Those of you who have followed my blog for some time, know that I am a fan of Zoe Sharp, and particularly her protagonist Charlie Fox. Well, now Zoe has created and published a stand-alone novel, “Dancing on the Grave” If you would like to read an excerpt from the book, click here.
I looked forward to reading this book and must thank Ayo Onatade for inviting me to join the tour and to Zoe for providing an advance copy of the book for review
There are 11 other bloggers in the tour. Here’s the programme.
All of these bloggers are new to me, but won’t be for long. What a good group Zoe and Ayo have put together.
Note – If you are having problems reading the sites, here’s a link to Zoe’s site where the blog tour is listed.
My review of the book will be available on July 20 my other site, Books&morebooks.
Meantime, because I have a need to know, I asked Zoe a few questions about this book and some other things.
JB Hello Zoe, and thanks for agreeing to answer my questions. I hope they are not too intrusive.
After the series on Charlie Fox, was it time to take a break and write another stand alone?
ZS Well, this is not so much ‘after’ as ‘in between’. I’m currently writing the next Charlie Fox, which will be book #13 in the series. Plus, I have the prequel waiting in the wings, so Charlie Fox is still very much alive and kicking. But, it certainly makes you appreciate the familiar more when you take a break from it, I think. It’s been lovely getting back inside Charlie’s head. She has a dry, somewhat laconic sense of humour that makes her voice so distinctive for me as I’m writing.
All the Charlie Fox books, with the exception of a couple of the short stories, are told from first-person Point Of View. Being able to get inside the heads of other characters to tell the story from another perspective is very appealing at times. There are quite a few stories percolating through my brain that can’t be told within the framework of the series, so for those I need to step outside. I couldn’t have told Kelly Jacks’ story in THE BLOOD WHISPERER any other way than third-person POV, and although having a sniper on the loose might have worked very well as a threat for Charlie Fox to face in her capacity as a bodyguard, I would certainly not have been able to go into the mind-set of the peripheral characters as deeply as I’ve been able to do in DANCING ON THE GRAVE.
JB You have said that you were intrigued by the so-called Washington Snipers’ attacks; what motivated you to use these actions or similar actions as the basis for your story?
ZS What always intrigues me most about true crime stories is how rarely most of us get to hear the whole story. Sometimes the snippets we do hear linger in the mind and the only thing you can do, as an author, is to write your own ending or fill in the blanks. I think most writers find the basis for their ideas in fact, which they extrapolate to the nth degree. I love to take an idea and go, “Well, what if…”
I was fascinated following the news reports of the sniper attacks in the States—indeed, at one point I was over there in that area while they were taking place. Snipers provoke a particular kind of fear in people. The fear of being watched, of being preyed upon, of never knowing who’s next, or where death is going to strike. It’s why they are such an effective weapon in war. As much for the psychological effects on the population as the physical effects.
But at the same time, I wanted to explore the psychological fallout for the sniper, and what happens when the Powers That Be decide that they’re no longer an effective tool. How do you simply switch off that skill, that training, and return to civilian life? We are very bad at re-acclimatising our ex-army personnel in the UK, particularly those who have fallen foul of the military system. There doesn’t seem to be an effective safety net and many simply fall through the cracks. I wanted to look at what might happen to one of those people.
JB Can you tell me why you chose to set this story in such a peaceful and lovely area of Britain? No doubt no area is totally free of horrendous crime, but this seems to be an almost idyllic area.
ZS Having lived and built a house in the English Lake District, I can vouch for the fact it can be idyllic. At the time I first conceived the idea for this book—shortly after the Washington Sniper attacks in 2002—it probably was almost unthinkable that something of that nature could happen there. But then a man called Derrick Bird ran amok in the west of the county in 2010. He shot twenty-two people, thirteen of whom died (including himself, last of all). Suddenly the unthinkable was not only possible, but a reality. It made me put the book aside for a long time. When I picked it up again and began a rewrite, I included references to the Bird case. It would have been unnatural for the police characters involved not to think of it, as soon as the first victim is killed.
And sometimes the contrast of gritty crime in a rural setting can be very effective. Just because something is beautiful on the surface, it doesn’t mean there isn’t vast ugliness lurking beneath the skin. Besides, I’ve always liked playing with the reader’s perceptions in a story. I’ve done it throughout the Charlie Fox books, and it felt natural to continue doing so here.
JB As I said to you earlier, the characters in the book are totally believable, in particular, the two leads, Nick and Grace. May we expect to hear/read more of these two?
ZS Well, having said at the outset that DANCING ON THE GRAVE was a standalone, the overwhelming reaction to the book so far is that it should be the start of a new series. I confess that I do have several other plotlines worked out for Grace and Nick, most of which are specifically linked to the Lake District. I’ve always thought a plot is stronger if there is a definite reason for it to take place where it does. That way, the location becomes almost another character in the book. So, yes, there is the possibility of more from those two, although there are other stories I’d like to tell first…
JB And what a great character Edith is. Did you have a certain person in mind when you started writing about her? Is she based on someone you read about or knew, even remotely?
ZS As far as I’m aware (and I freely admit my subconscious could be playing tricks on me here) Edith isn’t based on anyone I know or have ever met. She was simply one of those characters who appear out of nowhere and utterly own the show. For me, she stepped onto the page, fully formed, in much the way Charlie Fox did originally. All I had to do was write down what she did and what she told me. Although, in Edith’s case, you can take much of what she says with a pinch of salt. The most important lies are the ones she tells herself.
JB The story touches on fame in today’s society. Do you think many young people are looking for a way or ways to become famous?
ZS Absolutely, I do. Not only are people looking for a way to become a ‘celebrity’ however you interpret the meaning of that word, but they’re looking for the easiest, fastest way to get where they want to go. I mean, everybody knows, deep down, that the only way to successfully lose weight and to keep it off is to reduce your food intake below the level of your energy expenditure, and to maintain that balance over time to make slow and steady progress. That doesn’t stop the proliferation of books and articles offering myriad ways to ‘Halve Your Body Size in a Month!’, ‘Lose Weight Without Dieting!’, ‘Get Six-Pack Abs Without Ever Leaving Your Couch!’, ‘Drop Three Dress Sizes by Tomorrow!’ Nor does it dent the popularity of such advice. Everybody wants a shortcut. In the book, Edith dreams of fame and fortune but has no idea how to achieve it, until fate apparently steps in and offers her what she believes she’s looking for.
JB What is the best time for you to write?
ZS Er, when I’m awake. Seriously, I tend to work any time of the day now. When I first started, and it was very much a case of working around the cracks of the day job, I used to get up early in the morning to write, but these days I can often work late into the evening and into the following morning again. The only problem I face is actually falling asleep at my keyboard. I can tell when I’ve done this, as the next time I open up the file, the last paragraph or so will be utter nonsensical gibberish.
JB Where do you call home these days?
ZS Good question. I do officially own a house again after a gap of about four years, but I’m not actually living in it at the moment. Instead, I’ve been moving around, house and pet-sitting or travelling. I spend the winters in an old stone farmhouse in the Derbyshire Peak District, stoking the wood-burning stove and minding a couple of very demanding cats while their owner goes to Italy to escape the British weather and work on his latest novel. As I write this, I’m cat-sitting in the south of France. So, where do I call home? Anywhere I can plug in a laptop and access the internet. Animal company preferred.
JB I know you can write anywhere, is it in longhand initially or straight on to your computer?
ZS I like to rough out a scene in pencil using what I laughingly call my neck-top computer, (still haven’t made the leap to an iBrain) maybe the bones of the dialogue, or the run of the action, then I go to my laptop. As I write up my notes, everything gets filled out and expanded. I experimented with dictation software, but to be honest I fiddle around quite a bit as I put the words on the page and, because I touch-type, it was quicker just to do it manually.
JB I’ve always thought it must be particularly hard, if fun, to write about a crime scene investigator’s role. Do you have a friendly CSI to help you?
ZS I was lucky enough to spend some time with CSIs from Cumbria Constabulary when I was first planning and writing the book, and I also talked to their Firearms officers, did a ride-along with one of the Motorway Patrols, and talked to Special Constables—part-time volunteers, now called Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). I read extensively, of course, including the textbooks that are used to train crime-scene technicians in the UK, and went over to see Ian and Helen Pepper, a husband and wife team of former CSIs who now write and teach on the subject.
It was helpful for Grace’s character, as well, that I spent twenty-five years as a photojournalist, so the photography side was second nature to me. As is always the case, though, you do a LOT of research and then leave the majority of that information out of the book, otherwise it reads more like a textbook or travel guide than a novel. Having said that, everyone likes to feel they’ve gleaned a piece of inside info, a trick-of-the-trade, a secret that only those in the know might know. It’s a fine balance.
I write first and foremost to tell a good tale—to allow a reader to make a journey inside their own head that they might never make otherwise, to take them out of themselves. If I manage to sneak in a few valid points about the state of modern society, and people absorb those elements as a contextual part of the story and—just maybe—agree with me, then that’s a bonus, isn’t it?
JB Thank you Zoe for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. Enjoy your time in France and I look forward to the next book.
Zoe is currently on holiday in France, house/cat-sitting for a friend. She sent this photo of the cats, Inky and Spatz, to share with you.
And don’t forget my review of Dancing on the Grave will be available on my other blog, Books&morebooks on July 20. Meantime, enjoy some of the other bloggers take on the book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zoë Sharp was born in Nottinghamshire but spent most of her formative years living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. After a promising start at a private girls’ school, she opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve in favour of correspondence courses at home.
Sharp went through a variety of jobs in her teenage years. In 1988, on the strength of one accepted article and a fascination with cars, she gave up her regular job to become a freelance motoring writer. She quickly picked up on the photography side of things and her photojournalism took her as far afield as Japan and the United States, as well as work all over Europe, Ireland, and the UK. She is now a full-time fiction author and creator of the Charlie Fox series of crime thrillers.
Sharp wrote her first novel when she was fifteen, but success came in 2001 with the publication of KILLER INSTINCT—the first book to feature her ex-Special Forces turned bodyguard heroine, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox. The character evolved after Sharp received death-threat letters in the course of her photojournalism work.
As well as the Charlie Fox novels, Sharp has written several standalones, including collaborations with highly regarded espionage thriller author, John Lawton. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines, and have been shortlisted for the Short Story Dagger by the UK Crime Writers’ Association. Her other writing has won or been nominated for numerous awards on both sides of the Atlantic, been used in Danish school textbooks, inspired an original song and music video, and been optioned for TV and film.
A keen library supporter and public speaker, Sharp blogs regularly on her Blog page. She also witters on Twitter (@AuthorZoeSharp) and fools about on Facebook (ZoeSharpAuthor). She was formerly a long-term contributor to the acclaimed Murderati blog. She’s a regular blogger at MURDER IS EVERYWHERE and also has a presence on goodreads.
Zoë Sharp leads a somewhat peripatetic lifestyle. When she isn’t crewing yachts, renovating houses, or improvising weapons out of everyday objects, she can often be found international pet-sitting in various corners of the world.