My first Q & A!!! I am so happy that my first Q & A features the authors of such a gripping and original book. Thanks to William Morrow and Ashley Dryer for this awesome opportunity. Below is the link to my review which also includes the synopsis of Splinter in the Blood. Also below is little info about the two talented women behind Ashley Dryer. Splinter in the Blood is available now !
Ashley Dyer is the penname of Dagger-winning crime novelist, Margaret Murphy, working in consultation with forensics expert, Helen Pepper. Their debut novel, Splinter in the Blood, sold in multiple competitive bids across Europe and the US. It’s out now in the US, published by William Morrow.
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Q & A
Murder and Moore : Splinter in the Blood is one of my favorite books of 2018. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the authors. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions for my blog.
We’re delighted that you enjoyed it, Christen – and a favorite for 2018? Well now, that’s just grand! Thanks for your lovely review of Splinter in the Blood, and for inviting us to chat: it’s wonderful to have the opportunity.
Murder and Moore: For me, what makes Splinter in the Blood so great is how different the story is from other serial killer thrillers. Most notable being the timeline in which the story is told. In Splinter in the Blood readers start the book in the middle of the investigation. Why did you choose to begin the story in the middle of the investigation?
Margaret: Great question – in reality, I wasn’t given the choice. Books come to me in lots of different ways: dreams; a snatch of dialogue; a “what if” question that pops into my head. Splinter in the Bloodbegan with an image: a woman with a gun standing over a shooting victim. My earliest notes on this story go all the way back to April 2014. I wrote the description of the strange tableau, and added, “She looks down at him and feels anger and contempt, but also regret.”
I was mystified. It felt like this was a story that had started without me; I had come in too late to prevent the shooting and had no clue why it had happened. Now, I’m a plotter: I outline my novels in detail, and usually know a lot about the protagonists before I even embark on chapter one. But with this story, I was beset at every turn by unanswered questions. Clearly this woman had some kind of relationship with the man – you don’t feel such a strong and conflicting range of emotions for someone you don’t know – so I had to work out the relationship as I outlined and worked on the plot.
It emerged during the process that the victim was Detective Chief Inspector Greg Carver, and the woman holding the gun was his partner, Detective Sergeant Ruth Lake. Which only made the circumstances more baffling!
Murder and Moore : I really enjoyed Ruth Lake’s duel perspectives as a police officer and CSI. Why was it important to include both jobs in Ruth’s narrative?
Margaret: I trained as a biologist, and I’m a bit of a science geek, so I relished the notion that this cop duo would include someone who has been a CSI and will have greater forensic knowledge than most police – it also added to the mystery behind Ruth’s deliberate evidence-tampering after Carver was shot. But equally importantly, it’s a crucial element of Ruth’s personal history, which will be revealed in future books.
Murder and Moore : Due to Carver’s injury, he begins to experience hallucinations which kind of morph into aura reading. What is the inspiration behind Carver new ability?
Margaret: I’ve always striven for scientific accuracy in my writing – which is why I wanted to get Helen on board in the first place. Doing my background research, I discovered that disorientating distortions of perception are common post-trauma. What I didn’t expect was that and some would seem strangely familiar.
In my early-to-mid thirties, I’d suffered several TIAs – mini-strokes, as a result of a Lupus flare. As I recovered, I experienced visual and auditory glitches from time to time.
On one occasion as I stepped out of a car and looked down at my feet, they seemed an astonishingly long way off, as if I were looking down the wrong end of a telescope. The famous neurologist, Professor Sacks, wrote in his book Hallucinations that Lewis Carroll had migraine auras, and it may be that they inspired Alice’s strange growing and shrinking bouts in Alice in Wonderland. In fact, when Alice grows tall, she describes herself as “opening out” like a telescope. Carroll goes on: “when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight.”
Carver wakes from a coma with a form of synesthesia. Commonly, a synesthete might associate a particular word with a color. Say “holiday”, and they might see yellow, for instance. But numbers, days of the week, sounds and even tastes can trigger colors for them. During my research, I found that a few brain trauma survivors do see auras, so I felt comfortable having Carver read body language and mood as color and light, and in fact there is speculation that some psychics who “read” auras are actually synesthetic.
Murder and Moore : I am so fascinated and impressed by writing duos. Can you tell me about your writing process? How do you combine your ideas?
Margaret: I come up with story ideas and usually write a short, two-to-three-page synopsis. After that, we bat ideas back and forth by phone, Skype, email, and the occasional face-to-face meeting, talking about story, forensic procedures that might come into play, police approaches to particularly categories of crime. I mull for a bit, then start on the full outline, which may be 20,000 to 40,000 words long.
Last year, as we started work on the three-page synopsis I’d put together for book 2 in the Carver and Lake series, Helen and I met in the bar of a country hotel. The place was deserted; it was July, and very hot, so we alternated cold drinks and coffee for a few hours. ‘Around lunchtime, I said, okay, so we’ve sorted the blood issue, but what about the body parts?’ I got an odd feeling we were being watched and looked up from my notes for the first time in an hour, to discover that the place was full of businessmen, and they were staring in shock at the two of us.
Helen: Usually I start working with TV scriptwriters as they develop storylines. I’ll receive queries after script writing is properly underway that normally start with “what would happen if . . . ?” or “how can I make this happen?”. Later, I check draft scripts to for procedural inaccuracies.
The process is similar for the Ashley Dyer novels - though more intensive. Margaret (Ashley) has an idea for a book and we’ll talk through the themes of the story and discuss the forensic elements we might exploit. After I’ve commented on the detailed outline, she disappears into her office to write. We stay in touch by e-mail and phone about the work in progress, and she’ll send me batches of completed chapters for comment. This can be agonizing, as I may have to wait several weeks for the next installment!
Murder and Moore : How did you meet?
Helen: We knew each other from UK crime writing conferences. I had been advising Ann Cleeves on the Vera and Shetland series for some time. Margaret emailed me as a friend of Ann’s and a fellow Squaddie (this is Murder Squad, a group of crime writers based in northern England).
Margaret: I knew that Ann found Helen terrific to work with – and that she was willing to go the extra mile to help out with a tricky plot or procedural problem, so I was delighted that she agreed to work with me on these books.
Murder and Moore : What are you currently reading?
Margaret: Jeffery Deaver’s The Cutting Edge, Lisa Gardner’s The Perfect Husband and Knight’s Forensic Pathology. I review books bimonthly (and sometimes in between) on my “Shelf Indulgence” blog. You can find it on our website: www.ashley-dyer.com
Helen: I’m reading non-fiction, mostly, as The Crime Writers Association Non-Fiction Dagger judging panel is meeting very soon, to decide the shortlist and winner, so I’m revisiting my favorites from the longlist. I’m also reading texts to update my knowledge ready for the new student intake in the fall.
Margaret: I tried to persuade Helen to tell me her non-fiction favorite, but if she said if she told me, she’d have to kill me. And she knows how to make it look like natural causes . . .
Murder and Moore : Last year I went to a book event for Lars Kepler, a husband and wife writing duo. They explained that Lars Kepler is an actual person, with his own background story. What is the significance of your pen name?
The reason is rather pragmatic, I’m afraid: our UK publisher wanted a name that could be read as male or female (there’s good statistical evidence that the majority of men are less likely to pick up a thriller written by a woman than one written by a man. Sad, but true.). And next time you’re in a bookstore, check the initial letter of the surnames which are in your eyeline . . .
Murder and Moore : Can you give me any clues as to what is in store for Carver and Lake in the next book?
Three months after he was shot, Carver has returned to work. He’s reviewing the disappearances of young men in Liverpool – a light task to ease him back into investigative work. Urban myths are circulating about the disappearances, one of which is that they have been murdered by a shadowy figure called “The Ferryman”, and the public is uneasy. The police view is that the missing took off on adventures, so this is really a PR exercise to reassure the public. Carver calls in Ruth Lake to help and they are soon on the trail of a serial killer who is determined to build a following.