Welcome to our latest Nine Lives Interview featuring award-winning thriller author Mari Hannah answering nine questions about her and her writing life.

Do you remember the first book you read?

No, but the one that sticks in my mind is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It was a coming-of-age classic, a tale about the March sisters growing up: Meg, Beth, Jo and Amy. This may have been a book I was given at school. I liked Jo best. Like me, she was a scribbler, rebellious, the strong one – a complete contrast to her sisters, a bit of a tomboy who is described as, quote “A young woman who struggles to escape the Victorian prison of her gender” unquote.I certainly identified with her character. Maybe, subconsciously, I dreamed of becoming a writer too.

Where is your ideal place to read, and do you have a favourite time of day for reading?

I read as often as I can, wherever I happen to be: sunbed, garden bench, train, car, plane – love audiobooks! – but my favourite place of all is in my conservatory in front of a wood-burning stove in winter or with the doors wide open in summer with a paperback in my hand. Unless I’m on the move, mostly I read in the evening, hard copy never digital. I can’t face a screen after a day of computer work.

Which authors have inspired or influenced you?

There are many, but Michael Connelly’s Black Echo introduced me to crime fiction. When I read it, I thought wow, this guy really knows his stuff. I love Harry Bosch and have just fallen for Connelly’s female character LAPD detective, Renée Ballard in The Late Show. She’s superbly drawn and, as with all his books, there’s a strong sense of place. Connelly makes writing look really easy when it’s anything but. He’s published by Orion who now publish me and some of my favourite crime writers. I’m very excited by the prospect of being published to a wider, International readership with another Northumberland based crime series featuring a new detective duo: Stone and Oliver. The first in that series The Lost was published in the spring. Book two The Insider will follow on Nov 1, 2018.

If you could choose any book from any place or time which one would you most liked to have written?

Patricia Cornwell’s Postmortem is right up there. It was a ground breaking novel introducing us to Chief Medical Examiner Dr Kay Scarpetta, a book that launched a hugely successful career. I loved her early work and hadn’t read anything that concentrated as it did on forensic science. The characterisation was a strength and, as the series progressed, I felt as if I knew them all personally as well as Richmond (Virginia) where the books are set. No wonder her debut won the Edgar. But let’s switch focus for a moment . . .

My family weren’t booky people. As a kid I can’t remember being encouraged to read, though my mother would probably dispute that. We had few books in the house. I’m ashamed to say that I hated English at school and struggled with grammar. Consequently, I took very little notice in class. Fast forward to motherhood. It was such a joy to see the faces of my children as they were being read to. If I wasn’t writing crime, I’d be writing for kids. They’re like sponges. They soak up everything. So, I’d also say that I’d have been proud to put my name to anything at all by Julia Donaldson who has singlehandedly inspired a whole generation of children to explore the world through books. Stick Man is my favourite. It made me cry, but don’t tell anyone – it would seriously damage my reputation!

What led you to write your first book?

An assault on duty cut short my career as a probation officer. Two lots of surgery to a serious arm injury and heaps of physiotherapy later, I had no job and began writing to pass the time and to keep the little grey cells ticking over. Long story short, I got the bug. I tried screenwriting first with an eye to writing for the TV, ending up on a BBC drama development scheme called North East Voices that was run in conjunction with Northern Film & Media. That scheme taught me so much about structure and pace, the ten-page rule. I was told that if you hadn’t hooked your reader by then, your script would hit the bin. When my crime pilot wasn’t commissioned, I adapted my script into a novel, The Murder Wall.

Pen, pencil, typewriter or computer keyboard?

Keyboard and sometimes voice recognition; with technological advances, VR is so good these days. I’m not able to write in longhand for long periods of time due to the injury referred to above. I wish I could because I think differently with a pen in my hand. I find it easier to express myself and retain more if I write down notes, rather than type them straight into my laptop or desktop.

Do you have a routine you follow when writing?

In the early days, perhaps. Not now. I used to write only in the morning when I was fresh and always at my desk. Rarely did anything I’d written after lunch make sense. However, I’m in a very different place now. Writers are in three stages most of the time: writing a book, editing the previous one or planning the next. When you factor in festivals, appearances, radio and TV interviews, articles, emails, social media and travelling – always on the go! – you have to discipline yourself to be able to write anywhere, anytime, even if you can only grab an hour or two. I’ll give you an example of my week so far. As reader-in-residence for Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, I’m just back from a gruelling tour of libraries with the festival’s outreach programme, the Big Read: twelve events, five days, four hundred and fifty miles, one author – me! It’s a job I’m proud to do, but I have a deadline and, when I finish this Q&A, I must concentrate on meeting it. This may not be a typical week, but not far from it. I’ve not seen my family for a week. This is the reality for a lot of authors. Oh, and there is one place I never write and that’s in bed. No crime writer should ever be that comfortable.

Was there a break-through moment for you, or a key person who helped you?

Meeting my agent at an event organised by New Writing North is the answer to the first part of your first question. As far as a key person goes, I’m very lucky in that my partner is a former murder detective. She’s my first reader before a book goes to my agent and editor – checking the authenticity of the police procedural elements. As a former statement reader in a busy Murder Investigation Team, she has a good eye for spotting inconsistencies in witness statements and that type of thing. If I don’t get it right, believe me, she doesn’t hold back. When I began writing, Mo was still a serving police officer. Now she has more time, she gets involved as early as the planning stage. We brainstorm ideas. She accompanies me on research visits and is great at sniffing out a good crime scene. She does everything from editing to proofreading the finished books. She often appears alongside me in joint ‘fact v fiction’ type events which have gone down very well with readers. If you haven’t already guessed, her experience in the police was the inspiration behind the Kate Daniels series which is in development with Stephen Fry’s production company.

What piece of advice could you give a new writer trying to get published?

Research the industry you’re joining. Agents and editors you’re submitting to will expect you to have a working knowledge of publishing. Don’t, whatever you do, expect a published author to do it for you. It won’t buy you any friends. I wish I had a quid for every time a debut author has written to me asking for a quote. Can I read their book by next Wednesday? Can I recommend them to my agent – even though I haven’t read their book? Can I help with their submission letter? Can I give advice on how to write a synopsis that will sell? And these emails always begin, ‘I know how busy you are but . . .’ Sorry to be blunt, but you wrote the book, now do your homework, then be patient and grow a thick skin. I don’t wish to discourage anyone from writing, but it took me years to find a publisher. I have a pile of rejection letters to prove it. So, if an agent or publisher passes on your manuscript, chin up and move on to the next on your list. Every rejection represents just one person’s opinion. If you believe in your material, stick with it. Don’t give up, persevere. You will find an agent who loves your stuff eventually and he/she will help you progress to the next level. Good luck.

You can find out more about this brilliant author here:

Web: www.marihannah.com
Twitter: @mariwriter

Mari’s latest book ‘The Lost‘ is published by Orion and is available now.