It’s the Life of Riley! Mary-Jane Riley to be precise! I asked Mary-Jane to feature on my blog (polite version of saying ‘write a post so I can put my feet up’) so I could be a nosy devil. Devil being quite apt considering the genre she writes. Anyway! As most of you are aware, I’m not a crime writer, so I wanted to find out ‘why crime?’, although I probably should have asked ‘what’s a nice girl like you writing crime?’! Please don’t put me in your book! Actually, do, five minutes of fame!! Luckily for us, Mary-Jane agreed to fulfil my nosiness and tell me what made her decide to write crime novels. Over to you Crime Lady!
Mary-Jane wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was
eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but
she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about
the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC
radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories,
but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades.
Want to keep up to date with Mary-Jane and her books? Here is how you can:
‘It is probably the question I’m asked most – what’s a nice girl like you doing writing
crime? (Actually, I made that up, normally people just look at me and frown then say, why crime?) And I say – well, let me tell you how I got here. I am a journalist by profession (trade?) which means I deal in facts that I have to check and re-check to make sure I’ve got the story right. This is satisfying in itself, but I had always wanted to write fiction. I started young, writing a story about a gang of children going on adventures and then one about a magical tree… but soon realised Enid Blyton had got that corner of the market sewn up, so I stopped for a few years.
I don’t know what made me pick up a pen again – itchy fingers perhaps – but I knew I wanted to try and write while my three young children were having naps (so that got me about 3.8 minutes clear in a day). I began by trying my hand at Mills and Boon. Easy, I thought. All I need is a bit of a love story. How wrong I was! It was hard. Harder than hard. And I didn’t get very far, though I did learn a valuable lesson: you have to believe in what you’re writing, really believe, otherwise your insincerity shines through like a beacon.
However, the children took over. They were growing up, I got a full-time job, any notions of writing a book took a back seat – until I made a friend at the school gates and we both went along to a local writing group. That started me writing again and I had success with stories for women’s magazines and small presses and I began to toy with the idea of writing a full-length novel. But what? Romance seemed to be the way to go, but – I love reading crime. Always have. I’ve devoured Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, Daphne Du Maurier, Ruth Rendell, PD James – the list is endless. But people like me didn’t write crime, did they? Then one day I had a ‘light bulb moment’. I was walking the dog (she plays a big part in my writing life) when I saw my husband coming down the road towards me. What if, I thought, a car stopped, he got in and I never saw him again? And that was it. The start of my first book, which got me an agent though not a publishing deal. But, as my agent said: ‘You’re a writer, so write!’ (She is not known as The Fearsome One for nothing). I just had to get on with next.
Another ‘what if’ moment came along, which stemmed from my work on the BBC News website… what if I had to go and interview someone who’d devastated my family years before? That was the starting point for my debut novel, THE BAD THINGS. I also knew I wanted two protagonists – a journalist (naturally!) called Alex Devlin and a police officer, Kate Todd, who had some ‘issues’, but not the normal alcoholism/broken marriage/difficult colleagues issues, and I wanted to explore the effects of a crime on both of them. I wanted to set it on the Suffolk coast, a seaside town in the winter. (I live in East Anglia and adore it). Eventually, after boring my husband, children and most particularly my dog with talk of plot, character and twists, and sitting my bottom on the chair in front of the computer I came up with roughly 95,000 words. Phew. Cue a lot of nail-biting when I sent it to my agent. She loved it. Told me to drink champagne.
Then came the business of sending it out to publishers. A German publisher loved it! In fact, three loved it so much that it went to auction… an extremely tense and exciting and nail-biting week followed (I keep my nails very short now) until one of them won out. Champagne again! Then some time after that, the editor of a new Harper Collins imprint, Killer Reads, said she wanted it. More rejoicing! More champagne! (In my defence, my agent told me I should celebrate every triumph… so I do… sometimes it’s Cava. Or Prosecco.)
‘I hope you’re getting on with the next one,’ The Fearsome One ordered while I was still reeling from the bubbles. ‘Er..yes…’ I said. I went out and bought a new notebook. I began to make notes. I knew I wanted to tell more of Alex’s story and I fancied setting the book in a village on the North Norfolk coast. And a boarding school. (As a child I’d always wanted to go to boarding school. I don’t any more). Yes, a private boarding school whose pupils didn’t get on with the youngsters in the village. And where’s the body? At the bottom of a crumbling cliff. And why does Alex go to this village I’ve called Hallow’s Edge? To help an old friend, of course. And there it was, the bare bones of the dreaded Book Two. My husband and children began avoiding me, but the dog had no choice, and so on long walks we talked plot, character and twists (I talked, she dug for moles). Then I sat that (now spreading) bottom on the chair in front of the computer and began writing. And 95,000 words and several cases of wine later I had AFTER SHE FELL.
Dear Reader, I drank yet more champagne.’
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that giggled at parts of that! Such an honest answer to a curious and dark question, thank you Mary-Jane! If you like the sound of her books, follow the links below where you can grab yourself a copy. Or, if you have read them already, please leave a review on Amazon/Goodreads if you haven’t already!