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15 December 2020

Fiona Sherlock: ‘If what you’re writing feels a bit dark, remember it’s escapism for the reader’

(C) John Shortt Photography 2020
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, Writing Tips

Fiona Sherlock studied on our three-month online Writing Your Novel course back in 2018. This year she signed two book deals! One with the Irish publisher Poolbeg Press and another with Hodder & Stoughton. Her debut novel Twelve Motives for Murder was published by Hodder Studios earlier this month.

We caught up with Fiona to find out more about her time on the course, her approach to writing crime fiction and her journey to publication…

This year you signed not one but two book deals! A three-book deal with Poolbeg Press – who will publish the book your worked on with us (Preserved) in March 2021 – and a two-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton. How did it feel when you knew you were going to be a published author?

I was sitting on my kitchen floor in tears by the time my agent got the news out over the phone. I knocked a box of Cheerios all over the place and my little girl, who was about two at the time, was trying to tell me not to worry about the cereal. To learn that Poolbeg would be publishing my book was just incredible.  I felt so grateful, so lucky and in a sense validated. Only a few months before I had left my full-time job to be a writer so it made it all worthwhile!

Your debut novel Twelve Motives for Murder was recently published my Hodder Studios. The book unravels a murder mystery told through a series of interviews with twelve suspects and it lends itself so well to an immersive audiobook experience. Did you have that format in mind when you were writing the book?

It was always the plan to have twelve suspects – one for each day of Christmas! Even though I knew the killer from the start, there were points in each of the interviews where I suspected every single one of them. It really was as if I was sitting in on the interview – and I hope that translates to the audiobook. There were some technical tweaks from regular prose too – no long paragraphs describing sounds.

How did your time on our three-month online Writing Your Novel course impact your approach to writing?

Doing the CBC course was a game-changer for me. I really felt like a writer when I finished it. The quality of the interactions with the tutor and my peers was invaluable. The book I was working on at the time, Preserved, is set in Ireland. There’s lots of local language and it was especially useful to workshop with an international audience of serious students. I learned a lot from seeing how other writers work and what their rationale for writing certain things was.

What is one piece of advice from your tutor Suzannah Dunn that has stuck with you?

How to let things flow without overengineering things.

Many of our students find a real community on our courses – are you still in touch with any of your course mates?

We still have our Facebook group and are regularly in touch. We even went for a glamorous lunch in St Pancras pre-Covid, I flew in from Ireland and another member arrived on the Eurostar.

Do you have any top tips for crime writers?

I kept all of my prep and notes and plot points on one single Excel sheet which allowed me to mind dump but stay reasonable organised.

If what you’re writing feels a bit dark, remember it’s escapism for the reader. So it’s a good thing. We live such sanitised, safe lives these days, I’m convinced one reason crime fiction is so popular is to meet that caveman need for blood.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

I have a small baby so I write when he sleeps. I get about three hours a day of deep work done. After that it’s social media or admin for my murder mystery shop, Bespoke Murder Mystery. Once he starts sleeping through the night, I’ll go back to getting up about 5am and working in the morning. There’s something so special to working at that time when the world is asleep. I usually meditate, make a cup of tea and start writing.

Finally, what is next for you and your writing journey?

Twelve Motives for Murder was published in audio and ebook on December 10th, and a paperback will follow after the summer, with Hodder Studios. I’m also about to start the sequel which is very exciting!

Then the first of my January Quail series, Preserved, will be published in paperback and ebook by Poolbeg in March 2021. I’m hoping to do some festivals and have a real launch at some point next year!

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