Leigh Russell writes the bestselling Geraldine Steel crime series. Cut Short (2009) was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award, Road Closed (2010) was listed as a Top Read on Eurocrime. With Dead End (2011) Geraldine Steel is currently number 1 female detective on amazon.co.uk Kindle.
How long did it take you to write your latest crime thriller, Dead End?
It takes me about six months to write a novel. The actual writing doesn’t take very long, but it takes time to plan and research my books. This may not be quite so crucial with every genre, but the plot in a crime novel has to work out neatly and as I’m not naturally organised, I need to plan my books carefully before writing them. In common with other authors, I have a growing number of anecdotes about my research. I’ve picked the brains of police officers, firemen, market traders, human remains experts at national museums, a Professor of Forensic Science, a furniture historian, IT experts, medical practitioners, leading experts in DNA, finger prints – the list goes on, a disparate collection of people who share a common enthusiasm about their own particular area of expertise, and a willingness to pass on their knowledge. I’m something of a magpie, collecting contact details of people working in fields outside my own, anyone who might be able to offer expert advice if I ever need it.
How important is a book’s central character?
My central character has become far more important than I ever imagined when I wrote my debut, Cut Short. I had no idea my readers would become so interested in my detective, but now I regularly receive messages from fans who want to know what is going to happen to her. I’ve got an idea where she’s going to end up in the final chapter of the last book in the series, but I’m not sure how she’s going to get there. As the series looks set to run for quite a while, there’s plenty of time to think about that, and no doubt Geraldine will face a few more personal challenges on her way the last book.
What’s the best piece of craft advice you’ve been given?
This is an old piece of advice, but it’s excellent: show don’t tell. Readers want to suspend their disbelief and accept that the world of a book is real, and as writers we have to do our best to help make the narrative convincing for them. Rather than relating what happens from the outside, the job of a writer is to take readers into the world of the book and help them see that world for themselves.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
I write psychological thrillers. Working out plots is fun, and I enjoy the problem solving aspect of the process, but what interests me most is character. One of the questions I explore in my writing is what makes one human being kill another human being. In each of my novels I try to explore a different motivation for my killers. Writing in The Times, Marcel Berlins described my books as ‘psychologically acute’ and Barry Forshaw in Crime Time says my books take the reader ‘into the darkest recesses of the human psyche’. So I think it’s fair to say that creating characters is one of my strengths. A lot of reviewers describe my books as ‘gripping page-turners’ and suspense is another of my strengths.
As for weaknesses… how long have you got? Recently I’ve started to tackle location in more detail as this is something I want to develop in my writing. I was doing some research recently after which I met my daughter for a drink. I’d had a successful day and was feeling very pleased. ‘I’ve found a fantastic place to dump a dead body!’ I told my daughter who glanced nervously over her shoulder urging me to keep my voice down!
What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?
I enjoy getting out and about meeting people and I’m also passionate about supporting bookshops and libraries, so it’s not surprising that I spend so much time in bookshops and libraries meeting readers. The only downside of that is that it takes time away from my writing.
As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader’s taste in crime fiction?
My ideal reader would be a fan of Geraldine Steel! Someone who enjoys tense psychological crime thrillers.
Do you enjoy writing? Do you enjoy the editorial process?
Yes to both of these questions. I love everything about writing, the buzz of creativity, the challenge of working on the text to perfect it as far as I can, always thinking about how much I should be telling my readers, what word expresses my meaning most effectively, how I can plausibly make a character perform a certain action, how the plot is going to work out… the list is endless and I love every minute of it!
What do you look for in a good book?
There are three elements that go into making a good book: plot, character and structure. The first two are self-explanatory. Structure is where events are placed in the book. Readers don’t want to have too many exciting scenes bunched together as that becomes far-fetched, while too long a lull becomes dull. So the dramatic scenes have to be carefully placed to maintain the momentum of the narrative.
How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?
Of course not all self-published books are second rate, any more than all traditionally published books are well-written. But the publishing process does offer a filter, albeit a flawed one. When that is removed, allowing anyone to publish at will, there is a real danger that the market will be flooded with poorly written books that haven’t been professionally edited or even proof read as writers might not devote sufficient time and work to their manuscripts before they publish them. They might not want to employ editors and proof readers as publishers have always done to carry out work that is necessary to maintain standards. And if standards fall in too many publications, a lot of people might be put off reading altogether. That is a real concern.
How do you feel about reviews?
Like any author, I love good reviews! An adverse comment in a review can be particularly disappointing as the criticism is so public. However, if you can’t cope with negative comments, being a professional author is probably not for you. So far I’ve been extremely fortunate as my books have been very well received by reviewers as well as popular with readers, but I’m still relieved every time I read a positive review.
Thank you very much for interviewing me here, with such challenging questions.
Dead End by Leigh Russell