The sun was shining, the trains were baking and the aircon wasn’t working in the First Monday room. It felt more like July than September! And we had a smokin’ hot panel to kick us into Autumn – Lucy Atkins, Clare Mackintosh, Vicky Newham and Beth Lewis. Rod Reynolds (the token male) asked the questions.
The authors told us about their books first.
Beth Lewis’ new book is Bitter Sun. It’s set in 1970s America in a small mid-Western town. A bunch of kids find a body and set out to solve the murder.
Turn A Blind Eye is Vicky Newham’s debut. It’s a police procedural set in East London. And it’s the best time of year to read it as it starts with the murder of a head teacher on the first day of term!
Clare Mackintosh (Queen of the Twist) has a new ‘woman in peril’ called Anna in Let Me Lie. Anna is a new mum, coming to terms with her parents’ suicides. An anonymous note suggests that things aren’t quite what they seem and Anna sets out to discover the truth.
There are two main women in Lucy Atkins’ latest book, The Night Visitor. Olivia is a very successful TV historian who appears to have it all – a great career and family. But she also has a secret. And Vivian knows what it is. Will she bring Olivia down?
These all sound fab but what makes an effective Crime book? What ingredients are needed?
Lucy – Character. A plot may be easily forgotten but characters are often remembered.
Clare – Relating the story to your innermost fears. She thinks this is why Domestic Noir is so popular.
Vicky – A compelling story but this applies to all fiction. She likes to look at different kinds of crime and is interested in the psychology of violence.
Beth – Murder can get a bit dull so a variety of interesting and destructive crimes are good. Character and a compelling voice is also important as is a different setting that takes you away from what you know.
A compelling voice is definitely important. How do the authors decide viewpoints?
Beth – She’s used 1st person narrator all the way through in both her books. She likes ‘outside’ viewpoints, especially children as they see trauma through innocence.
Vicky – There are multiple viewpoints in Turn A Blind Eye. Her protagonist is DI Maya Rahman and is written in 1st person. Another officer, DS Dan Maguire is written in 3rd person. There’s a teacher who’s also in 3rd person. And the killer gets a look in as well.
Clare – There are two main points of view – Anna, the ‘woman in peril’ who’s written in 1st person, present tense. Clare does this so the readers are inside the head of Anna and feel the threat and fear more acutely. Her investigator, Murray Mackenzie, is 3rd person, past tense. This creates a more objective viewpoint. And then there’s a third viewpoint who talks directly to the reader, purely to mess with your head! [And this is done extremely well in Let Me Lie].
Lucy – We see the events in The Night Visitor through two different female viewpoints. But who can we trust? Who’s reliable? Lucy doesn’t really plan as such so she delves deep and her characters emerge.
Focusing more on specific characters…
Lucy – Vivian, in her 60s, is socially awkward and is probably Autistic but undiagnosed. Lucy has some knowledge and experience in this area and particularly wanted to look at women on the spectrum.
Beth – Momma is a tyrannical character but there’s still empathy for her. There’s a feeling from her children of not wanting to disappoint Momma.
Clare – Murray Mackenzie is an amalgamation of retired police officers that Clare used to know. It’s not uncommon for them to then work in a civilian role afterwards but they have a wealth of experience. But there’s more to Murray then just the investigation. His wife has mental health issues but Clare uses this to create depth to her characters. She doesn’t like to use mental health for a plot device.
Vicky – DI Maya Rahman is originally from Bangladesh but she moved with her family as a child. Vicky likes to write diverse characters and she used to live and teach in Tower Hamlets. Her experience from that helped to motivate the ideas for Turn A Blind Eye. She did lots of research and checked with people she knew to make sure that Maya was correct and believable.
All four books seem to touch on parental relationships. Was this deliberate?
Lucy – No. Her debut novel was much more about motherhood. Although Olivia is a mother and her children show her vulnerability, Lucy wanted to focus more on Olivia’s career.
Beth – It just came out in the writing so it wasn’t deliberate. Beth has an interesting family set-up but she wasn’t consciously thinking about it.
Clare – Not really a starting point as the twist is the main point. We sometimes only really understand our parents when we become parents ourselves (not meaning to be controversial as obviously not everyone is a parent) but it’s at that point we think of her parents as people. Anna becomes an investigator to find out her parents’ secrets. We often don’t find out about our parents until after their deaths and we discover things as we go through belongings. And there’s a feeling of stepping up to the next generation after the death of a parent.
Vicky – Maya has a complicated relationship with her mother. After the family arrived from Bangladesh, Maya, her sister and her father thrived but her brother and mother didn’t. Her mother didn’t learn English and her brother committed suicide. Her father has also disappeared. It’s a very interesting back story!
Final question from Rod – one thing you’d wish you’d known earlier and one writing tip.
Clare – She wishes she’d started writing earlier, that you don’t have to wait. Her tip – never start the day on a blank page. Finish in the middle of a page, paragraph or sentence. Write a few notes about what will happen next. That way you can go straight back into it.
Lucy – Writing is a skill that you need to learn but it will improve as you write more.
Vicky – Anyone can be a writer. You don’t have to do a course. Just write. But write stuff that really means something to you.
Beth – She wishes she’d known how long publishing takes! Savour all the pieces of the publishing journey. Trust your instincts.
So that was the end of First Monday in September. Well, almost. The lovely authors all provided prizes for a draw. And rather embarrassingly, I won! I’m very pleased though and I even christened the Turn A Blind Eye mug yesterday. Thank you to the authors for your kind gifts and to Big Green Bookshop for providing the bag!
First Monday will be back on the 1st October. Keep an eye out for the panel announcement. I have to make some apologies now though. I won’t be able to bake cookies that day for the authors (sorry!) and I might not even make it to First Monday due to a prior engagement. But I definitely plan to be there for November.
To find out more about the authors and buy their books:
Clare Mackintosh – click here.
Lucy Atkins – click here.
Vicky Newham – click here.
Beth Lewis – click here.
Rod Reynolds – click here.