Mel Sherratt is the author of Taunting the Dead, a gritty crime story set in Stoke-on-Trent. Since its release the novel has gone on to do very well by getting into the top five of the kindle best seller list. So I decided it was time to seek out Mel and get her to talk about her journey, her eBook, and of course, shoes.
1. Hi Mel, what inspired you to write Taunting the Dead?
The idea came from watching news coverage of murder investigations. Neighbours and friends are always shown talking about the victim in a good light. What would happen if a murder took place and no one really cared for that person? This led to me thinking that these friends and family could be suspects. In the end, Taunting the Dead was set up with six people, all family and friends, that could have murdered Steph Ryder.
2. What was the hardest part of writing it?
The self doubt I had that I couldn’t write a police procedural because I didn’t have the background knowledge. Luckily for me, my books are predominantly character based, and although the murder investigation is a huge part of the book, it is also a sub plot. This allowed me to work with multiple characters. Not only were the characters lying to the police to cover their tracks, they were also lying to each other. So sometimes I’d trip myself up and come to a part that had to be rewritten because a particular character shouldn’t know that information yet.
3. How long does it normally take you to write a book?
I write a first draft quickly, usually 6-8 weeks. I allow myself to write anything during this time and I don’t go back to edit. I have a read through and take a further 6-8 weeks to do a second draft before I show it to anyone. I let it rest for a month and after a lengthy discussion with my agent, and four close friends who read it too, I do a further draft. And then another – as many as it takes to get it right. It becomes tighter with each draft. All in all the process takes around six months.
4. Tell us a little about the character Detective Sergeant Allie Shenton and why you chose the setting of Stoke-on-Trent.
As I like to write about emotions, I felt more comfortable about creating the main character as a female. For Taunting the Dead, the lead had to be female because of the story. There is an element of sexual tension in the book and I enjoyed writing that from her point of view. And as the book is dark, I created a bit of light relief with Allie’s love of something feminine – high heels.
My books are easy read. I’m not big on descriptive passages, tending to show not tell through dialogue, and I always fear that people won’t find a sense of place because of that. Also, I write sex, murder and violence. It doesn’t make a place attractive to live in, no matter where the setting. So I thought, why not set it in my home town and maybe the sense of place I know will fit in naturally with my writing. I’m not sure if the city I live in brings as much to the narrative as I do – to me, it’s fiction and it does fill me with dread as well as pride when I get reviews about Stoke-on-Trent’s underworld!
5. You’re represented by Sheila Crowley of the Curtis Brown Literary Agency, was it an easy decision for you both to introduce the novel to the public first as an eBook, after exhausting all other options?
We didn’t necessarily exhaust all other options before we decided to release Taunting the Dead. But I’d started watching the rise of a few self published authors on Amazon and decided it could be a further option. Curtis Brown is a very forward thinking agency and it felt a natural conclusion to go this way. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone – it is a huge gamble and I may never get that traditional book deal I crave as a result – but it was a way of getting my work out there. We’d both worked so hard on the script.
6. Do you think that you’ll choose to follow the same route for your follow up book?
Of course, I’m waiting for the day when I’m offered a traditional book deal – as are many authors. It will always be my dream, so if not this series, then maybe the next series I write. If there is no interest from a publisher to buy Taunting the Dead and the next one, Follow the Leader, then yes we shall self publish. I’m thrilled to say that readers want to know what happens in book two.
7. What books have influenced you most?
Over the years, I think a mixture of genres rather than books in particular. I like reading women’s fiction as much as crime thrillers. Like I mentioned, I’m an emotional writer but I’m a down to earth writer too. So I like gritty authors such as Martina Cole, Mandasue Heller and Dreda Say Mitchell. I’ve learned so much from reading Peter James, Mark Billingham and Lynda La Plante.
8. What do you think makes a good story?
Rounded, believable characters, a satisfactory ending (even if the ending is controversial), a strong sense of place, a hint of trepidation.
9. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
If I’m not drafting a book, I’m writing a guest blog post. Or I’m compiling an author interview or book review for my own blog, High Heels and Book Deals. I’m currently setting up a new place where I’m going to be concentrating purely on crime. I’m often on Twitter and Facebook. Occasionally I have my nose in someone else’s book. Failing that, I like to go on long walks and get some fresh air. Working from home ensures I get neither of these.
10. You’re a bit of a shoe addict, how many pairs of shoes do you currently own?
Erm, I’ve never counted. Let me just check….and I never throw any away…including boots, and yes, I do have some flip flops…52!
11. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
That first draft – give yourself permission to write anything until you get to The End. And once you get to half way with your word count, think of it as all downhill from there – there’s more words written than needs to be to finish! Also, if you have a first draft to work on, with a beginning, a middle and an end, anything is possible during the next draft. Obviously this won’t work for everyone. We all write differently. Oh, and embrace social media. Give time to others and you’ll find the favour is often returned.
To contact Mel Sherratt via her agency click here.