Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Cambodian minefields & Wimbledon wombling: an interview with Kate Medina

Welcome to the latest issue of 9mm, the long-running author interview series here on Crime Watch. At the end of May we hit the 150 interviews mark, and I took a moment to reflect on all the authors who have been interviewed thusfar (full list here), and where I could take 9mm in future.

One of the things I noticed in May was that although I'd included authors from six continents, 20+ countries, and several ethnicities, the male-female ratio of my first 150 interviewees was about 2:1. With all the wonderful female crime writers out there deserving of attention and celebration, this was something I wanted to rectify moving forward. So you'll be noticing a preponderance of female interviewees in the coming months

I have some terrific interviews 'in the can' already, which will be published soon, so lots to look forward to. If you have a favorite crime writer you'd love to see interviewed as part of the 9mm series, please do let me know, and I'll look to make it happen. I take requests.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome Kate Medina to Crime Watch, a British/Australian author who first came to attention with her fantastic crime debut set in Cambodia, WHITE CROCODILE. Medina served in the British territorials (army reserves) for several years, including as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers. She later worked for a private company providing information to militaries about arms, artillery, and land mines. It was during this time that Medina worked with mine-clearing charities in Cambodia, which would inspire the setting for her outstanding debut.

WHITE CROCODILE has a compelling heroine, emotionally damaged mine clearer Tess Hardy, and blends page-turning narrative with fascinating real-life issues that often fly under-the-radar. Renowned crime critic Barry Forshaw said: "White Crocodile takes the reader into a Cambodia that suggests the fraught psychological territory of Joseph Conrad’s Africa in Heart of Darkness."

Medina followed up her debut by introducing a new series heroine in her sophomore novel, FIRE DAMAGE. Psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn is dealing with a traumatised four-year-old when her case intersects with an army investigation being run by one of her former patients. Medina's third novel, to be released next year, will also feature Dr Flynn.

In the meantime, however, Kate Medina becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I have two favourites, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole and Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery.  I have learnt so much from reading those authors’ work and think they are both masters of the art of crime writing.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
The first book(s!) I remember reading and really loving was a series, Enid Blyton’s, The Famous Five.  I used to go to sleepovers at my best friend’s house from the age of six or seven and we’d stay up most of the night reading obsessively.  I loved stepping into their life of adventure and of course, being a tomboy, I wanted to be George.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I hadn’t actually written anything before White Crocodile, my debut thriller. I had the idea for White Crocodile, while I was Managing Editor, Land Based Weapon Systems, at Jane’s Information Group, the world’s leading publisher of defence intelligence information.  As part of that role, I spent a month working alongside professional mine clearers, in the land mine fields of northern Cambodia.

Off the tourist trail, Cambodia is a heartbreaking place to visit, and left a huge and lasting impression on me.  I felt very strongly, on getting back to England, that I wanted to shine a light onto what I found to be a very dark and disturbing world, layered with exploitation, particularly of the physically weak, which unfortunately means primarily women and children. Hence the idea for White Crocodile was born and that heralded the start of my writing career.  Set in the Cambodian mine fields, it tells the story of emotionally damaged mine clearer Tess Hardy, who travels to Cambodia to discover the truth behind her estranged, abusive husband’s death.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I have three young children, aged 11, 9 and 5, so unsurprisingly I don’t get much free time.  However, I love to ride, both bikes and horses, and I have one of each.  My horse is a palomino called Romeo because he is so handsome.  He is a bit lazy, but very kind and loving - more like a dog than a horse.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
My hometown is London, specifically Wimbledon, so I’m sure tourists have a very good idea of what to do when they come here.  However, one of the activities I used to love when I was a child was searching for Wombles on Wimbledon Common.  Wombles are imaginary creatures that live in burrows on the common and go around cleaning up rubbish.  They were featured in books and on the television.  I showed my children a Wombles video on Youtube recently and they fell about laughing at how out of date it looked.  The entertainment world has moved on a long way since I was a child, though for me an utterly absorbing book is still the best entertainment.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
When I was younger I was often told that I was the spitting image of Ally Sheedy, one of the “Brat Pack” American actors who starred in The Breakfast Club, St Elmos Fire and other teen films back in the '80s, so I suppose that I would choose her.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I have written two books so far, my debut White Crocodile and my second, Fire Damage, which is the first of a series featuring twenty-nine year old psychologist, Dr Jessie Flynn.

White Crocodile will always be very close to my heart because it was based on personal experience, but I love the characters in Fire Damage, and really enjoyed writing about them for my third book, Scared to Death, which is out in May 2017.  I am just starting to write my forth – my third with Jessie – and still loving her, Ben Callan and Detective Inspector Bobby ‘Marilyn’ Simmons.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I was sitting by the side of a swimming pool watching my daughters’ swimming lessons when my agent called me to tell me that Faber and Faber had bought White Crocodile, and all I remember is jamming my mobile phone to one ear and my finger in the other ear, trying to hear what he was saying over the noise of screaming kids.  It was a fantastic feeling though, when I finally understood. When the day of publication came I was laid up in bed with hideous flu, so my husband took the kids to Tesco to see White Crocodile on the shelves and bring me a photograph – a bit of a disappointing first day!

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I haven’t had any particularly strange or unusual experiences at a book signing, author even or literary festival, but probably the most exciting was the panel I was on at Harrogate Crime Festival 2016 which was chaired by Peter James, who is very famous, talented and absolutely lovely.  One of my fellow panellists was Brooke Magnanti, of Belle De Jour, The Intimate Diary of a London Call Girl fame, so having read that book and watched Bille Piper in action, I was very interested to meet her in the flesh!

Thank you Kate. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch.

You can read more about Kate Medina at her website, and follow her on Twitter: @KateTMedina. You can see Kate onstage and meet her in person at the Killer Women Crime Writing Festival in London on 15 October 2016. 

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