Carol Wyer garnered a loyal following as an author of romantic comedies, but writing crime is a serious business and needs a different approach. Switching genres has proved a good move for the Staffordshire-based writer, however. Little Girl Lost, the first of a series featuring DI Robyn Carter, came out at the start of the year and has already sold more than 100,000 copies. Book two, Secrets of the Dead, is reviewed here, with book three due out in September. Carol took a break from her hectic writing schedule to answer a few questions…
You’ve had success with romantic comedies and humorous non-fiction, what prompted you to turn to a life of crime?
Although writing comedies was thoroughly enjoyable, I found I was increasingly adding twists, turns and surprises to my plots. As I was writing Life Swap, which has an amazing, unguessable twist in it, I decided if I wanted to continue in this vein, I would have to change genre. It was a prospect that excited me because I have always devoured thrillers and crime novels rather than any other genre. I was brought up on a literary diet of Agatha Christie and Dennis Wheatley.
I’d always fancied writing a thriller, but comedy came naturally to me and so I decided to cut my teeth writing it. Life Swap was my ninth comedy/humorous non-fiction book and I felt ready to try my hand at thrillers. I’d tested the waters with a collection of short stories entitled Love Hurts, depicting the light and dark sides of that emotion. I was invited to read them out to a live studio audience at BBC Radio Derby, and reaction to the dark stories was astounding. Everyone said I should switch genres. With that in mind, I sent Little Girl Lost to Bookouture and synopses for other DI Robyn Carter books, and waited to see what happened. I think it’s safe to say I really have now found my niche!
Is the process of writing different for you in different genres?
Without doubt it is. I have to do far more research for the crime thrillers before I can even begin the process of writing a plot. I also have sub plots and the murderer’s POV to slot into the main story, so I have to ensure timelines, descriptions and the like, fit together much like a jigsaw puzzle. It is far less complicated writing a comedy.
Because I’m writing a series, my office wall, like Robyn Carter’s famous whiteboard, is filled with coloured Post-its bearing each character’s main traits and descriptions, so I don’t get anything wrong. I’m not just writing one book each time, I’m thinking about how sub plots and characters will link up in future books. It’s a more complicated process but infinitely rewarding when it comes together.
How do you get into crime fiction mode?
I’m always in the zone! Worryingly, I employ method writing, which means I get into the character’s mind. I’ll spend hours awake at night trying to think like each of them before I put pen to paper. Obviously, I spend a lot of the time with Robyn Carter. She’s actually begun to tell me off when she doesn’t like a plot or idea – I think I might need therapy!
You’ll have produced three DI Robyn Carter novels by the end of this year. How do you keep up that workrate?
I used to be fuelled by Haribo sweets, but after each novel I needed replacement crowns for several teeth, so I gave them up at the end of last year, just after I finished work on Little Girl Lost.
I really don’t know how to answer this. I just write and write and write. I suffer from insomnia, which means I’ll get up at night and put in a few hours on a script, whether that’s adding to a plot or editing. I have quite tight deadlines, but I know how each book is going to pan out, so it’s only a question of getting it down in time.
By the end of the year, book four will be ready for January release and I’ll be working on book five. I guess I might self-combust one of these days, but until then I’ll keep typing. I’m doing something I’m passionate about and when you love something that much, you keep going.
Who are your favourite crime writers?
So many! Not in any particular order: Patricia Cornwell, Jo Nesbo, Tess Gerritssen, Harlan Coben, Karin Slaughter, Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell, and James Patterson.
You’ve set your crime novels in your local area, Staffordshire. Is it a blessing or a curse to set your books in a part of the country you know well?
I think it’s a blessing as I can better picture each character’s movements and hopefully conjure up a clear image of the area for my readers. I run all my plots through my head like a film before I write them down, and setting them in an area I’ve lived in for over 30 years, is much better for that.
You’ve experienced both the self-publishing and traditional routes. What advice would you give to would-be authors?
Make sure you don’t rush to publish your book. I understand that as soon as you type ‘The End’ you want to get it to market as quickly as possible, but take your time. Put the script away for a couple of months and reread it, edit it and then send it to a professional editor.
In the meantime, write a second book or at least synopses for a second and third book. Sort out your social media profiles. Get chatting to folk and build up relationships with bloggers and book reviewers. Check out agents and publishers and make a list of those you’d like to send to, or find out how to self-publish. If you go the latter route you’ll need to learn to format your book and get a cover made for it.
Finally, be patient, tenacious and positive. It’s not an easy journey but you will win out if you stick at it.
How do you think social media helps today’s authors?
I love social media. I think it’s vital that authors connect with their readers via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogging. Readers love to know more about their authors and indeed authors can readily support fellow authors online too.
I find Twitter the easiest to use, as I don’t need to write much. I spend more time chatting on FB. I make sure I put aside at least an hour a day for that. You never know who you might be talking to, who might tell a friend about your book or invite you to do a talk, or be a guest on their blog…
What’s next for Robyn?
It’s all a bit hush-hush at the moment. There are various cases and twists for each of the characters. Watch out for DI Tom Shearer – he’s got an agenda. And there’s a surprise for Robyn in The Missing Girls that will swipe her sideways.