Zoë Sharp will be one of our authors at our upcoming Noir At The Bar, an event celebrating the magical mixture of author readings and brews. Noir at the Bar takes place at Threadgill’s South and begins at 7 PM, Tuesday September 20th. Her latest book features Kelly Jacks, a former Crime Scene Investigator turned crime scene cleaner after being framed for murder. Meike Alana caught up with her for this interview bout her latest, The Blood Whisperer.
Meike Alana: At one point, a character tells Kelly Jacks that she may not have a dick but she certainly has balls (a great line, by the way). Can you tell us a little bit about how you developed a character as complex as Kelly?
Zoë Sharp: Well, I’ve written eleven novels in the Charlie Fox series, but there are other stories I want to tell that wouldn’t be a good fit in Charlie’s world.
The idea for The Blood Whisperer came about because I was intrigued by the idea of writing a series of standalones⎯which sounds like a contradiction, I know. They would be individual stories, with different main protagonists, but all strong female characters who were, for whatever reason, slightly on the wrong side of the law. So, where the first reaction of a ‘normal’ person when confronted with the kind of danger Kelly faces would be to go to the police, for her that isn’t an option. She has to rely on her instincts to keep her alive.
Kelly very much evolved as I wrote the book, which is how I like to develop characters. I know some people write complicated biographies before they begin, but until a person walks onto the page for the first time, they haven’t really taken shape for me. Her interest in free-climbing, for instance, began as a method of escaping from the four walls of her home, a way of finding an additional sense of freedom having endured being in prison, but it quickly became an integral part of the story.
“The idea for The Blood Whisperer came about because I was intrigued by the idea of writing a series of standalones⎯which sounds like a contradiction, I know. They would be individual stories, with different main protagonists, but all strong female characters who were, for whatever reason, slightly on the wrong side of the law.”
MA: There have been a lot of books and TV shows that explore the topic of CSI, but you’ve approached crime scenes from the opposite angle—instead of being first on the scene to examine the evidence, Kelly is the last on the scene and charged with effectively erasing any trace of the evidence. What was your inspiration for that angle?
ZS: I knew that CSIs, because they are the first ones to examine the scene of a crime, are often the ones who point the investigating officers in the right direction. Specialist crime-scene cleaners have to be just as meticulous at finding every last little piece in order to remove it, but they don’t usually the expertise to interpret what they see. Kelly has come from that world and has that ability, but knows because of her fall from grace she won’t be taken seriously, and that speaking out could be dangerous for her. As, of course, it is.
MA: There’s a perception that law enforcement ‘take care of their own’, but when Kelly is found guilty of manslaughter and imprisoned she’s abandoned by her former coworkers—including her lover. Your book examines the ways in which the police investigate crimes believed to have been committed by those on the force and the relationships between current and former cops. Why did you decide to explore these themes?
ZS: With The Blood Whisperer I was exploring trust in all its forms. I wanted to take a character, a crime-scene investigator who’d always had enormous trust in her colleagues, in the evidence, and her ability to read and make sense of it. Then I wanted to take all that away from her and see how she reacted. Because Kelly can’t remember whether or not she committed the crime she went to prison for, she feels she can’t even trust herself. She feels betrayed at every turn, and that’s when you strip back to the heart of a character. How people behave under extreme pressure defines them.
MA: Are you disciplined and write regularly every day, or more sporadic? What are some ways you gain inspiration?
ZS: When I’m in the midst of a book, I do try to write something every day, otherwise it’s very easy to lose momentum, not to mention losing the thread of the story. I keep a summary of the book as I go, just a paragraph or two on what’s happened in each chapter and the gist of the dialogue, and I read back through that to keep myself up to speed. For inspiration I tend to listen to music, which really creates mood and atmosphere.
“Because Kelly can’t remember whether or not she committed the crime she went to prison for, she feels she can’t even trust herself. She feels betrayed at every turn, and that’s when you strip back to the heart of a character. How people behave under extreme pressure defines them.”
MA: What are you working on now? Is there another Kelly Jacks book coming?
ZS: At the moment I’m writing the next in the Charlie Fox series, tentatively titled Fox Hunter, and set amid the turmoil of the Middle East, where Sean has gone dangerously off the grid and Charlie has orders to find and stop him at any cost.
I’m also putting the finishing touches to another standalone called Dancing on the Grave, which is my take on the Washington Sniper incident, set in the wilds of the English Lake District.
The latest book out is An Italian Job, a novella I co-wrote this with fellow Brit author John Lawton. It’s the first joint project I’ve attempted, and is based on the premise that love is deadlier the second time around. It was enormous fun to write in conjunction with somebody else⎯a real challenge⎯and I’d love to do it again.
I haven’t ruled out another story featuring Kelly Jacks, but there are other characters who are clamouring at me to tell their stories first.
You can find copies of The Blood Whisperer available for sale at Noir at the Bar. You can also find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Noir at the Bar takes place this upcoming Tuesday, September 20th, at 7 PM, and is free and open to the public – we’ll have books for sale and giveaways for the occasion!! Zoe Sharp is joined by Jesse Sublett, John Lawton and Rick Ollerman for the event.