I’m a firm believer that there is good and bad in us all. It’s how we choose to use it, I suppose. But for me as a crime writer, I like to take the ordinary and make it a bit extra-ordinary but still realistic. Using different points of view can make stories far more emotional. And just like the small villages found in the countryside of England, small cities lend for close-knit communities, so a sense of claustrophobia within family and friends can often be an added bonus. There are secrets and lies to be discovered everywhere.
People intrigue me – not just getting into character, but I also like to get into their heads. As well, I love to watch TV programs such as Criminal Minds where you are sometimes alongside the killer, often feeling like you’re one step ahead of the law. I like to write ‘whydunnit’ as well as whodunnits. I like my readers to feel there are two sides to every person.
Before I began to write crime thrillers, I worked for several years as a housing officer for the local authority on a social housing estate. I dealt with environmental issues, noisy neighbour complaints, evictions, signposted people to appropriate help and services, sorted out disputes and offered debt advice. For a unique point of view, I realised this could be useful as a backdrop to write about. When I started writing police procedurals, I also realised that the role of detective could be pretty similar to my job as housing officer in respects of policies and procedures.
So setting a new series back in my hometown again has advantages and disadvantages. Firstly, I removed characters from another of my series, DS Allie Shenton, and replaced her with DS Grace Allendale and kept the original police team the same. I hope that readers of the first series may find it a novelty to revisit some of their old favourites. Equally, I think Grace as a new character gives everything a new lease of life, especially with her colourful background.
The disadvantage for me is that my subjects are raw, often violent and I don’t want to dumb down my city. So there is an author note at the end of the book, which mentions some of the named places I have changed slightly. I write about fictional places within the reality. You’ll find DS Grace Allendale in Hope Street, which is a real street name in the city, but you wouldn’t find a murder at, say, number 9, Hope Street. Who wants to read about a murder in their living room?
Mel Sherratt’s new novel, Hush Hush (harperCollins) publishes in all formats on 18 October.