to do more of those.

5) How did your first novel review feel? What did you do to celebrate?

Scary but delightful. With the title of ‘A light hearted romp through the perils of online dating’ and five stars, I couldn’t help but be thrilled. I don’t market my books enough so don’t have many reviews but I’ve just joined the KDP Select programme so am doing some free days so hoping that will change.

6) Do you have an all time favourite book? 

I had one prepared should I ever be on Desert Island Discs: Roald Dahl’s Collected Short Stories, which is still my favourite (Kate Atkinson’s Not the End of the World collection comes close). If Kirsty Young (or whoever hosted DID by the time I was famous enough), I’d have the world’s largest picture encyclopaedia as my book and endless supply of wide-lined paper and really nice pens, although someone recently asked for a solar-powered non-internet laptop with a word processor and was allowed so I’d go for one of those, as long as the sun wasn’t so bright that I couldn’t see the screen.
7) How do you like to work – music or silence?

If I’m writing or editing then I have classical music so no words. Otherwise it tends to be shuffled Pink Floyd or ‘Morgen’s Favourites’ playlist (thanks to Alexa, my Amazon Echo).

8) Do you have an all-time favourite song or particular genre of music you enjoy?

Pink Floyd would be amongst my DID selection but the one I’d save from the waves would be Radiohead’s Street Spirit. Despite having heard it hundreds of times, I can never remember how the music begins. Bizarre. Apart from jazz, punk and country and western, I like most things including dance, classical (Eric Satie and Beethoven especially) and modern pop and R&B. The good stuff.

Thank you for inviting me, Elle. 

No problem Morgen, thank you for your time. 

10 Questions With Douglas Skelton 

Over the last week, I was delighted when a crime writer from Glasgow answered my query as to whether he would mind answering a few questions. 


Here, Douglas Skelton (one of Scotland’s finest crime fiction and true crime writers) chats his favourite childhood authors, whether he shares my love of Rod Stewart, tips for any police procedural writers and the difference between writing crime fact and fiction. 

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author?

I read a lot of Frank Richards’ Billy Bunter books, which would be frowned upon now probably. I also liked Mark Twain and Jack London. And I read the westerns of JT Edson and Louis L’Amour. I recall that the book I read and reread was ‘Seventh Cavalry’ by Jeff Jeffries. I wish I still had it. That was until ‘Shane’ came along while I was in secondary school.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I enjoyed the creative writing. I did not enjoy dissecting Shakespeare and poetry. It killed both for me. I was also introduced to the works of Jack London and, crucially, Jack Schaefer’s ‘Shane’, probably the book that has had the most effect on me.

3) Did you go to university and if so, did you enjoy your degree?

I was too stupid to go to uni. 

4) What are the differences involved with writing true crime and criminal history books as opposed to fiction – how do you find those experiences?

The obvious one is that with fiction you’re free to manipulate the story. Writing non-fiction, no matter how creative you are in the storytelling, necessarily means you have to stick to the facts. There is generally a certain amount of research in writing crime fiction but you only use what you need to further the story. 


5) How did you feel meeting your agent and what was your publication day like?

I don’t have an agent (although if any read this I’m wide open, folks). My first publication day was back in 1992, a book called ‘Blood on the Thistle’, and I hit every bookshop in Glasgow just to see it on the shelves. I still get a thrill when I see a book of mine on sale. Face out, of course, I’ll have none of this spine out malarkey, thanks very much.


6) Is it nerve wracking, knowing that you have someone to impress, but also someone who will champion you and your writing?

Although I don’t have an agent, I do have a publisher and an editor. It is utterly terrifying to finally let the words slip from your fingers and go to them. I’m convinced with every book that no one will like it. After that hurdle, you have to face the readers. They’re the ones you really want to impress.


7) Do you have any tips for the debut writer on creating a police procedural aspect for their novels?

Make sure you get it right, so find a friendly police officer and talk to them. But use only what is necessary for the furtherance of the story.


8)
Do you have an favourite all time book and what book did you last enjoy?

I suppose it really has to be ‘Shane’, although I love the work of Ed McBain, Robert Crais, John Connolly and Dennis Lehane. But ‘Shane’ has influenced me in so many ways, most directly in my Davie McCall series, which I always viewed as westerns set in Glasgow. Davie was a western hero with a Scottish accent, a man alone who has a past he would love to escape from but finds he can’t. I’ve read so many books recently that to pick one out would be unfair. They’ve all been good.

9) How’s best for you to work – music or silence? Coffee shop, home or library?

I generally have music on. I’m a huge fan of film scores so that’s more often than not what’s playing as I write. Sometimes I’ll select certain mood music to underscore what I’m writing. 

I write at home. I have a book strewn office that badly needs to be tidied. Maybe even dusted, but let’s not go crazy here.

10) Last but not least, do you like Rod Stewart and what’s your favourite song of his?

He must be before my time.

Novel Research 

19th JUNE 2017

With our Hugo snoozing peacefully on my dark purple duvet, I wonder how the hell I’m going to get up and out of bed. I throw my back the duvet, which unfortunately wakes him up and not only have I upset him by rousing him from his dream of chasing next door’s cat across the road, I also realise with a horrible lurch I’ve upset my orange juice. After using several expletives which don’t succeed in calming myself down but help me to vent my anger, Hugo jumps off my bed in fright and bolts out the door. I use his absence to mop up the spillage with tissue paper. Job done, I head for the shower with my red towel (for my favourite team).

Today is going to be fabulous! I, little me, am going to the very scary place at the bottom of Castle Street in the City Centre – well, I had thought of it like that as a child, when the reality is that it’s just where the criminal cases are heard. It’s a vital experience, purely for novel research purposes. First though, I’m meeting a contact of mine who will show stick and me where we need to go. So, back in my room with my belt not doing as they’re told and realising with horror I’m buttoning my shirt up the wrong way, I sigh. A disadvantage of being severely visually impaired is that sometimes, I stress, not all the time, you fail to actually see what’s in front of you – that’s why stick is so incredibly useful when I’m out and about.

Eventually, with everywhere locked up downstairs, buttons done up the right way and belt fastened properly, with Hugo waiting patiently by the front door to be let out, miaowing his head off and with stick by my side, the three of us head into the porch. I quickly lock the rear door before I open the red door to outside, Hugo races across the road, four paws sprinting. I lock up the front door, leaning stick against the wall in the process, then I pick it up and we’re both off on our big adventure.

On the bus to town, I’m bricking it! Even with my earphones and Rod Stewart’s Beautiful Morning – my favourite song – to calm me down, I’m still bricking it. After what feels like forever, the bus stopping outside the big Tesco on Hanover Street, I cross the road to Liverpool One, and walk through to Lord Street, where turning left, I see it. The big brown building, set slightly back as there’s a large walkway, LIVERPOOL CROWN COURT.

Fortunately, I had exchanged numbers with my contact the week previously, so I sent him a message, to let him know I’m outside, and he briefly says. Come inside. My excited nervous feeling steps up a notch, so I head inside. He comes down a silver spiral staircase in his wig and gown, and I’m too used to seeing him in his suit and tie, I’m taken aback. He shows me where the lift is, asking me how my weekend was, and tells me which courtroom I’m going to.

The lift stops and I follow him cautiously down a corridor before stick and I are outside the courtroom, and it’s far from what I expected. Having watched Silk and Law & Order: UK, I’d been expecting the dark wood panelling of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, but it isn’t. It’s oak wood panelled with a navy blue carpet and a side where members of the public could sit, if they wished, and watch.

He shows me inside before quietly explaining he has to go back to his trial. I sit down on the bench, placing stick carefully against the seat in front, and begin to watch.

Writing – Part One

MAY 2017

Waking up in a darkened bedroom, the new shutters we’d installed at the beginning of the week had managed successfully, I might add, to hide all of the summer light from making its way into my room, I sat up, swinging both legs over the side of the mattress, feeling somewhat optimistic as to the day ahead – until I very nearly walked into the cat. What followed was an exchange of swear words, for all of five minutes (mainly from me) directed towards a furry black animal whom I do love dearly and with all my heart, just not when he refuses to budge from his position.
It was a Friday morning, the day after I’d archived a load of files for where I work seven hours – really one day, (if you include the hour for lunch – which I always do, I have a weird obsession with even numbers!) a week, and back in my room after a shower, I was dressed and had my favourite dark red satchel packed with… my writing kit! I was off to make my dream of being a published author come true – well I was on my way to it, I think! Consisting of a slightly battered but still in excellent condition iPad Air, a Hardback moleskin A5 notebook, a pen with a chewed lid (my horrendous habit of chewing my pen top I have unfortunately never seen to grow out of, even since childhood) and my glasses case. 

When I’d opened my shutters I hadn’t expected the sun to beam down and nearly blind me, so I popped my glasses case into my satchel and went downstairs to lock up everywhere, chasing the cat down the stairs and into the kitchen, he walked lazily to where the cat flap was, and that was him leaving for the day, I locked everywhere up. Then had a heart attack as I’d forgotten someone very important. I retrieved a very heavy, coming up to waist height – which for me, isn’t much being only just over 5 feet, white stick. My lovely reliable walking aid. It’s always with me, wherever I go, it’s even more reliable than the furry black animal, so together ‘stick’ as I affectionately refer to it, and I, were on the way down the road to the local Costa Coffee to begin my novel. 

Sitting in a very comfortable armchair at the back of the shop over two tables and stick, with a 7Up poured into a glass of ice and divine chicken and bacon toasted sandwich, the bread covered in cheese, I sip my lemonade, open my notebook to the page with all of my plot breakdowns, fingers to the Scrivener app on my iPad and begin to type the words after I had written a particularly important, quite frankly, vital one. PROLOGUE. 

Only thing is, I’ve got no idea what to write next. 

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About SW

I grew up in Liverpool, where I’m privileged to say I still reside.

I’m currently a criminology student, and I’m most likely to be found with my iPad and notebook adding a few more words to the novel I keep saying I’m going to sit down and just write – only I always prioritise something else, and never end up getting round to it.

When I was younger I found myself enthralled by crime dramas on the television – I credit Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes as one of the main reasons I got into watching BBC dramas avidly and from then on began my never ending daydream of ‘When I’m older, I’m going to be a writer’ – that was seven years ago and I’m still nowhere near the 20K mark of my book.

I only hope one day my dream of being published and on the shelves in Waterstones will come true, well, with a lot of hard work beforehand.

When I see my name in print, I will achieve my life time ambition.

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