For readers and writers alike, it tends to be the characters we remember about the novels we enjoy and this is as true of the crime genre as it is of any other. While the well executed twist and the clever turn catch our attention while reading, it’s those who do the twists and turns that linger in the memory. We all know Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, even if we might sometimes confuse some of the cases they solved. I can still remember Regan and Carter chasing villains through docklands in ‘The Sweeny’ even if I can’t quite recall what they were chasing them for. It’s because of this that authors devote so much time to character development. Who are these people who feature in our stories and why would we be interested in them before the reader is?
I’m fortunate in that I grew up in an East End that was well supplied with real life characters of all sorts. There were the good guys and the bad ones and of particular interest to a writer the good/bad guys and the bad/good ones. For me the most interesting of those tended to be the women. There’s no particular rule that says an author should write about characters of their own gender but it was the women I knew who tended to draw you in and make you wonder about their lives and secrets. In a place like the East End, women are often face difficult decisions, awkward ethical dilemmas and divided loyalties; those of course are some of the basic building blocks of the any crime novel.
When I returned to writing about the East End after authoring two thrillers, it was the lives of women like these that I grew up with that I wanted to make the centrepiece of my new series. I knew plenty of matriarchs from those days and used them as the model for the Miller family’s mum, Babs. I knew plenty of good girls who got involved with the wrong guy and then had to pick up the pieces afterwards. I used those to create the character of Jen Miller while there were plenty of bad girls from the estates whose lives were good material for her sister Tiffany. It’s easy to turn kids who were knocked about by life in the East End into fictional victims. But whatever Dee Black’s problems, being a victim isn’t one of them. Meanwhile there are plenty of bad boys in this new series too but that’s another story.
Once a writer creates characters that live and breath for the reader, it’s just a question of putting them in high energy situations and then relying on them to do the work for you and the reader. To what extent a new novel works, it’s impossible to say until it’s published. But if I get feedback afterwards saying, ‘I knew someone just like Babs/Jen/Dee/Tiffany…’ then I’ll know it’s worked.
There are two ways out of Essex Lane Estate, better known as The Devil. You make good, or you turn bad. Jen Miller is determined not to make the same mistakes her mother did. She's waiting to find herself a good job and a decent man. Her younger sister Tiff is running errands for a gangster and looking for any opportunity for fun and profit. But she might just be in over her head... The choices you make and the plans you have don't always turn out like you expect. Especially if you live on The Devil's Estate. When their paths cross with the unstoppable Dee - a woman with her own agenda - Jen and Tiff will learn that lesson the hard way. At least they can rely on each other. Can't they?
You can also watch Dreda Say Mitchell's video introducing Blood Sister below.