Interview with Leigh Russell - 2012

BCB: Leigh, thanks for taking the time out to answer some questions. Firstly, for those readers that maybe aren’t sure what sort of thing you write, how about you sum up your series?

Leigh: I am writing a series of crime fiction novels. CUT SHORT (2009) sold out six times in a year, and was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award. It was followed by ROAD CLOSED (2010) which was a Top Read on Eurocrime, DEAD END (2011) voted a Best Crime Fiction Book of 2011, and DEATH BED (2012). The books have reached the Top 50 Bestsellers List on amazon, number 1 for detective novels, and my detective is one of Lovereading’s Great Crime Sleuths. All of the books are murder investigations. The first three books are set in Kent, and in DEATH BED Geraldine Steel relocates to London. So far the series has been very well reviewed both online and in journals like The Times and The New York Journal of Books. Hopefully the new title in the series, STOP DEAD, will continue the trend. It is available as an e-book on 21st December, and out in print in 2013. 


BCB: Are you a writer full time or do you have another job? If you do write full time what did you do before becoming a writer and what made you give it a go?

Leigh: I have worked for a long time as an English teacher but these days I seem to have several jobs, the main one being writing. Currently I’m teaching a crime unit to sixth formers, which is fun. I also guest lecture at universities and colleges, and run regular creative writing workshops for the Society of Authors. I was thrilled to receive an invitation from the celebrated Writers Lab to teach in August on the Greek island of Skyros. A new venture I am co-ordinating is the Manuscript Assessment Service the CWA has launched to help aspiring crime writers. I also appear at Literary Festivals, and am an occasional guest lecturer at universities, colleges, prisons and libraries. There is more to being an author than sitting at a keyboard! It’s difficult to say what led me to ‘give writing a go’. There was no conscious decision to sit down and write. I literally had an idea one day, began to write it down, and haven’t been able to stop since. I’m totally hooked! 


BCB: As a bit of a Geraldine Steel fan, one thing that I always wonder is how you remember so much detail about the characters you have in a series such as yours. Do you have to keep a note of everything or is a lot of it ingrained into your memory?

Leigh: You have honed in on something I find difficult. When I first wrote CUT SHORT, I had no idea anyone else would ever read the manuscript, let alone publish it, so I kept no character notes while writing. I do plan my plots but allow characters to emerge as part of the writing process. They are in my head for each book, but writing a series it becomes impossible to remember everything, so I have started to keep notes for recurring characters. Luckily I have a brilliant editor whose memory is far better than mine. She hasn’t often pointed out inconsistencies between the books, but I won’t pretend it has never happened! 

BCB: One thing I do know from some of your books is that you can write incredibly descriptive and graphic crime scenes. Are you not squeamish and how on earth can you be so knowledgeable about dead bodies?!?!

Leigh: This is such an interesting question. Yes, I am squeamish. I’d be the world’s worst nurse. I don’t like reading about crime in real life. It’s too horrible. But somehow in fiction it is different. We seem to be able to compartmentalise things in our minds, like animal lovers who eat meat. Even farmers, who are genuinely fond of their cows, eat beef. That said, I don’t think my books are particularly gruesome. There are many crime writers who describe scenes in far more detail than I ever would. But I do touch on violent themes, because people get killed, and sometimes in quite nasty ways. It helps to add to the tension as the reader becomes increasingly keen for the killer to be stopped. As for how I know so much about dead bodies... that would be telling! 

BCB: Where do you see your books going? Do you think Geraldine will go on to be a long term series, or will we see some stand alone novels from you?

Leigh: I plan to write twenty books in the Geraldine Steel series. My publisher initially offered me a three book deal. CUT SHORT, ROAD CLOSED and DEAD END all went on to sell well so my publisher commissioned a further three titles, of which DEATH BED and STOP DEAD are now available. I am currently writing the sixth book in the Geraldine Steel series. My publisher and I are also exploring the possibility of a spin off series featuring Detective Sergeant Ian Peterson, Geraldine’s sergeant in the first three books of the series. He has become quite a popular figure in his own right, and has kept in touch with Geraldine since her move to London. 

BCB: Do you ever give yourself nightmares with the amount of crime, murder and mystery going on in that writer’s brain of yours? I have to ask that as sometimes I wonder how Crime authors manage writing such horrific books, and not scaring themselves insane?!?

Leigh: As it happens, I sleep very well. In terms of crime, murder and mystery, my worst nightmare would be to run out of ideas. But I can’t see that happening any time soon. 

BCB: I love nothing more that discovering new authors, which is how I came to read your debut novel. You are now ‘old hat’ as I like to call it in this field. What new authors have you come across lately?

Leigh: ‘Old hat’? I prefer to consider myself ‘established’, although CUT SHORT only came out in 2009, so I’ve not been around for long. As for new authors, there is so much talent around that it is perhaps invidious to name any one individual. If you are interested in new talent in the crime genre, you would do well to read the titles shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award for Best First Novel. This is a list of debut authors the CWA considers the most promising.

BCB: Do you get very nervous before a new book comes out? I get anxious wondering if I’m going to like a new book, especially with a series. Goodness knows what it’s like for the author???

Leigh: It is very intimidating! I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered multiple book deals, so whenever one book is launched, I am already engrossed in the next book in the series. That means I really don’t have very much time to stress over how my books will be received. I remember as a teenager being told the best way to get over a lost boyfriend was to find another one. I’m not sure that was such good advice with regards to relationships, but it works for books. 

BCB: How much do reviews matter to you? The reason I ask this question is that I always try to be honest but fair. If I don’t like something I try to explain why, but think it’s unnecessary to absolutely slate a book because somebody has put their heart and soul into it. Do you take the bad reviews to heart?

Leigh: Where I can understand a negative comment and can see that it is justified, I am prepared to take that on the chin. Some reviewers seem to like being negative, ‘I didn’t read past the first page it was so bad’ kind of comments that you occasionally see online. I can’t imagine any author pays much attention to that kind of lazy sniping. If a reader doesn’t enjoy one of my books then that’s a pity, but you can’t please everyone. That said, I prefer good reviews! 

BCB: I consider myself a ‘Bookaholic’ and authors are the ‘Rockstar's’ in my world. I think I may get tongue tied if I ran into somebody like Peter James. Have you ever been star struck by another author?

Leigh: No. I have encountered some of the ‘big names’ on the crime writing circuit. Lee Child has a quiet friendly manner, Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham are really entertaining company, Frederick Forsyth is congenial, Jeffery Deaver is charming, as is Peter James, PD James, Clive Dexter, Tess Gerritsen – they are all such unassuming people you couldn’t possibly feel tongue tied in their company. In fact, if you meet Peter James, you will find him very approachable. He has been very kind to me, taking the time to send me a blurb quote in which he described STOP DEAD as ‘taut and compelling, with a deeply human voice.’ It is hugely reassuring to know that Peter James is a fan of my books! 

BCB: I always like to end on a silly question, so come on, fess up when is the last time you embarrassed yourself?

Leigh: I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m too old to be embarrassed by my mistakes. There have been so many over the years. There comes a time in life when you just have to accept yourself, flaws and blunders and all. (And if you think I’m dodging the question – you’re absolutely right!)