Delighted to be taking part in Susan Handley’s #FeatherAndClaw blog tour today! Massive thanks to Emma Welton of #damppebblesblogtours for the invite. I have a fabulous Q&A to share but first, a little about the author and this book!
Susan Handley grew up in the Midlands and despite a love of literature, and crime fiction in particular, she never dreamt of being able to carve out a career as a published writer. But the desire to write never left her and after years of writing by night she has at last been able to share the results of her efforts.
Susan now lives in a small village in rural Kent with her husband and three cats. When she’s not indulging in her love of writing crime fiction she loves walking (the hillier the better), bike riding (the flatter the better) and tending her veggie patch.
Susan has published two novels. A Confusion of Crows is the first to feature DC Cat McKenzie, a one-time marine biologist turned detective. In the second in the series, Feather and Claw, the death of a fellow guest sees Cat put her holiday on hold and turn detective, only with no team to rely on and outside of her jurisdiction, she learns the hard way that trying to outwit a murderer is no game. A third Cat McKenzie mystery is due out in 2020.
Susan has also produced a collection of short stories, called Crime Bites Volume 1. Full of bite-size crime stories there’s bound to be something to suit all tastes. A second volume is due to be published later in 2019.
About the Book
They say choice not chance determines human destiny, but on foreign shores not everyone is what they seem and choices can be ill informed.
Mentally and physically exhausted after her last case, Cat McKenzie heads to the sunny shores of Southern Cyprus. When a fellow guest, an American business man, suddenly dies, Cat’s instincts scream foul play. Unable to step out of her skin as a detective, she can’t help but start to dig.
Drawn into a dark world inhabited by arsonists, bird-trappers and a cold-hearted killer, Cat is soon playing a dangerous game; one that has tragic consequences.
To get closer to the truth, Cat must get closer to the killer and allow the killer to get closer to her. But surrounded by strangers, each appearing to be as respectable as the other, she first needs to figure out which of them are feather and which of them are claw.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I was an avid reader as a child and always had my nose pressed into a book. I hadn’t considered writing anything until I was in my late teens. My mum had been collecting Agatha Christie books for years. Every birthday and Christmas I would buy her another for her collection. Then the inevitable happened and there were no more books to buy – she’d amassed the complete works. I thought there was nothing else for it other than to write her one myself. I bought an old Olivetti typewriter out of the local paper and for several months spent every spare minute tapping away, hoping to create a story Agatha would have been proud of. Needless to say, I didn’t. The end result was pretty dreadful. Even though it was years before I sat down and penned my next novel, I often think back to that first attempt and how much I enjoyed writing it, despite how badly it turned out.
Conversations with my younger self
Work accounts for an incredible amount of your life and the weekends seem impossibly short (I’m sure they get shorter as you get older). Instead of taking a job that pays for more exotic holidays — because you yearn to escape the rat race — try to find a job doing something you love. If you’re lucky, Sunday sees you dying to get stuck back into work, rather than dreading it.
Once you’re working in a field you’re interested in, all manner of opportunities will come your way. Who knows where it might end up? How exciting is that!
Advice for first time writers
This advice has been shamelessly cribbed from pretty much every self-help book for authors there is, but I have found it so helpful it would be wrong not to share.
1: Write. Every day if possible. If you want to be a writer you need to be able to lay words on a page. It doesn’t matter if they’re the right words, or in the right order. That can all be sorted out later, at the fun stage: the editing (come on, some people must enjoy editing, right?)
2: Read. I make time to read every day and try to experiment with different authors and occasionally dabble with genres other than crime (especially on holiday, when I have more time). Once I’ve finished a book, I always write a review and post it on Goodreads. Even this constitutes ‘writing’ so it’s a win-win. Reviewing a book also makes me stop and reflect on what I liked about the story (or didn’t like), which I then take into consideration with my own writing. It’s also a good point of reference, reminding me of whose books I enjoyed when it comes to choosing my next read.
3: Feedback is your friend. When I first started writing, I thought my work was pretty good (that soon changed). The main reason I thought that, was because, in my head it all made sense. I could clearly see the scenes I was trying to convey. Sadly, often my readers could not. It wasn’t until I solicited feedback from others that I could see the flaws in my writing and work to improve them.
It’s important not to over-react though. Different people like different things. Take the feedback, consider it and if you agree with it, act on it. If you don’t agree with it — see what someone else thinks.
This is what works for me but if these don’t work for you, with so much great advice out there, you’re bound to find some that does.
What are your five most memorable books and why?
This is a really tough question, there are so many books I’ve read and loved it’s hard to confine it to such a small number, but the following books stand out in my memory, for one reason or another:
Evil Under the Sun, Agatha Christie — I love all Agatha Christie stories. I grew up on them. Picking one up makes me feel like sinking into a sumptuous sofa, snuggling under a warm blanket on a snowy day and shutting out the rest of the world. Her writing transports me to a different world, a seemingly benign world, yet one where all sorts of evil lurks. This one stands out to me because of the peppering of clues that appears throughout the story. They seem so obvious when you get to the end of the story, but as they emerge their importance is anything but. It may be that if I were to read this fresh today, I might not find the ending such a surprise, or the writing as atmospheric, but as a teenager I absolutely loved it.
The Concrete Blonde, Michael Connelly – this was the first book by Michael Connelly I read. It was given to me as a Christmas present and it marked the start of a long-standing relationship with Harry Bosch. Apart from Ed McBain I hadn’t really read much American crime fiction when I read this. Needless to say, that soon changed. My bookcase now groans under the weight of American authors such as Patricia Cornwell, David Baldacci and James Patterson.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee – this is the most unlikely of crime stories told through the eyes of a child. It tells of different times — though the similarities with today are sometimes frightening — and shows how misleading assumptions based on convention can be. A beautiful story told in such a captivating way; it is deservedly recognised as a literary great.
Into the Blue, Robert Goddard – I have a book-swap corner of a small hotel in Egypt to thank for this find. Having finished all the books I’d taken on holiday with me, I swapped one of my books for this one and fell in love with Mr Goddard’s enticing style of writing. His writing flows effortlessly creating characters that soon feel as real as flesh and bone… or should that be as real as flesh and funny bones, as his leading characters are usually bestowed with a wry sense of humour, despite being up to their neck in trouble.
If Only they Could Talk, James Herriot – This charming insight into the world of a Yorkshire Vet in the 1950s taught me that books don’t have to be riddled with drama to entertain. That and the fact that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The book is full of bitter-sweet stories of real-life events. It made me cry but it also made me laugh, a lot. I think it’s really important to stir the emotions of your readers if you want your writing to make an impact on them, especially if it’s unexpected, such as crime fiction that makes you laugh. This is why I love authors such as Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton and Caimh McDonnell.
How do you go about writing – are you a plotter or a pantster?
When I first started to write I would only have the most basic outline of a story. I knew who the victim was, who kills them and why. That was all I had when I embarked on writing my first two novels. I found it really liberating to just write and see what came out. The only problem was, as I approached the end of the first draft, I found myself wondering how the hell the protagonist is going to pull the rabbit out of the hat and show the readers whodunnit. It led to an awful lot of unpicking and re-writing when I found I’d backed myself into a corner.
Nowadays I work on figuring out the: who, why and how, as well as having a good idea of how the crime will be revealed before I get into the actual writing. Sometimes I will write the odd scene or two before that; it’s almost like I’m trying the characters on for size before I commit.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
My current writing space is pretty much it:
It gets lots of sun (I’m a bit of a hothouse flower and need lots of light and warmth); there’s a little reading corner with a comfy chair next to my ‘to be read’ pile; and I’m surrounded by lots of bits and pieces I’ve collected over the years, which I find to be a great source of inspiration — my latest finds are 2 large venetian masks that I picked up from a boot fair. Plus, there are enough places for the cats to sit and keep me company; otherwise I’d have no one to talk to all day (I’m not one of those crazy cat ladies, honestly!)
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I live in a rural part of Kent in England, surrounded by quiet country lanes. I love being outdoors and find the countryside good for the soul as well as being a great source of inspiration. It’s particularly good walking country – ideal for when I’m trying to figure out a particularly knotty problem with a plot.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
I am not immune to spending time on social media or just randomly looking at things for the house or garden when I should be writing. This seems to happen a lot when I hit a sticking point in my latest work in progress. One minute I’m trying to figure out how to resolve a plot issue, the next I’ve gone and bought a bookcase. But hey, you can never have too many books… or bookcases, right?
Thank you so much, Susan! Lots of interesting answers and advice here! Readers, follow the #damppebblesblogtour and see what’s happening with everyone else: