Five years ago, Leigh Russell was a mom and special education teacher in southern England. Today, she’s still a mom, but also is an internationally known, bestselling mystery writer, with three successful books published and a fourth slated for release on Christmas Day. She says she already is working on three more books for No Exit Press, all part of the same series.
Cut Short, Dead End and Road Closed introduce DCI Geraldine Steel, a protagonist unlike Jane Tennison of the PBS series Prime Suspect, Olivia Benson of SVU or Jane Whatshername of the NBC’s new Prime Suspect knock off. Geraldine is younger and probably better trained than all of them but, like her fictional colleagues, she often finds herself swimming against the current in the tough environment she works in.
These are really good reads. Without hesitation, I would recommend any or all to anyone who loves British police procedurals, or is looking for some real escape fiction. Her next book, Death Bed, is available for pre-order now for download on December 25 to Kindle and perhaps other e-readers. It also will be available in hardcover in all the usual places. For more information about Leigh or any of her books, go to http://leighrussell.co.uk/.
Q: What gave you the courage to leave teaching and jump into writing full time?
A: I have not yet abandoned teaching completely. This term I am teaching a crime fiction unit to sixth form, which is great fun! I never planned my jump into writing. I wrote the story of Cut Short and the Geraldine Steel series really took off in a way I never anticipated. It’s very exciting!
Q: What are some important books on your personal bookshelf? Who is your favorite novelist? What mysteries do you read?
A: Some personal favourites are Dickens, Edith Wharton, the Brontës, Jane Austen and, among more contemporary authors, I really enjoy Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguru because they write so beautifully. Of course I also read a lot of crime novels and my favourites are too many to list. I mainly read UK authors, but do admire Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child and Tess Gerritsen.
Q: Do you borrow elements from the news to develop plots?
A: My plots are never based on true life incidents. All my stories are flights of imagination. I start with a question -- what if? -- and start speculating about dark possibilities. It might sound strange, but I find real crimes too disturbing to use in my fiction which is, after all, a form of entertainment.
Q: Two of your books open in the middle of the commission of a crime. Do you work out all the elements of your story lines before you begin, or do start with the crime and go where the Ouija board takes you?
A: I know the beginning and the ending of my books before I start writing, and do try to work out the journey between the two in advance. That said, often a character will lead me along a slightly different path, or a plot twist will occur to me as I’m writing, and I follow that. So the books are planned yet at the same time they do develop as the story unfolds.
Q: In all three books, I found the police were a bit slow tracking down the culprits. If that isn't my imagination, is it intentional?
A: My readers tend to be one step ahead of the police in my books, because the reader is sometimes privy to information the police don’t yet know. That can add to the suspense, as the reader can see the police going along the wrong path, but is helpless to put them right. Of course, readers can be misled from time to time as well, but my books are “why-done-its” rather than “who-done-its.” The characters and their motivation fascinate me more than the intricacies of plot.
Q: Where and how did you learn about police procedure? Do you have professional sources? If so, how did you develop them?
A: I do a lot of research, and have a lot of wonderful contacts on the police force. I have met them since my books were published, and many of them are fans of my books.
Whenever my books require detailed knowledge, I ask for help. It is vital to have professional sources and I solicit help from all sorts of people, not just the police. Many of my advisors are leading experts in the fields of DNA, forensic anthropology, forensic medicine or psychiatry in prisons. I have spent an afternoon with local fire officers, and with market traders, finding out about their work. I was recently invited to meet a murder investigation team, and have been invited to visit a police station, both of which were fascinating.
Q: Are any characters based on people you have met or know?
A: My characters are never based on real people. I don’t know where they come from. They are not planned in advance but appear on the page as I write. They really just evolve. They must be composites of people I’ve met, snippets I’ve seen and heard, or read, but their creation is not a conscious process.
Q: Unlike some successful authors, you are extremely responsive and available to your readers. Why is that?
A: These days I think many successful authors are willing and happy to interact with their readers. With so many other demands on our time in the modern world, it’s important to encourage readers. Apart from that, I really enjoy meeting people. They always interest me. And it’s lovely meeting fans of my books!