Author Interview: Susan Wilkins

Thursday, 21 May 2015
Regular readers will remember how much I loved The Informant, the debut novel from Susan Wilkins. If you read my review earlier of The Mourner, you will see that I loved it even more than its predecessor. Susan Wilkins is reinventing the grit lit genre in an intelligent way, and I can't wait to see what she writes next. For now though, I asked Susan some questions and she gave some brilliant answers, so I hope that you enjoy reading them! The Mourner is released today.

1. How has your television background helped you with your new writing career? And what would you say are the biggest differences - that you have found - between the two?

Firstly, being a professional writer for so many years, writing to quite tight deadlines, helps with discipline and simply being used to sitting in a room on your own all day and writing. But the big benefit is knowing about storytelling structure. The underlying structure of a script has to work or the whole piece falls apart and the audience changes channels. That's provided me with a bedrock for my novel writing. The biggest differences are I have more time, I'm the author of the work– not a director or a producer or an actor – and the people I've dealt with in publishing do seem a whole lot nicer!

2. The reaction to The Informant has been fantastic, with some brilliant reviews. Do you take a lot of notice of reviews? And how did it feel when your debut novel was a great success?

Obviously it's a real buzz to get a good review and I've been lucky so far, only one real stinker, as far as I'm aware. Reviews are usually the first actual feedback from the wider reading public and as such I think it's useful to be aware of any common themes/criticisms. I'm very pleased The Informant has done well but I was blessed with a very professional and slick marketing and publicity campaign, which makes a huge difference.

3. What can we expect from you beyond The Mourner? Are there further books planned?

I am currently writing book 3, The Avenger, which will be out next year, follows many of the same characters and completes a trilogy. I am contracted to do a fourth book for Pan Macmillan but that may well be something a bit different. Watch this space.

4. What stands out to me in your books is the strong female characters that you have created. Is this something you purposely set out to achieve?

Yes. In more traditional crime fiction women tend to be either victims or the detective's sidekick and that simply doesn't reflect the modern world. I try to create female characters who are independent and capable and don't just hang around waiting for a bloke to save them.

5. Speaking of strong female characters and obviously not being able to go into too much detail, do you have a particular favourite character? Or one that you have enjoyed writing about most?

I like both Kaz and Nicci. In many ways they're two sides of the coin for me. They start from a very different place but their struggles are similar. I'm also quite attached to some of the more ancillary characters – Neville Moore, the lawyer and Eddie Lunt, who appears in The Mourner.

6. The fast-moving nature of the plots in books like yours lead me to believe that it could be difficult to know the whole story as you write, that things might change, new ideas might form etc. Is this the case for you or have you got the whole series plotted out?

I have a rough overall idea of the arcs of the characters. I write notes on file cards, stick them on a board and create the bare bones of a plot. But I also try to just write and go with the flow because, as Lee Child says, if you don't surprise yourself, you won't surprise the reader.

7. What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Get up, have breakfast, try not to answer emails! I usually work through until lunchtime, do a bit more after lunch, go for a walk by the sea in the afternoon. This is often valuable plotting time. I rarely work in the evenings.

8. Did you always want to become a published author? And how long did it take for The Informant to become an actual book from first word written to publication date?

I've wanted to write a novel for years and never seemed to get round to it because of the pressures of my television career. Some writers do both very successfully but I couldn't manage it. But then I decided it was now or never, so I stopped writing for television and wrote The Informant in about six or seven months. The process from there to publication probably took a couple of years. Publishing can be slow but it does take time to get it right.

9. Could you see the books working as a television series or have you set out to make them different? And speaking of TV, have you caught any of the great crime dramas that have been on recently?

Yes, I would like to see the books on television. But I think they will comprise a better package for a TV series once the trilogy is completed. There have been loads of terrific crime dramas lately. I watch them all, I'm a big fan. Some old favourites are The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad. More recently House of Cards, True Detective, The Fall and the first series of Broadchurch.

10. Do you have much time for reading books yourself? And if so what books/authors do you particularly like to read?

I've always been a reader. To be a writer you have to be a reader in my view. Obviously I read crime fiction – I've recently enjoyed Malcolm McKay 'The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter' and Louise Welsh 'A Lovely Way to Burn.' I also read a lot of non fiction. I like books which tell me about things I know nothing about. At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, I've just been reading about the brain. Also reading non-fiction when I'm busy with my own writing gives me a good balance and helps avoid imitating another writer's voice. Favourite crime authors? That's a very long list of all the usual suspects. But I am very much looking forward to the new Minette Walters.

About Susan Wilkins

After a degree in Law and a stint as a journalist, Susan embarked on a career in television drama. She has written numerous scripts for shows ranging from Casualty and Heartbeat to Coronation Street and EastEnders. She created and wrote the London-based detective drama South of the Border of which the BBC made two series.

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