This is the first of a series of interviews with writers and authors and this blog is honoured and delighted to announce that Mel Sherratt, author of the critically acclaimed crime novel Taunting the Dead, is the first subject of this series. And, well, let’s hear what Mel has to say about herself!….
So,Mel, where are you from?
I’m from Stoke on Trent, a city in the Midlands. It’s also known as The Potteries as it was the base for such big names as Josiah Wedgwood, Spode, Minton and Royal Doulton. Alas, a lot of the pottery industry is in decline so we’ve lost most of the big names we were known for. But we still produce a lot of good things. Robbie Williams is one of them. Okay, I suppose I’m biased!
When did you first start to write fiction?
I’ve always been writing – whether it’s in the form of a diary or trying to crack the short story market, which I never did. I tried for many years to write a book but never went past honing and honing the first three chapters. Then about twelve, yes twelve, years ago, I wrote chapter four and continued until the end.
What led you to believe in yourself as a novelist?
I think it had a lot to do with finishing that first book – I could do it if I put my mind to it. Although it was the first step, as it needed a lot of rewriting to get it anywhere near representation by a literary agent, it was the sense of achievement. And I wanted to see if I could do it again. Every writer must surely worry that there is only one book inside them when it comes to starting the whole procedure again.
What is the most inspiring book (any genre) you have read and why?
The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton. I’m sure it set off my writing imagination.
What is your favourite crime novel?
That would have to be Dead Like You – Peter James. Well, it’s based on The Shoe Killer and as I have a new home called Killer Heels… Link http://www.writermels.blogspot.com
What kind of writing annoys you the most?
Personally, I like action and dialogue, so pages and pages of narrative don’t do it for me.
How important is Social Media to new writers and how much leeway has a writer in being themselves on-line?
I think social media has a different part to play for individual writers. It depends what you want out of it and also how much you are prepared to give of yourself. For example, I have a website, a blog, a Facebook page and I’m always on Twitter. Those mediums work for me. There’s a balance to play as it takes a lot of time – writing should be the most important procedure. Being yourself on line? Now there’s a whole other argument about that. All I can say is that I try to be positive – honest but positive.
How important is the depiction of factual or historical accuracy in writing or do you think writers should have complete carte blanche in what we invent?
That’s a tough one. In Taunting the Dead there are certain things I’ve had my characters doing that readers don’t like. I’ve had to bend the rules – indeed, I’ve bent the rules for a purpose. But although it needs to be realistic, it is fiction. If I wrote about ‘normal life’, would it be as interesting? But for some things, I don’t think plots can be changed.
What do you think the secret of longevity is? I mean, why do Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler (both very different writers) stand the test of time whereas others didn’t? Is it just luck?
I think it’s anticipation for the reader, especially for a series with a good main character. It’s always great when you’re waiting for an author’s next book. The whole process of getting the book, sitting down with it, the words on the first page that make you gasp in eagerness to read the rest, then reading it really quickly to get to the end, getting to know the main character just that little bit more. This is the thing that makes me look out for an author’s new work.
Which crime novelists occupy the most of your bookshelves?
Martina Cole, Mandasue Heller, Peter James, Mark Billingham. More recently Julia Crouch, Belinda Bauer, Niamh O Connor.
Any embarrassing novel-buying moments you’d like to share?
Well, I do buy some really gory serial killer books to get inside heads of killers…
Do you have much creative input in your cover design?
As I’ve self published, I created my own cover. I always imagined some kind of rose and if I had a mainstream publisher, and could have influence over the cover design, I always saw it as a red rose laid out on a freshly dug grave in a dark and dingy setting. As I designed it myself, I couldn’t find what I wanted. It took me ages to find the rose I used but when I did a whole new idea emerged. I think it was worth it for the effect I achieved.
If you could spend a day as anyone, real or fictional, contemporary or historical, who would you be and why?
Idris Elba – I adore him as Luther. And wouldn’t it be great to think everyone adored you…
What is your ultimate authorial ambition?
To become as well known as all the kings and queens of crime! Ha, ha, I hope you take that with the pinch of salt intended. Actually, I would love to see one of my books televised. I think that would be really special. I’m working on it…
Your latest novel, Taunting the Dead, is set in Stoke. Do you think it’s important for a writer to know his/her setting intimately for authenticity?
Absolutely not. I attended an author talk the other evening (I was in the audience) and one of the things mentioned when questioned about research was how much could be done online. Personally I love Google Street Map because I can be in any place, anywhere in the world and get a feel for it. I’m not saying this would be authentic as I know I couldn’t get the same smells and sense of the place as if I was there. But research has made it possible for nothing to be ruled out. I set my novel in my home town because I’m not particularly good on descriptive paragraphs. I love to show not tell through lots of dialogue so coming from Stoke gives me that sense of place without trying. I see it every day; therefore it’s easy to slip into my writing.
Does crime fiction have a responsibility to expose to public consciousness, unsavoury aspects of society that are misunderstood and hidden and can crime fiction play a part in changing society for the better?
Personally, I don’t think so. I suppose as crime fiction authors we can be seen to sensationalise hideous crimes. But sometimes it’s about taking a subject that we’re passionate about, maybe to bring it to people’s attention. Other times, it’s just about creating a crime to solve. Bad things happen, period. For instance, domestic violence features a lot in what I write.
I’m also slightly on the fence with this one as I can write about violence but I can’t watch it. There are lots of arguments in our house along the lines of ‘Switch it off! Well, you write worse things than this.’
Can crime fiction play a part in changing society for the better?
I think the word to be noted is that it’s fiction.
And last but not least, what would your final meal be in the condemned cell?
It would have to be a ‘family favourite’ – home made spaghetti bolognaise with lots of garlic bread. Washed down with a nice glass of Chianti, of course….
You can buy Taunting the Dead on Amazon here
Mel’s website is: http://www.melsherratt.co.uk/
Mel’s blog is: http://writermels.blogspot.co.uk/
And on Twitter she is: @writermels