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Thursday, 5 September 2013

Alison Joseph

Leigh Russell in conversation with 
Alison Joseph

Alison Joseph was born and brought up in London. She studied French and Philosophy at Leeds University, and then worked in local radio in Leeds as a producer and presenter. She moved back to London in 1983 and worked for a Channel 4 production company, making short documentaries.
She writes the bestselling Sister Agnes series, available on kindle.
In April she was appointed Chair of the Crime Writers Association.

 Leigh: The Sister Agnes series has been going since 1995. How did the series begin?
Alison: I was lucky. After working in television making documentaries, I was at home with small children. It was difficult organising child care and directing television, so I was sitting at home feeling grumpy. And then it fell into place: it was time I took my writing seriously. So I gave up chasing TV work and wrote a couple of short stories. Luckily they were published. One appeared in Critical Quarterly, which is very literary, and the other was in Women's Own Summer Special, all of which gave me a huge confidence boost.

Leigh: How did you progress from writing short stories to full length novels?
Alison: I had a small job with BBC Radio, reading all the novels that came in, recommending them for radio or rejecting them. I was reading lots of crime fiction. I loved it and became very interested in the idea of the lone detective. I was interested in the gender specificity of the lone private investigator, who seems to be a very male figure. That's when I came up with the idea of a nun as a female character. She is soft around the edges, but is essentially a loner.

Leigh: Was the series an instant success?
Alison: In that Headline bought it and published six books, yes. Plus Sister Agnes was on Radio 4, starring Ann Marie Duff.

Leigh: You also write radio plays. How has that experience influenced your novel writing? 
Alison: I started to write radio plays at about the same time as the short stories. My first radio play was on about the same time as the first Sister Agnes was published.

Leigh: Is it very different, writing radio plays and writing novels?
Alison: The one big difference is that as a novelist you are a presence at the heart of the story telling. When you hand over to drama, it's the actors who are at the heart of the story telling. The one big similarity between writing crime fiction and radio drama is that the story unfolds in terms of what people say. To tell a story through radio in some ways is very similar to writing crime fiction.

Leigh: In April you were appointed "Madam Chairman" of the Crime Writers Association. How do you fit in your duties at the CWA with your writing?
Alison: We appointed a paid director two years ago. Before that, I don't know how past  chairmen managed. Claire McGowan invented the role and did it brilliantly. Now Lucy Santos has taken over, and she's also brilliant. Lucy and I work very closely together. Without someone doing the admin, I don't think I'd have enough time for writing. Because of the added professionalism the director brings to it, I think the CWA can do so much more than ever before to serve its members. Everyone has heard of the CWA Dagger Awards, but there is so much more that the CWA offers its members.

Leigh: Where do you see the CWA going?
Alison: It can be really lonely, being a writer. The CWA offers an immediate network, with enetworking and local chapters around the country. There's a kind of campaigning edge to it, at a time when writers need someone fighting their corner on issues such as the way our entitlement to making a living is in danger of slipping through the gaps, not because anyone means us harm, but because of the huge changes taking place in publishing. It's like the Wild West frontiers of ePublishing. The CWA is an august, 60 year old organisation which is taken seriously. It's nice to be part of that, and to grow our role as a voice for  crime writers. There are new initiatives to strengthen ties with crime writers abroad. We have a new chapter in Iceland, and we're planning to set one up in India. And in the UK our membership is growing all the time.

Leigh: So what's next for Alison Joseph, the author?
Alison: I'm currently working on a new novel, which is a temporary departure from Sister Agnes. It's a crime novel about particle physics. It started because I became obsessed with the Hadron Collider at Cern. I ended up visiting it as part of my research. The story took over two years to write. It's about our belief systems and what happens when they become dangerous. The Sister Agnes books are similar in having a detective who comes up against what other people believe. I'm interested in writing about a point in someone's life where murder seems like a rational act. The most recent Sister Agnes, A Violent  Act, is about the crunch between creationism and evolutionism.

Alison Joseph writes the Sister Agnes series (list titles in order)

The Quick and the Dead
A Dark and Sinful Death
The Dying Light
The Night Watch
The Darkening Sky
Shadow of Death
A Violent Act.

Her most recent radio play, 'Island with No Name' is available as a download from AudioGo or iTunes. Her short story Click appears in the new Anthology from Severn House, Deadly Pleasures.

Leigh Russell is the author of five books Cut Short, Road Closed, Dead End, Death Bed and her latest book Stop Dead, published May 2013. Cold Sacrifice the first in a new series featuring Ian Peterson will be out  later this year in print, (already out as an e-book).
Cut Short (2009) was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award for Best First Novel. Leigh studied at the University of Kent gaining a Masters degree in English and American literature. A secondary school teacher, specializing in supporting pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties as well as teaching English, Leigh Russell is married with two daughters and lives in Middlesex.

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