Carrying on with my series of author interviews, I've got a lady sitting in my chair today going by the name of Tana Collins. Not so long ago she released her first novel to great critical acclaim. Now she's got her second book out on the shelves, and I've tracked her down to answer some questions. My prediction is is she's going to be a big star in the future and the is what she has to say.
Welcome Tana, Robbing the Dead, what a great book, loads of your fans loved it, cracking reviews, and now you’ve got your second which has just come out called Care to Die, so come on tell me all about them both.
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to talk about my books, Peter. I’m absolutely thrilled to be sharing them with you. ‘Robbing the Dead’ is my debut novel set in the picturesque East Neuk of Fife and the start of a brand new Scottish police series. It was published by Bloodhound Books on 14th February. The two main protagonists are Glaswegian DCI Jim Carruthers and the younger DS Andrea Fletcher. The first book is much more a crime thriller and the second, ‘Care to Die’, which has been published on 1st June, is slightly different in that it’s more a conventional police procedural. Although the two books are very different what they both have in common is that the seeds of the crimes the police investigate lie in the past – the 1970s to be precise. And of course, as it’s a series, the same characters are in both books.
Okay, I’m going to start off with a very common question, which I’m sure all authors gets asked loads of times, but all the same I’m going to ask it too. Why do you write, and what made you start writing in the first place?
That’s a good question, Peter. Why do I write? I’ve always been a scribbler and guess like a lot of writers I feel I have a story to tell. With my background in philosophy and social science I am also interested in exploring social issues. In my debut novel I explore the consequences of a miscarriage of justice that still resonates today. Whilst I was too young to fully appreciate it at the time it affected me deeply. Perhaps for me writing is cathartic. And believe it or not, it was visiting an Ian Fleming exhibition in London about nine years ago that got me wanting to write a novel in the first place. I have a fascination with spies. I haven’t written a book about espionage yet but never say never! But after visiting that exhibition ‘Robbing the Dead’ was born!
Well, one thing about Ian Fleming is, he certainly knew how to write great novels with style, so tell me how would you describe your own writing style?
I don’t think anyone would describe my first novel as a slow burner!! I like to write fast paced books that get the heart rate going. That said, the second is, I feel, more measured. I want my books to be an enjoyable read but I also want to surprise the reader along the way and at times make them feel uncomfortable! I know I’m writing fiction but there will definitely be elements of fact in all my novels, hopefully something that will tug at the heartstrings of the reader. I do a lot of research during the writing process, but I’ve realised that I don’t choose easy subjects to write about! A few years ago I pitched my second novel to agents at Crimefest and they turned it away citing that it was ‘too dark.’ Fortunately I got picked up by Bloodhound Books and that novel is now about to be published.
I mentioned in the introduction that you have had some great reviews for Robbing the Dead, and I should say very much deserved. Now my question is, personally, what do reviews mean to you as an author?
Thank you very much for saying that my reviews were well deserved. That’s really kind of you. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea how Robbing the Dead would be received. I hoped readers would like the storyline and characters but I’ve been blown away with the great reviews I’ve had. Good reviews mean a huge amount to the writer. It’s a validation of all those years of hard work. I’m really thrilled to know, from reading the reviews, that a great number of readers love the burdgening relationship between Fletcher and Carruthers. That gives me particular pleasure.
Ask a number of readers what is a very important ingredient of a great book and I dare say many would say great characters. How do you go about creating great characters?
Believe it or not creating credible characters was the hardest part of writing a book for me. In fact it was only once I was well in to writing my second book that I began to feel a lot more confident about the characters I had created. The good news was that I could go back to my debut novel and tweak them as it hadn’t yet been published! I guess that’s the lovely thing about creating a series. It’s intriguing to watch your characters grow and see how they cope when you put them in difficult situations. In the early days Allan Guthrie, who was a bit of a mentor of mine, gave me a great piece of advice. At the time I was writing ‘Care to Die’ my mother was undergoing bypass surgery following a shock heart attack. Guthrie told me to try to weave this in to the storyline as it was raw, painful and something I knew about! It wasn’t easy to write in but I did it. In the second book we see Jim Carruthers having to cope with the fact his fit and healthy brother has just had a heart attack. I’m not sure about it helping to make Carruthers a great character but it certainly allows him to show his vulnerable side and makes him more human.
How much, if any, has your own personal character gone into any of these characters?
Well, I’m a huge Arsenal fan, like Andrea Fletcher, so she’ s definitely got my football obsession. In terms of character, however, I think I’m more similar to Carruthers! We both love the environment although I’m not a hill walker. I’m more a rambler. I should add that Carruthers is a lapsed member of the RSPB. He keeps meaning to get round to renewing his membership but never quite manages it! Carruthers is a complicated guy who is a bit of a loner. Like me he’s happy with his own company although I like to think I’m a bit more outgoing than him. His ideal weekend would be to pack a tent, take a book and a bottle of whisky and go hillwaking somewhere really remote. I must admit I would rather stay in a cosy hotel but have access to somewhere wild. I really like Carruthers. He’s a pretty decent guy even though he sometimes has a tendency to be a wee bit judgemental. Fortunately Andie Fletcher is on the scene to reign him in!
Thinking of the previous question about what readers think makes a good book; personally, what do think makes a good read, is the plot, characters, or perhaps something else?
I do think a good plot is vital in a crime novel but I still believe the characters have got to pull you in to the story. You don’t have to like them but if you have no interest in the characters I can’t imagine how you’d enjoy the book irrespective of it having a great plot. However, maybe that’s just me!
Okay, another personal question. Apart from crime fiction which other books do you enjoy reading?
To be honest I haven’t had much time to read anything other than crime fiction recently but I have lots of favourite writers outside the crime fiction genre. I particularly enjoy books by Jill Mansell and Victoria Clayton. I also enjoy historical fiction.
Who is your favourite author and why?
My secret is out. I’m a massive Peter Robinson fan. I love his characterisation and his great sense of place. I flew to Estonia a few years ago when I found out Peter was tutoring on a Summer School crime writing course at the University of Tallinn. I have to say he is an excellent teacher and his course helped my writing no end. I was in the early stages of writing ‘Robbing the Dead’ and the novel had completely stalled. The course gave me my mojo back I have a lot to thank him for!
Tana, it’s been a great pleasure having you here today answering my questions. All that I need to do now is wish you the very best of luck with your new novel coming out. Robbing the Dead was great, I’m sure this one will be too. All the best.
Thank you very much Peter. I really appreciate those words. It’s been great fun taking part in your blog and a real pleasure being interviewed by you.