Female-led crime series: Charlie Fox – Interview with author Zoë Sharp
I’ve been interviewing authors who write female-led crime series, and starting us off is Zoë Sharp who writes the Charlie (Charlotte) Fox series.
Niki Mackay: Did you consciously decide to write a female-led series?
Zoë Sharp: Thanks so much for inviting me onto the blog, Niki! Did I consciously decide to write a female-led series? Yes, absolutely. The role of women in crime fiction has always fascinated me. They tend to be the victims—the ones having violence done to them rather than the ones perpetrating the violence. Writing a female main character who discovers she is capable of extremes of violence under the right circumstances, and following her journey, felt like a really interesting idea to explore.
NM: If so, why?
ZS: I loved to read thrillers growing up, but I was always frustrated by the female characters—they seemed to scream and fall over and require rescuing by the guys rather too much for my taste. I wanted to read about a woman who was more than capable of rescuing herself. Or, better still, someone the men would turn to when they needed rescuing. At that time, I couldn’t really find the kind of character I wanted to read about, so I decided I was going to have to write my own. Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox was the result. Paul Goat Allen in the Chicago Tribune described her as: “Ill-tempered, aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled: arguably one of the most enigmatic—and coolest—heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”
NM: How did the idea for your protagonist’s background come to you?
ZS: At the time I started writing about Charlie, back in the mid-1990s, the scandal of the hazing of trainees at the military barracks at Deepcut was just beginning to break. I’d heard all the arguments against women in the forces—and am still hearing them, to be honest—and Charlie’s background grew out of a combination of those elements. I wanted somebody who had the ability to kill, but who was denied an official outlet for that skill, as the army would have given her. Where does she go from there?
Fellow crime author and CrimeThrillerGirl blogger, Steph Broadribb recently invited me to answer questions about procrastination, writing in cafés, and the perils of cats.
#CRIMEWRITERSINCAFESPROCRASTINATING – ZOË SHARP TALKS PROCRASTINATION, WRITING ON THE MOVE AND THE PERILS OF CATS @AUTHORZOESHARP
“Today kick-ass thriller writer Zoë Sharp is joining me for Crime Writers In Cafés Procrastinating. As the title suggests, this feature is all about the lengths writers go to procrastinate when they should be writing, and how they (eventually) manage to win against the temptation of the path of procrastination to finish their books.
“I’m a huge fan of Zoe’s books, and super excited to grill her about procrastination, her writing habits and her latest book DANCING ON THE GRAVE.
“Welcome Zoë! So tell me all about your latest book—Dancing On The Grave?”
Zoë Sharp: “Basically, it’s my take on the Washington Sniper incident from a few years ago, but set in the English Lake District. If you want the slightly longer explanation, it’s an exploration of what it means in today’s culture to desperately want to be famous, regardless of what you want to be famous for. It’s about the way we treat our ex-military personnel when we’re finished with them. It’s about loyalty, betrayal, love, and revenge. Just the everyday story of country folk.”
“How long did Dancing On The Grave take to write?”
ZS: “Far too long. I actually finished the first version of this book eight years ago. It was just about to go out on submission when Derrick Bird went on the rampage in the west of Cumbria, shooting twelve people dead and injuring a further eleven before taking his own life. It wasn’t close to the storyline of my book, but at the same time it was too near the mark. The book was withdrawn from submission and I put it away for a long time. It was only recently I felt able to get it out and work on it again.”
“What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot—home, café, bar, other?”
ZS: “Home, probably, although ‘home’ is something of a moveable feast at the moment. As I write this, I’m actually sitting in the kitchen of a house in the Aveyron valley in southern France, where I’m house and cat-sitting for the whole of the month. That’s always been the beauty of this job—the fact you can do it anywhere.
“Of course, the flip-side of that is that you can also fail to do it anywhere. I like to make pencil notes when I’m out and about, in cafés, usually, or waiting rooms, or wherever, and then type up my notes and expand on them when I get back to my desk. It doesn’t feel right to make notes at my desk. Here, I go and sit at the bottom of the garden, then it’s back to the kitchen table, or the one under an awning outside, to attempt to transcribe my scrawl onto my laptop.
“If I’m in the UK, there are always other jobs that call to me. I’m in the midst of a house renovation project, so there are a million other things to do that are particularly difficult to ignore when the weather’s good and you don’t know how long that state of affairs might continue. This is why there are fewer distractions in the winter. Except for the cats, of course. They love to sit on paper (particularly with muddy feet) or my lap. Or my keyboard. Or my hands. Maybe they’re the feline equivalent of literary critics?”
To read the rest of this entertaining interview, click here.
“This intriguing novel is a departure from Sharp’s acclaimed Charlie Fox thrillers, as this ‘standalone’ narrative has an opening that is as powerful as it is insightful and disturbing.
“Newly qualified Crime Scene Investigator Grace McColl and DC Nick Weston are called out to investigate a shooting. On the first time they meet, they consider that there is something more complicated about this case, something troubling.
“It seems that there is a killer stalking the Lake District; one who carries a Gun.
“Nick Weston’s past has brought him to Cumbria, transferred from London. He is not welcomed by his police colleagues. They are wary of him, as he is an outsider. Grace is also an outsider; committed to her job—she is an intelligent woman who has something to prove, as there is a shadow in her past, one that requires redemption.
“The working relationship and chemistry between Grace and Nick is finely drawn, with excellent characterisation and observation, making the reader ponder if this is the start of a new series.
“The secondary characters are equally well developed including Edith, a lonely, unloved—and in some ways an unlovable teenager; and then there is the deeply troubled Patrick.”
To read the whole review on Shotsmag, click here.
I’m delighted to get this review of DANCING ON THE GRAVE from crime writer Niki Mackay, author of the brilliant I, WITNESS. She said, “I haven’t updated my blog for ages, and I haven’t reviewed as I found myself in a bit of a reading slump! This absolute belter from Zoë Sharp put an end to said slump.”
This story, interestingly, starts with an animal death rather than a human one. A local VIP’s dog no less and this unusual crime is a catalyst straight into the action.
We meet Grace, a diligent CSI collecting evidence, then Detective Nick Weston. They realise early on that the weapon used ought not to have been available and both are determined to get to the bottom of it. A jagged tale of secrets and suspicion builds from this point. They are hindered by the powers-that-be but start to get taken more seriously when someone starts shooting and killing people, and it becomes apparent that the killer is a highly trained sniper.
‘Dancing on the Grave’ is a pacey, well-plotted crime novel with all the twists and red-herrings you would expect from the genre. It has an almost old-fashioned feel to it, and yet everything has a contemporary spin. I think this is achieved not just by the very current issue of shooter crimes, but also by Zoë Sharp’s obvious insight into human psychology and her exploration of themes such as PTSD, loneliness, neglect, and eating disorders.
Today is the very last stop on the #BlogTour for the latest standalone crime thriller, DANCING ON THE GRAVE. Today I’m the guest of Sean Talbot at Sean’s Book Reviews. Short and sweet…and long. He makes an interesting comment about the length of the book. What are your feelings on the subject? Is there an optimum length for a crime novel, or does it depend on the type?
This book was good and had a lot of intricacies in (the) plot. I like the main character and think it was well written.
(I was) concerned with only one thing and that’s the length of the book. It seems that more and more books have to be over 400 pages which to me is very long for a crime book. I prefer shorter reads where we get to the meat of the story right away.
Well, we’ve reached the antepenultimate day of the #BlogTour for DANCING ON THE GRAVE. It’s been a blast so far. And that continued when I read the following opinion from top reviewer LJ Roberts on It Is Purely My Opinion. Yet another call for this standalone to be the first in a new series…
Dancing on the Grave by Zoë Sharp
First Sentence: It was a bad day to die…a perfect one to kill.
Newly-qualified crime scene investigator Grace (McColl) is trying to prove herself after making a disastrous mistake on a previous case. Detective Constable Nick Weston has just been transferred to the Lake District after nearly dying during an investigation in London. Neither of them can understand why they’ve been called out on a dog having been shot except for the presence of a local (MEP)’s wife. Upon examining the dog, it’s clear the shooter wasn’t the local farmer. But why is there a trained sniper in the area, and who was the real target?
It is difficult to say much about this book without giving away spoilers. My best recommendation is to read it cold without having looked at any information about the plot, impossible as that may be. And so…
An excellent opening is one which compels one to continue reading. Zoë Sharp has accomplished that goal in spades with her new standalone which is a remarkable combination of police procedural and psychological thriller.
Read the rest of the review here.
Well, we’re on the home straight with the #BlogTour for the new standalone, DANCING ON THE GRAVE, and I’m delighted to be hosted, yet again, by gracious New Zealander, Judith Baxter, on her Books And More Books blog. I also did a Q&A with Judith over on her Growing Younger Each Day blog, on July 18.
If you have read any of my blog posts in the past, you will be aware that I am a fan of Zoë Sharp and a stalker of Charlie Fox the protagonist in her series. If you haven’t made contact with Charlie, I strongly recommend you do so now.
And now I have been given an advance copy of Zoë’s latest novel, a standalone called Dancing on the Grave.
“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: ‘Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.’” So says master storyteller, Stephen King.
And the opening line in Dancing on the Grave by Zoë Sharp certainly does this. Her opening line? It is a bad day to die…a perfect one to kill.
Read the full review here.
For today’s stop on the #BlogTour, I’m with Anne Bonny Book Reviews for a Guest Post about one of the major characters in the book—that of the disturbed teenager, Edith Airey. She’s a prime example of a supporting player who totally stole every scene she was in, and eventually became one of the stars of the novel. And not in a good way…
Edith in Dancing On The Grave: a standalone crime thriller
I like conflicted characters. They make life interesting. When I started writing my latest standalone crime thriller, Dancing On The Grave, I originally envisaged that the story would centre around the two official characters, CSI Grace McColl (who I first wrote about in a short story called ‘Tell Me’) and DC Nick Weston. As is so often the case, however, the story changed direction in the telling.
Instead of being a straightforward police procedural, as soon as I introduced the ex-military sniper and PTSD sufferer, Patrick Bardwell, and the disturbed teenage girl, Edith Airey, who becomes his spotter, they owned the story. The sniper himself was a complicated mix of predator and victim, but Edith fascinated me.
For the rest of this article on Edith, click here.
My thanks today go to Judith Baxter at Growing Younger Each Day, who has not one but two book blogs and has been a fan of the Charlie Fox books for some time. She’s keeping me in suspense as to what she thinks of DANCING ON THE GRAVE, though, which she will be reviewing on Books And More Books on July 20. Fingers crossed until then!
Those of you who have followed my blog for some time, know that I am a fan of Zoë Sharp, and particularly her protagonist Charlie Fox. Well, now Zoë has created and published a stand-alone novel, DANCING ON THE GRAVE. If you would like to read an excerpt from the book, click here.
I looked forward to reading this book and must thank Ayo Onatade for inviting me to join the tour and to Zoë for providing an advance copy of the book for review.
My review of the book will be available on July 20 my other site, Books & More Books.
Meantime, because I have a need to know, I asked Zoë a few questions about this book and some other things.
JB Hello Zoë, and thanks for agreeing to answer my questions. I hope they are not too intrusive.
After the series on Charlie Fox, was it time to take a break and write another stand alone?
ZS Well, this is not so much ‘after’ as ‘in between’. I’m currently writing the next Charlie Fox, which will be book #13 in the series. Plus, I have the prequel waiting in the wings, so Charlie Fox is still very much alive and kicking. But, it certainly makes you appreciate the familiar more when you take a break from it, I think. It’s been lovely getting back inside Charlie’s head. She has a dry, somewhat laconic sense of humour that makes her voice so distinctive for me as I’m writing.
All the Charlie Fox books, with the exception of a couple of the short stories, are told from first-person Point Of View. Being able to get inside the heads of other characters to tell the story from another perspective is very appealing at times. There are quite a few stories percolating through my brain that can’t be told within the framework of the series, so for those I need to step outside. I couldn’t have told Kelly Jacks’ story in THE BLOOD WHISPERER any other way than third-person POV, and although having a sniper on the loose might have worked very well as a threat for Charlie Fox to face in her capacity as a bodyguard, I would certainly not have been able to go into the mind-set of the peripheral characters as deeply as I’ve been able to do in DANCING ON THE GRAVE.
To read the rest of Judith’s extensive Q&A, please click here.
It’s my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for DANCING ON THE GRAVE by Zoë Sharp today, many thanks to the author and Ayo Onatade for inviting me and for my e-copy of the novel. Zoë has very kindly written a guest post about why she chose to set Dancing On The Grave in the Lake District and included some beautiful photographs which I’ll share after my review.
I loved FOX HUNTER when I read it last year despite not having read any of the other books in Zoë Sharp’s Charlie Fox series and so I was intrigued to read her latest standalone thriller, DANCING ON THE GRAVE. The book opens with a sniper about to take a shot; seconds later his intended victim has been killed—but he didn’t pull the trigger. This quiet corner of England is about to be shattered by a murderous rampage but first Crime Scene Investigator, Grace McColl has been called to examine the scene of what at first appears to be a straightforward case when a German Shepherd Dog is shot after massacring a field of sheep. Farmers are well within their rights to shoot dogs which are worrying their animals but the owner of this flock claims it wasn’t him and the evidence backs him up. Detective Constable Nick Weston is dispatched to the scene of the crime—and as the new face in the office, his colleagues omit to mention that the victim has four legs and a tail. This first meeting between Grace and Nick doesn’t have an auspicious start; she is cool and detached, he is hungover and angry. However, the pair quickly grow to respect one another, they are both outsiders and though he relies on instinct while she prefers physical evidence, they are both determined characters with pasts which mean they have something to prove as others wait for them to slip up.
Read the rest of Karen Cole’s excellent review here. And also my article on the locations behind the book:
A Plot Leads To a Plot—why I chose the Lake District setting for Dancing On The Grave: a standalone crime thriller
I ended up living in the Lake District more by chance than anything else. We’d been looking for land to build our own house, and when a plot came up in Mallerstang, part of the Eden Valley bordering the Yorkshire Dales National Park on the eastern side of the Lakes, I couldn’t believe our luck.
Previously, we’d lived in Kendal and whilst building rented a flat in Appleby-in-Westmorland, so I spent quite a bit of time in the surrounding towns and villages. The more time I spent there, the more I really wanted to set a book in that lesser-known area of the Lakes.
After the Washington Sniper attacks took place in the States in 2002, I’d been mulling over the plot involving a similar incident in a rural location in the UK. The wild areas of Orton Scar (which is how it’s known locally—officially it’s the Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve) and Orton village itself with its distinctive white-towered church, seemed to cry out for dramatisation.
Read the rest of the blog post article after the review here.