Today's guest blog is by Alex Barclay. Alex Barclay is an Irish crime writer. She studied journalism at university and worked for a period in fashion and beauty journalism as a copywriter in the RTÉ. Her third novel Blood Runs Cold won the he Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award at the Irish Book Awards
My first book, Darkhouse, came to life because of two people: lead NYPD detective, Joe Lucchesi, and Texan psycho, Duke Rawlins. The story wouldn’t have existed without both of them. The first thing I wrote for the book was what I considered to be Joe’s most dramatic scene that does not feature Duke. And the second scene I wrote was Duke’s most dramatic scene that does not feature Joe. By doing that, I was distilling each of their characters, rooting them, so that when they eventually came together, the stage was set for their very particular dynamic.
In Joe, I found myself creating a man I liked and respected, who was a loyal husband and father, and who I would trust to solve the crime if I was a victim. Then I hacked some chunks out of that ideal. Duke is a violent psychopath, but my added motivation in creating him was to include his backstory and show the evolution of a serial killer. In the sequel, The Caller, Joe is back in New York, back in his job at the NYPD. He is unsettled, damaged, altered. Without realising it at the time, what I set in motion in The Caller, had outcomes to be returned to at a later date, not right away.
This is what left a door open for Special Agent Ren Bryce to walk through. Though, she would have probably smashed a wall in either way. I hadn’t thought of writing a female lead – I had always felt more drawn to writing men. Ren came to me fully formed as a bipolar FBI agent, and once I had that, I was hooked. Though we’re all so used to calling heroes and heroines flawed, I don’t see Ren’s bipolar condition as a flaw. I see it as something that can help and hinder her. Flaw sounds wrong to me. She can harness mania for a time to dazzling effect, but then the reins fly from her grip. When readers know Ren over the course of the books, they know her triggers, her nightmare scenarios, the warning signs of her highs and her crashes. Even if you strip away the central crimes of the novels, there is intrigue to be found with Ren alone. As Ren’s furious boss says at one point, ‘I have found myself riding the Ren Bryce rollercoaster again…’
And it’s a rollercoaster for me to write. I love writing Ren, I love writing her thoughts. And sometimes it’s the moments when you expect her to think something, when she really should be thinking something, and there is no internal thought, you know, perhaps, that something is amiss. In every book, there’s a crime to be solved, a mystery to unravel. And in every book, there is Ren to be solved, and Ren to unravel.
Ren and Joe are such different characters to write: Joe is serious and intense, but he has suffered more harrowing personal traumas. I like probing his sullenness, his introspection. Ren has a wilder side, and this is magnified when she’s manic. They are both risk takers, though, they are both rule-benders. And I like walking that line.
There is no sense of “lasting” with Ren – everything is in motion; the platform is unstable. Because of this, every book brings surprises to me. I always have definitive ideas about where she’s going, or, for example, if she’ll be medicated or not, but then I’ll start a scene and she’ll take me somewhere I hadn’t expected. I want readers to feel that too – that’s why, like her frustrated boss, I give her a lot of rope. She might lasso a killer with it, make a tyre swing, or abseil down a building, but either way, she’ll make use of what I throw her way.
For me, the wonderful part of what I do is being able to explore different heroes, heroines, villains and victims, and to have an editor and a publisher who supports that. When inspiration strikes, I’m very grateful to be able to harness it. I’ve just finished Killing Ways, the sequel to Harm’s Reach, and I was able to pursue a dream scenario that I’d been considering for many years. I owe that to my editor, Sarah Hodgson: I ran the idea by her, she said “go for it” and go for it I did. It was a blast.
You can find out more information about Alex Barclay and her books on her website or you can follow her Facebook.
Harm's Reach -
FBI Agent Ren Bryce finds herself entangled in two seemingly unrelated mysteries. But the past has a way of echoing down the years and finding its way into the present. FBI Agent Ren Bryce finally seems to have found balance. She's taking her medication, seeing her therapist and thinking about moving in with her boyfriend. But when she and her boss discover a pregnant woman shot to death inside an abandoned car, Ren finds herself embroiled in a case that will drag her into emotional turmoil and put her best friend in mortal danger. Why was Laura Finn driving towards a ranch for troubled teens in the middle of Colorado when her employers, the incredibly wealthy Princes, thought she was headed to Chicago to comfort a grieving friend? And what did she know about a cold case from 50 years ago, which her death dramatically reopens? As Ren and cold case investigator Janine Hooks slowly weave the threads together, a picture emerges of a privileged family with some very dark secrets...
Harm's Reach by Alex Barclay is out now (Harper Collins)