The idea for ‘Cut Short’ came into my head quite by chance. I was walking across my local park on a rainy weekday morning and happened to pass a man on the path. I can’t remember anything about him but there was no one else in the park on that wet day and, for no particular reason, I began to speculate about him. I think the idea may have been sparked by the fact that for an instant we were alone together in an isolated setting, but that doesn’t account for the stranger who appeared, fully formed, on the page in front of me. I’ve no idea where he came from. All I can tell you is that I happened to walk past a stranger in the park and suddenly my imagination was racing. ‘What if . . . ?’ I thought, and the story of a crime thriller began to form in my mind, complete with a ‘creepy’ killer.
I find it difficult to explain why I started writing. I could claim that my life experience has given me the confidence to pursue my ambition, but the truth is rather different. If I’m honest, what drove me to start writing was boredom, with a touch of arrogance. ‘I could do that’, I thought, when reading other people’s books, although I’ve since discovered that writing a book isn’t as easy as it looks. As for pursuing the ambition of a lifetime – that doesn’t exactly describe what I’m feeling right now. On the brink of going into print, it feels more like sticking my head above the parapet! You might think this view is coloured by imaginary terrors – but perhaps that’s entirely appropriate for a writer of crime fiction.
What surprises me now is that I didn’t discover my passion for writing earlier. From the moment I began to write, I’ve been hooked and I can’t envisage a time when the floodgates will close. I certainly hope they don’t because, as any writer knows, writing is an amazing buzz. All I need is an idea of a scene, or a body, and a plot begins to unfold.
Knowing my books are going to be published is a step into the unknown but I feel completely at ease with myself as a writer. It’s like returning home after a long journey. I write all the time now, at any odd moment, and when I’m not physically writing, I’ll be thinking about a character’s motivation, puzzling over why the victim arrived at the scene of the crime in the first place, how the killer managed to conceal the weapon, or who disclosed a vital clue to the police.
Even before I’d completed the first of what my publisher describes as "seriously creepy gripping psychological thrillers" I’d managed to scare myself with what I’d written; I hoped my writing might have that effect on other readers, making them feel startled by unexpected noises, look nervously over their shoulders on the street, and think twice about going out alone in the dark . . .
Only a few months after I started writing, I was fortunate enough to be taken on by a publisher. It all happened very quickly. I was offered a three book deal on the basis of what I’d submitted. The deal was struck, contracts signed, hands shaken, champagne and flowers exchanged – I even received my first advance. Then the work began, as I discovered that a talent for writing is only part of an author’s tool kit.
I’ve researched the background to my plots, trying to ensure all the details are plausible, and doing my best to fulfil the expectations of readers of crime fiction. The internet has been invaluable for factual information like the time of a sunset, or a newspaper headline on a particular date, but it doesn’t provide all the answers. When it comes to police procedure, or medical details, there’s no substitute for expert advice. I’ve been lucky to develop informative and helpful police contacts, and the guidance of a medical expert who has kindly checked through all my descriptions of injuries and causes of death. I hope I’m not giving anything away if I add that I spent an interesting afternoon at my local fire station, mulling over an incident I was writing for the second Geraldine Steel book.
I used to think writers must enjoy a sense of control over the worlds they create, but most of my characters are fairly forceful personalities who like to direct operations themselves. I have a poor visual imagination, so can’t claim to be describing my characters as I ‘see’ them. I wish I could visualise them, but my creative process takes place through the medium of words; characters arrive as voices in my head. They don’t exactly clamour to be written, but I usually can’t resist exploring their possibilities. Of course, as a writer, I have to grapple for control at some stage, or my characters are bound to lead me into all sorts of trouble. They have their own agendas which can lead to tension between actions necessary to the plot, and the way a character wants to behave. I have to resolve these issues to produce convincing characters in a plausible plot – with a few twists, of course.
A recent article about my writing was called ‘Dead Bodies Everywhere’, the title taken from the piece I’d written. It sounds macabre, but since I began devising plots for crime fiction, I really do imagine corpses wherever I go – not in a ghoulish sense, but as a problem to solve. Some people enjoy Sudoku puzzles, others may do crosswords, I work out plots. I don’t need a newspaper, or a puzzle book, to occupy my mind. Stuck in a traffic jam, waiting at the dentist, walking to the shops, I have my own mental puzzles, devising answers to a series of questions. Where was the body discovered? Who was the victim? How was the murder carried out? Who was the killer and what possible motive could he – or she – have had for committing this violent crime? This last question always intrigues me.
I can make a reasonably imaginative leap and try to walk around inside the skin of a police officer but although I’ve met plenty of people I’ve disliked, I can’t imagine ever wanting to kill another person. So understanding the motivation of a killer is a real challenge. Each of the killers in the three books I’ve worked on so far has been very different, and each has taxed my creativity in different ways. Since I write fiction, the killer has to be stopped by the end of the book, while my detective will continue throughout the series. Consequently, the detective needs to engage the reader’s interest. Initially my main character, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel, was merely a function of the plot. I was far more interested in the psyche of the killer. I’ve since developed my detective’s character and allowed her life story to branch out in different directions, and I have lots of ideas about her which I’m exploring through the series.
Two years have passed since I first began writing and I’m still scribbling, on page or screen, paper serviette or cereal packet . . . whatever comes to hand. I can’t resist buying note books of all sizes, which I keep all round the house, in my handbag, in my desk, by my bed, in the bathroom cabinet, in the car, and I never leave the house without at least one note book and a handful of pencils in my bag. Wherever I go, I’m thinking about my characters and their behaviour. "A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing." (Eugene Ionesco).
I save all my work on my PC, my laptop and a memory stick. In addition, my PC does a weekly back up, and I email completed manuscripts to myself. I sleep with my memory stick by the bedside, and carry it with me wherever I go, just in case . . . Back to imaginary terrors and the ‘what if’ question that forms the starting point for all my writing.
CUT SHORT is published in paperback by No Exit Press