Leigh Russell – Author Profile
Leigh Russell is a prolific crime writer whose debut novel in 2009, Cut Short, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award. I first encountered Leigh at a London Writers’ Café event, where she spoke about juggling writing with teaching commitments, and the meticulous research that goes into her books. STOP DEAD, the latest in the Geraldine Steel series of psychological crime thrillers, is out now and here Leigh talks about ideas, what makes her main character tick, and how the story she thinks she’s writing isn’t necessarily the one that ends up on the page …
What inspired the story for STOP DEAD?
Sometimes I can say exactly what inspired a particular story but often an idea just pops into my head, and that is what happened with STOP DEAD. I liked the idea of the forensic team tracing DNA back to someone who couldn’t possibly have been at the crime scene, and played with that thought in STOP DEAD. But as with all my novels, and overriding the ideas incorporated in the book, the narrative is driven by the character and motivation of the killer. Once the killer is in my mind, the rest of the story spins out from there.
What kind of woman is Geraldine Steel?
Geraldine Steel is driven by her desire for justice. When she is involved in a murder investigation she becomes totally absorbed in her work. She is intelligent, determined and focused. Perhaps because of her obsession with her work, her private life is unsatisfactory. She would like to have a partner but so far that hasn’t worked out for her. Still, she lives in hope, a state of mind with which many of us can identify in different ways.
What makes her a good detective?
What makes Geraldine Steel a good detective is her combination of intelligence and sound instinct for the truth. She is perceptive about people, and possesses a sharp memory for detail. That said, she isn’t always a good judge of people – especially in her private life.
Which three words best describe her?
Intelligent, determined, and humane.
What was the thinking behind her move to London?
Writing a series is a balancing act, giving readers a familiar pattern while at the same time introducing fresh new elements. Geraldine moves to London in the fourth title in the series, DEATH BED, which comes before STOP DEAD. Her relocation to London gives her a different team to work with, in a new setting. This gave her – and me – new challenges to deal with. She still keeps in touch with characters from CUT SHORT, ROAD CLOSED and DEAD END, the first three novels in the series, but her life has moved into a new phase. And of course London is an exciting back drop for a crime story.
Say a little about her family/back story and how important it is for the reader to know this.
Geraldine’s back story is introduced in ROAD CLOSED when her mother dies and she learns that she was adopted at birth. This begins her tentative quest to find her birth mother. Throughout the series, Geraldine also has a tense relationship with her adopted sister, and a valued friendship with her colleague, Ian Peterson. Although Geraldine’s growing fan base are keen to follow her back story, readers new to the series can start reading at any point as each of the novels follows a self-contained murder investigation.
When you’re writing do you know exactly where the story is going or does it take unexpected twists and turns?
Both, really. When you write a book you are taking your readers on a journey through a fictitious world. I always know where the journey begins – usually with a body! – and where it is going to end. My plots are worked out in advance, but I don’t stick rigidly to my plans. Sometimes it turns out that what seemed like a good idea in the planning stage isn’t really feasible, or even credible, or I might have a brainwave while writing the book that results in significant changes to my original plan.
How important is research?
For a crime writer research is extremely important. I am keen to make my books authentic as this makes them more believable. So I do a great deal of research with the police, for example, and with medical practitioners, and experts in forensics and DNA. I’ve visited places you might expect like police stations, mortuaries and prisons, but also many other places including the office of a street market manager, and a private tour of York race course. I spent an entire afternoon at a fire station with all the firemen – a tough job, but someone’s got to do it! Not all my research is fun. I didn’t enjoy research involving live maggots…
Are you a disciplined writer doing so many hours/words a day?
No, I can’t claim to be disciplined with my writing. I write whenever and wherever I can. I’m completely hooked! I tend to write between 1,000 and 2,000 words a day, although that’s not always possible. I spend a lot of time in bookshops and libraries, on panels at literary festivals, and I also teach creative writing for The Society of Authors, and guest lecture at universities as well as still doing some school teaching, so it’s a busy life! I’m looking forward to running a Creative Writing retreat for The Writers Lab on the beautiful Greek island of Skyros at the end of August. Please contact me via my website if you’d like details. I’m hoping we’ll all feel inspired by writing on the island where Mount Olympus is located.
What’s next? Another Geraldine Steel story?
The sixth Geraldine Steel novel will be out as an ebook in December, and available in print in 2014. In the meantime, my new series is launching this year! When Geraldine Steel moves to London in DEATH BED, she leaves her friend and colleague, Detective Sergeant Ian Peterson, behind. He is now featuring in his own spin off series. The first of these, COLD SACRIFICE, will be available as an ebook in June, and in print in September. The print edition is already available to preorder on amazon. I’ve been signed up to write at least three more Geraldine Steel novels after FATAL ACT, which is out in 2014 and at least a further two Ian Peterson novels. As long as people keep reading my books, I’ll keep writing them, so hopefully the Geraldine Steel series and the Ian Peterson series will be around for a long time to come!
STOP DEAD is available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon
CUT SHORT, in the iTunes top 10, is available as a free audio download throughout May
Find Leigh Russell on her website
Leigh Russell is on Twitter @LeighRussell