Back in December 2011, I interviewed author Leigh Russell for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the two hundred and twenty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with crime novelist Leigh Russell. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello Leigh. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Leigh: The idea for ‘Cut Short’ occurred to me when I was walking through my local park on a rainy day. As I approached a bend in the path beside a tangled copse of trees and shrubs, a man appeared, walking towards me across the deserted park... and when I arrived home I started to write the story of the killer in the park! I submitted the story to a publisher who offered me a three-book deal on the strength of that MS. Those three books have become international bestsellers and my publisher has signed me up for another three books in the Geraldine Steel series.
Morgen: Wow. I bet you were thrilled (pardon the sort of pun). :) You’ve written crime so far, are there other genres you’d write?
Leigh: I haven’t yet considered writing any books other than crime novels. At the moment I am fully occupied with writing and book promotion. I also do some teaching, and run Creative Writing Workshops for The Society of Authors and Get Writing at the University of Hertfordshire. That’s not to say that I would never consider writing in another genre, but right now I don’t have time!
Morgen: Well, you’re clearly good at crime so it’s no bad thing, especially as it’s what agents tell me they’re after at the moment (that and historical). And I really enjoyed your workshop at Get Writing. It was my second time there and I am looking forward to the next one (especially as former interviewee Adrian Magson’s lecturing this year). What have you had published to-date?
Leigh: ‘Cut Short’ (2009) ‘Road Closed’ (2010) ‘Dead End’ (2011). ‘Death Bed’ will be published in 2012 and available to download as an eBook on 25th December.
Morgen: Yesterday. :) How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Leigh: My publisher is ‘branding’ my books by giving them all a similar jacket design. The covers for ‘Dead End’ and ‘Death Bed’ follow this design, and when ‘Cut Short’ is next reprinted in February 2012 it will have a completely new cover to fit this ‘branding’.
I see myself as writing a series, rather than producing a ‘brand’. I enjoy participating at literary festivals, meeting fellow authors. It was a thrill to be invited to join Harrogate Festival this year, with luminaries like Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen and Val McDermid. I also like meeting readers, and I’m passionate about supporting bookshops and libraries, so I spend a lot of time talking to readers.
Morgen: One of my bosses’ wives (one wife per boss I hasten to add!) works for a library and they’re talking of opening on Sundays so there must be the demand there to warrant it. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Leigh: ‘Cut Short’ was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association New Blood Dagger Award which was a huge help in establishing my writing with the reading public. ‘Road Closed’ was selected as a Top Read on Eurocrime. ‘Dead End’ was nominated for Best Book for 2011 on Crime Time. My detective is listed as a Great Crime Sleuth on Lovereading. All of these kinds of accolades have helped to establish my credibility as an author, along with great reviews in respected journals like The Times, US Publishers Weekly, The New York Journal of Books, and many more.
Morgen: That’s fantastic. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Leigh: My publisher suggested I use an androgynous name, but as they have put my photograph inside the books, I’m not sure the ambiguity of my pseudonym is that important. I have many fans who are men, and many glowing reviews of my books are written by men, even though I’m a female author with a female protagonist. So I think the gender of an author is less important now than it once was.
Morgen: Absolutely. The crime genre has produced some great women writers and I’m sure it can only get better. :) You mentioned that Death Bed is now out as an eBook – are all your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process? And do you read eBooks?
Leigh: All my books are available as eBooks which have reached Number 1 on the Bestseller list for detective novels on Amazon kindle. ‘Cut Short’ and ‘Road Closed’ came out in print a while before the eBooks were available. With ‘Dead End’ this year the eBook and print version came out on the same day, and the eBook reached the Top 50 Bestsellers on Kindle. ‘Death Bed’ was available to download on kindle yesterday, a few months before the print book hits the shelves in 2012.
Although I don’t have an eReader myself, I can see they offer some benefits, and I think there’s a place for both eBooks and print books. What concerns me most is that as eReaders become more commonplace, bookshops will disappear. It’s important for readers to support bookshops by continuing to buy books.
Morgen: It is, absolutely. One thing mentioned by one of Get Writing’s panellists was that bookshops selling memory sticks preloaded with books and I think this is a brilliant idea. Again, I guess it depends on cost; it’s what drives a lot of people. I read paperbacks more than eBooks (although I have an eReader) because I don’t travel much but they offer different things so I think (hope) they’ll run alongside each other. It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Leigh: I have written the 5th book in the Geraldine Steel series so will soon be revising that, and I’m working on an idea for the 6th book in the series. I always need to have at least one book on the go!
Morgen: :) Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Leigh: Eugene Ionesco wrote: “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of writing or thinking about writing.” The most I have written in a day is 5,000 words but my average is 2,000 words a day. Since I caught the writing bug about four years ago, the only time I have stopped writing even for a day was when I was in hospital with pneumonia.
Morgen: Ouch. I feel like that although I’m not as disciplined as you. I do try to write limericks for Facebook friends’ birthdays so I’ve written at least one of those most days. I do better when given a deadline so projects like NaNoWriMo and Story A Day get me writing chunks and my Monday night workshops start at least three new stories each time so I have lots to write up over the Christmas break. :) What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Leigh: I agree with F Scott Fitzgerald who said: “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” So I don’t really ‘believe’ in writer’s block. If you have nothing to write, go and do something else and wait until an idea strikes you. After all, if you need to force yourself to write, why are you doing it at all?
Morgen: Exactly. For me it’s about the passion of creativity; there’s nothing quite like it. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Leigh: I advise aspiring writers to show their MS to a selected group of trusted readers, edit and rework it, and make it as good as it can be before even considering submitting to a publisher – but I have to confess that the first person who read the MS for ‘Cut Short’ was my publisher. I sent the MS off on a whim and was incredibly lucky to be picked up straight away.
Morgen: Talent may have had something to do with it. :) Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Leigh: I edit, reread, edit, reread – the process could continue indefinitely. I don’t stop until the book goes to print and it’s too late to make any further changes. It’s so hard to let go and say, that’s it, this is finished. While you’re writing, you can keep trying to push yourself to improve the MS. Once it’s printed, there is nothing you can do but hope the reviews are good and your fans like it.
Morgen: And they do by all accounts. :) What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Leigh: Strangely, I can’t listen to music when I’m writing. I find it too distracting. I can write with people talking on the radio or television, but I can’t filter out music.
Morgen: I’m the opposite, music blurs but I keep earwigging to talk. :) What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Leigh: The one disadvantage of being so busy with writing is that there isn’t enough time to read.
Morgen: Tell me about it. I’ve promised a few writers whose books I already owned (yourself included) that I’d read their books when I interviewed them and had started some but never finished by the time the interview came round. I joined Goodreads recently and would like to get above a zero review count. Next year for sure. :) You mentioned manuscript advice for aspiring writers, do you have any general tips?
Leigh: My advice to aspiring writers is to work hard, be brave, and be lucky. I run regular workshops for The Society of Authors and at Get Writing hosted by the University of Hertfordshire, and have posted a few short video clips on my author channel, where I talk about how to write a good book, how to get published, the importance of research, and so on.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Leigh: I am active on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. Links to all of these, along with my author channel on YouTube, can be found on my website http://leighrussell.co.uk.
Morgen: I watched a couple of your videos (I will return) and I’m amazed at how few uhms and errs there are. I was very impressed, clearly as they were conspicuous by their absence. Is your website the best place to find out about you and your work?
Leigh: It is, and it’s courtesy of my wonderful publisher who maintains it for me. There are links to Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, my blog, and also online articles, and my latest news http://leighrussell.co.uk.
Thank you so much Leigh. All the best with novels five and six.
I then invited Leigh to include an extract of her writing and she tells me this is a brief extract from ‘Death Bed’ – a sneak preview!
A rush of cool air blew across her face. Suddenly, with a shriek of terror, she flung herself out of the car, throwing all her weight sideways against her captor in a desperate attempt to barge him out of the way. He stumbled backwards in surprise. She ran blindly but he followed and seized her by the arm. She spun round swinging her bag at his face. He yanked it from her grasp and the frail gold chain snapped and dangled uselessly. Still gripping her arm, he tossed the bag over his shoulder with his free hand which he then pressed against her mouth, pushing her head backwards until she struggled to breathe. Her head was spinning with alcohol and terror and she felt her legs buckle, so that only his grasp of her arm prevented her falling.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ he hissed, leaning forward so that his mouth was touching her ear. ‘I want to help you.’
She could hear his breath wheezing in his chest.
‘Come along now,’ he went on.
She turned her head and saw that he was smiling at her.
‘I’ve got something to show you. I know you’re going to like it.’
Leigh: Thank you very much for interviewing me here.
Morgen: You are so welcome, I’m delighted you said “yes” and hope to see you Get Writing again before too long. :)
I'm delighted to announce that Leigh's new Geraldine Steel novel 'Death Bed' has been selected as one of 35 crime mysteries included in Amazon Kindle’s '12 Days of Christmas' offer @ 99p on Amazon.co.uk ($1.54 on Amazon.com.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know. :) You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore, Kobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me. I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.
Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.