Interview

Crime writer Belinda Bauer

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Successful crime writer Belinda Bauer talks to Roxelana about taking a risky year out to write her début, getting to no. 4 on the Amazon crime charts and her recently published second book

After starting out in a news agency, then writing a prize-winning screenplay and short stories, Belinda Bauer has conquered the crime writing charts.

Her first book, Blacklands, came second in the Crime Writer’s Association (CWA) Debut Dagger Crime Writer competition and has since won the CWA Gold Dagger competition.

Belinda is still busy writing and her second work, Darkside, was published earlier this month. She’s currently editing her next crime book, The Flesh Room, but made time to chat to Roxelana about her love of Jaws and Enid Blyton, her hatred of Stieg Larsson and lots in between:

How did you ever get round to writing a book in the first place?

I took a decision to live off my savings for a year. I kept my head down and didn’t contact an agent. I thought I had plenty of time to write and was confident about selling it afterwards.

In fact, things went a bit pear-shaped as nobody wanted it! I was about to lose my house as well, I was on month five of a six-month mortgage holiday. As my money drained away that year I still had this strong belief that it would work out.

What steps did you take to sell it?

I finished it and sent it round but with no success. Then a friend gave me the writing magazine Mslexia. I entered the Debut Dagger Crime Writer competition they advertised.

I already had the 3000 words to send in and there was a killer in it so thought it would work as crime. I didn’t win, but it came second and this generated enough publicity in the industry to sell it.

I signed with an agent and sold it the same week. I had to add 8,000 words though which was difficult as I had to go through adding a few words here and there.

Are you fan of the global crime megastar Stieg Larsson?

No, I hated the books as I thought the first plot was a giveaway. The daughter sending flowers to her father clearly meant she was still alive…

I know I am in a minority but I also hate him as he kept me off the top of Amazon’s best of 2010 book charts! However, I was pleased to get to no. 4 in the Crime, Thriller and Mystery chart.

Do you read the Amazon reader reviews?

Obsessively. I love reading my Amazon reviews and book blog reviews. I feel the readers are reading them rather than the ones in the press.

Did you intend to write a follow up to your début Blacklands

I had no intention to write a sequel. However, my publishers were keen on having links between the books such as the same location, Exmoor, and a few of the same characters.

Why are your stories set in Exmoor?

I first moved to Devon at 18 and my mother still lives there so I’m familiar with the area. I also love the strong Devonshire accent which features in the book. When I grew up there I noticed everyone spoke with a strong accent and now it is rare to hear it.

What inspired you to write a character who suffers from multiple sclerosis, Lucy, in Darkside?

I had an acquaintance that had MS. I did some research about the symptoms. I knew them a long time ago and saw them irregularly, but I imagined what it would be like for a young woman like me. It is a young person’s disease; the average sufferer is 28 years old.

What about your background in journalism; did this inspire your writing?

I took an NCTJ course training at UWIC in Cardiff. I then worked for a news agency in Cardiff for a number of years. However, I haven’t used journalism as a background for a book. There are too many crime book that feature doctors, policeman and journalists.

But Darkside also features policemen…

Yes, but I’m more interested in ordinary people. That’s why it’s the local bobby Jonas Holly who investigates. Also, although I had to research how Exmoor is policed, I wrote about the policeman in the book such as DCI Marvel as ordinary men.

How long did it take you to write Darkside?

I sold it to the publishers on the strength of one line. From there it was a slow process and there were long periods when I couldn’t write it. I even modelled the plot out of clay.

I got writer’s block about 50 times and couldn’t work out whodunnit. The clay moulding was a bit pretentious but it was also a huge release.

Psychology features a lot in your work, do you have any background in it?

No, I had to research it. It sounds dry but you only have to know a little, not great technical detail. I was inspired by Spielberg’s comment about his movie Jaws.

Every shot is different, the sky backgrounds don’t match and it was a nightmare to edit. However, he said, ‘If the audience is watching the sky then they are not watching the movie!’

I agree with that. I also think as long as your characters have motivated action you should be allowed to do what you want with them.

Who are your top five writers?

Neal Stephenson, he’s a genius and has a fantastic website which he refuses to maintain so I love him. Jane Austen. Stephen King. His early work is superb. Jaws. My favourite book, not author! Enid Blyton. I was commissioned to write a Famous Five book screenplay. In fact I was more of a Secret Seven fan as I have more in common with their relaxed, stay at home lifestyle!

What are your future writing plans?

I’m editing my third book now. It’s called The Flesh Room and it’s a crime book set in Exmoor, featuring Jonas Holly and Stephen from my other books. However, it is a completely new story.

Darkside was published last week. Get it in hardback for £7.55, or download the Kindle edition for £6.80.

This interview is also available to read at For Book’s Sake.