How does it feel to be a winner?
Wonderful. I'm still walking on air – the competition was so fierce. It's marvellous that my work is starting to be recognised by people within the East Midlands; especially as I'm writing and setting my novels in Derby. It's gratifying to know that because of the award I'll be able to reach more readers.
Crime, as a genre, has faced a lot of snobbery, particularly in terms of it being recognised as ‘real’ literature. How important is winning awards like this in terms of changing these perceptions?
Very important. The EMBA takes submissions from all genres so you have to be a very good writer to get shortlisted. The snobbery exists but will eventually subside because the genre has changed beyond all recognition and the quality of the writing has never been higher.
What’s the book about?
A cold case involving missing young migrant women stretching back several years is revisited when an Irish student disappears.
This is the fifth in the DI Damen Brook series. What is it like to write a series and what does this character mean to you?
Writing a series is an odd mixture of the comforting and the alarming. Comforting because when you have a couple of great characters like DI Brook and DS Noble, who bounce off each other so well, it's an absolute joy to write. Alarming because, although regular characters need their tropes, it's important to keep things fresh and have characters develop together. You have to be on your toes and keep changing things so their relationship never becomes stale.
The book deals with some sensitive issues such as religious extremism. What responsibilities do you feel you have as an author in representing them?
You have to ensure that any such characters are written as fully-rounded human beings and not as caricatures. Like most real people, good and bad coexists and it's important to show both sides even if, at a particular time, the bad manifests itself as evil. Researching the psychology of such people is very interesting – fanatics who reject the norms of society that we take for granted, and yet believe completely in their righteousness.
What makes a good whodunnit?
Credible characters that you believe in, and potentially root for, are essential. If readers don't care about the people you create, you're lost. The rest is in the plotting to ensure you can conceal the killer from the reader and yet make certain that they've had all the clues they needed to come to the right conclusion.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Don't dream, don't think, don't plan. Sit down in a chair and get writing. As the old saying goes, "You can fix a broken page but you can't fix a blank one."