Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Sheryl Browne
Tell us about yourself.
You mean fabulously interesting things about me? Hmm? Well, here goes. I’m a keen boater. I do strange things occasionally like skydiving from 20,000 feet. Living in leafy Worcestershire, I’m a mother and I also foster disabled dogs, mostly on a long term basis, which makes for a quite interesting life. I write contemporary fiction and psychological thriller (apparently I have a scary insight into the mind of a psychopath. Thank you Rachel at Rachel’s Random Reads. I’m flattered … I think). I’m a member of the Crime Writers’ Association the Romantic Novelists’ Association and have several books published, along with two short stories in Birmingham City University anthologies where I completed my MA in Creative Writing, finally. Life, what can I say?
How do you go about plotting your book?
Plotting for me is … complete pandemonium. I start with a character and vague outline, i.e. pivotal plot points. In my second DI Matthew Adams thriller, for instance, the whole story is based around my protagonist making a bad judgement call and finding himself a victim of a drug related sexual assault. When you have a character in your head complete with traits and quirks, he’s inevitably going to lead the story and in this situation his emotions are going to be all over the place. He’s dictating his reactions so the outline goes out of the window and the post it notes begin to adorn my working surfaces, occasionally being seized upon as I actually remember them. The notepad inevitably accompanies me to bed, because those emotions don’t shut off at night. Sleep deprivation is definitely a downside of being a writer.
Where do you most like to do your writing?
Anywhere I can. Actually, my writing station is a Georgian writing bureau, which I love. It makes me feel like a proper writer and has so much history in its bones. It even has an ink stain (no, I won’t be renovating it). However, when one of my dog’s gets sick I tend to move locations. I have a small repro French antique dressing table which I carry around. It’s currently parked in the lounge.
Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?
I’m lucky enough to have had the advice of a Chief Constable and more recently a Senior Police Detective and that has helped me tremendously in regard to police procedure and pointers on prison sentencing, forensics, etc. I realised I needed at least the basics of forensics when I started out thriller writing, to be honest, so undertook a forensics course, which I passed with flying colours and amazed myself. The internet is a massive boon to writers now, of course, you really can Google just about anything. You can access some fascinating case studies and headline news stories – I dread to think what my browsing history looks like. I think the most important writing tool though is to read. Other authors not only show you how to weave a story, but they can really kick start your brain.
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing?
My first time was a disaster. I had an agent, who picked up the book and thought it had bestseller written across it. It didn’t sell, at all. Reading it some time later (I’d stuck it in a drawer, as you do) I realised it was actually complete rubbish. Extremely amateurish. I’m going back to what I said above about reading other authors now. The fact is, Stephen King is so right, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write”. As mentioned, I’ve undertaken various courses, but I think you learn as you go, you mature and gain so much valuable information from other writers.
What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?
I’m popping the dedication incorporated in Sins of the Father here which I think is self-explanatory: I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Professional Book Reviewer at Breakaway Reviewers Rony G Cambell, who not only believed in me, giving After She’s Gone an outstanding review, but convinced me to believe in me too.
Thank you for the pep talk, Rony.
I was at a very low point when I talked to Rony on the phone. Things were discouraging on the writing front and my partner was quite ill. I was truly at the point of giving up. A heartbreaking decision to make after so many years trying. Rony wasn’t going to let me. She convinced me I could write. And that I could write well. She really did make me believe in myself. More than that though, she convinced me that, rather than try to write to formula, I needed to do what I do best, write from the heart, or rather my character’s heart. That’s what I do. I write therefore I am. I wouldn’t know how to be any other way.
What/who are you’re writing influences? Has this changed as your career has developed?
I’ve read a fair few of Stephen King’s novels (who hasn’t?). Who could ever forget Misery? Unsuspecting, injured author held captive by a psychopathic and very angry fan? What a simple and truly fabulous premise. Martina Cole’s books were a huge influence on me, too, and the inspiration behind my desire to delve into the darker psyche of some of my
characters. Martina Cole’s books just resonate with me. A book that stays with me is The Ladykiller. It’s with morbid fascination you glimpse into the mindset of a sexually depraved killer.
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?
I do! Sometimes, when I push my character somewhere traumatic or terrifying I can feel the lump lodged like broken glass in his throat. My pulse ratchets up a notch and I think, I’ve done it! At least I hope I have.
What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?
The sex scene. There’s nothing too graphic, but I so wanted to yank my character out of there. I had to read it with one eye closed whilst whispering ‘sorry’.
Which book or character are you most proud of creating, and why?
It has to be DI Matthew Adams. He’s fundamentally flawed. He knows it, but just keeps on fighting his demons, physical and mental.
Describe your current work in progress in five words.
Out on licence, truly terrifying.