I met the talented author Roz Watkins at an author meet-up which took place before lockdown. I knew Roz from when she studied with The Writers Bureau many years ago, so it was lovely to renew our acquaintance and to hear how successful she has been. Here she talks about her latest book, her lead character, short stories and more.
Q. Your latest book, Cut to the Bone, is due out in June this year. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
A. The story starts when a young social media star, Violet, goes missing. She’d been living in a rather strange peak district village which was created after two villages were drowned under Ladybower reservoir, and she’d been working at an abattoir. The plot darkens when blood and hair are found in the pigs’ trough at the abattoir.
There’s also the local legend on ‘The Pale Child’, a ghostly figure who people see running through the trees. The story goes that if she sees your face, you die, and Violet had let the child see her face.
Q. Cut to the Bone is the third book in The DI Meg Dalton series. How hard is it to write a series?
A. Quite hard! When I wrote the first book, I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t plan to write more than one book. Luckily I gave my main character a complex life, but I wish I’d given her more relatives to prompt personal problems. I did actually resurrect her dad – he’d been dead in my early drafts of book 1, but I changed it so he’d been living in Scotland and could return and cause trouble!
One of the hardest things is making the cases personal enough to the detective without it getting ridiculous, and also putting her in danger without making her stupid! It’s fine for this to happen once but it’s harder to make it believable for multiple books.
Q. How did you first get the idea for DI Dalton and how has she taken shape as a character over the three books?
A. She wasn’t supposed to be the main character! I didn’t mean to write a police procedural because I knew nothing about police procedure, so initially the first book was going to be a psychological thriller, with just a small part for DI Meg Dalton. But she limped onto the crime scene and took over!
I’m very fond of Meg. She’s unglamorous and chaotic, and usually covered in cat hair, but she’s clever and kind. I’ve let her gain confidence over the course of the first three books. I love her cat, Hamlet, too. Hamlet can never die!
Q. You’ve also written a short story featuring Meg before she was a detective. How different was that to write in comparison to your three novels?
A. I started off writing short stories, before deciding to have a go at a novel, and the Meg story is actually an adaptation of one I’d written earlier. I enjoy writing short stories and would love to do more, if I could find time. My short stories tend to be extremely dark, and there wasn’t much of a market for those kind of stories a few years ago, but I think this may be changing!
Q. What do you most enjoy about writing in the crime genre?
A. I like being able to explore moral dilemmas and things that disturb me. There’s always something at the heart of my books that I feel strongly about, and writing allows me to think about it, and also sometimes to vent a little!
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. They’re usually based on things I’ve seen or read about that interest me. For example, a few years ago I read about cases of people having heart transplants and this seeming to change their personalities. I even read about a little girl who was given the heart of a child who’d been murdered and who’d helped the police find the killer. I wasn’t able to verify this story but it got me thinking about a plot for a novel, and this turned into ‘Dead Man’s Daughter’.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you find about being a writer?
A. The first draft! It’s the exciting, fun part, and I loved it when I was writing my first book. But now I have deadlines, and I find it quite stressful because there’s so much magic in it. You can’t really force it. You have to trust that the ideas will come and I don’t have a very clear process. There’s a lot of thinking and re-drafting and tearing my hair out!
One-star reviews are very upsetting at first but I don’t bother reading them any more!
Q. You’re with HQ. Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
A. I’d been working on my first book for about eighteen months when I decided to go to the Festival of Writing in York. This gives you the chance to have a one-to-one with an agent and a book-doctor (an author who can advise you). You can also enter competitions for the best first page and first chapter. At that point I’d worked a lot on my first page and I’d won a critique of my first 10,000 words in a Writing Magazine competition, and had my book critiqued through Scribophile, plus I’d read about fifty books on writing craft. But I was still a very new writer!
My book doctor was Claire McGowan and she liked the opening of my book, and passed it to her agent, Diana Beaumont, who asked me to send her the whole thing when it was finished. I was also runner-up in the best first chapter competition, and had interest from the agent who judged that, and the agent I had a one-to-one with, so it was a miraculous weekend! I ended up signing with Diana, and she worked on the book with me for a couple of months before sending it out and getting me a book deal in the UK and Germany, and a TV Option. It was an incredible time!
Q. Do you get time to read yourself and if you do, what books do you read?
A. I always make time to read. I think all writers have to be voracious readers. At the moment I’m reading a lot of crime, but I feel ready for a break from that! I like weird literary fiction too!
Q. Finally, what advice can you give to writers who haven’t yet had the break they’re looking for?
A. Read, read, and read some more!
Read lots of writing-craft books, so many that you can form your own views and not follow any one blindly. My current favourite is Secrets of Story by Matt Bird.
Get others to read your work. I joined Scribophile and my whole first novel was critiqued by multiple people.
Join writing groups (online and/or in real life if we can ever meet people again!) I met some brilliant friends through local groups and they also critiqued my first and second books.
Enter competitions. I was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger. I already had an agent by then but if I hadn’t, I think this would have got me one.
Remember to enjoy the process and don’t be in too much of a hurry to get published. Once it happens, you’ll be expected to produce more books to deadlines, and it’s not a bad thing to have some that you prepared earlier!