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Monday 3 December 2012

Leigh Russell

Leigh Russell in conversation with Lizzie Hayes

 Leigh Russell studied at the University of Kent where she took 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. 
She is the author of four books
Cut Short, Road Closed, Dead End, Death Bed,
Stop Dead due to be published May 2013. 

Q Leigh, your fifth book Stop Dead  featuring Geraldine Steel, will be available as an e-book in Dcember 2012, and will be in print May 2013. From where did Geraldine spring? Is she based on any one person or just purely from your imagination?
A Geraldine evolved, rather than sprang to life. In Cut Short the reader learns a little about her, and with each book different facets of her character emerge. She has developed quite a following (much to my surprise) that has grown as the series progresses. Neither Geraldine nor any of the other characters in my books are based on real people. They appear on the page as I write, and are all fictitious.

Q It is frequently said: ‘write what you know’. As your background is in teaching what was the thought process behind your protagonist being a police inspector. Why not an academic, or an amateur detective?  
A        ‘Write what you know’ always strikes me as very limiting.  It hardly makes sense, unless the phrase was dreamed up by someone who writes non-fiction. I have never worked for the police, or conducted a post-mortem - I’ve never even killed anyone. What is wrong with imagining events and settings? Isn’t that the meaning of fiction? Does JK Rowling have personal experience of swooping through the skies on a broomstick? As for EL James… on second thoughts, let’s not go there! I do like the idea of writing a crime novel with a private investigator, but the police today have so many resources at their disposal, I don’t think this would work in contemporary crime novels.

Q Do you have to spend much time in researching police procedures?  And have any of your readers,
particularly those in the police force ever contacted you to point out an error in procedure?
A         Since Cut Short came out in 2009 I’ve conducted a lot of research, and finding out about life as a detective Is part of that.  I talk to police officers and have spent time with a Murder Investigation Team, which was fascinating.  I’ve never worked for the police, but have gathered all sorts of information such as which Metropolitan Police station serves home made banana bread. This kind of attention to detail helps the reader believe in the world of my books.  I take as much care as I can to make sure all the details are accurate, although it’s not always easy.   Procedures can be quite complicated, and of course they are subject to change. So far none of my many fans on the police force have criticised the authenticity of my novels, even though my detectives might receive the results of a DNA test more quickly than would happen in real life, and Geraldine spends less time behind a desk with paperwork than a real detective inspector would. My readers all appreciate that I’m not writing a handbook on police procedure, but a novel. My priority is to serve the story. 

Q Not to give too much away, Geraldine is troubled by her origins. Is her area of concern something of which you have experience?
A This is not an area where I have personal experience, but I haven’t killed anyone either! Fiction isn’t writing about what you experience, but about what you understand and imagine. I try to empathise with all my characters, detectives, victims and killers. 
Q    You are still working as a teacher. As you have four books behind you and the fifth due out next year, I suspect that your pupils are aware of your books. How do they react to your writing? Has it increased your street cred?:-)

A       I’ve been teaching for a long time and am happy to use my experience now I’m an author as well. In addition to running Creative Writing Workshops for The Society of Authors and for Get Writing at the  University of Hertfordshire, I am often invited to talk to students at colleges and universities, and was     recently a guest lecturer at the University of Southampton. I am currently teaching a crime fiction unit to sixth formers, which is right up my street, and needless to say, I enjoy teaching creative writing skills. Children’s talent can be phenomenal, as it was among prisoners when I was recently invited to be a guest speaker to prisoners in a closed women’s Prison. I’ve just accepted an invitation to run a Creative riting week on the Greek Island of Skyros next August, which I’m really looking forward to! My
pupils like asking me about my
books but I don’t say much about my writing when I’m at school. I’m not there as an author, but as a teacher, and my focus at school is on the pupils. As for my ‘street
cred’... I think I lost that a long time ago!
Q.  Did you always want to write?
R.  No, I had no grand plan to become an author.  I simply had an idea one day and started to write.  It amazes me now that I didn’t stumble on my passion for writing earlier.  Now that I’ve started, there’s no stopping me! Fortunately, the Geraldine Steel series has been so popular, my publisher has asked me to write a second series to run concurrent with the Geraldine novels. This features Ian Peterson, the ser geant who works alongside Geraldine in her first three novels.  In Death Bed Geraldine moves from the home counties to London, leaving Ian behind. He’s been a popular character in his own right, so I’m thrilled to be creating a new series focusing on him, although it’s a challenge writing with a male
Q When you decided to write crime fiction, were you influenced by any other writers? 
A There are so many brilliant crime writers it is hard to pick anyone out. I read crime fiction and there are some series that transfer well to the small screen as well. The world is opening up and we have been exposed to a lot of Scandinavian crime lately.  Henning Mankell is one of my favourites. It’s quite exciting how the whole world is opening up - and it works both ways.  A few days ago Cut Short reached number 4 on kindle on The first 3 on the list were titles in German, and then came Cut Short in English. That was a nice surprise!

Q Having a full-time occupation, how do you fit in your writing? Do you set aside a regular period for writing?
A. People often ask about my writing routine, but I’m really not organised enough to claim to have any sort of routine. I just write whenever I can.  Disciplined really isn’t a word that springs to mind when thinking about my writing habits. Compulsive? Yes.  Obsessed? Yes. But disciplined? No. 

Q. When starting a new book do you always have a clear view of how the book will work, and if so do your books always pan out as originally envisioned, or change during the writing process? 
A Yes, I always have a very clear view of how each book will work, no, my books never pan out exactly as I originally envisioned, and yes, they change during the writing process. I do my best to plan in advance, but books also have to be organic.  For me the process needs to be creative, as well as writing down predetermined ideas.

Q When embarking on a new book what area of the book challenges you the most?  And conversely do you have a favourite part of the writing process? 
A  I love the whole writing process, the initial planning, the writing, even the editing.  My favourite parts are the dramatic scenes. The more suspense and tension there is, the more I enjoy writing the scene. The biggest challenge for me is writing the final chapter. How do you finish a story, and leave behind    characters, who have occupied your thoughts for so long? It can be hard to let go. Luckily my publisher offers me multiple book deals so when I finish one book there is always another one to think about.

Q Who are your favourite authors?
That is an impossible question to answer. There are so many! My tastes are quite eclectic. I love Dickens, all the Brontes particularly Emily, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguru, Edith Wharton, Melville… so many… as well as crime writers.  Two of my favourites have to be Peter James and Jeffery Deaver as they are both fans of my work who have been generous enough to write fabulous blurb quotes for my books. It is very exciting to receive endorsements from such brilliant authors.

Q  How long did it take you to get published?
A   My publisher telephoned me two weeks after I sent them the first draft of Cut Short and offered me a three book deal shortly after that. All three titles Cut Short, Road Closed and Dead End, went to       become international bestsellers, so my publisher commissioned another three books in the Geraldine Steel series. Death Bed came out earlier this year, and Stop Dead is out in print in 2013 and will be available to download in December 2012.

Thanks for chatting with us Leigh, and good luck with the new book, which I so look forward to reading.



  1. Enjoyed this, Lizzie. Isn't it astonishing how many authors are teachers? Poor dears probably need a bit of escapism!

  2. Hi Geraldine, I hadn't thought of that, but you may be right. Wish I had been taught by a crime fiction author:-)

  3. I'm escaping to the Greek island of Skyros next August for a creative writing week - care to join me?