25 March 2016

The Intel: Isabelle Grey

Isabelle GreyHere’s an Easter treat… we’re great fans of Isabelle Grey here at Crime Thriller Fella, so we’re delighted to be taking part in the Blog Tour for her hard-hitting new novel Shot Through The Heart.

We loved Grey’s first Grace Fisher novel Good Girls Don’t Die, and now Grace, and the wonderfully disreputable journalist Ivo Sweatman, return in a story which follows the shocking consequences of a multiple shooting in Essex at Christmas - when five people five people are gunned down before the lone shooter turns his weapon on himself.

Grace, now a Detective Inspector, is tasked with making some sense of this atrocity - all the more sensitive because the first of the victims was one of their own: a police officer. The case throws her back together with crime reporter Sweatman, but as she investigates it becomes clear that the police connection goes much deeper than she thought.

As the evidence of corruption grows and she is obstructed at every turn, Grace knows she is walking further into danger. Then, her young key witness disappears . . .

Isabelle is a lifelong writer. She’s been a television scriptwriter - writing episodes of Accused and Midsomer Murders, among others - a journalist and an author of non-fiction. In this fascinating interview she talks about Grace, gun crime, how her own experiences as a journalist inspired the roguish Sweatman, and how words on a page are never wasted…

Tell us about DI Grace Fisher…

DI Grace Fisher is a young woman who isn’t afraid to make mistakes, or to live with the consequences of her actions. A life spent writing fiction can sometimes feel trivial and irresponsible, so Grace was inspired by close women friends who do demanding jobs in the real world - head teacher, GP. Their daily decisions have lasting consequences, and I wanted Grace to feel that her work carries weight in the same way.

How has the character developed since her debut in Good Girls Don’t Die?

In Shot Through The Heart Grace feels a little older and wiser, grateful for friends she can trust, but not yet ready to go looking for anything more intimate. Her passion is directed instead towards rooting out bullying and corruption in the police, even if she has to bend her own rules to do so.

Shot Through The Heart follows Grace’s investigation into a multiple shooting on Christmas Day – when researching the novel what did you learn about gun crime in the UK?

The idea for the book began with a newspaper article about the conviction of a criminal armourer. I became intrigued by how such a pivotal underworld figure could manage to remain so shadowy and hidden while illicit weapons were so readily available on the street. I then found Home Office reports that supplied exhaustive detail on guns and gun crime in the UK. Around that time, as a volunteer with the prison charity The New Bridge, I was making visits to the high security prison, Whitemoor, near Ely. Driving through the flat and lonely fenland landscape, I passed a sign for a gunsmith on an otherwise empty road; on each of the long journeys home, I began to spin a story about the gunsmith’s daughter.

Shot Through The Heart

Why are we as readers so intrigued by shocking violent events such as random shootings, do you think?

I think it’s because they are so often random. Like the invented commencement speech, Wear Sunscreen, they’re the kind of troubles that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday. They appear to come out of nowhere, the victims may have no connection whatever with the shooter and have done absolutely nothing to deserve such a fate, yet these tragedies are not senseless. Something drives each shooter to enact such atrocities.

Cynical crime reporter Ivo Sweatman makes his second appearance in the series – was Ivo shaped by your own experiences in journalism?

Ivo is certainly shaped by the romantic idealism I felt for journalism when I began writing for The Times in the late 1970s. I was a feature writer - I never managed to become a reporter - but I’d been at school as Watergate unfolded and had followed every detail. Even though Ivo works for a fairly sleazy tabloid, he would love this year’s Oscar-winner, Spotlight, about the investigative team on the Boston Globe who broke the story about the protection given to paedophile priests by the Catholic Church. It’s a film that proves how incredibly important - and exciting - good journalism can be.

As a television screenwriter, how did you come to write novels?

There were stories I wanted to tell that, for various reasons, I was unlikely to get commissioned for television. I’m lucky to have a wonderful editor at Quercus, Jane Wood, who allows me the freedom to find my story in the writing – a luxury that the structure of the film and television industry is seldom able to offer. Of course it would be lovely if a production company wanted to pick up Grace Fisher for a TV series!

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Apart from the fact that rejection hurts?! It’s that, if something’s getting in the way of my story, I have to dump it, even if it’s most of what I’ve written or a character I love. It’s vital to be clear about what my story really is. If the abandoned material deserves a place elsewhere, it’ll worm its way back in some other form. Nothing is ever wasted.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

TV crime dramas are now ‘authored’ in a way they seldom used to be, and I really admire writers like Sally Wainwright for Happy Valley, Jed Mercurio for Line of Duty or Baltasar Kormákur who created the recent Icelandic drama Trapped.

Give me some advice about writing…

Keep going. Finish it. Then re-write. More than once. Do everything you can to help the reader get the most out of the experience of reading your work.

What’s next for you and Grace?

I’m over halfway through the first draft of the next book, in which Grace investigates a ‘non-recent’ allegation of child sex abuse, with all the political intrigue, denial and double-dealing that goes along with that. It brings her up against Scotland Yard, who aren’t going to be very happy with her!


Shot Through The Heart is out right now in hardback and ebook, published by Quercus. Happy reading this Easter!