Thursday, 23 March 2023

Barking Up the Right Tree with Leigh Russell

Part of the excitement of writing fiction is the seemingly never ending stream of challenges this poses for the writer. What is driving my killer to murder the victims? How will the killer manage to evade capture until the end of the book? And how is my detective finally going to track them down? To achieve a balance between unpredictability and plausibility is just one of the many challenges a crime writer faces. Questions like these have kept me happily occupied through the twenty books I have so far written for my detective, Geraldine Steel. 

The 19th title in my Geraldine Steel series, Final Term, was published in January 2023 and the 20th, Without Trace, is out in August, and the series seems set to continue for a while yet. When I wrote the first book in the series, Cut Short, I had no idea that it would even find a publisher, let alone be the first in a long running series. Yet here we are, and I’m still wondering about my killer’s motivation, and their escape from the crime scene, and how my detective manages to apprehend them. After twenty books, the challenges remain as demanding and enjoyable as ever.

Challenging and rewarding though writing is, sometimes we all like to branch out and try our hand at something different. As a reader, I like to mix my material up, following a gritty crime thriller with a cosy novel, and constantly dipping in and out of different genres. Over the past few weeks, for example, I’ve gone from Lee Child’s Jack Reacher to Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotswe - both crime but very different - along with with Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat, with Antony Horowitz’s Forever and A Day thrown into the mix.

The same applies to my writing, where I occasionally take a break from writing about Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel’s murder investigations to focus on something else. Having written a historical novel set in sixteenth century Venice, a dystopian novel written during lockdown, and a trilogy set in different locations overseas, I’ve crossed several ‘genre boundaries’. But throughout my busy and varied writing career, I’ve never considered myself ‘cosy’ - at least not in my writing. 

So it was with no expectations of finding a publisher that I wrote a cosy crime story last year. If I’m honest, while writing it, I didn’t even realise my story fell into the cosy crime genre. As with all of my books, I simply had a story in mind and followed it through to its conclusion, without considering its genre. Inspired by my daughter’s rescue puppy, Barking Up the Right Tree is my first cosy crime novel. As it turns out, it won’t be my last. Having read the manuscript, my publisher offered me a three book deal which, needless to say, I accepted with alacrity! And so my idea for Poppy’s Mystery Tales has been transformed into actual books. The series features an adorable little Jack Tzu - a cross between a Jack Russell and a Shih Tzu. Poppy, the star of the stories, was inspired by a real Jack Tzu I fell in love with as soon as my daughter introduced me to her. 

Many authors write more than one series - Martin Edwards, Ely Griffiths, L.C. Tyler, are just a few who spring to mind, and they are legion. Some publish different series under different names, but there was never any suggestion of my writing Poppy’s Mystery Tales under another name. I suspect my publisher is hoping to pick up a few sales for The Poppy Mystery Tales on the strength of my name. As for me, it’s complicated enough for me to live with one pseudonym. I’m not sure I could cope with having a third name! I still remember how surreal it seemed, the first time I signed a contract online. ‘That isn’t my signature,’ I thought. ‘It isn’t my handwriting. And it’s not even my name.’ Yet the contract was a document as binding as any other legal document. Something virtual had become real. This strikes me as entirely fitting, because in some ways the imaginary worlds inhabited by my fictional characters feel as real as the world where I live.

Geraldine Steel’s investigations look set to tax my ingenuity for a good few years yet, while Poppy’s Mystery Tales are already setting me different challenges… and I can honestly say I love writing both series! 

Barking Up the Right Tree by Leigh Russell (Oldcastle Books/ No Exit Ptress) Out Now

After losing her job and her boyfriend, Emily is devastated. As she is puzzling over what to do with the rest of her life, she is surprised to learn that her great aunt has died, leaving Emily her cottage in the picturesque Wiltshire village of Ashton Mead. But there is one condition to her inheritance: she finds herself the unwilling owner of a pet. Not knowing what to expect, Emily sets off for the village, hoping to make a new life for herself. In Ashton Mead, she soon makes friends with Hannah who runs the Sunshine Tea Shoppe and meets other residents of the village where she decides to settle. All is going well... until Emily's ex-boyfriend turns up and against the advice of her new friends, she takes him back. When Emily decides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a neighbour, she unwittingly puts her own life in danger..

More information about Leigh Russell and her work can be found on her website. You can also find her on Facebook and on Twitter @LeighRussell 

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