Interview with Leigh Russell, author of Cut Short

Interview by P.P.O. Kane

What attracted you to crime fiction? Did you choose it or did it choose you?

I enjoy reading crime fiction but I think it’s fair to say that, as a writer, it chose me. I’d never thought about writing a book but the idea for CUT SHORT struck me, and stayed with me until I had written it down, all 85,000 words of it.

Have you always had the ambition to be a writer?

No, I haven’t. About three years ago I started writing and I’ve not been able to stop since.

Following the publication of your first novel, Cut Short, do you now write full-time?

I still teach so I write in the evenings, at weekends and in the holidays. It can be tiring, but I can’t stop writing. If the success CUT SHORT has enjoyed continues through the next few books, I will move on to full-time writing at some point, but I need to have a few more books out before I make that leap.

Do you write every day?

Yes. Eugene Ionesco said: “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing, or thinking about writing.”

A bit cheeky this one, but something I’ve noticed. Are the titles of your novels chosen with your publisher’s name in mind? (‘Cut short: no exit’, ‘Road closed: no exit’, etc.)

I wanted to have snappy titles of two one-syllable words. My publisher loved the idea of my titles complementing the No Exit name and logo. ROAD CLOSED is perfect. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to sustain the theme. My third title is DEAD END and after that, I’m open to suggestions!

Was writing your second novel, Road Closed, in any way significantly different to writing your first?

I felt a lot more confident about my writing after CUT SHORT had sold out twice in six months (and it has just sold out for a third time in a year). I gave more thought to my detective, and how to make her engaging and interesting, in ROAD CLOSED. When I wrote the first draft of CUT SHORT I had no idea anyone else would ever read my story, let alone publish it. With ROAD CLOSED I had my readers in mind from the start. But the process of writing was the same.

Do you have the plot worked out in detail beforehand when you sit down to write?

I didn’t plan CUT SHORT, I just had an idea and ran with it, so when my manuscript was edited, I had to do some work sorting it out into a coherent narrative. I planned ROAD CLOSED and DEAD END carefully beforehand but with both I ended up moving scenes to sustain the tension and get the balance between realism and drama right. That of course had a knock on effect on the rest of the narrative. I usually end up in a muddle, which I have to sort out – organisation isn’t my strong point. That frisson of alarm when I hit the muddle is the only part of the whole experience I don’t enjoy. One day I’ll be sufficiently experienced to write a novel from beginning to end without any revision, but I’m not there yet.

How do you know when a novel is finished?

When the production manager tells me the proof is going to the printers “tomorrow”.

Are there many changes in the life of DI Geraldine Steel in Road Closed, your second book?

Yes. Geraldine is introduced in CUT SHORT. In ROAD CLOSED her story begins to unfold and her character develops. Her story builds further in DEAD END and I’m playing with ideas about what’s going to happen to her in my next book. There are so many possibilities.

Do you and Geraldine Steel have much in common? (And how would a close friend answer this question?)

Like Geraldine, I can be a workaholic. Other than that, I’d say we probably have little in common – but I can’t say how a close friend might answer this question!

Has any writer (in crime fiction or elsewhere) influenced your work more than others?

I admire the way Conan Doyle displays all the pieces of the puzzle without revealing the solution. I don’t like to keep back vital information until the end of the book so readers couldn’t possibly ‘work it out’ for themselves.

Which current crime writer(s) do you especially admire?

There are many excellent writers around. Val McDermid, Simon Beckett, Michael Billingham, Frances Fyfield, and of course Jeffery Deaver who was kind enough to email me to say he “loved” CUT SHORT. He even sent me a fantastic blurb quote for ROAD CLOSED. “Cut Short is a stylish, top-of-the-line crime tale, a seamless blending of psychological sophistication and gritty police procedure. And you’re just plain going to love DI Geraldine Steel.”

What would your ideal reader look like?

I have no idea what he or she would look like but my ideal reader would be alert, intelligent, well-read in the genre and very enthusiastic about my books!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about writing? Or advice you wish someone had told you?

The best piece of advice I’ve received is: Show don’t tell. It’s not original, but it’s important.

What are your current and future writing projects?

I am under instructions from my agent to “unleash my dark side” which is an exhilarating prospect! I am currently finishing the third book in the Geraldine Steel series, DEAD END, and my publisher has already made an offer for a fourth book, so it looks as though my series is set to run for a while. My publisher is very excited about the success of CUT SHORT – so am I!

Breaking news: CUT SHORT has just been shortlisted for the internationally prestigious Crime Writers’ Association 2010 John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award http://www.thecwa.co.uk/daggers/2010/newblood.html

About the interviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com

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