Leigh Russell studied at the University of Kent gaining a Masters degree in English and American Literature. She is a secondary school English teacher and lives with her family in Hertfordshire. Her first novel, Cut Short, introduced Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel investigating a gruesome set of murders. Cut Short received excellent critical acclaim and reviews, including one from Jeffery Deaver who described it as “a stylish, top-of-the-line crime tale.”
Road Closed is Leigh’s second novel about Geraldine and takes the reader further her world and the murders she solves. I caught up with Leigh at Waterstones, Harrow on the Hill where she and No Exit Press were launching her latest book, and took the opportunity to ask her some questions.
I think I last saw you signing Cut Short for a Dalek at Collectormania London in November 2009. Did you enjoy the experience?
Yes – very much so. It was bizarre at first because it’s very different from what I (and the others) expected. All the people wandering around dressed up! As for the Dalek, it took me back to my childhood when they were seriously scary. I couldn’t believe it when the lid flicked back and a hand came out with the money. I had to get someone else to give him the change as I was too scared to put my hand inside the Dalek, even though I knew it was just a man inside a plastic shell. These childhood fears run deep. I try and home in on that kind of fear in my writing to make my books both thrilling and realistic.
I will say that you were tireless that day with your efforts at publicity. In this day and age it does need to be done, but you are amazing at it.
Thank you! What is the point of writing books if no-one reads them? Of course I like to sell my books and know that people are reading them, but there is a wider issue. I am passionate about books and reading in general – not just mine (smiles) so doing what I do to make people aware is no hardship. I enjoy getting out and about meeting people. It’s a symbiotic relationship with book shops whose profits are constantly being slashed. Having a writer in store pulling people in is good for their business too - and we don’t want to lose any more bookshops in the UK.
Road Closed is the second in the series with the main character being Geraldine Steel, and you have already finished the third, Dead End. How are you finding the development of the characters, especially Geraldine?
It’s all very exciting. I never set out to write a series, so I didn’t plot an arc or a back story in advance. When I wrote Cut Short it’s no secret that I had no expectations anyone would read it, let alone publish what I’d written. In Road Closed and book Dead End, due 2011) there is more of Geraldine’s background and story, which I will build on as it goes forward now that the series is set to continue. There are other characters who will also develop – all good fun!
Do we hear more about her love life?
(Laughs) You’ll have to read the book for that – no spoilers!
What inspiration did you have for Geraldine who is a strong female character in what essentially is a ‘man’s world’?
Initially, my detective was a man. A middle aged, rather curmudgeonly man. But I don’t know how a man feels in his relationships with women and I didn’t want to fall back on clichés, so I changed my protagonist to a woman, where I feel I am on home ground. Geraldine Steel is the next generation to Jane Tennison, still battling but in a different way as attitudes to women are changing.
Why a police officer and not a private detective?
A private detective has more freedom – there are no procedural worries about what they can and cannot do. At the same time, it is a lot harder for them to research and use the tools that they need to solve a case. A police officer has access to data bases, and a team for searches and stake outs, forensics and so on. Realism is important to me so it makes more sense for me to write in the Police world as this is where crimes are generally solved.
You say that you never envisaged a series initially, have you thought about a stand alone novel now or for the future?
I am having great fun with what I am doing right now, and really don’t have time to consider anything else. But who knows? Who knew that two years ago I would have two books published and a third on the way – it’s an exciting future and I won’t say never. But for now my time is fully taken up with writing the Geraldine Steel books.
What sort of writer are you: disciplined, organised or just when you can fit it in?
Obsessive rather than disciplined (laughs). When I started writing Cut Short I wrote in long hand and set myself the target of 2000 words a day. I did not stop writing until I’d reached my target and I finished my first draft in six weeks! I am always writing or thinking of writing – one of these people you’ll see suddenly grabbing a pen and writing on a napkin in a restaurant. As Eugene Ionesco said: “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists in either writing or thinking about writing”.
Which writer do you like or see as an inspiration?
Sadly, since I started writing, I don’t have much time to read. I like Jefferey Deaver, and the award winning author Sam Miller who described Cut Short as “gritty and totally addictive debut thriller”. In his review of Road Closed for US Publishers Weekly he wrote: “once again Russell is in top form with this new crime thriller… Like all good crime and thriller writers, Russell gives us just enough morsels of information in each page-turning chapter to whet our appetites for the bigger banquet at the end of the book. Road Closed is a gripping, fast-paced read, pulling you in from the very first tense page and keeping you captivated right to the end with its refreshingly compelling and original narrative.” My writing is described as “psychologically acute” (The Times)
and I enjoy psychological thriller writers such as Ruth Rendell and PD James, but I am very eclectic. I also love Dickens, Edith Wharton, Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro, to name just a few.
You have had some really good reviews for both books. Does that give you extra confidence in your writing?
Yes it does as it makes you feel validated I think when someone tells you that they like your book. The whole process and becoming a published writer has been a journey for me and one that is still on-going. I am continually learning and reviews are part of that.
Thank you Leigh.
The bundle of energy that is Leigh spends her evening talking to people, signing books and later does a reading. This of course ends right at the part where you want it to continue ...
You can see Leigh reading a short extract from Cut Short on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wW3Ixmq3OyA
And read the first chapter of Road Closed on http://www.noexit.co.uk/features/road_closed_first_chapter.php
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