Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Mel Sherratt
Tell us about yourself.
How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning for you?
Names of characters don't have any special meaning to me. I have to choose my names according to the type of characters and class that I choose to write
I write gritty crime dramas, psychological suspense and fiction with a punch - or grit-lit, as I call it. My inspiration comes from authors such as Martina Cole, Lynda la Plante, Mandasue Heller and Elizabeth Haynes. I also write contemporary fiction under the name of Marcie Steele.
about. So I usually go through the local newspaper, and often births, deaths and marriages to find names. I have to have the right name before I can write a character, as well as a surname that fits the first name. I also have a book of baby names, which I get out every time I start a new book.
Do you ever get writer's block? How do you tackle it?
No, I don't get writer’s block but I often get stuck and can't write any words. What this usually means is that I am stuck with a plot, and I need to have a break so that my mind can work out what happens next. Sometimes I will sit down and write 1000 words, sometimes I will sit down and the words won't come. This is when I know that I either have to read back what I’ve written and figure out where to go next, or do something else until my mind has worked out where to go with the story.
Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?
I quite like research, mainly because of the subjects that I write about. For instance, the book I am writing at the moment, Lock Up Your Daughter, has a sub plot that is based on the law of Joint Enterprise. I had to do a lot of research on this. Until 3 March this year, ‘Criminal law generally only holds offenders liable for their own actions
but, under the doctrine of joint enterprise, a person may be found guilty for another person's crime.’
As well, there is a teenager in a secure unit, and a woman working on a telephone helpline. Writing police procedurals, lends itself to lots of fascinating research, too, but I have lots of writer friends, and police, who help me with this. There is always something that a writer can do to make a plot work and by doing research, I often find myself with a new plotline because of something that I have read or researched.
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
I tried 12 years to get a traditional publishing deal, and then the Kindle came out and changed my life. When I self-published books through the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform, this was when it all happened for me. So, in essence, it took me 12 years to get my first break. I’ve since sold over half a million books.
How had your writing style developed over time? And the way you approach writing?
My writing changes with every book I write. I won't say it gets easier each time, but after you've written a few books, a pattern emerges and it takes less time to get the basics right.
When I first started to write, I’d write out a hundred thousand words for a first draft and then go back and polish several times before I showed anyone. What this meant was I would delete a lot of the original 100,000 words and then add more to make the word count up again.
Now I still write a first draft several times before I think it is ready for my editor, but I usually write the story with no description in about 50,000 words. I get the bones of the story down and then I add the description, the emotion, extra twists and turns and plot points, with each extra draft. One final draft where I read through everything and then it goes off for feedback.
What book do you wish you had written?
Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes. It was one of the best books I read on domestic violence, and OCD. It really got under my skin, and I felt the fear with every page I turned. Elizabeth is an incredible writer, and I’m very lucky to know her too.
If you could be a character in any book, including one of your own, who would you be, and why?
I would love to be Bridget Jones. I just love how funny, sexy, sassy, and warm she is. I would love to be her friend. As well as I love Daniel Cleaver…
How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?
I used to be a housing officer for the local authority. However, I have never been in the police force. I just did lots of research and went to see the right people, as well as having a lot of author friends to ask questions and get credible answers. So there is nothing else in my books apart from that background. Most of my ideas come from news bulletins and magazines.
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you've written?
Yes, I surprise myself all the time. Sometimes I can't believe how dark my writing is. Sometimes I can't believe how dark the characters are. Other times I can't believe how emotional it is. But what surprises me more than anything now, is how much I can plot and work things out to make my books more interesting for the reader. I like to write about
underdogs, and down-to-earth normal people who get into extraordinary scrapes. I also like to take you into the mind of the lawbreakers, as well as the good people. These scenes often surprise me, and can move me to tears.
What's the secret of your success?
I think it is not giving up, and always keeping my feet on the ground. I shall always be grateful for what I have. As well, if I had given up years ago, after writing the first draft of the first book in 1999, I wouldn't be now writing my twelfth novel, I wouldn’t be working for myself and I wouldn’t be having half as much fun.