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Sunday 1 September 2019

Abi Silver


Radmila May talks with Abi Silver

Abi Silver grew up with a house full of books and was inspired from an early age to believe she could join the ranks of her heroes.  Abi read Law at Girton College Cambridge before wanderlust sent her off travelling through Asia, Australia and South America as a student.  She also lived overseas in Israel for 5 years. Abi now lives in Radlett, Hertfordshire with her husband and three sons.

Radmila: I am delighted to interview you, Abi, for Mystery People readers and look forward to learning about you and your writing.Abi: Thank you so much for inviting me.
Radmila: You are a lawyer, Abi, and I see you studied Law at university. What led you to choose law as a subject in the first place and then to go into practice? When in practice did you specialise in any particular area of the law and what was it about that area which appealed to you? And are you still in practice?
I always had a strong sense of justice, as a child, albeit my own view of right and wrong. I was constantly penning protest essays; the one which sticks in my mind was about our old Austin 1300 being sold for scrap, written when I was around eight years old. I railed against a system which allowed cars to serve humans faithfully for years, only to be rewarded by indiscriminate destruction (you get the picture). I also loved talking (a fairly good attribute for lawyers); as the youngest in the family, I frequently had to speak up and hold my own, in competition with my older sisters and cousins.But the catalyst for my desire to study Law was probably the wonderful Granada TV show ‘Crown Court’ in which (fictional) court dramas were played out over three lunch time sessions. If I wanted to see the verdict, I had to risk the wrath of my form teacher by being late for afternoon registration.After completing my studies, I specialised in litigation, which is essentially resolving disputes of many kinds between warring parties (including in court) and I still practice now. But rather than work permanently as a lawyer in a law firm, I am employed as a consultant on fixed term contracts, so that I can work some of the year as a lawyer and some of the year on my writing.
Radmila: And then what led you to start writing? 

have always loved writing (stories, poems, plays, alternative lyrics to well-known songs) but I began to write more seriously when I was on maternity leave and was living overseas. I saw it as a release from the stresses of motherhood and I used to write late into the night.
Radmila: Were you in any way influenced by previous crime writers who set their stories in a legal context such as John Mortimer and John Grisham and earlier writers like Cyril Hare and Michael Gilbert?
 Abi: Yes definitely. I love Rumpole and there are a number of John Grisham books I have really enjoyed too. But I didn’t consciously seek to emulate them; I just love sweeping courtroom dramas, including those portrayed in film. You can’t beat the battle of words in Inherit the Wind (1960 film about teaching evolution in schools) for dramatic effect. And, of course, there’s To Kill A Mockingbird, which remains one of my favourite books.

Radmila: And how do you approach your writing? Would you describe yourself as a planner (organised) or a pantser (seat of pants! Chaotic!)? Or somewhere in between? 
Abi: I always have the rough beginnings of a plot in mind, for example, a central theme and where it might take me. That’s it though. Then I just sit down and write. And in the three books I have written so far, I haven’t decided myself ‘whodunnit’ till near the end of the writing process. So does that make me a ‘plantser’?

Radmila: So far, the three novels you have published so far not only deal with the law with convincing courtroom scenes but also with the growing use of technology, not just in the context of an actual trial as in The Pinocchio Brief but also in a hospital context (The Aladdin Trial) and driverless cars (The Cinderella Plan) although both those novels do feature extensive courtroom scenes. How much do you think technology benefits our society; alternatively, how dangerous could it be?
Abi: I am not a Luddite (really), although I am not particularly interested in having the latest gadgets when traditional methods are still viable (who needs a laundroid?). And I see enormous benefits from technology, in particular (despite The Aladdin Trial) in the medical sphere. The concerns I have really stem from the speed at which technology is being shoe-horned into our lives. And the fact that we are allowing (and funding through government investment) entrepreneurs to develop whatever they like, before we decide if we need the technology in the first place.

My anxieties are particularly illustrated by my latest novel, The Cinderella Plan, in which visionary entrepreneur, James Salisbury, has a tragic accident in his driverless car. Whilst I accept that we should do all we can do to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads, many (unresolved) practical, legal and ethical dilemmas are involved in operating these vehicles. Personally, the idea of travelling in a driverless car turns my blood cold.

Radmila:           And how versed are you in current and likely future developments in technology which could feature in future titles? (I speak as one who has never got beyond the basics!)
Abi: I have a long list of ideas for the technology that could feature in future titles, but I’m not sharing it just yet.

Radmila: Tell us about your two protagonists – Judith Burton and Constance Lamb – and whether you see their lives changing in future books.
Abi: Judith is an experienced, acid-tongued criminal barrister and Constance a more cautious and circumspect junior solicitor and, together, they craft intricate defences for the various suspects they encounter. And whilst they have become closer as they navigate the tricky waters of the first three stories, there will be a few surprises in book four. I (really) didn’t model either character on a particular individual; they are much more an amalgamation of the many bright and sparky lawyers I have been privileged to work with over the years.

Radmila: At the 2019 Bristol Crime Fest you moderated a panel of lawyer/crimewriters which included Peter Murphy, Caroline England, Ruth Mancini and US lawyer Linda Robertson. Do you think that that provided the opportunity for non-lawyer crime writers, and also non-lawyer crime readers, to understand the criminal legal process? Do you think that is important?
Abi: I so enjoyed moderating the CrimeFest lawyers’ panel, as it was an opportunity to get to know four wonderful writers and to read their books. Each provided an insight into different aspects of the law. But although I have trial scenes in my stories, I prefer to focus on the cut and thrust of the proceedings and underlying moral arguments, and to keep details of the procedural side of the law to a minimum.

Abi’s books are available at amazon and at Waterstones and all good bookshops

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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