Mari Hannah’s debut novel The Murder Wall marks the arrival of a tough, new talent on the crime scene. Comparisons with Lynda La Plante and Val McDermid are entirely justified, and fans of tightly plotted, complex, police procedurals can prepare themselves for a gripping read. Mari was kind enough to join us for an interview…
Congratulations on your debut novel, can you tell the readers a little bit about The Murder Wall?
The Murder Wall is the first in the DCI Kate Daniels series. It’s a tale of divided loyalties, a book that begins when Kate happens upon a double murder in the Northumberland village where she grew up. Eleven months on, with the case unsolved, she’s called to the shooting of a businessman on Newcastle’s Quayside. It’s her first case as a senior investigating officer, her dream job after years of hard work. But things start going horribly wrong when she recognises the victim. Her failure to disclose a conflict of interest threatens her career and ultimately her life.
The procedural aspect of the book feels really solid. How much did your previous life as a probation officer inform the process?
A lot is the short answer. Having worked in a probation field team, a prison, a community service office and a crown court, I know the criminal justice world very well. I’m told it shines through and that’s really good to hear. It’s been a while since my career in the Probation Service ended. Fortunately, I know people who are still in the service that I can call upon if necessary. Also, my partner was a murder detective in the Serious Incident Squad, so I have lots of help to get it right.
Was it important to you to have a strong woman at the heart of the book?
Yes, it was. All writers want to create a unique protagonist. I moulded Kate into a character who I consider to be under-represented in lead roles, either in books or on the TV. I won’t say any more than that. Her USP is central to the plot of the book and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
Word is you’re working on a screenplay based on characters from The Murder Wall…
A script does exist! Some years ago I was struggling with the book when I met an actress/screenwriter who suggested I try something different. She encouraged me to develop my story as a script and I taught myself the basics then pitched my idea to the BBC. They were running a drama development scheme called North East Voices at the time and I was desperate to get on it. I did and was mentored by fellow north east writer, Michael Chaplin. Although the BBC had an option on the script it was never commissioned. When the scheme ended, I adapted the TV script into the book you now see on the shelves. It is a much better book as a result.
Did you always harbour ambitions to write?
Not really. Looking back, I suppose I was always a scribbler but the serious writing came much later. When your partner is a police officer, you spend a lot of time on your own. It’s not that you worry constantly but the notion that something might happen to them is never far away. The idea for The Murder Wall began during a period of solitude when the kids were out and I was alone with nothing to do. Little did I know back then that my own career would end prematurely after an assault on duty. I was two years off work, in and out of plaster, before the extent of the damage was diagnosed. I had a complete wrist reconstruction. Afterwards, I couldn’t pick up a pen, never mind write with one. As physical therapy, I began using a keyboard and never stopped.
What’s the writing scene in the North East like at the moment?
It’s vibrant. There are so many good writers up here and they all support each other. We also have the most amazing regional agency called New Writing North who seek out and promote new writers through the annual Northern Writers’ Awards, an award I won back in 2010 for my second novel Settled Blood. Currently, there’s a lot of excitement around fellow Pan Macmillan author, Ann Cleeves. Her Vera series is being filmed here, showcasing the area and bringing much needed jobs for local actors, film crews and scriptwriters too. Hopefully, Kate Daniels will be the next to do so!
How does it feel to see your book on the shelves at last?
It’s wonderful. I haven’t shared this with anyone yet but I just had an email from fellow author, Danielle Ramsay. She was in Waterstones in Silverlink yesterday and The Murder Wall was number six! I’m surprised you didn’t hear me scream.
Who are you reading right now?
Strange you should ask that next as I’ve just bought Vanishing Point by Danielle Ramsay. I’m not familiar with her work but we’re doing a Crime on the Tyne event together at Gateshead Library on 10 May so it’s shot to the top of my reading pile.
What’s coming up next for you?
I have a really exciting year ahead. I’ve agreed to a small In the Spotlight event at CrimeFest on Friday, 25 May on the journey to publication. I’ll also be speaking on Creative Thursday at Harrogate in July. I’m on a panel with Louise Voss and Mark Edwards and our respective editors. Louise, Mark and I trod a very different path to publication. In a way, the festival is where my own journey began and it’s such an honour to be asked to give something back. In October, Settled Blood will be published in Germany. A month later, it will be published by Pan Macmillan in the UK.
Read our review of The Murder Wall here.