This week I talk to gritty crime writer Mel Sherratt, who stormed up the Kindle charts with her debut novel Taunting The Dead. Now she’s just released her second book, Somewhere To Hide, which is promising to be just as successful, and she’s got a third novel on the way.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always been interested in writing – from as far back as writing short stories in exercise books at school. I just love words – writing and reading. And I’ve always wanted to write a book. To see my name on the cover, see what people have to say about it – that’s always special and a great motivator.
Have you always wanted to write about crime specifically?
Strangely enough, I think my writing was influenced by my reading and I’ve come full circle. My early attempts of writing a book were more crime thriller (even though I was into reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz) – actually I still love my first idea which was a kind of paranormal, psychological thriller…I may write it one day now I’ve learned how to do it! I then started to read the greats such as Marian Keyes, Adele Parks and Lisa Jewell and my writing attempts were then lighter but with a working class edge. And then my writing just went darker. I decided to study more crime thrillers and wrote Somewhere To Hide. And then I took it one stage further and wrote Taunting The Dead, predominantly a police procedural.
When I read Taunting the Dead, I found myself both attracted to and revolted by the villainous Terry Ryder. Where did you get the inspiration for his character from?
Thanks so much for reading it. Terry Ryder is actually based on a local business man that I have never met, nor would think he would be anything like him in real life! My only aim was to create a good-looking charmer who is a ruthless and dangerous man underneath. I wanted readers to like him one minute and loathe him the next. And of course there are lots of screen bad boys that I could use as inspiration too.
DS Allie Shenton’s marriage certainly got put to the test in Taunting the Dead. I got the impression she’s capable of sabotaging a good thing…
Wow, that’s a great impression to get, thanks. Yes, Allie is a passionate soul. I always intended her to be a likeable person, at home and at work. I wanted her to be warm yet vulnerable and strong at the same time. I also wanted a character that was content within a loving relationship but may or not be tempted when the situation arose. And I think it depended on your views around infidelity if you really liked her or not…
What are you writing next? Will we see more of Allie Shenton?
I’m just about to start finishing off the second novel in The Estate series, Behind A Closed Door, which is out in October. The main character in this one is Josie Mellor. She’s a housing officer so it’s about some of the cases she deals with on the estate, as well as some of her work life around domestic violence starting to mirror her home life.
DS Allie Shenton is a tricky one. There are so many people asking me to write the next one but for me, I think the success of Taunting The Dead was partly because the book was set around a ‘did she, didn’t she’ question. There is a lot of sexual tension and obviously there can’t be that in the next book. I’m worried that it then might become too ‘ordinary.’ Scary stuff, although at this moment in time, I do intend to bring out another Allie Shenton book. When? Hmm…
When you write, do you plan the whole story carefully before you start writing, or do you let the story evolve as you write?
I do a bit of both. I start with the characters and their stories and this usually gives me a rough beginning, middle and end. Then I interlink the sub plots and create about twenty chapters consisting of bullet points. Those twenty chapters turn into about forty as I draft the story out. But I do let the characters dictate – which sounds bizarre as I am the writer – but if a character goes off plot, I know it’s for a reason and as I always write a quick ‘dirty’ first draft, I can figure out what I need to happen as a result of those changes later in the second draft.
Do you have a muse or someone you frequently go to for honest feedback on your writing?
I have five people. I have my best friend from my home town who isn’t a writer, I have three writer friends and also my mum. I have to say they are all extremely honest, to the point of being brutal but that’s what I need to hear. Fresh eyes always make something better in my opinion.
When do you know you’ve finished writing your book?
Once I’ve finished with it, and my five readers have come back to me with their thoughts, I do one more draft and then I’m done writing wise. I send the book off to a copy editor and she checks through it for me. Because I’ve self-published them, I then read the script three times before uploading it so I can spot/change any tiny amendments, even plot-wise if I still feel the need. Once it’s uploaded, then I can say it’s finished.
As a writer, you’re bound to have had your fair share of rejections from publishers. How have you learned to overcome that?
Rejection has been a biggie for me. I took the last one really hard last year after four months of hoping and going a step further and a step further, but as a writer you need to learn to pick yourself up, brush yourself down and carry on. Also, in the case of Somewhere To Hide, not writing something that fitted into a genre mould has meant it’s been harder for me. But I do believe in what I write and thankfully readers have enjoyed it.
What other obstacles have you had to overcome in your writing career?
I suppose it would have to be trying to overcome self-doubt – although it still gets to me every now and then. I mean, really, I sold how many books!
What would your top tip be to all aspiring novelists out there?
Always keep honing your craft, playing with words, read others to learn from and, above all, love what you do. Trust your gut reaction. And if you’re after a book deal, never give up!