Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Jane Isaac
Tell us about yourself.
How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning to you?
Hi Barbara! Thanks so much for inviting me to your lovely blog. My name is Jane Isaac and I write both the DCI Helen Lavery and the DI Will Jackman series. My books have been described as detective fiction with a psychological edge and my next novel, The Lies Within, was released on 2nd May 2017.
I find names incredibly difficult and spend a long time working through lists of possibles to come up with a name that I feel ‘fits’ a character. It’s also important to ensure that names in your book aren’t similar too, or all start with the same letter, so that they don’t confuse the reader. I use an alphabetical index system for each book (a great tip another writer gave me a few years ago) for names, descriptions and potted histories of each character, so that I don’t have too many people with similar names or features.
I have noticed that I have a penchant for character names ending with the letter ‘a’ though. Throughout my books I have an Eva, an Anna and a Carmela. Even my own daughter is called Ella!
How do you go about plotting your book?
When I started out I didn’t plan anything and wrote chapter by chapter, researching along the way. My first book, An Unfamiliar Murder, took almost eighteen months to complete.
My forthcoming release, The Lies Within, was my fifth book and written to a deadline, so I needed to be more organised with my writing time. I wrote a four/five page outline in advance to give me a sense of direction, although inevitably some things did change along the way, and the book took a little under a year to complete.
Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?
Research is one of my favourite aspects of writing novels and one I probably spend far too much time doing! It might only be for a paragraph, or even a single sentence, but it is interesting where it can lead.
For Beneath the Ashes, I spent time with senior officers in Northants Fire Service who explained how different building structures, accelerants, and even the weather affect the damage that fires do. The reality of fire damage wasn’t what I’d imagined at all.
Aside from all the books about serial killers and psychopaths – the real case studies that keep me awake at night and haunt my dreams – I also spend a lot of time on the police procedural research. For Before It’s Too Late I met up with a former Detective Superintendent, who managed murder squads all over the UK during his 30 year career, for some in-depth research into some of the cases he has managed. Boy, did he have some tales to tell...
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
Like many writers, I’ve had rather a rollercoaster ride to publication. When I finished my first book I was still studying creative writing with the Writers Bureau. My tutor read the sample chapters and recommended that I send it to a small publisher called Crème De La Crime who accepted submissions from unpublished writers. They responded within a week to say that they couldn’t accept new submissions, having just been taken over by a large publisher, but they enjoyed the piece and suggested I send it to a couple of agents who were interested in new crime writers. I really didn’t expect to hear anything, you get so many rejections in this industry, so I was stunned when they both wanted to sign it!
To cut a long story short, after a lovely day at their Kensington offices I signed up with one of the agents and they submitted the novel to the big publishing houses. The result was disappointing: We had lovely feedback, they all seemed to like the work, but nobody offered to sign the novel. My agent suggested I submit to the independent publishers and I signed with US based Rainstorm Press within a month.
Rainstorm Press were only able to distribute books online in the UK, so when I finished my second book, The Truth Will Out, I decided to throw myself back into the slush pile and try for a British publisher. Luckily I signed with Legend Press who have gone on to release all my subsequent books.
What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?
Read voraciously in and around the genre you intend to work with and try to write something every day, no matter how short. When your script is complete, send it to people you trust to give you honest and constructive feedback, then rework until it is the best you can do before you submit.
It can be difficult to find a home for a novel and publishers reject submissions for many reasons which are not necessarily anything to do with your writing: It may not fit with a publisher’s list, they may have something similar, or they may not be looking for submissions in your genre at this time. So, if you receive a rejection, don’t give up; take heed of any advice, rework your script if necessary, and submit elsewhere. Never give up.
What book do you wish you had written?
The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.
How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?
I think books are always a mix of reality and fiction. As writers we observe the world around us, picking up tips and anecdotes that inform our work and make it come alive on the page. I'm a huge dog lover and, like myself, DI Jackman owns a Labrador.
I also enjoyed using my experience of the Scottish Highlands, an area I have visited annually for the past twenty years, as a setting for part of my second book, The Truth Will Out.
What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?
The best thing about being an author is the readers. I know, it’s a cliché, but it’s true. I’ve met so many lovely people and made some wonderful friends through writing books and I’ll always be thankful for that.
The worst part is the extreme worry when a new book is about to be released. I don’t worry about the story so much, that has passed through readers and editors and been signed off, it’s more the fact that reading is such a subjective experience and I never want to let readers expectations down. Also, I’m incredibly hard on myself because I feel that every book should be better than the last.
Which book or character are you most proud of creating, and why?
That’s a difficult question to answer, especially as I write two series, but if pushed I would probably say DS Annie Davies in the Will Jackman series is my favourite character. Annie is wonderful to work with, she is sensitive and compassionate, yet manages to find humour in almost every situation.
Describe your current work in progress in five words.
Deception, family secrets and betrayal.
About the author...
Jane Isaac writes detective novels with a psychological edge. She lives with her husband and daughter in rural Northamptonshire, UK where she can often be found trudging over the fields with her Labrador, Bollo.
Her first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, was nominated as best mystery in the 'eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.' Her fifth book, The Lies Within, is scheduled for release by Legend Press on 2nd May 2017.