First and foremost, I wish you all a happy and productive New Year.
Towards the end of the year, I was approached by David Ellis and asked if I would agree to be interviewed for his toofulltowrite website subtitled as a Creative Palace for Artists and Author Resources. David asked some interesting questions that had me scratching my head at times and here is the result.
Welcome to the latest installment in the Author Interview series and we are finishing out the week with a bang.
Tonight we speak to Award Winning author Judith Cranswick about her crime thriller novels and what makes them so special, engaging and worth reading.
Hi there Judith, thank you for taking the time to be with us today to talk about your thrilling stories.
Let’s start with your latest novel “Blood Hits the Wall” – Book 4 in the Fiona Mason Mysteries Series. Please tell us more about Fiona, how she has evolved over the course of four novels and what sleuthing adventures and sticky situations she is going to find herself dealing with this time round?
In the first book in the series, “Blood on the Bulb Fields”, Fiona was recently widowed. She had spent the last nine years looking after her terminally-ill husband. When he died, family and friends suggested she get herself a little job to keep herself occupied though becoming a tour manager for a coach company wasn’t quite what they had in mind. Fiona has grown in confidence as the year (and the first four books) has gone on and in “Blood Hits the Wall”, on her tour to Belin and the Elbe Valley, her relationship with MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones develops though they continue to find themselves at odds with one another all too often as they pursue their separate objectives. This time she wants his help when the group is detained in Berlin following the murder of their local guide, but he has his own secret mission which he cannot jeopardise.
You also have three other stand-alone novels – “All in the Mind”, “A Death too Far” and “Watcher in the Shadows”. How do these three books differ from your Fiona Mason Series? Are there any similarities in tone? Feel free to give us some more hints regarding what these mysteries are all about🙂
My first published books were Psychological Suspense novels. I love the edginess, that sense of life spinning out of control that underlies this sub-genre when the protagonist is taken over by events they can’t explain, and the knowledge that if they don’t sort it all out, they will end up dead. What interests me is trying to capture that fear, that unease and the sense of what’s going go wrong next.
Although the Fiona Mason series are classified as mysteries, I like to feel they still have that touch of edge.
Like many writers, I began by writing by writing short stories and I had a moderate amount of success in competitions and had several published long before my first novel was accepted. The advantage of writing short stories is that you are not confined to one genre so many you’ll find are my collections are quite mixed – some humorous, some poignant, ghost stories, revenge tales, one or two with a dark side and several with a twist in the tail. I’m particularly fond of twists in the tale.
If your Fiona Mason Series or other crime books were to be made into films, who would you cast in the lead roles?
I have absolutely no idea! Fiona, Peter and Winston, her West Indian driver, are very real me and I’m not sure anyone I would approve of anyone ‘playing’ them.
Ideas are always easy; the trouble is find time to write them all down. Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way!
I suppose I’m not good at getting started each day and just when the writing is really poring onto the page, I have to break off to get dinner ready or it’s time to leave for one of my classes.
The most difficult phase comes when you send away the manuscript to the editor. It can be weeks before it comes back and you are left twiddling your thumbs. It not a good idea to start thinking too much about the next book as in my case this would involve creating a new set of passengers and characters could easily become confused.
The part of a writer’s life I like least is promotion. I love giving talks about writing and, as well as to local groups, I lecture on board ship but serious promotion and marketing means tackling social media. I’m useless at technology. I do try to post on my Facebook author page and to write a monthly blog on my website. I have promised myself to tackle Twitter for years now, but it terrifies me. Even the noddy guides get me confused!
Who are some of the authors and historical figures that inspire you?
Writers such as Nicci French, Minette Walters, Barbara Vine and Val McDermid, certainly inspired my early psychological suspense novels. I love all sub-genres of crime and read widely, I’m particularly fond Zoe Sharp’s Charlie Fox series.
A vast amount! Travel is major inspiration for my novels. Each Fiona Mason takes place in a different European country so I visit all the places I write about. I need to consult quite a wide range of experts – every crime writer needs a tame policeman – but each novels takes you into different areas. To give you an example, after a holiday to an eco-lodge in the middle of the Ecuadorian Amazon followed by a visit to the Galapagos Islands I was inspired to write “A Death to Far”. Writing that novel, I needed to interview a Coroner’s Officer, a tropical plant expert, a Fire Officer, someone who had had a house fire, and a forensic archaeologist. For “Blood and Chocolate”, I had to research Belgian Police forces and ranks, Belgian Police procedures, Belgian Surnames, Belgian Recipes, British Parliamentary procedures and British Trade Unions.
Why do you write? What inspired you to become a writer?
I suppose I have always enjoyed telling stories but I wrote my first novel when my two children were toddlers. I’d just finished five years doing a research degree and, after reading a novel set in ancient Egypt and because I was still in research mode, I decided to write a novel set in Romano Britain in the 4th century AD – now lost at the back of a drawer somewhere. Once I returned to work, there was no time for writing so it had to wait until I retired. The thing that prompted me back was flicking through a magazine while I was waiting to speak to the librarian and I saw an article announcing a short story. There was an example of a short story by a well-known writer. I remember thinking it was rubbish and I could do better (oops showing my arrogance here!) so I decided to write one and enter. I’d love to tell you I won. I didn’t but that same story was entered for another competition some time later and it did win! From then on I wrote over a hundred short stories and eventually turned my hand to novels. I wrote a couple, a history and a fantasy novel, that were turned down but then found my real love – writing crime – and haven’t stopped since.
What keeps you motivated during creative slumps? How do you deal with Writers Block?
Like a great many writers, I often have problem with the soggy middle, but the only thing is to keep at it. If I have a forced break, it can take some time to get back into the swing of things but I don’t have a magic formula.
You have access to a time machine. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Probably – don’t be in a rush to publish. Build a team of good beta readers to help you and above all – a good proof reader!
How do you spend your free time when you are not writing?
Mornings I spend teaching Tai Chi, or doing line dancing, Zumba or yoga. As a cruise lecturer, I give talks not only on writing but also I’m a port lecturer – a logical development for a writer whose protagonist is a coach tour manager even if the places are different. Occasionally, I’m asked to run writing workshops but I no longer teach creative writing.
I suppose I would list may main hobbies as reading and travel.
Tell us more about your upcoming projects. Are you working on anything specific or have plans in the pipeline?
I’ve just sent the manuscript of my fifth Fiona Mason Mystery – “Blood Across the Divide” to my editor so I’m trying to catch up on all the marketing side of writing. I’m not good at social media and though I do try to maintain my website where I publish a monthly blog and my author Facebook page. I’ve started to think about the next mystery is general terms – where it’s set, a few possible passengers but I have a vague idea about the theme but it will be a few months before I can take it much further.
Finally, are there any nuggets of wisdom that you can impart to other aspiring writers?
Write about what interests you – the kind of novel you want to read.
See the action through the eyes of your viewpoint character – their feelings, their reactions. Be in the story not observing it dispassionately from a distance.
Read, read, read.
And that’s a wrap! Thank you for a wonderful interview Judith, have a great weekend and can’t wait to get stuck into your books, it would be a crime not to😉
Judith was born and brought up in Norwich and now lives with her husband in Swindon. She wrote her first novel (now languishing in the back of a drawer somewhere) when her two children were toddlers but there was little time for writing when she returned to work teaching Geography in a large comprehensive and it was only after retirement that she was able to take it up again in earnest.
Judith’s first two published novels, ‘All in the Mind’ and ‘Watcher in the Shadows’ each won the NAWG Award for Best Unpublished Novel for two years running.
“Writers are told to write what they know about but I can assure you, I’ve never committed a murder. I’m an ex-convent school headmistress for goodness sake!”
You can connect with Judith on the following Social Media channels:-
Apart from interviews with writers from every genre, David’s website contains a range of resources, tools and advice that is well worth investigating.