It’s my great pleasure and honour to welcome thriller author Leigh Russell to Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. Leigh is the author of Cut Short, which has been shortlisted for the 2010 John Creasy New Blood Dagger, and Road Closed, which has received considerable favourable attention. Her upcoming novel Dead End is scheduled to be published in 2011. I was very excited when Leigh offered to answer a few questions about her views on crime fiction, and her own writing. Thank you, Leigh, for being here.
What drew you to writing crime fiction?
There is a lot of discussion about the appeal of crime fiction. To some extent, I think we – readers and authors – welcome the opportunity to act out our fears in safety. In real life there is nothing entertaining or thrilling about crime, but in fiction it undergoes a complete metamorphosis and becomes exciting and tense. It sounds ghoulish to say I enjoy writing murder stories but it is really great fun, involving careful plotting and a lot of problem solving. How can I make a certain character perform an action required by the plot, without making him or her seem to act out of character? How does my detective uncover a vital piece of information without some implausible coincidence that will break the illusion? Writing crime fiction, you are never bored; there is always something to think about.
What, to you, are the most important elements of a good crime fiction novel?
My books are often described as ‘page-turners’. Star Magazine described Road Closed as ‘a gritty page-turner from the start’. This is an important element in crime fiction where the plot must drive the narrative forward so that readers keep turning the page – and buying the books! ‘The rapidly building fan base of Russell and Steel will be on the edge of their seats waiting for the next installment, Dead End,’ according to The New York Journal of Books. The next key element of crime fiction is character and I was thrilled when The Times described my writing as ‘psychologically acute’. The other key element in any writing is structure; it is important to have the right balance between realism and suspense.
When I started writing Cut Short I was fascinated by the character of my killer. The villains are always much more fun to write than the good guys! Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel has grown more slowly in my imagination. Her own story really begins to unfold in Road Closed, the second book in my series, and I am not yet sure where she is going with it. I have her final scene in mind – at the end of Book 20 in the series – but how she gets there is not yet clear in my mind, which is quite exciting.
Had you planned to create a series, or did your series develop after you wrote Cut Short?
Many authors plot the journey their main character will take before they embark on writing a series. When I wrote Cut Short I had no idea anyone would ever read my story, let alone publish it, so I had no plans to write a series. It is no secret that I was contacted by a publisher two weeks after I submitted what I had written with no expectations of hearing back. My publisher signed me up for three books and only then did I realize that I was contracted to write a series. So it is fair to say the series developed after I wrote Cut Short. After the amazing success of Cut Short and Road Closed, both bestsellers and phenomenally well reviewed, my publisher has asked for a fourth book in the series and I suspect the series will continue for a while.
How do you balance your writing, your teaching career and your family?
I didn’t begin writing until my children had grown up and left home and I stepped down from running a busy department at work. That gave me the space in my mind to think about writing. I write very fast, but there is a lot more to producing a book than just putting words on the page. I can easily write 90,000 words in six weeks, but planning and research is time consuming and most of my thinking and my research takes place in the school holidays, when I have time to consult experts, and think.
What kind of crime fiction do you most enjoy reading and why?
I enjoy psychological crime fiction because I am endlessly fascinated by people. That interest is what drives my writing, although readers are caught by the plot which drives the narrative forward. I am a fan of Jeffery Deaver and was thrilled to discover that he loves my books. He called Cut Short ‘a stylish top-of-the-line crime tale’ which pleased my publisher!
Again my thanks for the interview, Leigh. More information about Leigh Russell’s novels and her writing is available at Leigh’s terrific blog.