Can you tell us a bit about your new crime novel, A Beautiful Corpse, and how it links to your first crime novel for adults, The Echo Killing?
A Beautiful Corpse begins a year after the end of The Echo Killing. A body is found in the middle of the night on a street at the heart of the Savannah tourism district. A law student who worked with crime reporter Harper McClain’s best friend, a woman Harper had seen alive and well only hours before, has been shot to death. The city is eager to pin the case on the woman’s boyfriend, who has no alibi. But two other men are also suspects – her boss, and a fellow student who’d stalked the woman in the past. All three claimed to love the victim. One of them is lying. As Harper gets closer to the truth, her own life is on the line, and a killer from her past comes calling.
So in both novels, the protagonist is a highly determined crime reporter called Harper McClain. We’ve heard you had a former career as a crime reporter in Savannah, where the book is set, too! How do you think having a crime-related career has influenced your writing? Did you draw on your own experiences to create the intrepid reporter that is Harper?
My first job after college was working as a crime reporter in Savannah. It was a fascinating time – I was twenty-two years old and incredibly dedicated. I risked my life regularly out of sheer stubbornness, trying to be the one who got the story. I think I always knew I’d want to write something about that life. But The Echo Killing took a while to come to me. I think I needed distance between actually doing the job and writing about a fictional character doing it. Two years ago, I finished writing my young adult series, Night School, and I was looking for something different. Night School is set in England, where I now live, and I was itching to write a character who lived in America. I sat down with a pen and paper to sketch out this character and before I knew it, Harper McClain was on my page. Waiting to be written.
Do you think being a journalist helped you with your writing routine once you turned to novels? Any great tips you could share with budding writers?
I think it does help with the routine. In particular, it gave me a very intense writing discipline – when I’m working on a first draft I write every day, seven days a week. And I have absolutely no problem getting myself to my desk each morning. Deadlines at newspapers are brutal and inflexible, and you learn to write quickly and to concentrate no matter where you are. I can still write pretty happily anywhere. My favourite place to write, in fact, is on train journeys.
What is the single most important thing, for you, that you hope readers will get from A Beautiful Corpse?
I always want people to learn more about the characters. To feel more connected to them. And to care what happens to them. The characters are the key for me. They should feel real to you, or I’m not doing my job right. I want you to miss them when you close the book and put it away.
It’s not all about crime either, there is a great on and off love story throughout the series (no spoilers!). Do you think it’s important to have some light relief in crime fiction?
I do think crime novels can be a little miserable. I abide by Joss Whedon’s rule: “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” So my characters, like real life cops and journalists, are known to crack a joke, and to see the funny side in the darkness. The love story is similar – it’s a moment of light in the shadows. But, as with any real relationship between a cop and reporter, it’s not a smooth road. Cops and reporters are oil and water – it’s the reporter’s job to cover the things cops do wrong, after all. And that creates real tension between Harper and Luke. But they are drawn to each other, nonetheless. They’ve known each other for years. They really understand each other.
You’re also the author of YA thriller series Night School. How does writing for young adults differ from writing for adults?
I suppose the key difference between writing for young adults and older adults is freedom. Young adult fiction has a lot of rules for authors and books. Those rules are very well intended, but they constrain what authors can do. By contrast, crime fiction has almost no rules. I love the freedom of it. My characters make bad decisions and sometimes there are no consequences. They can sleep around if they want to, and nobody cares. They can get drunk and not get arrested or punished in any way. After writing five young adult novels, not caring about the rules felt like flying.
Beyond that, though, in terms of my actual writing there’s not much difference. I make my young adult books as complex and intricate and dangerous as my crime novels. After all, most of the people who read young adult novels are adults. So I constantly push against the limitations of the young adult genre, and I intend to keep doing that.
Are you reading anything at the moment that you’d like to recommend?
I love the Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo. It’s a crime series set in Amish country in the US. The main character is a female police chief who left the faith years ago. The tension between her and the Amish people she protects is beautifully described. The latest book, Shamed, is one of the best she’s done. I highly recommend tracking down this series!
About the book.
A murder that shocks a city…
Shots ring out on one of Savannah’s most famous streets. A beautiful law student lies dead.
A case full of secrets and lies…
Three men close to the victim are questioned. All of them claim to love her. All of them say they are innocent of her murder.
An investigation that could prove deadly…
As crime reporter Harper McClain unravels a tangled story of obsession and jealousy, the killer focuses on her. He’s already killed one woman. Will he kill another?