Val saw one lost looking author (me!) wondering which way to turn out of Derby Railway Station to find the coach to go to Swanwick and promptly took me under her wing!
Val has a habit of taking lost looking authors under her wing as she did this with Jennifer too! All I can add here is every lost looking author needs a Val in their life!
Since then Jennifer, Val and I have (a) become good friends despite not being able to meet often (this is where social media is brilliant for helping people to stay in touch) and (b) all of us have had books out (and have more in the pipeline).
In Swanwick in 2017 Val, Jennifer and I met Beatrice Fishback who, with our blessing and that of Fiona Park, a friend of Jennifer’s who also came to Swanwick this year, put us all into her book, Winter Writerland, as named characters.
I’m not going to say whether Jennifer, Val, Fiona or I committed the murder in this cosy mystery but being a named character is a step none of us anticipated in our writing journeys. It’s a fun one though! If you want to know more, do read the book!
I met Val again at Winchester Writers’ Festival this year. She hadn’t travelled the furthest (she came down from Scotland – there are visitors to the conference from France, even Australia sometimes) but it was great to meet Val again on “my patch” and I am so glad she enjoyed our local writing festival. You can stay in the student accommodation at the University of Winchester for the Festival and this is what Val did.
Val writes crime fiction and has launched a new series, set in Edinburgh, based on Detective Hunter Wilson. The blurb for her first novel is:-
Hunter by name – Hunter by nature:
DI Hunter Wilson will not rest until Edinburgh is safe.
Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson knows there is a new supply of cocaine flooding his city, and he needs to find the source, but his attention is transferred to murder when a corpse is discovered in the grounds of a golf course.
Shortly after the post-mortem, Hunter witnesses a second murder, but that is not the end of the slaughter. With a young woman’s life also hanging in the balance, the last thing Hunter needs is a new man on his team: Detective Constable Tim Myerscough, the son of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable Sir Peter Myerscough.
Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this first novel in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series.
So on to the questions…
Have you always wanted to write? Where did the trigger to write come from for you?
I have always enjoyed stories. I used to enjoy telling my younger sister stories when we were children, but it was my mother who instilled a love of reading in me. When my sister and I were little girls, she used to sit with us on Sunday afternoons and read classic stories to us like Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Emma by Jane Austen and Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. Curled up on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon, reading, is still one of my favourite ways to spend my time.
There was indeed a trigger, that prompted me to start writing. I began writing my first novel when I was being treated for breast cancer. I had taken early retirement and was beginning to wonder how I had ever had time to work when I received the unwelcome diagnosis of breast cancer. As my treatment proceeded, I started to blog about my experience. My writing here still receives considerable attention: www.survivingbreastcancernow.com. I found my treatment very tiring and had little energy to do anything but read, so I started reviewing the books I read on www.bookreviewstoday.info.
Allison: One of the books Val reviewed on her site was mine!
What drew you into writing serial killer crime fiction?
I have always enjoyed reading crime fiction and I began to think that, as I had the time, I would try my hand at writing a crime fiction novel. It was not an easy task, and it took a lot longer than I thought it would, but the result was Hunter’s Chase.
Crime fiction is easily the most popular form of genre fiction (I think the nearest rival to it is horror). Why do you think this is?
I think crime fiction offers readers an excitement and vicarious experiences that most of us would never experience in real life. But, at the end of the day, readers have the safety net of knowing that good triumphs over evil. Still, the thrill of the chase and the problems to be overcome to achieve justice for the victims must enthral and satisfy the readers. At least it does in fiction.
What do you love about crime fiction? What made you decide it was a field you would work in?
I enjoy the complexity of people and crime fiction allows me to explore both the good and bad aspects of my different characters. None of them is entirely good or entirely bad, just like anybody. For example, Hunter is a compassionate man who fights for the underdog and is a fine team player. These are important qualities in my main character.But I also needed Hunter to have flaws. Everybody has faults and to make Hunter believable, he had to have them too. He is not a saint. He is divorced, he is untidy, he likes to win, he bears a grudge.
What made you decide to write a series and how many are you planning?
Stories come easily to me. I like most of my characters and I have lots of stories for them to tell. For example, the original idea came from a former employee of mine. She had worked in a lawyer’s office, in the north of Edinburgh, where they specialised in criminal law and then she came to work for me in a rather different type of office in a rather elegant part of Edinburgh city centre. The comment my employee made was “It is lovely not to work in a place where you smell the clients before you see them!” It was this comment gave me a kernel of an idea that formed the basis of the Johnson family in Hunter’s Chase. From that central family and their story, my novel evolved.
What made you decide to use Edinburgh as a setting?
I have lived in many different places throughout my life and, for many years, I lived in Edinburgh, so I know the city well. I chose Edinburgh as the setting for Hunter’s Chase. Setting is most important to a novel and Edinburgh is a beautiful city of around half a million people. It is big enough so that anything that I want to happen in my novels can happen, but it is also a small enough city that many people in the city know each other.
The main protagonist of Hunter’s Chase is Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson. He lives near Leith, an area to the north of the City, and drinks in his local pub, the Persevere Bar. His home is also close to the Hibernian (‘Hibs’) football ground.
The other main character, Detective Constable Tim Myerscough, lives across the city from Hunter, in the south-west of the city. He moves into a flat in Gillespie Crescent between Tollcross and Bruntsfield. His local pub is the Golf Tavern, off the Bruntsfield Links.
DC Tim Myerscough’s father, Sir Peter Myerscough, lives even further to the south in the Morningside district of Edinburgh. From his large house he has fine views across the Pentland Hills.
Very unusually, you have an alternative indie band, thirty three connection, allowing you to use their hit In The Rain at your launch in February. I must admit I don’t know the band or the song so why is it appropriate and how did this come about?
I heard thirty three connection recently when they were performing in Edinburgh and I was out with friends. I particularly enjoyed their song ‘In The Rain’. It was the first track on the Edinburgh band’s debut EP.
The duo consists of Stephen Gillon on Piano/Vocals and Andrew Brannen on Drums along with providing the lead vocals. They formed in 2012 and took part in Edinburgh’s Verden Studios Demo Project releasing their first single ‘Melody’ shortly after.
As the story of Hunter’s Chase takes place throughout the rainy month of November in Edinburgh, the song, ‘In The Rain’ came to mind. When I contacted the guys, they were kind enough to allow me to use their song during my launch. You can listen to it here:
One issue with series writing is having to ensure each book stands alone yet still give enough back story for each book in that series to make sense. Equally you don’t want too much back story! How have you found getting the balance right?
The second book in the series, Hunter’s Revenge, has just been commissioned by my publishers, Crooked Cat Books. I suppose you will see if I have got the balance of back story right when that book is published in the late summer of 2018.
Who are your favourite crime writers and why?
I enjoy crime fiction as a genre. However, because I read so much of it, I often guess the ending long before the reveal. So I enjoy reading books by authors who are sufficiently clever to make sure that I do not do that.
These include the American author, Kathy Reichs, who is a qualified forensic anthropologist and writes the Temperance Brennan series, the Canadian author, Peter Robinson who writes the DCI Banks series, the English author, Erin Kelly, who writes psychological crime thrillers, the Norwegian crime writer, Jo Nesbo, who writes the Harry Hole series and the Scottish authors, Ian Rankin who writes the John Rebus series of police procedurals, and Quintin Jardine whose protagonist is Bob Skinner.
Reichs and Nesbo can be quite graphic in their description of the violence suffered by their victims, so their novels do not appeal to everybody. However, as the stories are so well told, I can forgive that.
Who have you been most inspired by for your own books and why?
My novels fall squarely within the genre of crime thrillers. I write police procedural novels: my main protagonist is Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson. In Hunter’s Chase, DI Hunter Wilson struggles to ensure the crime in Edinburgh does not go unpunished. Hunter’s Chase introduces a new detective, DI Hunter Wilson into Tartan Noire. I am delighted to be compared to other proponents of Tartan Noire such as Ian Rankin, Alex Grey and Quintin Jardine.
The writers who have most inspired me are Mark Billingham, the English author, whose style of writing in his Tom Thorne novels results in beautifully crafted stories and the Scottish author, Christopher Brookmyre, who manages to weave humour into the interesting stories in his Jack Parlabane series of books. I also find the work ethic and personal outlook of Peter Robinson inspiring and I am amazed that, although he has written many novels, the stories are still credible and fresh.
I love Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, both of whom were part of what is considered the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. One lovely thing about crime fiction is it is always growing. Who were your favourites from the Golden Age?
My problem with novels from ‘the golden age of crime fiction is that I usually work out who dunnit! However, Agatha Christie was a fabulous craftswoman and, although her style may seem a little formulated today, most of her stories stand the test of time. I also enjoy the ultimate wordsmith, PD James. Her use of language is as interesting as her stories.
What are your three top tips for writers?
I have three tips for writers that sound easy, but are far harder to accomplish.
anything and everything so you learn how different authors deal with a variety of stories. It will also improve your vocabulary and grammar.
even when you don’t feel like it: just write.
I know it is boring, but re-read your work and be open to changing it for the better.
What would you advise a writer new to crime fiction?
Read a wide variety of books by as many different crime writers as you can before you start writing crime fiction. It will make it easier to find your own writing voice.
Part 2 of my interview with Val Penny will continue next week when she will share her thoughts on research, networking and what she hopes to achieve with her crime series, amongst other topics.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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