Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Magical childhoods and dealing with Daleks: an interview with Leigh Russell

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the fourteenth instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 186th overall edition of our long-running author interview series!

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had a lot of fun talking to some amazing crime writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. What a line-up. Thanks everyone.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been part of the 9mm series, please do let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. We've got several further interviews with cool writers 'already in the can' that will be published soon, so lots to look forward to over the coming weeks and months.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome the wonderful and colourful Leigh Russell to Crime Watch. I've met Leigh several times at various crime fiction events and festivals since I moved to the UK three and a half years ago, and had the pleasure of chairing her on a Deal Noir panel last year.

Almost always bedecked in purple, Leigh is the Chair of Judges for the CWA Debut Dagger Award, and the author of three acclaimed crime series: her original and long-running Geraldine Steel series, a spin-off series set in York starring Steel's former colleague Ian Henderson, and a globe-trotting series starring international investigative reporter Lucy Hall (settings include the Seychelles, Paris, Rome).

Leigh's debut, CUT SHORT, was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award, and her books have been shortlisted for other awards, as well as selling more than a million copies and being #1 bestsellers on Amazon and iTunes. She has seventeen books under her belt, with more on the horizon.

But for now, Leigh Russell becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero?
This is one of those questions that unnerves me, because there are so many detectives I admire, and it’s unfair to pick out just a few. On another day my answers could be different, but names that spring to mind include: Sherlock Holmes, Dalziell and Pascoe, Miss Marple, Jane Tennison (based on Jackie Molten whom I was recently privileged to meet,) and of course giants of the genre Roy Grace, Jack Reacher, and Lincoln Rhyme, creations of fellow authors Peter James, Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver, who have all been very generous with their endorsements of my own writing.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I loved the Narnia books, where magic exists in a parallel world. Had I been born later, my answer could have been Harry Potter, or His Dark Materials. I’m not so keen on magic now that I’m supposedly grown up, but I still expect fiction to transport me into an alternative universe. We need stories to offer us a break from reality.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
The only fiction I wrote before my debut crime novel was termly reports for the pupils in my classes at school.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I enjoy spending time with my family, especially now that I’m a grandmother, learning to explore the magic of books all over again. Other than that, I’ve always been an avid reader, although my main passion at the moment is writing.

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?
London has so much to offer, it’s impossible to pick just one site. Hanging out on the South Bank on a sunny day, or taking a walk along the Grand Union canal, are enjoyable alternatives to the better known sites. I suppose it’s no coincidence that both of my suggestions involve waterways which have played so vital a role in the history of London. The river has played a huge part in our literary as well as our economic heritage, from Spenser to Wordsworth and Dickens. You can walk past the reconstructed Globe Theatre of Shakespeare, to the Tate Modern, originally a power station designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. The architecture here spans so many eras, bordering the river which flows on regardless of man’s many styles and fashions, like a metaphor for life.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Anyone young and glamorous would be fine with me. I don’t think anyone would recognise the character as me - but that might not be a bad thing!

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
If I have a ‘favourite’ at all, it would always be the book I’m currently working on. With seventeen books published, I’m still just as gripped by the writing process as I was when working on my debut. The writing process seems to take place just beyond the grasp of my conscious mind, so however much I struggle to keep my creativity under control, characters and events forge on regardless. Part of the thrill of writing is that I never quite know whether a plot will work until the book is finished. Then I can relax - until I start the next book.

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 initial reaction when I was first accepted for publication was disbelief, followed by relief that I now had an unassailable excuse to continue writing. With over a million books sold in my Geraldine Steel series, I’m still excited when a single reader enjoys one of my books. I never intended to be a writer, and still struggle to believe that I’m a published author, appearing on panels at literary festivals with authors like Linwood Barclay and John Connolly. The whole venture has been thrilling, and I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to experience it. But I still sometimes experience that initial sense of disbelief.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Signing a book for a dalek was a strange experience. The lid of the dalek rose up and a hand appeared holding a twenty pound note. Although I knew it was just a man being trundled around in a plastic shell, I had to ask someone else to give him his change because I couldn’t bring myself to put my own hand inside the dalek. My generation grew up terrified of daleks, and on that occasion I discovered just how powerful these irrational childhood fears can be. I subsequently encountered my dalek masquerading as a postman in Tunbridge Wells.

Thank you Leigh, we appreciate you talking to Crime Watch.

You can learn more about Leigh Russell at her website here, and follow her on Twitter

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