What did you do before you became a writer? Is writing something you’ve always wanted to do?
Ever since I could hold a crayon, I’ve wanted to write stories, but I didn’t think I could earn a living as a novelist. Most jobs I’ve done were to support writing. These include working for a playwright agency processing royalties for other writers or their heirs e.g. Noel Coward and Terrance Rattigan. I’ve been an admin clerk, for the oil industry, British Gas, a secretary for a publishing company. Later I became a customer services manager at one of the first internet companies. My all-time favourite job was selling papers, books and sweets in a newsagents for the New South Wales Railways Authority in Sydney. I thrived on the hustle of the busy underground station, chatting with customers and got good at the quick fire return of correct change during rush hour. I was thrilled recently to hear that my novels are on sale there.
There are lots of twists in The Dog Walker. Do you plan these or are they as much a surprise to you as they are to us? Do you plot before you write?
My stories are meticulously planned on a colour coded spreadsheet (I share my passion for Excel with Stella). I might change scenes as the novel progresses to tighten the plot. There are ‘surprises’ in that I’ll realise that Jack should do this or Stella should do that and will add in another scene. Those surprises bring some of the joy of writing. However, I always know the way the story will end down to picturing the scene.
Can you describe your writing process?
I write in my study. A small room made smaller by bookshelves, a filing cabinet (doubling as a notice board, on top of which is a printer), my late step-dad’s bureau where I write and piles of books on the carpet. It has a view off over the Downs which inspires me particularly when sitting in front of a blank screen with a blank mind.
I can’t work with immediate sounds outside the room, but don’t’ need to be alone in the house to write.
What is a typical working day like for you?
A typical day is a dog walk (with a gang of dog walkers, we chat about life and what’s happening in the world, a great start to the day). I’m at my desk by 8.30am. I break about 1pm (earlier if I fancy hearing the wonderful Winifred Robinson on Radio 4). Another dog walk and then back to write or research. I finish at 5.30, or later if I have a pressing deadline.
What was your inspiration for The Dog Walker?
While walking alone early one dark morning – I had yet to meet any of the dog walkers – that I thought ‘Am I mad being here in this deserted park with only a head-torch for light? Someone passed me on the path and didn’t return my greeting. I froze with sudden fear. After that the story began to unfold...
As The Dog Walker is set within a neighbourhood, this gives you the chance to introduce us to lots of different characters. Are any of them based on people you know?
I can’t write about people I know, truth would get in the way of fiction and bring me to a halt. My characters do possess some of my own characteristics. I see signs in shadows, cloud formations and cracks in the pavement as Jack does. This can drive my family and friends mad! I’m as concerned with health and safety as Stella, seeing injury or fatal accidents everywhere (also drives family and friends mad). But otherwise my characters are themselves and no one else.
The Dog Walker is the fifth novel in the Detective’s Daughter series. How do you make sure readers stay interested in the main characters as the series develops?
If I’m not interested in the characters, I can be pretty sure that no one else will be either. Writing a series gives me the chance to develop my characters through each novel. They learn from experience (or they don’t) and this changes them. Stella is different to the woman she was in The Detective’s Daughter. She’s warmer, knowing Jack has softened her, made her more open minded, more receptive to her own and others’ feelings. Jack too is less sinister (up to a point), Stella and Jackie have lured him in out of the cold. I hope that while I’m interested to know how my characters fair in life as the series continues so it might be for readers.
You have clearly done a lot of research for The Dog Walker. How do you approach your research? Do you enjoy it? Do you like to write about new things or do you like to stick to what you know?
I rarely write about what I know personally. I’ve never driven an London Underground train as Jack does or been a police detective like Stella’s dad. I have cleaned, but not that often. But I relate to the emotional truths behind subjects or activities that I write about.
The people I interview talk not just about what they do, but how it feels to do it. They tell me the reality of their everyday lives and this is something I – and I hope readers – can share. Most of what I research never appears in the novel. But knowing about it helps me write with confidence. The rest requires imagination and empathy.
The research I have done has led me into very different worlds from my own. I’ve met such interesting people who have been so generous with their time.
Funnily enough I did less research for The Dog Walker than any other novel. It’s an activity I’m very familiar with. The main difference is that the dog walkers I know are lovely, they wouldn’t commit murder.
The Dog Walker is obviously a crime novel. Do you like to read books in the same genre or are your personal tastes different to the books you write?
I read a lot of crime fiction, past and contemporary from Wilkie Collins through Ruth Rendell to Elly Griffiths. I read widely, e.g. the Brontes, Jane Austen, Barbara Pym is a favourite, Harper Lee, Gore Vidal, Elizabeth Jane Howerd, E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf…
Which other authors would you recommend to your readers?
Crime writers: Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, Elly Griffiths as I mentioned earlier, Tana French, William Shaw, Patricia Highsmith, Sue Grafton, Fred Vargus just for starters.
If you could invite three writers, living or dead, to dinner, who would you invite and why?
Mrs Gaskell would be interesting company and informative about life in nineteenth century north England. Jane Austen, for another take on England. John Updike would bring a US view of middle classes and life. If one of these guests was taken ill, then Barbara Pym would be a brilliant substitute with her pithy observations on the ordinary. All are great story tellers whose books I never tire of rereading. I’d just eat and listen to them conversing.
And finally, what’s next for you? Will we see more of Stella?
Yes. I’m writing the sixth in The Detective’s Daughter series. In this novel, Stella and Jack are asked to solve a case in deepest Gloucestershire. It entails them moving to the country, a challenge for two city dwellers unused to straying cows and no pavements or street lights.
The Dog Walker is available from Amazon.
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