The New Kid on the Block: Leigh Russell on Writing Crime Fiction

Aspiring authors often ask me how I found my publishers. With my first attempt, I sent my manuscript to a couple of publishers who specialize in crime fiction. I was fortunate enough to find a home for what has developed into a long running series, and since 2009, I have been busy writing British detective mysteries. My protagonists are experienced sleuths. It is fascinating to write about them, and so far, they have proved extremely popular.

When the editor who initially read the manuscript for my debut novel recently set up a literary agency, I offered to give her everything I had written—other than my already published series. There weren’t many potential novels in my secret store of manuscripts yet to be submitted, but my agent loved the one I managed to find and submitted it to publishers. We were both thrilled when a publisher acquired it as the start of a new series.

So, in addition to my existing series, I found myself engaged in writing a new series with a protagonist that is very different from my other main characters.

Lucy Hall is not a police officer. This, by itself, gives me more freedom, as she can plausibly get herself into all sorts of scrapes that my experienced police detectives would never face.

Not only that, but Lucy is in her early twenties at the start of the series. Unlike my older, well-trained protagonists, that allows her to make errors of judgment and take outrageous risks. She can wander alone into dangers my seasoned detectives would never approach without knowing that backup is at least on its way.

Lucy Hall is also not confined to the area where she works. She can travel anywhere in the world and find adventures wherever she goes. The first story in her series is set in the beautiful, exotic island of Mahe in the Seychelles. By the second one, which will be published in September, she has moved to Paris. After which, she is going to Rome.

Although, in some ways it is more difficult to write without the parameters of a genre, I have been enjoying every aspect of my new freedom—especially my research trips to the Seychelles, Paris, and Rome!

Crime fiction is constantly evolving. One of the recent trends is the growing popularity of the young investigator. Lucy Hall would seem to be at the forefront of the trend away from older, more knowledgeable sleuths.

In any case, a resurgence of interest in the amateur investigator is understandable. The modern detective began with Sherlock Holmes, a reassuring figure in a Victorian society troubled by violent crime that was virtually unchecked. Holmes was a precursor of Batman and Superman, as much as he was of Rebus and Reacher. He was more than a match for Jack the Ripper. With a disorganized police force depending on bicycles and whistles, it is small wonder that people wanted to believe in Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional creation.

It is possible we are witnessing another change in perception. With so many advances in forensics, and the difficulty of going anywhere without passing a surveillance camera, perhaps the police no longer have the same power to make us feel safe.

We live in a rapidly changing world where the young understand the latest advances in technology faster than some members of the older generation. Older more experienced coppers are perhaps no longer perceived as the guardians of knowledge. More than that, thanks to the influence of the visual media, there is a certain glamour attached to their youth.

Having written a popular series of British crime novels featuring older, more knowledgeable sleuths, I will be interested to see how my new young detective fares now that Journey to Death has been published. She is certainly fun to write about!

 

Copyright © 2016 Leigh Russell.

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Leigh Russell is the author of the internationally bestselling Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson crime series. She is married, has two daughters, and lives in north-west London. In addition to writing, she guest-lectures for the Society of Authors, universities and colleges, and runs regular creative writing courses for the prestigious Writers Lab in the UK and Greece.

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