As part of Leigh Russell’s blog tour I’m pleased to welcome her to the site once again. Blood Axe is her latest book and it finds Ian Peterson hot on the trail of a different kind of killer. I caught up with Leigh and asked a few questions about the story and she delivered some fascinating answers.
1. When we’re first introduced to Ian Peterson he is on his way to work and appears to be just like anyone else starting their day. Did you toy around with other ways to introduce him or were you pretty much certain what you were going to do?
For any author, there is always a choice about how to present characters. Modern fictional detectives have been heroic, flawed, complex, cultured, solitary, happily married with families… the variety is endless. With so many possibilities, I wanted to make my protagonists fairly ordinary as I felt that would make them credible, and help readers to identify with them. Introducing Ian Peterson at the start of a normal day is hopefully a situation with which most readers can identify.
2. I think it’s in Chapter 11 where a possibly unflattering picture of Naomi is painted but is there a risk that by doing that, the reader is cajoled into forming a particular picture of the character which may get in the way when you say later:
“…Naomi looked set to do well, a capable young woman who would probably climb through the ranks in any sizeable organisation”.
In some ways I admire the focus of people who are single minded about their ambitions. At the same time it seems apparent that, regardless of the field they are working in, they have no genuine passion for what they do. I respect them for succeeding, in politics, and in the corporate world, but I also despise them for being self-serving. Naomi is one such career person. By contrast, Ian has a passion for what he does.
Although they work well together, they joined the police for different reasons. Ian’s opinion of Naomi’s ambition hopefully reveals something about his own character. Although he is ambitious he did not join the police force to be a success. He joined because he wanted to help preserve order, protect the public, and serve the cause of justice. In some ways he is naive compared to Naomi, but I prefer him as a character.
3. An extract from the book reads: “Once again the warrior sprang on to dry land. His bulging shoulder muscles strained with the effort of lugging his long, narrow boat…”.
Your worked your references well about the warrior with Viking activity into the story but why choose the Viking theme initially?
Vikings settled in York and lived there peacefully for many years, leaving the city steeped in Viking history, which was the inspiration for Blood Axe. The Vikings were a civilised and cultured society, often falsely characterised as nothing more than ruthless warriors and raiders. They were traders and travellers, with a fascinating and sophisticated culture. There is an old Norse poem, which must have been written by someone who was approaching old age. Hugin and Munin are the names of Odin’s two black birds, representing thought and memory.
Hugin and Munin
Fly every day
Over all the world;
I worry for Hugin
That he might not return,
But I worry more for Munin.
Is that so very different to the concerns we have today about growing old and forgetful? Reading the poem, you cannot help feeling a connection with the poet writing two thousand years ago. The Vikings were people like us, only living in a different era. It was not a huge leap from that conclusion to create a Viking character of my own. My Viking is a complete flight of fancy but I did a lot of research to make sure my character’s thought processes and feelings are as authentic as possible.
4. When Ian enters a crime scene (Chapter 20) there’s quite a lot of detail regarding the room. Was it tricky for you to decide just how much the reader should visualise without glamourizing the crime?
It’s always difficult to decide how much physical description is appropriate, of people as well as places. Some readers like to have detailed visual images conveyed in words. Others like to create their own images. Writing about a sensitive issue like a crime scene, where someone has been murdered, poses a particular challenge.
I try to be realistic and authentic in my descriptions, which can make them a bit gritty, but I do not want to gloss over the horror of a crime scene where a murder has been committed. There is nothing glamorous about violence. Without any gratuitous description, I try to portray the situation as nasty and brutish, which is what it is.
5. In the ‘discovery’ scene involving the characters of Tommy and Jem, did you ever consider different ways that they could make their discovery, or were you pretty much set on how that would be?
The river plays a key role in the killer’s narrative so it seemed natural for this discovery to be made on the water. I felt it gave the reader a change of perspective, both from the point of view and the setting. It’s quite a dramatic scene that fits in perfectly with the killer’s behaviour.
6. Throughout the story you’ve made Ian seem quite real. We get a close look at his relationship with Bev and his fears. Is that sort of character more preferable for you to work with than the strong silent type?
The strong silent type is a very appealing kind of character. We all love reading Jack Reacher’s adventures, and I think almost every female reader of the genre is in love with him. I wish I could successfully create a character like him, but a lot of my exposition is presented through dialogue, which means my detective cannot work alone. I find for the way I write, dialogue is more immediate and more interesting than pages of internal monologue. Perhaps that’s because I talk a lot.
7. It becomes apparent that Ian Peterson is a different prospect to Geraldine Steel, thus offering an opportunity to tackle a variety of situations from different angles. Are you planning to expand the character further or do you think that we know enough about him now to follow him loyally through to each new adventure?
Yes, I have plans for Ian Peterson’s character, and I hope fans will continue to follow his progress.
He has been in my books right from the very beginning as he worked with Geraldine Steel in her early books, and they have kept in touch throughout her series. He has been around for a long time, and I am thrilled that he now has his own series.
I hope that fans will follow his cases as long as he keeps going. Of course now that I am writing a new series for Thomas and Mercer, I may not have time to continue writing separate novels for Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson, so they may end up working together again, as they did in my early books. That is all up in the air at the moment. I am meeting with my publisher this month to discuss our next contract, so there will definitely be more books for both my detectives. I am quite excited by the possibility of bringing my two detectives together again, as that opens up all sorts of possibilities. But if you want to find out what happens, you’ll have to keep reading the books.
8. Another extract from the book reads: “The dead girl lay across the path that led beside her house to a back garden or yard. The only illumination on that path normally would be a faint glow from the street lamps on the road running past the house, and any light that reached it from the moon. Tonight the area was lit up by bright lamps”.
You paint a memorable and vivid picture of a crime scene but you’ve written quite a few in the books you’ve already published: is it something that you find easy to do, or does it now take you a while to get right?
It is difficult to balance a sense of drama and tragedy, with respect for life and death. Crime fiction addresses very serious issues, but it does so within a form of entertainment. My readers want to be thrilled and intrigued but I am always keen to avoid gratuitous or offensive treatment of the subject matter. It is strange, creating entertainment out of tragic human circumstances. Since Aristotle we have struggled to explain our need for tragedy in our stories.
In writing and reading crime fiction we are acting out our worst fears in a safe way. The events in murder mysteries are horrific, and shocking, but they are not real. Compared to dealing with the tragedy of life and death in real life, we can arrive at a relatively speedy and satisfactory restoration of order at the end of the story.
Perhaps these stories help us to cope with the real world, which often makes no sense at all.
9. In one word, how would you describe Blood Axe?
I can’t do better than quote the master of the strong silent type, Lee Child, who sums my books up in one word: “unmissable”.
You can purchase Blood Axe here