Hello and welcome to the first item in the Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival programme which is scheduled to run throughout July and August bringing you interviews with authors, book bloggers and publishing professionals as well as book extracts and, writing related features. You can read more about the thinking behind this festival here.
Thanks for coming along to today’s event. Enjoy!
Today, I’m delighted to welcome crime fiction author Helen Forbes to the festival.
Hello, Helen. So, let’s get started with me asking you how and why you became a writer?
An interest in Highland and Island culture, and particularly the islands of St Kilda, led me to do some research while I was studying law as a mature student in Edinburgh. I was struck by the derogatory way in which the islanders were portrayed by historical authors that had visited St Kilda, and I decided I wanted to write a novel written from the perspective of the islanders, to try and portray the people and their life in a more balanced way. I had begun to spend more time in the Outer Hebrides, where I have family connections, and I decided to write a novel with two parts, the first set in modern day North Uist and the second set in 18th century St Kilda. I started writing, using it as a welcome break from studying. I eventually moved to North Uist, and continued writing the novel on my old Amstrad, with no word count, until I had a novel of enormous proportions. I didn’t have any success in getting it published. One publisher asked to read it, and it was so long, I had to send it in two parcels. I never heard back from him. He’s probably still reading it now.
Anne: So you might hear from him soon 🙂
What sort of books do you write and what are the titles of those you’ve published so far?
After leaving North Uist, I started to write short stories while attending writers’ groups in Edinburgh and Fife. Someone commented that one of my stories would make a good novel. I started to develop the idea, and decided to write a crime novel with the short story as the prologue. It’s a police procedural called In the Shadow of the Hill’, featuring DS Joe Galbraith. It’s set in Inverness and Harris. I then wrote a sequel called Madness Lies, which is set in Inverness and North Uist. Both of those novels are published. I then wrote a third crime novel, a standalone psychological thriller called Deception, which is currently with my agent.
Anne: Having enjoyed your first two novels so much, I do hope it’s not too long before Deception is published.
Tell us about a typical writing day? (Do you have a writing routine, is it planned in advance, is it strictly adhered to).
I don’t have a particular routine; I write whenever I can get the spare time, which is usually in the evening. If I have a free day, my preference is to write in the morning and the evening, having a break in the afternoon. I really enjoy writing, so it never seems like a chore, and I would love to have more time to do it. Of course there are times when the writing doesn’t flow, but I use that time to edit, and that seems to work for me.
Anne: Yes, it can be tricky juggling a day job and writing. But that’s great that you don’t find writing to be chore.
Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?
My first two novels were pretty much unplanned. I just started writing and kept on going, plotting in my head as I went along, and spending a lot of time tinkering and changing things. This approach didn’t really work with Madness Lies, as I found myself going down dead-ends and having to delete sub-plots and big chunks of writing. I decided there must be a better way, so I tried plotting Deception before I started writing. It didn’t work. I found I couldn’t plot unless I was writing, so I tried to be very strict with myself at the start of each day, going over what I’d written the day before, to avoid dead-ends. This worked better for me. I would love to be able to plot in detail in advance, but I don’t think it’s for me.
Anne: I’m not much of a planner either I must admit and you’re right it can lead to pitfalls. But you have to do what works for you.
What are you working on currently?
Well, that enormous first novel of mine has gone through various incarnations, but it is now two standalone, vaguely linked, novels. I updated and completed the North Uist novel some months ago and it is now with my agent. I am working on the St Kilda novel just now, and hope to have completed it in the next few weeks.
Oh, interesting, can you tell us a bit more?
It’s called From the Edge, and is based on fact and set in the early 18th century, a time of great change for the St Kildan people. The population was decimated by a smallpox outbreak, and people were brought in from other islands to try and build a community. A few years later, just as the community was settling down again, a prisoner arrived on St Kilda. She was Lady Grange, the wife of an Edinburgh judge and politician. Her husband arranged her removal from Edinburgh and she was kept on St Kilda for seven years. The story begins with Lady Grange’s arrival, but the main character is Mairi, the daughter of the island officer, and one of the few youngsters to survive the smallpox. When Mairi fears for the safety of her new-born child, at a time when island infants are dying of tetanus, she takes off to a lonely glen where she is forced to remember and confront the island’s troubled past and her own mistakes.
Anne: Sounds intriguing
And finally, have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created?
That’s a difficult question. I like most of my main characters, but I do have a soft spot for DS Joe Galbraith. He’s a bit of an introvert and probably suffers from imposter syndrome, despite being a fine detective. I can identify with both those traits. I really enjoyed developing his character in both novels. I’m also rather fond of Sam Murray, a homeless beggar with a sad past and a very difficult life in Deception. I won’t say too much about him, but hopefully he’ll be introduced to readers one of these days.
Anne: Yes, I can understand why you’d have a soft spot for DS Galbraith. And, thank you Helen for taking part in the festival and for sharing some fascinating information about your books and your writing life.
And below we have an extract from the first of the Galbraith novels
Extract from In the Shadow of the Hill
Job. A wee word, but such a big deal. His pals thought he was nuts. Half five in the morning? What sort of time was that to start work? Didn’t bother him; he’d always been an early riser. And he was finished at one o’clock. Could do whatever he liked then. Could even go back to sleep. Not that he would; not on a day like this. Mountain bike in the back of the van, and he’d head across the bridge, try the black trail at Learnie. His mother’s frown would follow him all the way, and her muttering. That biking nonsense would be the death of him. Look at Chrissie Martin’s brother’s wife’s cousin. Broke his neck falling off a bike. Time he was giving that nonsense up, now that he had a job and a uniform.
A job. A uniform. The pride on his mother’s face. A massive fry-up this morning and a gallon of sweet tea. How come she didn’t know that he didn’t take sugar in his tea? Didn’t even like tea that much, and he could still taste the bacon grease coating his tongue. Ach, she’d not be getting up every morning before five o’clock; that was a certainty. But she’d be waiting for him at one o’clock today; waiting at the window with that smile, and more tea.
Maybe he wouldn’t tell her what round he’d been given. He’d never hear the end of it. Her wee boy delivering mail Down The Ferry? What about Chrissie Martin’s son’s girlfriend’s neighbour? Mugged in broad daylight. And he wasn’t even properly Down The Ferry; he was three streets away. Talking to his mother on his fancy new mobile telephone when two of those neddy boys came and took it off him. Best to stay away from that side of the town.
Aye, Mum. He’d tell her he’d got one of those new schemes that kept appearing on the outskirts of the City of Inverness. City? Whenever his mother read that, usually on every front page of every local paper, it made her laugh. They could build as many new housing schemes as they liked, she would say, but Inverness would never be more than a big village.
Ach, it was fine Down The Ferry. Not that different from anywhere else, really. Just people getting on with their lives; three mothers pushing pushchairs, a boy and his staffie, an old lady with shopping bags, and a mobile mechanic bashing a car wheel with a hammer. Must be too early for riots and muggings.
These stairs were tiring, though. Three blocks of flats; twenty-four flats in each block; one block down, two to go. A row of birds were singing on the roof of the derelict building opposite the middle block. Their melody made him smile as he pushed the door open, and turned.
No. This couldn’t be. No way. Backing towards the door, shaking his head as the hot sweet tea, the greasy bacon, the half-cooked sausages, the soft fried eggs rushed back up his gullet and splattered across the floor.
(extract copyright Helen Forbes)
From the back cover:
An elderly woman is found battered to death in the common stairwell of an Inverness block of flats.
Detective Sergeant Joe Galbraith starts what seems like one more depressing investigation of the untimely death of a poor unfortunate who was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
As the investigation spreads across Scotland it reaches into a past that Joe has tried to forget, and takes him back to the Hebridean island of Harris, where he spent his childhood.
Among the mountains and the stunning landscape of religiously conservative Harris, in the shadow of Ceapabhal, long buried events and a tragic story are slowly uncovered, and the investigation takes on an altogether more sinister aspect.
In The Shadow Of The Hill skilfully captures the intricacies and malevolence of the underbelly of Highland and Island life, bringing tragedy and vengeance to the magical beauty of the Outer Hebrides.
In the Shadow of the Hill is published by ThunderPoint and is available in paperback and kindle format. You can find Helen’s books on Amazon here
Helen Forbes is an author and a solicitor based in Inverness. She began her writing life with contemporary and historical fiction, but soon turned to crime. She is the author of two crime fiction novels set in Inverness and the Outer Hebrides, featuring DS Joe Galbraith. In the Shadow of the Hill was published in 2014, with book two in the series, Madness Lies. Helen has written a third crime novel, Deception, which is set in Edinburgh and is, as yet, unpublished. She is working on a historical fiction novel set in 18th century St Kilda.
And you can find out more at Helen’s website: www.hforbes.co.uk