Recently I’ve had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Dark Game, the first thriller of a planned series by Rachel Lynch, and published by those nice folks at Canelo.
Today, I have the immense pleasure of publishing Rachel’s replies to the set of questions I emailed her. But first, let me introduce you to her. She’s the young woman smiling at us in the pic on the left — see? — that’s Rachel Lynch, and she is thoroughly lovely, very knowledgeable, and very professional, as you will see from her replies.
According to some googling I did on my own (author profile on the Amazon author page) and the marketing pack I was sent by the publishers, here’s the total sum of what I found out about this author:
Rachel Lynch grew up in Cumbria, where she started hiking the fells from a young age, and “the lakes and fells are never far away from her“, as she writes in her official bio. She studied History at the University of Lancaster. Subsequently, she frequented the Institute of Education in London, where she gained a Postgraduate Certificate of Education.
It was still in London that she started her career as a History teacher, until she met an Army officer who stole her heart. She married him in 2001, and proceded to follow him around the world for the next 13 years. During those years, she moved her family around 10 times.
Her first novel was The Dependants, which is now sadly out of print (though I managed to track down a copy, and you can expect a review quite soon!) It charts the life of three fictional army wives, and how they cope when their husbands deploy to Afghanistan for seven months.
As her husband left the army in 2013, they settled down near London with their two children, and, quoting Rachel’s bio in Amazon, “are now concentrating on being civilians“. A change of career after children has led her to personal training and sports therapy.
Writing has, however, always been her life’s passion and “always the overwhelming force driving [her] future“, and I believe I can safely say that Rachel is now fulling embracing the writing life. Fundamental to her work, Rachel says, is “[the] human capacity for compassion as well as its descent into the brutal and murky world of crime […]“.
Dark Game is the first book in the DI Kelly Porter series, where Rachel addresses her favourite issues of human nature and its capacity for absolute extremes. The first three books have been signed up by Canelo. Rachel is now represented by Peter Buckman and the Ampersand Agency, and is currently writing the fourth book in the series.
And now, without further ado, I leave you to read Rachel Lynch’s answers to my questions…
Interviewing the Author: Rachel Lynch
Before we start, Rachel, I would like to welcome you to my blog, and profusely thank you for your time and patience in answering all of my questions… So, to begin with, could I ask you about your reading habits? How much do you read? Would you say you too are infected with the reading virus and, if so, how old were you when it first struck?
Funnily enough, I was a slow starter to the reading bug. I remember teachers pulling their hair out at my lack of interest in books. It only hit me at around age thirteen, and I think I started with Jean Plaidy because of my Mum; she loved historical fiction and I read what she had laying around the house. I can’t think of anything more important for a child/young adult to do for their understanding of our crazy world (and beyond).
How do you read? Do you read as a reader, for the pleasure and entertainment you derive from the act of reading and the story itself, enjoying the plot and the characters and leaving it at that? Or do you read like a writer, dissecting scenes, plot, character, action, pace, language, everything…?
I definitely read as a reader not as a writer because that would spoil my enjoyment! If I was constantly analysing somebody else’s work, I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself in a story. That said, I do sometimes read a book and gain tips on style, timing and arrangement. Between plot/character/setting, I think I’m definitely torn between character and plot. I love a twist at the end and a good character stays with me for a very long time, for example, Tess of the D’Urbervilles has stayed with me for around thirty years.
Which is the first book you remember reading, and how old were you? What are your favourite genre(s) / authors / books?
I think it was probably something like Aesop’s fables at age five or six. I was fascinated by the underdog coming through to claim victory, and, to this day, I love a good unexpected champion. I’m a sucker for thrillers and good autobiographies. I also love reading beautiful cookery books and well written factual history books (Anthony Beevor/ Orlando Figes/ Piers Brendon).
Do you have any books that you return to over and over again? If so, which are they?
I’m not one for re-reading books. If it was great the first time round then it stays with me and doesn’t need revisiting. If it wasn’t then there’s no point.
I more or less wish I had been the one to write all the books I read that are well written and strike some sort of key with me, but I recently read a book that left me completely breathless and wishing that it was mine, that I had written it myself, and feeling that nothing I will ever write can ever be as good as that. Have you ever felt like that with a book you read, and which is the book you wish you had written?
So many! I wish I had written every Ben Elton; his satire is stunning. I wish I could write like John Grisham; his story telling seems effortless. I would love to have a go at Historical fiction, and that is my aim one day; to do just that. Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, John Le Carre, Dean Koontz, Patricia Cornwell…
Which kinds of fictional villains do you love to hate the most? Who are your favourite fictional villain and villainess?
I love villains! And I love creating them. The one thing that my favourite villains have in common is that, despite the despicable things they might do, I’m always able to understand their backstory and where they’ve come from; and what made them so evil. I think the worst villains were babies once, and something went seriously wrong to make them so heinous. I’m not keen on villains who are inherently evil because they carry it within them; that’s a cop-out in my book; humans turn ugly for a reason, we’re not born like that. From the classics to modern stories, villains and baddies haven’t changed much. Macbeth, Iago, the pig Napoleon, Hannibal Lecter, Bill Sykes and Cruella de Vil are all damaged individuals in some shape or form, and it’s that damage that makes them act the way they do. Their depravity, selfishness, narcissism, cruelty and lack of empathy serve as a backdrop to showcase the protagonist, and so the genre is timeless. I have to admit, I love the cynicism of Hannibal Lecter; he’s a type of vigilante, and the concept of tackling scum on the level attracts me a lot.
What about heroes, which type is your favourite hero/heroine? Who are your favourite fictional hero and heroine, then?
Heroes have to be strong and they have to take risks. My favourites are unconventional, like DI Kelly Porter, and they might get into trouble for sticking to their moral values. They’re also a little damaged and imperfect. I suppose a hero is everything that a reader aspires to and that’s why we connect so well in this genre. I’d like to see more female leads, but sadly men seem always to save the world, from Batman to James Bond. The female equivalent of Harry Flashman would be fun to create!
If you were a fictional character, what sort of character would you like to be, and what genre would you hope to be written into? And who by?
Do you tend to read more eBooks or printed ones?
What do you read the most, traditional, indie, small press, self-pubbed?
Anything that grabs me. It doesn’t have to be a best seller.
Where do most of your current favourite authors fall, according to those labels?
That’s not something I can quantify because my tastes are so varied.
Do you have a favourite quote about reading, and would you share it with us?
Groucho Marx- ‘I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.’
What about the writing bug? How old were you when you started writing? Did you always know you would become a writer? If not, when did you decide you’d become one?
Finding out that I could deliver a story on paper directly from what was going on inside my head was a revelation. I was around six years old. I only began to seriously believe that I could perhaps entertain others about three decades later.
Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated or favourite place (a desk, a study, a garden chair, maybe?) and could you describe it for us?
I have a desk in an oak framed extension. The colour of the wood, the light, as well as the peace, all contribute to a zone that is pleasurable and productive. I can sit there for hours before I realise the time.
Do you journal/keep a diary? What about a notebook, do you have one that you take everywhere you go? What do you write in it?
I have countless notebooks and when I lose one, I buy another. They are dotted all over the house and I can come across one, long forgotten, and read it for hours. I jot down ideas, quotes, characters, places, news clippings and personal musings: all of which might become a story one day.
So, how do you go about constructing your book’s “reality”? Are you a thorough planner, before you start writing our book? Or are you a pantser? Perhaps even a bit of both? Does it ever happen to you that one of your characters just suddenly decides to do their own thing?
I’m a bit of both. I used to plan a lot in the early days when I first started to write full time (about six years ago). Now, I think about people places and plot, and I carry them around with me until I’ve decided on an ending and a purpose. Then I sit down and write. My characters always surprise me because, once I sit down to write a couple of chapters, I don’t know exactly how the story is going to move forward (even though I know the ending), I go with their character traits, and think about what they might do in certain situations: this ends up delivering the bulk of my action.
How do you create your characters? Are there real-life doubles for them?
I get asked this a lot. I’ve had people say to me about ‘The Dependants’ that they know who so-and-so is, or they remember that event or person. It’s all rubbish. Characters are never based on reality because, firstly that would be hugely unprofessional, and also very probably dull. Fiction exaggerates humanity, like movies do, and so real life characters have no place there really. Of course, my experience with human beings dictates the types of people I write about, and we’re all guilty of stereotypes, well, because they’re stereotypes! But, on the whole, I have so much fun playing with characters that I don’t need, or want, to base them on reality.
If there was to be a movie made of your book, and you were to have a say in it, who would you like to see being cast as your main characters?
I think Charlotte Riley would make a fantastic Kelly Porter.
Where did the idea for Dark Game come from? Was the book based on a true event?
There’s no truth in Dark Game whatsoever. It’s inspired by the seemingly tranquil veneer of The Lakes and the countless small hotels that could hide a thousand secrets. The Lake District is part of me, and the setting is incredibly important to me and Kelly. Conceptually, rural crime attracted me more than a city setting because it’s rare, and thus more shocking. I’ve actually had people ask me if that really goes on in Cumbria! As far as I’m aware, the answer is no!
DI Kelly Porter is a strong, independent, intelligent and resilient woman. How much is there of you in her?
Any heroine designed by me is always going to have some of me in her: I love the Lakes, I love running, and I’m a sucker for the baddies getting caught. However, that’s where the similarities end. I’m forty six, I’ve got two kids, I’m a history teacher, and I’m nowhere near as brave. Maybe she is who I’d like to be…
One of the things that struck me as I read Dark Game was its amazing dimension of realism, and also how cinematic it is in parts. Both depend of course, in a great measure, on your linguistic mastery, but such mastery would hardly be enough without a saturated understanding of the themes you are depicting. Also, at the end of your book, you thank some people who I gather facilitated your understanding of police procedural matters. How much research did you do for this book, and what kind, where, how? How easy, or how difficult, was it?
I do a lot of research into police procedure, forensics, and, for this book, money laundering and organized crime, however, the characters, hotels, setting, plot, and thrust of the book are all in my head. I’m thrilled that you think the hard work has paid off, and the themes depicted are authentic. I have spoken to several police officers at length, and I wanted to hero the day to day grind of an investigation; the disappointments, the fatigue, the crushing injustices and the personal toll.
How difficult was it for you to write about such terrible and emotionally affecting issues as child abuse and murder, and human trafficking and slavery?
It was emotionally draining sometimes to deal with these themes, but I wasn’t going to shy away from them. The dark side of crime and human nature is not pretty, and a ‘cosy’ thriller wouldn’t work for me.
For when, then, Book Two? How far are you into writing it? And will you be picking up that little thread you left untied on Book One, for its main action?
Number two is going through the editorial process and will be published in the summer. I’m currently writing number four. It’s a brand new case for Kelly, and I hope it lives up to expectations after the reception Dark Game has enjoyed!
Do you think the author knows everything there is to know about her/his characters and their life? How much do you know about your characters?
No, I certainly don’t! To keep Kelly and her colleagues (and her family and love life) going for a trilogy, and beyond, is as much a journey for me as the reader. That’s what so wonderful about a series.
Which of your fictional heroes/villains did you enjoy writing the most, and why? Are those your two favourite characters in your own fiction?
I love writing about Kelly. She’s relatable, in that she’s fragile and imperfect, and there’s plenty more to come. As far as the baddies go, Darren was the most complex. His life was such a waste and he found himself dragged into events beyond his control. I believed in all the protagonists and antagonists, otherwise I wouldn’t have created them.
For the benefit of any learning writers among us, could you describe your creative process? (how you pick an idea, develop it, draw your characters, plot the action, etc.?)
Put the notes away and have the courage to sit and write. It doesn’t matter what you create; it can be kept or discarded in redrafting, what matters is that you create something! Certainly do not write for the market; be true to what’s inside your head. And never, ever give up!
If one of your characters were to become a writer, what advice would you have for them?
Learn to deal with rejection, don’t take it personally.
Here’s the quintessential question, then: why do you write?
I have to. It calms me, it releases and stills the noises in my head (sounds weird), and it enables me to explore worlds that I’ll never visit.
Lastly, what’s your favourite quote about writing?
‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’ Earnest Hemingway. Or, ‘A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.’ Roald Dahl.
And finally, a wee bit about you. You were advertised as a debut thriller novelist at Canelo but, in fact, you have written and published another novel some years ago. It is completely different from this one, since to begin with it is not even a thriller. Would you like to tell us something about that novel?
‘The Dependants’ is about three army wives and how they cope when their husbands deploy to Afghanistan for seven months. It’s written from first-hand experience. My husband was in the army for 16 years and was deployed many times (including Afghanistan). It’s a story that isn’t well known, because the news focuses on the serving soldier, not the wife and children, and I felt as though it needed to be told. Sadly, no agents were interested and so I published it through a commercial publisher and it was a good experience. I spoke about it at the House of Commons and I was interviewed on the radio and in newspapers. It was cathartic to write. It’s out of print now. I’m very proud of it and it was well received by civilians as well as serving military.
And how much of you — and your life, worldview and experiences – did you put into each of your novels? Would I be correct to say that your first novel is perhaps closer to your skin than Dark Game?
Thankfully, I don’t have any experience of organized crime or people trafficking. Yes, ‘The Dependants’ was about something I lived through, and wouldn’t wish on anyone. I’m regularly asked if I’m Maggie, Jane or Chrissy, but the answer is no, I’m not. I couldn’t possibly make it that personal because the reality was too painful. I had to create characters to cope in different ways to make sense of the damage created by war on a microcosmic level.
The “writing life” — is that something you recommend? Heartily…? Not so much…?
It’s the best life for an inquisitive brain! However, it can be lonely, expository and desperately deflating.
Which aspects of the writer’s life do you enjoy the most (apart from writing, of course!) and which are you not so keen on?
I love that on any given day, I can create an entire world that people might talk about, as if it’s real! I’m not so keen on the fluid nature of my daily routine: it takes a lot of discipline, and when you’ve got a couple of busy kids and a real life to lead, it has to be squeezed in sometimes where possible. I get incredibly irritable if I miss writing for a few days, so even if I can only sit down for an hour, I try to write something every day.
Where do you see yourself as a writer in the long term? Do you think you will be sticking with thrillers from now on, or will you be exploring other genres?
In the long term, I want to establish a loyal fan base for Kelly Porter. I can’t see myself ever doing anything else but write. I’m working on other projects alongside crime fiction…watch this space.
Oh, and one more thing, I almost forgot! It’s very, very important as you will see… So…
- tea, or coffee? Coffee
- cheesecake, or blueberry muffins? Muffin
- turquoise, or aqua green? Aqua green
- sapphire, or emerald? Emerald
- violets, or jonquils? Jonquil
- spring, or autumn? Spring
- mountain, or the sea? Mountain! (as if we really, really needed to ask…)
Rachel, thank you so very, very much! It’s been a real pleasure, and I hope to be able to work with you again in the future. Nothing would give me more pleasure. And I wish you all the success in your career.
Thank you also to Canelo for my review copy, for the opportunity to participate on the book launch and the blog tour — but, most of all, for the access to Dark Game‘s lovely author, Rachel Lynch.