We are very lucky to have with us this week, Wendy H Jones, whose latest book, Killer’s Cross, is published today (Monday, 16 November 2015). Wendy writes police-based crime fiction, featuring DI Shona McKenzie in Dundee. When Wendy, herself a Dundonian, mentioned Ninewells Hospital in a Facebook post last week, bells rang out loud and clear in my head.
Killers Cross is the third Shona McKenzie novel. The previous two, Killer’s Countdown (a best seller on Amazon in October 2014, and consistently since then) and Killer’s Craft (published in July 2015 and also an Amazon and Waterstones best seller), I have thoroughly enjoyed. (You know how I love crime fiction, Dear Reader!) I believe that a fourth is being written for NaNoWriMo as I write this. Amazon lists the Shona McKenzie novels as noir, btw, but I wouldn’t. Now over to Wendy:
- Question: I understand that you are writing a fourth Shona McKenzie book for NaNoWriMo. Did you write any of the other three Shona McKenzie books for NaNoWriMo? If so, was the editing humongous (as many other NaNoWriMo writers expect theirs to be)?
Wendy: The bulk of the first two books was written during NaNoWriMo. The basic story was there at the end of the process, but you are right in that this did involve a lot of editing. The books were reviewed and changed a number of times. The endings changed completely in both cases. This was because it suited the book better and gave a stronger climax to the story. Book four is going through the same process but will be edited and reworked in a lot of different ways before it is completed. I am working with an editor to ensure that the book is ready for publication.
- Question: Shona McKenzie is fierce, forthright, dominant and with a tendency to put her foot in it. If I met Shona McKenzie face-to-face, I don’t think I’d like her, although she’s great to read about. How did you develop this character? Or did she develop herself as you were writing?
Wendy: Before coming up with the character of Shona, I sat down and answered one hundred questions about her as though she were being interviewed. I did this with all the major characters in the books. I wanted her to be a strong female character as this is often missing in books. Women in literature can come across as vulnerable, and somewhat weak. Given that this is a crime book a fragile character would not work. I agree she is fierce and dominant, but I wanted to portray her as being funny, and in a lot of ways, caring. She did change as I wrote and rewrote the book. You are right about her being dominant. She started out as a lover of fine wine, but she soon informed me she preferred scotch whisky. This was a bit of a problem for me as a writer. I know a lot about wine, but knew nothing whatsoever about whisky. I now know more than I could ever need. .
- Question: Why did you choose to write crime fiction?
Wendy: I’ve been reading crime fiction pretty much since I could read. I cut my teeth on The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Famous Five and Secret Seven. I then moved on to Sherlock Holmes and any Agatha Christie I could lay my hands on. It’s been a love affair with crime books ever since. It was a natural progression into writing crime. Also, I had an idea for the first book and just ran with it. This developed into the Detective Inspector Shona McKenzie Mysteries.
- Question: Your police characters are always eating. Why is this?
Wendy: I was in the services for many years and food is a large part of institutional life. I know a lot of policemen and they say that there are always cakes and biscuits around the station. Food, eating and hospitality are also a part of Scottish Culture. They say that if you turn up to anyone’s house in Dundee, they’ll immediately say, “You’ll be staying for your tea?” I also wanted to give a flavour of Scotland through the food, hence the pehs, as Dundonians call a pie filled with spicy mince.
- Question: Shona is a serving police officer and, in your books, it is evident that you have a thorough knowledge of how the police work. What advice would you have for hopeful police-based crime writers about research? Particularly about familiarising themselves with police procedures.
Wendy: I have a very good relationship with the local police. One of the sergeants came around my house and spent a few hours telling me about everything. I try to stick to things as far as possible. However, I will give you the advice that both he and Val McDermid gave me. Do not write exactly what the police do. If you did that the reader would die of boredom by page three. As an example, the police in Scotland are not armed. If guns need to be used then specialist units step in. That wouldn’t work in a book as your main character needs to be the one to catch them. Tayside Police tweet about DI Shona running around the streets of Dundee with a gun in her hand. So my advice is be as true to life as possible whilst taking liberties where you need to.
- Question: As someone who has set up their own – very successful – publishing company and who has just returned from a promotional tour, have you any tips for other writers about promoting their books?
Wendy: When it comes to promoting books you need to be both proactive and bold. Be enthusiastic about what you’ve written. Ask bookshops if they will take your books. The worst they can do is say no, and I have found most of them say yes. People who work in bookshops love books. Think outside the box and take every opportunity that you can without driving everyone up the wall. I have given talks in libraries, village halls, church halls and a primary school. Yes, you heard that right. I was the visiting author for Scottish Book week last year. The kids absolutely loved it and went home raving about it. I had them writing the opening to a crime book. The teacher said she had never seen them so enthused about writing. I have also done book signings in Costa Coffee, and in local cafes. People who see me in one place and don’t buy a book, often come to find me in another venue and buy signed copies. I buy postcards of my book covers on one side and the blurb and places to buy on the other. If anyone expresses an interest in my books I hand out the postcards. I also have postcards at book signings, if they are not taking place in a bookshop. Many people will take the postcards. I then find that I have a spike in sales on Kindle, Kobo, iBooks etc. The motto when it comes to promoting is seize the day.
Thank you very much, Wendy, particularly for your answer on publicity. I don’t know about you, Dear Writer, but it’s the getting it out there and persuading someone to read my work which terrifies me!