Did you always want to write crime novels? Where did Maeve Kerrigan spring from?I always wanted to write, and I always read crime novels – my first ‘grown-up’ reading was Agatha Christie. It took a surprisingly long time for me to make a connection between the two! I had the idea for my first book in my head for a long, long time, and I would think about it and develop the story whenever I had a few spare minutes. But writing is hard work – you have to need to do it, even if that need is just to prove to yourself that you can write a whole book. And that was all I wanted to do when I wrote The Missing. It became the first in a two-book deal and my editor asked if I could come up with a series character for the second book. I like writing about young women – women have interesting choices to make that men don’t seem to worry about. And I like writing about police officers because I think it’s a hugely vocational job, a life more than a career. There is something intrinsically fascinating about people who make sacrifices because it’s the right thing to do. But Maeve is all of these things and more. I’m very fond of Maeve – I love spending time with her.
He is such a divisive character! This is why I like writing from Maeve’s perspective – her opinion of him changes with every book, so the reader gets a slightly different view of him. I think that’s more realistic than establishing him as likable or not from the beginning. He’s not a good person but he’s capable of tremendous kindness and empathy. He’s not an evil person but he can behave extraordinarily badly. I love writing about him. I’d hate to work with him.
The next thing for him and Maeve is an investigation into a fire in a tower block. Maeve has been looking out for Derwent in the last couple of books – now it’s time for him to help her, whether she likes it or not. (Spoiler: she does not.)
How did you become an author? How did you land your publishing deal?I wrote my first book by getting up an hour or two before I had to get ready for work, every day. I became truly obsessed with it! I decided to finish it, even though I faltered a few times along the way. Then I wanted to use the finished book to get an agent, but I didn’t think anyone would want to publish it. My eventual agent had other ideas and landed the two-book deal I mentioned above. I was on maternity leave when my first book came out. It did well enough that I was able to choose not to go back to my editorial job in children’s publishing, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to go on writing and be a mother and work. I believe you can do two things well, but not three. I’ve worked hard but I’ve also been very lucky (and every writer needs luck).
Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?Getting the right agent is the most important thing of all if you want a career in writing. You do that by writing the best book you possibly can and by being professional in how you conduct yourself (don’t pitch at parties or on Twitter, follow agency guidelines, research the market and the agents you’re approaching, be considerate and polite and so on). That may sound obvious and patronising but I worked in publishing for a long time and people can be very aggressive, probably because they are frustrated. Being patient is important. Also, remember that most agents are actively looking for someone new and wonderful to work with. The very biggest agents might have full lists, but most want to find someone amazing, unpublished, unheard of - and make them into a star.
Read, a lot – and read outside your genre too, because if you’re totally caught up in a story you stop reading critically. That’s easier if you’re not enthralled by the subject matter. You can learn something from every book, good or bad, successful or not. Listen to authors talk about their process if you can, not to imitate but to see yourself as one of them. Don’t allow yourself to get cast down. There is no barrier to success as a writer – not age, not appearance, not background, not education. There is only good writing and the confidence to see it through. I really believe anyone who dreams of being an author should see themselves as an author who hasn’t yet been published, and behave accordingly. Have faith and work hard: your time will come!
Where do you get your writing inspiration from?The strangest places! Sometimes it’s seeing someone on a bus and being intrigued by their demeanour. Sometimes it’s because I’ve been reading something in a newspaper and it suggests a plot. Sometimes it's a photograph or a building that starts me thinking. My husband is a criminal barrister and immersed in crime, but I rarely take stories directly from life. For me, books are all about the characters – set them in a situation and see how they react. Sometimes the character comes to life long before I work out what situation they should be in.
What are you working on next?I’m writing the sixth Maeve Kerrigan novel at the moment. I’m also finishing my third young adult novel featuring a teenage detective, Jess Tennant. I’m busy! Next year, if I have time, I’d like to spend some time working on something different, more to see where it takes me than for any specific purpose. I think trying new things is an essential part of being a writer, but it can be hard to be experimental in a series.
If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?I’d fling my laptop out of a window and hope it survived, but then I’d concentrate on saving my elderly cat, Fred (although he would be disgusted to be called a possession). He’s been with me since 2005, when we rehomed him from Battersea Cats and Dogs Home. He’s sat beside or on several different computers, purrs on demand and stays up late with me when I have a deadline. Material possessions are all well and good but you only get a cat like Fred once in a lifetime.
What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and my husband. I would not expect to get a word in.
And if you haven't read any of Jane's books before (and why haven't you?!) then this is what she has to say: "The paperback of the fifth Maeve Kerrigan novel, THE KILL, comes out in November, and if you’re daunted by not having read the previous four, you really don’t have to have followed the series to understand what’s going on. I promise!" Reviews of The Kill and The Stranger You Know can be found here.
Miss Chapter x