The Intel: Leigh Russell
Some people have crime authorship sequenced into them at a genetic level. Take Leigh Russell. An incredibly prolific author, she can write two, perhaps three crime novels a year. She’s the author of the Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson crime series, and her first novel Cut Short was shortlisted for for CWA Debut Dagger Award for Best First Crime Novel.
Now she’s begun a series starring a brand new, globe-trotting heroine - Lucy Hall. In Journey To Death Lucy arrives in the Seychelles determined to leave her worries behind. The tropical paradise looks sun-soaked and picture perfect - but as Lucy soon discovers, appearances can be very deceptive. A deadly secret lurks in the island’s history, buried deep but not forgotten. And it’s about to come to light…
For many years Leigh taught pupils with specific learning difficulties. She guest lectures for the Society of Authors, universities and colleges, and runs regular creative writing courses. She also runs the manuscript assessment service for the CWA. She’s even got her own YouTube channel. Oh, and she only wears purple.
Leigh’s an enthusiastic and fascinating writer, and a generous interviewee - so Crime Thriller is thrilled that she gives us the intel on Lucy, her extraordinary writing routine and how a writer must nurture their own voice…
Tell us about Lucy Hall…
At twenty-two, Lucy Hall is struggling to recover from a broken engagement. Hoping to cheer her up, her parents invite her to accompany them on a holiday to the idyllic island of Mahé in the Seychelles. The trip takes a dark and twisted turn as a secret threatens to destroy them. As she fights for her life, Lucy learns that she is far tougher and more resourceful than she had realised.
Where did you get the inspiration for Journey to Death?
I was intrigued by a first hand account of a political coup that took place in the Seychelles in the late 1970s. This true account was the inspiration for my story. Apart from the historical background, the narrative is fictitious, as are the characters. Like all my books, it started with the question, ‘what if?’, this time set against a beautiful tropical island background.
The novel is set in the Seychelles - what kind of research did you do on the tropical paradise?
My story was virtually written when I went to the Seychelles to check on the location. We spent two weeks walking along sandy beaches watching the fishing boats setting out at dawn, swimming in the warm ocean, and watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean. It was a magical trip. I spent time at the British High Commission, visited several police stations, walked around the market in the capital, Victoria, and went up into the Cloud Mountain, all of which feature in the book. Everyone I approached was incredibly generous with their time and expertise, and it all helped to add depth and credibility to my narrative.
You’re incredibly prolific, you write two or three books a year, and yet you’ve said you have no writing routine – how do you manage to fit it all in?
I ask myself that question all the time! The only answer I can give you is that I love writing. It’s fitting everything else in that’s the problem. I spend a lot of time on research, and also appear at literary festivals along with all the rest of the promotional activities required of authors. It’s great fun, but I am often exhausted. My typing is quite fast, but a book is not about putting words on the page. It’s about thinking and ideas, backed up by working out and research. Once my story is in place, off I go. My schedule is incredibly busy but I like to work hard, so as long as the ideas keep coming, I’ll keep writing.
You run the manuscript assessment service for the Crime Writers Association – what’s the one piece of advice you would offer aspiring crime writers?
The one piece of advice I would give is to trust yourself. Other people will challenge and question what you do all the time, and it’s vital for a writer to be able take advice on board when it feels right, but you need to have that inner core of belief in yourself as a writer or your voice will be lost.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
A number of negative reviews appeared on amazon shortly after one of my books reached number one on kindle, but you have to learn to take negative experiences like that on the chin. I try to focus on the many positive reviews, and the encouraging messages fans send to my website, which I find really inspiring. I think most authors worry that readers might not like their books, so it’s important to be reminded that there are fans who appreciate what you do. So far I’ve been thrilled by the positive response my books have received. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Lucy Hall is also well received.
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
Having spent four years studying English and American Literature at university in the UK, my reading taste is quite varied. I admire so many authors, it’s very hard to pick just a few, but names that spring to mind are John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Edith Wharton, Kazuo Ishiguro, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte… I could go on. Among contemporary crime writers Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver and Peter James, all of whom are fans of my books, Val McDermid, Ruth Rendell, Michael Robotham, Alexander McCall Smith… again I could go on. There are so many great writers around, we are spoilt for choice, thank goodness!
Give me some advice about writing…
The late great William McIlvanney wrote: ‘I didn’t tell people how to write. I encouraged them to write and to see that defying my advice was possibly as valuable as following it.’ To my way of thinking, this is excellent advice. There are no rules in writing, other than to make your writing work. If you want to try something that has never been done before, of course there might be a reason why no one else has attempted it, but why not give it a go? If you don’t try, you will never know if you could have succeeded. And challenging yourself is part of the thrill of writing.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the second book in the Lucy Hall series. This one sees Lucy in Paris, which of course required more research. We stayed in several locations near the centre of the city, visiting sites like the Eiffel Tower, and exploring fascinating areas off the tourist map. While we were there, we tried out different sorts of French food and wine… Yes, all this research is hard work!
Journey To Death is available now as a paperback and in ebook, published by Thomas & Mercer.