Thankfully the April showers held off for First Monday Crime’s 3rd birthday. Helping us to celebrate was Ruth Ware, Phoebe Morgan, Kate Rhodes and Cass Green. Sophie Goodfellow was in charge of the questions. Now, you might be thinking, ‘Hang on, wasn’t Alex Michaelides meant to be there?’ He was but sadly couldn’t make it at the last minute. So Phoebe Morgan graciously stepped in and did a fab job.
First up, Sophie asked the authors to tell us a bit about their books.
Ruth Ware’s latest novel is The Death of Mrs Westway. Her main character, Hal, is a bit down on her luck. She has mounting debts and has taken some loans from very dubious people. When she receives a letter telling her she’s inherited money from her grandmother, it seems as though her luck may have changed. Except that Hal’s grandmother died a long time ago. There’s been a mistake. But Hal’s so desperate, she uses her skills as a fortune teller to get the money.
The Girl Next Door is Phoebe Morgan’s second psychological thriller. It’s set in a small community in Essex. A girl is found murdered. How does the community react?
Although she lives in Cambridge, the Isles of Scilly is the destination for Kate Rhodes latest series. Ruin Beach is the second Ben Kitto book after Hell Bay, which has been optioned for TV by the makers of Line of Duty. In Ruin Bay, a diver is found dead and Ben has to investigate.
Cass Green writes standalones and her latest is Don’t You Cry. Imagine someone saves your life. You can’t thank them enough. How can you ever repay them? And then they tell you. Hmm, I have a feeling it’s not going to be good!
Something that Sophie had noticed about Ruth’s previous books were that they were about ordinary things that go wrong for the protagonist. But in The Death of Mrs Westway, things go well for Hal. Was this deliberate?
Ruth decided to do something different with this book. She wanted her protagonist to set the story in motion rather than have things happen to her. Hal was meant to be a bit of villain but Ruth liked her too much. The novel’s about inequality and is set in Brighton. Although it has a reputation for being cosy, Brighton also has areas of extreme poverty. Ruth also moved from 1st person narrator to 3rd. She wanted a more old-fashioned feel, in the style of Daphne Du Maurier and wanted to remove the reader a bit from the protagonist. She was also a bit bored of having an unreliable narrator.
There’s a vivid description of someone nearly choking to death in Don’t You Cry which quite unnerved Sophie. She wanted to know how Cass came up with that idea.
Cass tends to write about things that scare her e.g. choking and she was quite distressed when she wrote it. There are 3 viewpoints in the book but Angel, who literally saves Nina, is more of the main character. Cass had had the idea of Angel for a while and tried to use her in a different story but it didn’t work. However, she’s perfect for Don’t You Cry.
Kate’s novels are set on the tiny Isles of Scilly. With such a small population, there can be a pressure cooker environment which Kate uses to great effect. Often the young people leave. Whilst we may love the idea of a sea view, if all you can see is an ocean – it’ll make you want to leave. Sophie pointed out that small communities often band together. When Kate lived there for a month in the winter, she realised how much she needed to rely on neighbours. Initially the islanders weren’t too sure about her but they warmed to her after a while.
Phoebe’s novel is also set in a claustrophobic small community. Although there’s a murder, it’s essentially a story about a marriage. Jane is an upstanding member of the village. Her husband is a GP. But what goes on behind closed doors?
Sophie asked how the panel how they got into writing.
Cass was a journalist for many years. She wrote lots as a child and moved onto short stories at university. She started in YA novels before moving to crime. Her first published novel was actually the third book she’d written. So her message – keep persevering!
Kate was an English teacher and found she wanted to do the creative writing exercises her pupils were doing. She then did a PhD and became a university lecturer. She began writing poetry before moving onto short stories and novels. Poetry is a good discipline as not a single word can be wasted. Kate thinks that writing is 95% confidence and 5% talent.
Phoebe trained to be a journalist but wanted to do something more creative. She moved into publishing but also writing. Eventually she got an agent and a job as an editor. She’s had her fair share of rejections even though she was in the industry. You only need one agent and one publisher to believe in you. Her message is the same as Cass – perseverance!
Ruth was an avid writer from a young age and told her mother when she was 5 that she wanted to be an author. Her mother advised her to have a Plan B. She used to type her stories and by her teenage years she was writing full book length stories. Her imagination seems to work in 90k word blocks! Ruth became a publicist after university which gave her stage fright about her own writing. She didn’t want to send her work to people she knew. So like Cass, she started with YA novels and went the slush pile route. After publishing several YA novels, she wrote In A Dark Dark Wood and, as Sophie pointed out, ruined hen dos for ever.
Planner or Pantser?
Phoebe is a terrible planner. She starts with an idea or a character and then just goes with it.
Cass is turning into a planner. It’s a different experience for each book. The creative process is messy but she’s willing to try different things. Likes to have a plan of some sorts though.
For Kate, it’s like setting out on a journey without a map. Knows her destination but anything could happen on the way. But after once deleting 60k words, she needs a plan.
Ruth is half and half. Like Kate, it’s journey but she’s normally been thinking about it for a while. She knows the beginning and the end but the journey is a mystery. She normally knows who did it and why. Important to give the reader a solution.
The authors mentioned the different techniques that others use such as post-it notes and writing the whole plan a roll of wallpaper. I think it was Cass who mentioned whiteboard sheets. If you don’t have space for a whiteboard, you can buy sheets that you can stick to your wall – sounds ingenious!
After some great audience questions, the evening ended with cookies for everyone and then we went in search of a pub – literally! Two were closed and another had a pub quiz. One was eventually found.
If you want to find out more about the authors and buy their books then click on their names
Now, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, next month is May and of course, the pesky Bank Holidays. So First Monday Crime is changing, for one month only, to First Tuesday Crime on 7th May at 6.30pm at City University. Panel will be announced shortly and you can reserve your seat by clicking here.