Wednesday, October 12, 2016

TV scripts & 1000km road trips: an interview with Mari Hannah

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.

As I said last week, one of the things I noticed when reflecting on 9mm so far 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 more attention and celebration, this imbalance is something I want to rectify moving forward. So you'll be noticing far more female interviewees in the coming months. Also, if you're in the UK this weekend, you might want to check out the Killer Women Crime Writing Festival in London this Saturday, 15 October. So many wonderful authors and events, courtesy of a proactive group of highly talented female crime writers.

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 Mari Hannah to Crime Watch. I was fortunate enough to chair Mari on a panel at the recent Bloody Scotland festival in Stirling. She's a fascinating person as well as a terrific crime writer, so I think y'all may enjoy this interview. Now the reader-in-residence at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival, Mari broke through as crime writer with her first Kate Daniels novel, THE MURDER WALL, in 2010.

Mari went on to win the Polari First Book Prize for that tale of a tough DCI in the north of England. Her second Kate Daniels book, SETTLED BLOOD, won the Northern Writers Award, and the subsequent series (now five books) was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the LIbrary in 2014. The series has also been optioned for TV adaptation by Stephen Fry's company, which brings things full circle in a way, as Mari was a scriptwriter before becoming a novelist (more details below). She turned to writing after being assaulted in her job as a probation officer, forcing her into early retirement. Now living in Northumberland with her partner, an ex-murder detective, and having contributed to CID training for Northumbria Police, Mari brings great authenticity to her tales.

I recently read, and really enjoyed, Mari's latest novel, THE SILENT ROOM. It's a standalone about a rogue cop who's broken out of a prison van, getting hunted by his former colleagues. Now out in paperback, it's well worth grabbing. In the meantime, however, Mari Hannah becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Harry Bosch. I've been reading Michael Connelly since his debut came out in 1992, although I've missed a few recent ones and need to catch up. You're in safe hands with Connelly. He knows his subject and it comes as no surprise that he's still top of his game a quarter of a century on. Next week I'll see him in person for the very first time when he appears in Harrogate. Can't wait!

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It was about four sisters - Beth, Meg, Jo and Amy March. I didn't have a sister (still don’t) and wanted one. The book fascinated me. Jo was my favourite. She was brave and daring, a bit of a tomboy. All these years later and I've only just realised that one of the central characters in the Kate Daniels series is named after her.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
When I first began writing seriously, I struggled with prose. An American screenwriter suggested that I write my story for the screen instead. She gave me some pointers and I taught myself. It suited me. I wrote a romantic comedy feature film with the help of a top London coach. I'll dust it off if there are any producers out there. By then I had the bug and ended up on a BBC drama development scheme writing a crime pilot for TV. When it wasn't commissioned, I adapted it to the novel that was to become my debut, The Murder Wall. My second novel, Settled Blood, was another book that began life as a TV script.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Spending time with my family does it for me. I’m constantly locked away in my office. When I’m allowed out, I’m always dying to see them. If I can get them all together in one room, even better round the table for food and drink, that's the perfect day for me. A picnic on the beach on the north Northumberland coastline comes a close second. Combine the two and I'm in heaven.

5. 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?
A visit to Forum Books and Kids! We are a tiny village and yet we have two independent bookshops owned by the same enthusiastic and passionate bookseller, Helen Stanton. One is solely for kids. Step inside this magical store at story time and you’ll see wide eyes and bright smiles. Helen has singlehandedly done more to promote reading among the young than anyone I know. She's a legend.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Well, he's old, but a retired policeman I know says I remind him of Eva Gardner. Have you seen her? She's bloody gorgeous! I'll take it.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
That's like asking which of my kids I prefer, Craig. I have a soft spot for my debut – now in development with Sprout Pictures, a TV company owned by Gina Carter and Stephen Fry – as it was the one that got me started, but equally I enjoyed writing my latest book, The Silent Room. It was my first standalone. It tested me as a writer and was very well received.

8. 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?
My reaction was one of disbelief. Before I'd found a publisher in my home market (UK) my agent called to tell me that there was an auction going on between two publishing houses in Germany. It was thrilling to be part of that. On publication day, I drove a thousand kilometers to Cologne in order to see my book on a shelf, only to find out that it wouldn't be in stock until the following week. Dumb, huh? Still, no one could accuse me of a lack of enthusiasm. #AuthorFail

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
There have been so many . . . I once raised the roof at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival with a one-fingered salute. It was my first big event in front of a 700+ audience. I didn’t plan it and I promise it was for good reason, but that's another story . . . I'll tell you in the bar.

Thank you Mari, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch.

You can read more about Mari Hannah and her books at her website, and follow her on Twitter @mariwriter

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