When I started writing The Teacher I had no idea it would even be a police procedural novel, let alone a crime series. My detectives were the last thing I added to the story as I realised it would be a bit silly to have a bunch of horrific murders going on without any police involvement at all. I had started with the simple story of a girl who goes through a traumatic experience and gradually added more layers and characters to the story until eventually my detective duo was created and I have never looked back.
I had so much more I wanted to say after The Teacher was over, before I even sent it on submission I began writing the backstory for DS Imogen Grey that became quite central to the overall plot of The Secret. The moment I added my police officers to the story I knew it would be a series. I really enjoy reading series of books myself. Nothing makes me feel more bereft that reading an amazing book and then wondering what has happened to the people in the story after that. I am a huge fan of the Karin Slaughter Grant county books and I liked the idea of creating my own little world that I could continue to write stories for indefinitely.
I had to decide whether to set my series in a real place or whether to make a place up. I decided to choose Exeter, mainly because I used to live there and know it quite well. I spent a lot of time roaming the streets there in my teens, not a luxury I have indulged in as an adult in Kent – too much to do for mindless roaming! Exeter is a lovely city as well, I felt it was my duty to dirty it up a bit.
I chose crime as a genre, partly because I love watching police procedural shows and slick legal thrillers, but also because I am genuinely interested in psychology and criminology. Writing crime gives me the perfect excuse to research so many different things. For The Teacher I got to research medieval torture, for The Secret I got to research human trafficking and for The Angel I had to delve into the world of prison. Each book brings about its own challenges and amazing discoveries. I also get to explore my own feelings on these massive social issues through my various characters.
The key component I think to writing a crime thriller series is to create a main character or two that you want to keep writing about. After that you just find situations that you know they might have a strong reaction to. I really love putting my characters through the mill with each new case. I have a few really important topics coming up over the next few books that I feel are really important and wanted to explore and bring some light to.
Essentially me writing my crime series is quite a selfish exercise. I learn and grow with every book I write. It takes me months and months – what eventually gets published contains probably a fairly small percentage of what I have researched and learned over the course of writing it.
Every book poses its own challenges and obstacles for me to overcome and it’s a process I enjoy immensely.
The hardest part of writing a series is getting enough information in the books to give clues about what has happened previously, without completely retelling the story or giving away huge spoilers – no one likes those! I try to drip in nuggets where I can and if its too much or not enough then my editor sets me straight. One of my favourite things to do is to drop people or sentences that will not mean much at the time of reading but take on a whole new meaning later on.
All in all I can’t see myself ever stopping writing this series and even though I have a million other ideas for crime thrillers I do love seeing my characters grow and develop over time. Some of their reactions and feelings are a complete surprise to me when I introduce them to a situation and its always a real joy to discover new things about them. I am looking forward to seeing where they all go next.