I would like to welcome author Mel Sherratt to Jera’s Jamboree today.
Ever since she can remember, Mel Sherratt has been a meddler of words. Right from those early childhood scribbles when she won her first and only writing competition at the age of 11, she was rarely without a pen in her hand or her nose in a book. Born and raised in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, Mel used her beloved city as a backdrop for her first novel, Taunting the Dead, and it went on to be a Kindle #1 best seller in three different categories.
Mel’s new series, The Estate, is set in the fictional place of Stockleigh because she wanted to create a sense of place on the estate itself. She also believes that the Mitchell Estate can be found a few miles from anywhere in any town or city…
Writing (and reading!) has been a passion for you since you were really young. The primary school you attended gave an award every year in your name for the best essay. Would you share with readers how this happened? How did you feel?
Hi there and thanks for hosting me. Gosh, it was a long time ago for me to remember how it felt when I won! But I do remember certain things about it – like meeting Valerie Singleton who was big on Blue Peter at the time… and my fear of going underwater now from having to get out of a capsized canoe!
The competition was to write an essay describing what you would do with a piece of spare land. I think I turned mine into a mini Alton Towers – from memory, there was a space for everyone, young, old, disabled, teenagers etc. There were 20 prizes and I was chosen from over 60,000 entries. I’m going to show my age now because along with winning an adventure holiday for two, the school won ten pounds! That ten pounds was spent on a trophy and for a number of years it was awarded to a pupil who had written the best essay that year. I was also honoured by Staffordshire County Council. My mum still has the clip from our local newspaper. But that was where my winning streak slowed down to a stop!
Before self-publishing crime thrillers you wrote women’s fiction under a pen name. Which has brought you the most satisfaction as a writer and why?
The reason I wrote women’s fiction for my first attempt at writing a book, back in 1999, was because I was reading a lot of it then. It was when authors such as Lisa Jewell, Marian Keyes and Adele Parks came onto the scene and I loved immersing myself into the worlds they created so it seemed a natural progression. Then I became a housing officer and wrote Somewhere to Hide and Behind a Closed Door.
Writing wise, because they are so different in style, I like them all. There is more of a discipline to solving murder mysteries and I love twisting and twisting plots to pace up the storyline. But in women’s fiction, although my story lines are still about working class women, I can write with a bit of a girlie edge too if I want to (although there are a few mentions of shoes in my crime thriller, Taunting the Dead…) I think for me, writing whatever book comes next, whether that be a crime thriller or women’s fiction, or more recently I’ve started to write a psychological thriller, is what brings me most satisfaction because I’m always learning. So each book, I hope, becomes better through experience.
Your first crime thriller, Taunting the Dead, was released in December 2011 and has sold in excess of 50,000 e-copies (congratulations!) and topped the charts in police procedurals, mysteries and thrillers. What was your inspiration for making the change to the crime thriller genre?
Somewhere to Hide is a mixture of women’s fiction and crime thriller. But it seemed to be too cross genre to market so I wrote Taunting the Dead to see if I could tempt anyone with that. Police procedurals have a distinct genre. A reader knows what they are going to get. But even so, Taunting the Dead was very character based. A few readers thought it was slow to get to the whodunit, as in most police procedurals start with a murder and mine didn’t happen until a third of the way through. Luckily a lot more enjoyed getting to know all the characters, sometimes empathising with the baddies as much as the good people, which as a writer is a joy to hear.
Your new emotional thriller series, The Estate beginning with Somewhere to Hide, was released in July 2012. Can you tell us more about The Estate?
The Mitchell Estate is notorious for its anti-social behaviour. There are some very unsavoury people who live there but there are also some gems, as is in life in general no matter where you live. The characters are predominantly female. I wanted to write a series about real women with real problems but also show the effects that crime has on individuals as opposed to solving a murder as I did in Taunting the Dead. I also wanted a series where I could concentrate more on the emotions that dealing with this kind of stress in life would bring and also to show how we can get through a lot of what life throws at us with a little help from friends. There are some sad – some would say depressing – storylines covered but there is more often than not a happy ending. The characters go through journeys and become stronger by the end of the books.
What can readers expect in the next volume in the series?
Book two, Behind a Closed Door, will be coming out next month. As I wanted the Mitchell Estate to be a ‘character’ within its own rights in the series, I’ve introduced a character in one book that will then go on to become a main character in another. In Behind a Closed Door, I focus on Josie Mellor, a housing officer, and her work on the estate. There are a spate of burglaries and assaults that are taking their toll on her tenants plus Josie deals with a lot of domestic violence issues and when her home life starts to mirror her working life, she knows she’s in trouble. It’s full of secrets and lies.
For readers to identify with characters they have to be believable. Do your characters have biographies before you start writing?
I used to write in-depth biographies for each character. It’s a must if you write a series too as you need to make sure that the tiny details move correctly through from one book to the next, such as characters aging. Now, I don’t write in as much detail but let them evolve into characters through the writing of the first drafts. My first drafts are written very quickly and very dirty. I tend to write the first 25,000 words to get to know the characters, read it to set the characters in my mind and then don’t look back until the whole draft is completed. During this first 25,000 words a lot of the characters backgrounds emerge so there will be oodles of tell not show, which I cut out on second draft. I’ve found this works great for me. I am a planner but I do like some things to evolve naturally.
I always get up around 6am during the week so after a cup of coffee or two, when I’m drafting a book I use the first two hours a day to either catch up on emails or go over the plots I’ve thought of overnight, with my laptop on the settee. Once the battery needs recharging, I head to my office. I’ve only recently made a room into an office but I can’t tell you the different it has made. I don’t have Twitter on my PC so from ten until one I write. A quick break for lunch and writing again until four. Then it’s back to the emails, writing blog posts etc for another hour or so. Then that’s me done for the day writing wise – unless I’m nearing the end of the draft. When my brain takes over, I have to work until it’s done so I’ll often write for a few hours extra during the evenings over the last couple of weeks. It’s the same when I’m editing, although I only do this during the day as I need time to switch off.
Most readers have e-readers or apps on their computers/mobiles but some readers prefer print format. Your crime thrillers have been released as e-copies. Will you be releasing any of your novels in paperback format?
I have recently released Somewhere to Hide in paperback through Createspace but I’m not sure I would do the process again. For one, it is time consuming and for another, I spent far too much time making the inside look like a ‘proper’ book. I can’t make the price any lower either – I don’t make any money from the paperbacks as I just want to occupy some shelf space and give people the opportunity to read a paper copy if they don’t wish to download the electronic version. But what I can do is order author copies which I may do in the future for my author talks.
What are your thoughts on the recent debate about pricing for e-copies?
Oh, jeez – that’s a debate and a half. I think for me getting noticed was an important thing so I used the 99p price as a marketing tool. I was hoping that readers would take a chance on someone they hadn’t heard of as a low price tempter. That’s not to say I feel I under priced myself as there are lots of books on Kindle for that price that don’t’ sell at all. I have my books now at £1.59 and for some that still feels really low. But I feel I make enough per copy from that. I don’t wish to be greedy. I just want people to read and enjoy my books and recommend them to other people.
And now for a bit of fun … anyone following you on Twitter or has read your previous blog, High Heels and Book Deals, knows about your love of shoes and boots Mel. What was the last pair you bought?
You’re going to laugh at me now but I’m nothing if honest. These are the last pair I bought. I wore them for Crime in the Court and for one night at Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate in July and they near on killed me – but I still love wearing them!
Stunning No laughter here just envy!
So my last pair, a pair of boots, were these. I think they have the lowest heel I’ve worn in a long time but they are so comfortable. And they do have a little bit of glamour around their tops!
Thanks for sharing with us Mel.
Excerpt from Somewhere to Hide:
The White Lion public house stood forlorn in the middle of the Mitchell Estate. Before the recession, it had been a thriving business. Now all that was left was a boarded up building with a For Sale sign hanging haphazardly by one nail. Rubbish bags sat alongside two single mattresses, a few wooden pallets and a settee in the car park, the low wall around it missing many of its bricks.
Austin Forrester had been watching it for three days before making his move. During this time, he’d seen only one other loner like himself. The youth was in his early teens, scraggy and unkempt, wearing clothes that hadn’t seen water in months.
That afternoon, he watched him leave and disappear out of view before leap-frogging the wall and legging it to the back of the building. He felt around the edges of the windows until he found the metal sheeting that had been jemmied open. Within seconds, he pushed himself through the gap and jumped down to the floor inside.
Once his eyes adjusted to the shadows, Austin moved quickly. A door creaked as he pushed it open to find what used to be the kitchen. He walked on further and the building opened up into a lobby. Coming to a flight of stairs he chose to go up two steps at a time, his speedy heartbeat the only sound he could hear. He came across a room with a single mattress on the floor. A grubby sleeping bag lay on it, the zip opened and pushed wide. Empty beer cans and takeaway cartons were piled high on top of a beer crate serving as a coffee table. Austin breathed through his nose, the pile of clothes and trainers at the foot of the mattress adding to the stench inside the room.
Less than ten minutes later he was out again, leaving no signs of his presence. So when he went back at midnight, the youth didn’t stand a chance. The first he knew of anything was when Austin pinned him to the bed, his gloved hands squeezing tightly around his neck. Sensing he was fighting for his life, the youth struggled to pull his arms free of the sleeping bag and thrashed them about, clawing urgently at Austin’s gloves. His breath came out of his nostrils in fits and starts. Austin moved with him, holding him down and avoiding his knees pushing up, trying to flip him off balance. Finally, the youth’s arms and shoulders flopped.
Afterwards, Austin lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. Funny how things work out, he thought, glancing around the room again. This place couldn’t be a more perfect hideout for him to watch and wait. He’d be in the thick of things but inconspicuous when he needed to be.
He took another long drag and stared at the corpse beside him. For a moment, he wondered why the youth was here, what his story was, and his background. Had he been dragged up through the system too?
Although he felt the anger brewing inside, he knew he had to bide his time for the next few months. Besides, it wouldn’t take long to put his plan into action. He already knew the date it would all come to a head. The fifteenth of August 2012.
Everyone on the Mitchell Estate would know his name by then.
Welcome to the Estate – where soap opera meets crime. With the death of her husband and a tragic secret she’s desperate to bury, Cathy Mason opens her home to young women who need a roof over their head and a sympathetic ear. From victims of domestic violence to drug addicts, no woman is beyond Cathy’s helping hand. The only problem? She lives on the notorious Mitchell Estate, where temptation and trouble lurk on every corner.
When malicious notes are posted through her door, her belongings are vandalised, and a homeless teenager is found murdered, Cathy reckons it’s just part of daily life on the estate. But when those she cares about most fall prey to violence, she begins to suspect her past mistakes are catching up with her. Can Cathy finally confront her own troubled history before it engulfs not only her, but also the women struggling to rebuild their lives?
SOMEWHERE TO HIDE will leave you cold with fear one moment, smiling with relief the next and thankful that you don’t have to live on the Mitchell Estate…
You can’t always take the truth to your grave…
Statistics say nine out of ten murders are committed by someone the victim knows. So when Steph Ryder is found dead with her head caved in, Detective Sergeant Allie Shenton begins investigations close to home, starting with the victim’s family and friends.
As each one tries to cover up their actions on that fateful night, Allie becomes convinced husband Terry Ryder has something to hide. Powerful, ambitious and charming, Allie’s attraction to the successful businessman grows with each interrogation, risking both her job and marriage. But he’s not the only one she’s investigating. Secrets and lies begin to escalate as quickly as the body count. Can Allie uncover the truth before her life not only falls apart, but before she ends up a victim, too?
Taunting the Dead is a sexy, gritty, fast paced thriller that will set your pulse racing, twist and turn you in every direction and leave you guessing right until the very end…
You can purchase Mel’s books using the following author links: