Journey to Death was inspired by what happened to your husband in Seychelles. Could you tell us more about this experience?
As a very young man, my husband worked in the Seychelles. During his stay, there was a political coup, and several British people working on the island had to leave quite suddenly. This set me wondering about the impact such a political regime change might have on the lives of ordinary people. From that beginning, the story of Journey to Death developed. It opens with an account of the coup during which my fictional Englishman is forced to leave the island without any notice. 30 years later he returns with his wife and daughter, unaware that the consequences of his earlier visit are about to kick off with potentially disastrous results.
Without giving too much away, you tackle a very real threat in Journey to Death that many people forget still happens in today’s society. What made you want to turn this into a novel?
There are a number of threats throughout the course of the novel, but outside of the horror genre, nothing that is invented by writers of fiction comes close the terrible events that take place every day in the real world. The decision to turn my idea into a novel arose because of a story that occurred to me, inspired by the coup. One reviewer wrote that ‘Journey to Death makes the subtle point that those who appear fragile and vulnerable often have unexpected resources of strength and resilience.’ Journey to Death introduces Lucy Hall when she is still quite young and naïve, and in some ways it is a coming of age novel, as she begins to develop into an independent young woman through her experiences in the novel. There seemed to me to be a lot of interesting ideas to weave into the narrative. The unmentionable threat to which you refer was only the starting point, although it drives the narrative.
Why do you believe it is important for people to read crime fiction, whether based on reality or purely fictional?
Crime fiction offers us an escape from the confusion and frequent injustices we see in the real world. However terrible the actions, we know that by the end of a book some kind of moral order will be restored. So in that sense, crime fiction offers us reassurance. In my books, even in the most beautiful locations in the world the darker side of human nature emerges. But this is countered by the courage and integrity of the ‘goodies’. In real life, ‘good’ people don’t always win. So often the spoils go to the greedy and aggressive, the selfish and the takers. That is not ‘true’ in fiction. To quote Oscar Wilde, ‘The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.’ Fiction shows us a snapshot of a just world.
What kind of reader do you think would enjoy Journey to Death?
Journey to Death crosses several genres, from crime through adventure to coming of age, with a dash of romance and political history thrown in. My audience is mainly readers who enjoy reading crime and adventure series. While Journey to Death is not cosy crime, it is gentler than my gritty police procedurals, and Lucy Hall is introduced slowly. But I’m not sure there is a particular kind of reader. My own tastes are very inclusive. I enjoy reading all kinds of books, and I genuinely believe that Journey to Death might appeal to any kind of reader. That’s not to say that I think everyone is going to like the book, of course, but I’m not sure I can easily pigeonhole the readers who do.
Where do you get your inspiration for your crime fiction novels? Do you have a book or author that you continually return to for inspiration?
The inspiration for Journey to Death came from an eyewitness account of a political coup in the Seychelles but, in general, my ideas start with my killers. Their actions drive the narrative. Because the Lucy Hall series is not purely a crime series, the stories may also be prompted by her experiences and her life, but she will still be reacting to the situations she finds herself in. And those situations are almost certainly going to be created by the actions of a killer. However hard I try to write something less edgy, the dark side of human nature seems to call me back. It’s strange, because I abhor violence and aggression in the real world.
What has surprised you most about becoming one of UK’s bestselling crime writers?
Since I started writing, life has been a series of surprises. To begin with, I was surprised to realise that I had somehow written a book. The next surprise was when a publisher offered me a publishing deal. With 11 books published for No Exit Press, and at least four more in the pipeline, I am surprised that my first book has become the start of a long running and very successful series of crime novels, and my books are in development for television. Finally, I am surprised that Thomas & Mercer is publishing my new Lucy Hall series. Life is full of surprises!
In your novels, you effortlessly evoke a sense of place. How do you achieve this?
Language is such a strange and wonderful phenomenon. Thoughts can be put into words relatively easily, but it’s a constant struggle to find the right words to describe sights, sounds, and feelings. Watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean, I wanted to convey that beauty in words. How is that possible? Through the medium of a sequence of tiny symbols on a page that represent sounds we make, the feelings and emotions in my head are somehow transferred into someone else’s mind. There is a kind of magic to the process. All I can do is try to find the right words to create an image in my readers’ minds.
Have you ever been nervous about releasing any of your novels, whether it’s the simple anticipation of the release, or because of what critics may say? How do you combat these nerves?
Nervous is an understatement. I always worry when a new book is released, because you never know whether readers are going to like it or not. The publication of Journey to Death has been particularly nerve wracking, because it is a departure from my earlier police procedural series. I was worried that fans of my detectives, Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson, would not take to Lucy Hall, who is very different from my older, experienced police detectives. A few of my fans have been critical, but I think that is inevitable when you try something different. The only way to combat the nerves is to focus on something else — like writing another book…
What is it like becoming a successful author in your 50s? Do you wish you had entered this field earlier in life?
If I had achieved this level of success at a much younger age, it might have been difficult to keep my feet firmly on the ground. Success in a creative industry is precarious. There’s no way of predicting how long it may continue. So in some ways I was lucky that I didn’t start writing until I was in my 50s. It has helped me to keep a sense of perspective. That said, it’s becoming harder than ever to find a publisher, and to sell well, because the competition is vast and growing, with so many books being published every year. In the UK alone, publishers released over 20 books every hour in 2014, and in the US over a million books were published, of which more than half were self-published. The numbers have grown since then. So if I had started writing earlier, success might have been easier to achieve, at least in terms of sales.
What’s next for you?
That’s an easy question to answer — more writing! The second in the Lucy Hall series is currently being edited. Set in Paris, this book will be published in September 2016. Once the edits are finished, I will be working on the third book in the series, which takes place in Rome. After that, the manuscript for the ninth title in my Geraldine Steel series needs to be delivered, by which time I will probably be working on edits for the third Lucy Hall book… and so it goes on. In addition to writing, my schedule involves a lot of travelling. Last year I visited the Seychelles, Paris, and Rome researching locations for Lucy Hall. This year I’ll be going to Italy, Greece, Lithuania, and the US, in addition to travelling all around the UK for literary festivals and author talks.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to becoming an established writer/author?
The advice William Faulkner offered to aspiring writers in 1947 has never been bettered: ‘Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.’