Monday, July 14, 2014

Interview with Christine Poulson, a crime writer whose time has come…



Ten years ago, I sat next to a woman at a Fiction Masterclass at the Sheffield Literary Festival, and the next day I met her at my local Quaker meeting. I had just read a Mslexia article about writing buddies, who critique each others’ work, cheer each others’ successes, commiserate over rejections, and gee each other up when the going gets tough. Being a pushy sort, I said to this woman whom I had only just met, “Would you like to be my writing buddy?”

She reeled: she is not a pushy sort, and she is also more grown up than me. I could see her thinking, “Can this woman even write?”

She did become my writing buddy. And more. Now she is a close friend. That woman is Christine Poulson, crime writer extraordinaire, accomplished in creating intricate plots, and writing suspenseful novels and brilliant short stories, and other arcane arts not part of my skill set. Today I am interviewing her about her writing, and her gripping new novel, Invisible.

What comes first for you when you are dreaming up a novel? I imagine it is plot. Am I right? Or is it character, theme or setting?

It varies a bit, but It is very often setting. I am often fired up by the atmosphere of a place. Cambridge almost amounts to a character in its own right in my Cassandra James stories. More specifically with Stage Fright and Footfall, I knew that I wanted to write a novel set in a theatre and an independent library respectively. Holidays are a wonderful source of inspiration: Venice, Crete, Copenhagen, the London Aquarium, Salisbury Cathedral have all sparked ideas for short stories. My new novel originated in a trip to Sweden. My husband's an architectural historian and I was accompanying him on a research trip. When we visited the extraordinary Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm I knew that one day I would set a scene in a novel there and it grew from there.

Do you think writers of different genres share personality characteristics? You write crime. I write family comedy or romantic comedy. Do you think this shows an essential difference in our outlook on life, and/or our backgrounds or the course of our childhoods?

This is such an interesting question. My own childhood was disrupted by the death of my father. Crime fiction is generally about the restoration of moral order, and in that respect is a reassuring genre, so perhaps there is a connection there. Or perhaps not . . . After all romantic comedy also ends with a resolution, and like crime fiction is essentially escapist.

What are the best three things about being a writer and what are the worst three things?

The best things: when the writing is flowing and I'm surprised to find it's raining outside because it's sunny in my novel; when someone tells me that they were so gripped by my novel that they had to read it in one sitting; the friendship of other writers.

The worst things: the business side - dealing with agents and publishers; when I am sitting on the floor with index cards all around me and simply cannot get the plot to work out; going to an author event and finding that hardly anyone has turned up.

Do you ever use material from your family or friends characters, dialogue or lives in your fiction?

Of course! Doesn't everyone? But only as a jumping off point. As Fanny Trollope said, when asked the same question, 'You'd never recognise the pig from the sausage.' The only character who has gone straight into a novel is our cat, Billy.

Here’s a question from my brother:

You have a knack of creating un-predictable twists and turns in the last third/quarter of a book which keep the reader on her toes. Are these planned from the beginning or do you just bring them in as you think of them?

Some are planned, some not. I always start off with a destination in mind, but how I get there might change en route. If a better idea occurs to me, I will go with it and that sometimes happens when I am galloping towards the home straight. Sometimes I'm surprised myself! Two thirds of the way through Stage Fright, for example, I suddenly realised that someone who was a minor character until that point was going to take on a much bigger role. I like it when that kind of thing happens. If I'm surprised, probably the reader will be too.

Pretend you are the PR agent for your publisher and sell us your new novel Invisible.

Invisible is a gripping suspense novel.

Lisa has a secret lover. Once a month she escapes from caring alone for her son, who has cerebral palsy, meets Jay, just for the weekend, and loses herself in a realm without responsibility. Its perfect - until the day when Jay doesn't show up, and everything she thought she knew about him turns out to be a lie.

For Jay it was perfect, too. Five years ago he fled witness protection after his wife and son were murdered. He began a new life. But he shouldn't have let himself fall in love with Lisa, because now the villains are onto him and he must disappear again . . .



Christine said...

Thank you, Sue. You are the best writing buddy a girl could have.

Sue Hepworth said...

Same to you. xx