Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Introducing Shara Summers

With less than a week to go before my amateur sleuth Shara Summers is unleashed on the world, I thought it was a good time to talk about how she came into existence.

I've always been fond of strong female characters, and been a fan of kick-ass female sleuths since first introduced to Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski. When I decided I wanted to create a crime series, I looked to my fictional heroines for inspiration - as well as VI, these include Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Linda Fairstein's Alex Cooper, and Kathy Reichs's Tempe Brennan. But they are all American, and I wanted - being British - to base my sleuth in the UK.

British private eye stories are an entirely different kettle of fish to US ones, due to the differences in the law (not least of which is the UK's much more stringent gun control laws). And I am not a big fan of research. Writing about a private investigator or a detective inspector involved far too much homework, to my mind.

I decided instead to create an amateur sleuth. Then you can perhaps get away with a bit of creative licence, as people are prepared to suspend belief when it comes to the fact an amateur sleuth trips over dead bodies far more often than a normal person could reasonably expect to. And I wouldn't have to do quite so much homework into the workings of a police department, which I've only really picked up from cop shows on TV.

Then there was another snag. Most amateur sleuth series are set in the past. History is not my strong point. There's no era I know enough about, or wanted to learn enough about to set a series there. So that's why I decided to set my series in contemporary South London, specifically my own stomping ground.

That did prove to be a bit of a sticking point when I started shopping DEATH SCENE around to agents, as it got rejected by more than one on the basis that they didn't feel they could sell a contemporary amateur sleuth novel to a publisher - fans of the genre apparently prefer historicals, or so I was told.

In deciding what day job to give to my amateur sleuth, I decided to make her an actress. The theatre is an area I'm interested in, and I spent many years involved in amateur dramatics, both onstage and behind it. I thought that a sleuth who could act would open up some interesting possibilities - she could disguise herself and play a role when she's poking around where she shouldn't be, in order to get information. And like being a writer, actresses can get away with being incurably nosy - an actress can claim to be doing research for a role, if she's listening in to conversations she shouldn't be.

Finally, I drew on my own history to give my sleuth a Canadian background. I spent eight years of my life in Canada, and I still have an affinity for the place, having family and friends there I visit frequently. So I gave my amateur sleuth one parent in Canada and one parent in the UK (which is my own situation). Although she eventually relocates to the UK, I felt making her a Canadian in London might make her a more interesting viewpoint character, as she adapts to British life and British way of thinking.

And so this is how Shara Summers came into existence. Known as Shari to her friends, she'll step out into the world on Monday, in my forthcoming novel DEATH SCENE.

I can't speak for Shari, but I'm certainly feeling a bit nervous about her debut. I have a lot of ideas for future books about her. I really hope I get the chance to write them!

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