Leigh Russell’s debut crime thriller has been a runaway success in the UK where it has been reprinted twice in six months. It has broken sales records in many bookstores across the UK on Leigh’s promotional tour, and she has been interviewed regularly on BBC Radio stations.
How long have you been writing for?
I started writing about three years ago when I began writing the story of CUT SHORT.
How long did it take to write Cut Short?
I wrote the first draft of CUT SHORT in about six weeks. I wasn’t writing with publication in mind, and it was only when I finished that I decided to send what I’d written to a publisher. I never expected to receive a positive response, as I know how difficult it is to find a publisher, but I liked what I’d written and decided I had nothing to lose by submitting it.
How did it feel when you got your publishing contract?
I was amazed to receive a phone call from a wonderful lady, who is now my publisher, two weeks after I had sent off my MS. Signing the contract for a 3 book deal was very exciting!
If you could do it again, is there anything that you would change?
I would make quite a few minor changes to CUT SHORT, if I could, but it’s too late now. When you are writing, your book is completely within your control. Once it is published, there is nothing you can do but wait and see what other people think of it. It’s nerve wracking! I’m relieved that, so far, CUT SHORT has received many excellent reviews.
Why crime fiction?
I think there are a number of reasons. Crime fiction is tense and dramatic, full of suspense. It can also be quite cathartic, we live in such fearful times… You’re alone in the house at night, and you hear footsteps on the stairs…. That isn’t a scene I’ve used in a book, but it’s the kind of situation I explore in my writing. It’s a relief to step out of the story and return to reality.
How do you go about ensuring the accuracy of the policing in your books? If it came to a choice between accuracy and story, which would win?
I write about worlds I have never inhabited so I do quite a lot of research. The internet is a fantastic resource, but there is no substitute for personal contacts. Since I started writing, I have received guidance from experts in many areas of life: police officers, medical practitioners, firemen, market traders, social workers, IT professionals, a professor of forensic medicine… and I have been bowled over by how helpful people are.
I think the story is more important than accuracy, because I write fiction. My intention is to write a good story. Authenticity is important to me, not only out of respect to my readers – many of whom are police officers or medically trained – but because there is nothing worse (in this context) than reading a detail that you know could never happen. It breaks the illusion and, as a story teller, I have to create an illusion of reality. There is a tension, however, between realism and drama.
Do you plan in advance or go with the flow?
I would like to write a murder story where I don’t know who committed the crime until the denouement, so that I would experience the story in the same way that the reader does, uncertain whether a character is the villain or a red herring, until the last page! But as a writer, you are taking your readers on a journey. You have to know your final destination so you can guide your reader in the right direction, or lead them astray. If you don’t know where you are heading, it would be impossible to work towards the denouement. So I always have a vision of the final dramatic climax I am leading up to.
With CUT SHORT I ‘went with the flow’. I wasn’t writing for a reader, but purely for myself. Once I found a publisher, I had to do quite a lot of work on the MS so that it made sense! Now I try hard to plan, but I’m not very organised. I find writing easy, but planning is a challenge.
Do you write full time, or around other commitments?
I work full-time as a teacher and only started writing when my children left home and I stepped down from running a busy department at school. Before that, I wouldn’t have had time to write. I write constantly during the school holidays and in the evenings, when I can.
A lot of people say that the second book is often far harder to write than the first – was this the case for you?
No. I can’t imagine finding writing hard, I love it so much! I am nervous about the publication of my second book as I’m no longer a ‘debut’ novelist, with its connotations of inexperience and naivete. People are going to expect me to know what I’m doing…
Can you tell us about how you got an agent?
Other authors I know have been telling me for a while that I really ought to find an agent. An author whose work I know, and whose judgement I trust, recommended his agent. I contacted the agent, we corresponded, met, and agreed to work together. I have had interest from other agents, now that my first book has been successful, but I went with a personal recommendation and am very pleased with my choice.
What are you working on now?
ROAD CLOSED is the second in my series, and it will be published in June. I am now writing the third in the series, DEAD END, and beginning to think about the next one. My publisher has already asked me to write a fourth book in the Geraldine Steel series so I will be continuing the series – with a new twist and hopefully a few unexpected turns to come…
And finally, can you sum up a key piece of advice for aspiring writers in one sentence?
Work hard, be brave… and be lucky.
Thank you again for your questions.
Thank you very much for requesting an interview. I’m thrilled to be featured on your blog, sharing something of my experience in writing CUT SHORT.
CUT SHORT is available from amazon and many other online suppliers. It is also available as an e-book.
You can read more about my writing, and find my contact details, on my author blog at http://leighrussell.blogspot.com
You can see Leigh Russel reading an extract from CUT SHORT on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wW3Ixmq3OyA
Thank you for the wonderful interview, Leigh!
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