Hello there, Welcome to my Authors Let’s Chat – An Interview with… Feature. If you want to know more about the authors I feature, please carry on scrolling.
We are so very lucky to have authors in this world. Books are an essential need. We find or lose ourselves within the pages. But while we are reading their books. We would also love to know the person, the genuine person behind their writing.
So without further ado, Let me introduce you to Victoria Dowd and let’s get to know her together. I am honoured to have you here on Reading Through The Pain. And Thank you so very much for being interviewed.
1. Please tell my readers a little about yourself?
Hi Ami-May, I write crime fiction and my debut crime novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, was published last month by Joffe Books, which was incredibly exciting. I also write short fiction, which I’ve published in some lovely magazines and journals. I was lucky enough to win the Gothic Fiction Prize last year, which was amazing and proved to be a real turning point for me. I’m originally from Yorkshire and, after studying law at Cambridge, I went on to be a criminal law barrister for many years. I now write full time and live with my husband and two children.
2. What inspired you to become a writer/author?
I’ve always loved writing and wrote all the time when I was growing up. Like lots of authors, I got side-tracked by work, although I think many of my jury speeches verged towards fiction! I was really inspired to believe this could be a full-time job when I started to have short fiction published. It was amazing to see my work in print and to see that other people thought this was worth reading and publishing.
3. What is the best thing about being a writer/author?
It’s the best job in the world! I can sit in bed dreaming up new characters and places and call it work. All the make-believe and nonsense in my head can come alive and become real characters that people either love or hate. I can invent whole worlds that they inhabit and step through the door of a crumbling mansion or sail off to a deserted island, but then I can choose when I walk back into reality. Also, I get to work in my pyjamas!
4. What is your writing routine like?
I’m quite strict with my routine, actually. I work for about four or five hours a day, sometimes more. I’m usually at my desk by 9-30 and write solidly until lunchtime when I take a short break. Then the afternoon is writing, usually until it’s time for school pickup, but that’s not happening at the moment of course. I never usually work past 6pm as my brain shuts down after that time. Also, I have a glass of wine and I never, ever work after that as the writing is just terrible!
5. How much time is spent on research?
A huge amount! I think when you’re writing crime fiction; the readers are so highly tuned to every tiny point and notice everything so I have to be quite meticulous about things such as my settings and the various murder weapons. It’s no use writing about a particular poison if it’s not going to kill someone immediately and you have them dropping to the floor in chapter one. The search history on my computer is not a pretty place. I’ve recently had to do a lot of research on the smell of a dead body. Mushrooms, vaping pens and footprints have taken up a huge amount of research time as well.
6. How much of the book is planned out before you write it/them?
Nearly all of it. My books are old school murder mysteries, so the puzzle and ‘whodunnit’ aspect is very important. The planning has to be very detailed so the clues are all there but not too obviously and each tiny little piece fits together perfectly without even the smallest hole in the plot. I have a huge pin-board that my husband bought me and it has maps and photographs, newspaper clippings and screen shots all over it and a lot of red string linking it all. In some ways, it looks a little like I’m planning a murder! I keep an awful lot of notebooks too, which relate to various different aspects of the book.
7. What do you think is most important when writing a book? The characters, plot, setting, etc?
When I’m writing a book, I think the characters are my primary focus. My books are very character driven. I have to get inside the head of each character and then the story seems to flow from them. However, that’s just from the point of view of writing the book. I think with crime fiction especially; the books are very plot driven so I always have to keep in mind where I want my characters and story to end up at the end of each section and which plot points they need to have covered. Each chapter is a kind of like a long walk where there have to be certain markers and points of interest on the way, some of which seem accidental or are barely noticeable and the characters may well be talking about something entirely different but they have to be there.
8. What is your latest book about?
The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder is about a book club who goes to an isolated country house, but when they wake up to find they’re snowed in, the murders start. They’re a pretty dysfunctional group who have to try to work together to stay alive, but there’s a lot of history between them. The narrator is Ursula Smart who isn’t really supposed to be there, but she’s come along with her mother, aunt and godmother who are all in the group. There are two other members of the group and a dog called Mr Bojangles. They’re all fierce women and don’t necessarily all get on with each other, which I think might be familiar too many book club members. They are sharp and opinionated. Although it’s a classic ‘whodunnit’ there’s a lot of dark humour and relationships that I think a lot of the readers will be able to relate to. I didn’t want to write women characters who are just there to be likeable. I wanted them to be real women with the flaws and issues real women have. Then they’re locked into a life-threatening situation with a potential murderer on the loose.
9. What inspired it?
My love of murder mysteries inspired the book. I adore them, particularly Agatha Christie. I grew up reading and re-reading them and searching out the films they were made into. I watched the old Peter Ustinov Death on the Nile until the tape wore thin. I love the way the story is utterly seamless and keeps you guessing right to the very end. I love the ‘otherness’ of these books where an entire world is created and exists just for that moment in time where the characters have to solve the mystery. The classic isolated house is a favourite for me where the reader is desperately trying to work out the answer before they get to the denouement.
10. Why did you pick the genre or genres that you write in?
I’ve always loved the Golden Age crime genre, with its classic country house settings and the array or characters, any one of which could have done it. I love being lost in the sleepy village that harbours vicars and shopkeepers who could quite easily be a murderer where the killer is somewhere amongst the everyday idyll. One of my favourite aspects of these novels is something I wanted to explore, the idea that the people solving the murder are very far from a professional police officer. They are individuals who seem remarkably ill-equipped to work out who the killer is, so it’s very easy for a reader to settle in next to them and be carried along with the characters trying to solve the mystery with them, trying to work out whodunnit without anything more than their own knowledge.
11. How did you go about getting a publishing deal? Or how did you become self-published?
I made sure the book was finished and the best it could be before I started to think about sending it out. I did a lot of research on the kind of publisher I thought this book would fit with. It’s a very quirky book and although it could be described as ‘cosy’ it really is a lot darker than that and might not be what people would expect. The humour is very dark, so it needed a publisher who was passionate about crime fiction but also found it funny! Joffe Books was the one I was aiming for and I worked very hard on the submission letter, making sure I told them about the book but also about myself and the writing I’d had published. I think it makes a difference if you can point to a body of work you’ve had published, in my case short stories, and if you’ve won any awards. Also, it helps if you look like a professional writer, so I made sure I had a website that I kept up-to-date and a social media presence. All of which I could point to in my submission letter. Alongside that, the synopsis needed to be really tight. Every word had to count. I worked very hard on having a package I could send them that included chapters I was happy with, a good synopsis and a covering letter that encompassed everything I’d been working on and where I saw that going in the future.
12. Would you be enthralled in making your books into a movie or TV series?
I would absolutely love the Smart women to have a TV series! I’m a huge fan of programmes such as Midsomer Murders, Marple and Agatha Christie’s Poirot. I think it would be fantastic to see the Smart women come alive on the screen. I’m sure every author fantasises about who would play their characters. I certainly have. Miriam Margolyes would definitely be on my list.
13. Any new books or plans for the future?
Yes, I’m hard at work on the second book in the series, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Survival. The women who are left alive at the end of the first book decide they need to go on a survival course because they weren’t terribly good at surviving. It’s a kind of Bear Grylls style survival course which, once you know the Smart women, seems like a remarkably bad idea. They end up on the wrong island, and of course, the murders began. I’m really excited about this as the characters are already there and it’s a chance to take them a lot further and explore why they are how they are. It’s also a really exciting setting, which I won’t say too much about, but I’m hoping to get the opportunity to go there whenever we’re allowed to travel again.
14. What authors have been an influence on your writing?
Agatha Christie definitely! I’ve been obsessed with her since I was about eight years old, which is probably way too early to start reading about gruesome murders, but no one seems to mind when it’s Agatha Christie. I love Golden Age writers such as Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Also, I really like modern authors who have developed this genre such as Anthony Horowitz and Stuart Turton. Alongside this, I’m a big fan of short stories and dark tales with a supernatural element from writers such as M. R. James and Daphne du Maurier.
15. What writing advice would you have given yourself when you started?
Be patient. It will happen.
16. What writing advice would you give to an aspiring writer or a new author to the block?
Well, I’d consider myself a pretty new author to the block. I’ve been writing for years, but the first book being published has been a very steep learning curve! My biggest piece of advice would be to write something, anything every day. I suspect 80% of what I write ends up in the bin, but I couldn’t get to the 20% that survives if I hadn’t written all the rest of it. Secondly, read lots! Read everything and anything you can get your hands on. Listen to it as well. I’m a massive fan of audio books, particularly for a long drive or travelling, which hopefully I’ll be able to do again one day. Finally, write in lots of different ways. So obviously there’s the novel, but I often take a break to write a short story because it’s an incredible discipline to have a whole story arc within about 2,000 words usually. I’ve also recently started writing a few non-fiction pieces about the resurgence of Golden Age fiction and that too is a whole new way of working and requires a very diligent form of research. I think it’s important to write in lots of different ways to keep your writing fresh and take new approaches.
17. What has been your favourite book so far this year?
I’d say the best book I’ve read this year is My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. It is absolutely fantastic with a really dark sense of humour. I loved it! I’ve almost finished The Mirror and the Light, which is the final instalment of the Wolf Hall trilogy. It’s utterly wonderful and you feel completely immersed in the world of Henry VIII. I almost don’t want it to end as this trilogy has been in my life for so long now!
18. What is your all-time favourite book and why?
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I remember exactly where I was in my parents’ kitchen when I read it the first time and the overwhelming feeling of being inside the book. That was the first time that had ever happened to me, that I walked into the house with the main character and I could feel everything she could. That has stayed with me, the darkness, the tension, the fear but needing more of it.
19. What genre do you read?
Mostly crime fiction in the murder mystery genre. I try not to read solely Golden Age fiction, but I keep finding new ones I’ve never read. The British Library keeps issuing fantastic new books by long forgotten or lost authors. They’re amazing. I’m on a lot of different Facebook groups as well where people keep recommending wonderful old detective stories.
20. What are you currently reading?
Sleep by C.L. Taylor which is gripping and I’ve just finished Haven’t they Grown by Sophie Hannah which I loved.
21. What is on your To be read list?
My to be read list is ever expanding! I’d set myself the task of re-reading all the Agatha Christie’s during Lockdown which I’m absolutely loving. So much so that I’ve decided to start writing a little blog on my website about adaptations of her books. https://victoriadowd.com/ I’m loving it! I’ve also connected with a lot of new authors recently since my book came out. I spoke to the wonderful Margaret Murphy who gave me lots of tips and I’ve just started her book Darkness Falls. I also have D.E. White’s Glass Dolls ready to read. Other books on my pile are –
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware because I loved In a Dark, Dark Wood.
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn which I started but put down somewhere and now I can’t find it so I’ll have to buy another copy.
The Murder Game by Rachel Abbott.
Where the Crawdads Sing—Delia Owens And I’ve just downloaded The Guest List by Lucy Foley to listen to on audiobook on Sunday morning.
22. Anything else you would like to add?
Just thank you. This has been fantastic! A big part of having a book released has been how many wonderful people I’ve met and chatted to online about books. It’s such a lovely, supportive community which I had no idea was so huge until I was thrown into it.
Thank you to Victoria Dowd for this extraordinary interview and for your fantastic books.