Please can you tell our readers about your current novel Death Bed?
Death Bed is the fourth Geraldine Steel novel. The series began with Cut Short which was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award. Road Closed and Dead End followed. As those first three books have become international bestsellers, it becomes increasingly nerve wracking waiting to see how readers and critics will react when a new title comes out! Like all my novels so far, Death Bed starts with a body and the investigation spins out from there, with a few shocks along the way. In each of my books I explore what drives people to kill, but there are other issues raised. While Cut Short touches on society’s responsibility for damaged and vulnerable people, Death Bed considers how we deal with the reality of death in a society where few people believe in an afterlife. But I think the reason why my books are described as ‘page turners’ is that my overriding purpose is to tell a story.
Where did your inspiration come from for the novel?
I literally start with a body and let the story evolve, as the answers to key questions. Who is the victim? What were they doing when they were killed? Then comes the question that intrigues me most: the killer’s motivation. Barry Forshaw wrote in Crime Time that my books “take the reader into the darkest recesses of the human psyche” and speculating about what drives people to kill is my main interest in writing crime fiction. There has been a lot of discussion about the appeal of the genre. Perhaps one reason murder stories fascinate us is that they deal, quite literally, with the issue of life and death, and this is woven into the narrative of Death Bed. As PD James wrote: ‘The physical act of killing a human being has an awesome and horrible fascination.’
I literally start with a body and let the story evolve
How do you go about writing a crime novel, do you have a strict process?
It’s just like a journey. You know where you are starting out from, and you know where you want to end up, but the route needs planning. Of course you might deviate from your route or get lost, find a road block or run out of petrol, but you get there in the end. I try to plan my work thoroughly but it tends to develop organically as I’m writing and I rarely stick to my plan in every detail. Characters turn out slightly differently, or some plot twist just doesn’t work, and this causes significant changes elsewhere in the story. As for the actual process of writing, people often ask if I’m disciplined in my approach. I’m not. If I had to force myself to write, I don’t think I’d carry on. I write whenever I have a few moments to spare because I’m absolutely hooked on writing. It’s challenging, it’s fun, it can be incredibly hard work, but it is really rewarding. I love it!
How did you go about researching the medical elements to the novel?
A lot of research material is available on the internet but I prefer to do my research with real people, when possible. I’m fortunate that my father is a retired GP and always available to answer medical queries. Sometimes I need more specialised expertise, and I’ve taken advice from a Professor of Forensic Medicine, a world leading expert in DNA, a leading forensic anthropologist, and many more. Some of the research is tedious, but it’s mostly fascinating, and people are always helpful and willing to share their expertise, which is great.
When did you know you wanted to write in this genre?
There was no a conscious decision to write crime, no Grand Plan. About four years ago an idea occurred to me, I began to write, and haven’t managed a day without writing since. It was like turning on a tap; I’ve been hooked ever since. As I was initially offered a three book deal, my original idea for Cut Short became the start of a series, and now I’m writing in the genre, editing my fifth crime novel. I wrote somewhere that I fell into this like Alice down the rabbit hole!
What is your writing background?
Before writing Cut Short, I studied English Literature at University and taught Secondary English for years, so I have always read widely, but Cut Short was my first novel.
What advice could you give to aspiring writers wanting to write in this genre?
Work hard, be brave, and be lucky. There is a lot of advice available on the internet, as well as books about how to write, and most authors are happy to help aspiring writers. I’ve written an online course in writing crime fiction, and I also post advice on my blog. There are many workshops where you can meet other writers, and local writers’ groups, where you can invite feedback on your work. If everyone has the same reaction, you need to listen, but the decisions about your writing ultimately rest with you. My advice would be to write what you enjoy writing because it is time consuming and the chance of any material reward is very slim. There is a lot of competition, and publishers are not taking on many unknown writers these days. Being a published author, earning a (very modest) living from writing is fantastic, but the real buzz is the writing.
What is next in store for Geraldine?
Geraldine will continue to work on challenging murder investigations. Anyone who has read beyond Cut Short will be aware that my detective was adopted at birth. Her quest to find her birth mother will carry on through the next few books. Eventually she may have to find some kind of contentment at the end of the series - but that’s at least another 20 books away... and if you want to know more, you’ll have to read the books to find out!
How did you go about creating the character of Geraldine?
Geraldine Steel herself has become quite an important factor in the success of the books. Many authors plot the journey their protagonist is going to take through a series before they begin. When I wrote Cut Short I had no idea anyone else would read the MS, let alone publish it. I certainly never envisaged it as the start of a series. So when I started writing I didn’t have a clear picture of my detective and I’m learning more about her as I write, along with my readers. I’ve been genuinely surprised at the amount of interest Geraldine has attracted with so many of my readers wanting to know what’s going to happen to her. But you’ll have to wait and see, because I haven’t quite made up my mind yet!
There are a lot of crime novels out there, why is yours different?
I’m not sure that my books are ‘different’ so much as good books within the genre, described in The Times as ‘well written’ and ‘soundly plotted’. I’m probably more pleased with that description than the accolades my books have received for being ‘refreshingly original’. We seem to be obsessed with the idea of being ‘different’ but I think it’s more important to try and produce as good a book as possible without worrying too much about whether my book is ‘different’ to everyone else’s. Some authors go to ridiculous lengths to be ‘different’, and I’m not sure that readers always appreciate the gimmicks and absurd twists we sometimes see in new crime novels. Personally I’m irritated when the illusion is shattered in an otherwise a plausible and utterly terrifying narrative. Perhaps this is why Bookgeeks felt that ‘Dead End feels much more plausible than a lot of contemporary crime fiction.’ Of course that doesn’t suite everyone and it comes down to personal preference. I try to make my books believable, because I think that makes them more frightening. I like the idea of my readers looking up from the page and thinking ‘This could be happening in the house next door...’ And maybe it is...
Interview by Lucy Walton