This article was initially published on 07 January 2018 on Yorkshire Writers’ Lunch at https://yorkshirewriterslunch.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/dave-rigby-interviews-val-penny
|Posted: 07 Jan 2018 10:30 PM PST
To start things off Val, can I ask how you began writing fiction? Was there a specific trigger?
There was indeed a trigger, I began writing my first novel when I was being treated for breast cancer. I had taken early retirement and was beginning to wonder how I had ever had time to work when I received the unwelcome diagnosis of breast cancer. As my treatment proceeded, I started to blog about my experience. My writing here still receives considerable attention:. I found my treatment very tiring and had little energy to do anything but read, so I started reviewing the books I read on .I have always enjoyed reading crime fiction and I began to think that, as I had the time, I would try my hand at writing a crime fiction novel. It was not an easy task, and it took a lot longer than I thought it would, but the result was Hunter’s Chase.
The novel features DI Hunter Wilson. How would you describe him?
Hunter Wilson, like all my characters in Hunter’s Chase, is a combination of several people that I have found interesting. I needed my main protagonist to have certain characteristics including patience, perseverance and a desire to achieve justice for those who could not attain that for themselves. Hunter is a compassionate man who fights for the underdog and is a fine team player. These are important qualities in my main character. But I also needed Hunter to have flaws. Everybody has faults and to make Hunter believable, he had to have them too. He is not a saint. He is divorced, he is untidy, he likes to win, he bears a grudge.
How did you first come up with the plot for the book and how did it develop from those initial ideas?
The original idea came from a former employee of mine. She had worked in a lawyer’s office, in the north of Edinburgh, where they specialised in criminal law and when she came to work for me in a rather different type of office in a rather elegant part of Edinburgh city centre. The comment my employee made was “It is lovely not to work in a place where you smell the clients before you see them!” It was this comment gave me a kernel of an idea that formed the basis of the Johnson family in Hunter’s Chase from that central family and their story, my novel evolved from there.
To what extent is a sense of place important in your books and how do you create this?
I chose Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland as the setting for Hunter’s Chase. Setting is most important to a novel and Edinburgh is a beautiful city of around half a million people. It is big enough so that anything that I want to happen in my novels can happen, but it is also a small enough city that many people in the city know each other. The main protagonist of ‘Hunter’s Chase’ is Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson. He lives in Leith, an area to the north of the City and drinks in his local pub, the Persevere Bar. His home is also close to the Hibernian (‘Hibs’) football ground. The other main character, Detective Constable Tim Myerscough lives across the city from Hunter, in the south-west of the city. He moves into a flat Gillespie Crescent between Tollcross and Bruntsfield. His local pub in the Golf Tavern, off the Bruntsfield Links. DC Tim Myerscough’s father, Sir Peter Myerscough, lives even further to the south in the Morningside district of Edinburgh. From his large house he has fine views across the Pentland Hills.
Plot, character, setting, theme, genre…which of these do you focus on initially when you are developing a new book?
My novels fall squarely within the genre of crime thrillers. I first draft out a rough idea of the plot of my novel. That tells me who I need to populate the story and make it come to life. InHunter’s Chase, DI Hunter Wilson struggles to ensure the crime in Edinburgh does not go unpunished. Hunter’s Chase introduces a new detective, DI Hunter Wilson into the ‘Tartan Noire’ genre. I am delighted to be compared to other proponents of Tartan Noire such as Ian Rankin, Alex Grey and Quintin Jardine. I think all crime novels explore the triumph of good over evil. The readers know the criminals will not succeed. Still, the thrill of the chase and the problems overcome to achieve justice for the victims must enthral and satisfy the readers.
How do you come up with names for your characters?
I have always been interested in names and this interest has stood me in good stead when populating my novel with characters. In many cases, the characters told me their own names. Hunter Wilson, for example: reflects the fine Scottish tradition of using surnames as first names. Wilson is a popular Scottish surname and I do like the conceit of having an investigating detective who goes by the name of Hunter. Meera Sharma is another character who told me her own name. I once knew a very pretty girl whose name was Meera. I partnered the first name with the name Sharma because I thought it had a good ring to it. As for Timothy Myerscough, I have been savouring the name Myerscough for over twenty-five years and the first name Timothy balanced it nicely. Names for the characters come easily to me and I enjoy finding names for my characters very much.
I see from your biographical details that you have a background in law – both in practice and in teaching. How has this influenced your writing?
I write crime fiction, but I was never involved in the practice of Criminal Law. Indeed, I only passed my Criminal Law exams at university by promising the Professor that I would never work in that field! However, I did meet many policemen and sat through many court cases. There is no doubt that my background fired my interest in crime novels.
Do you have a regular writing regime? What would a typical writing day look like and do you have things which help you along, such as a regular supply of coffee, music, or a stimulating view from the window?
I usually write in the afternoons. In the mornings I take care of the regular household and social matters that I need to deal with. In the evenings, I tutor local children for their English exams at school, so in the afternoons, when I have the house to myself, I write. I find Earl Grey Tea, quiet, familiar music and watching my cats all help in their own way if I have a block in my flow. However, most help is afforded to me by chocolate. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it!
And, can I ask, is there a new book in the pipeline?
Only this week, I heard from my publishers, Crooked Cat Books, that they have accepted the sequel to Hunter’s Chase: Hunter’s Revenge. It is very early days, but we are aiming to get the novel completed and edited with a view to publication during August or September 2018.
Thanks very much for answering our questions and good luck with ‘Hunter’s Chase’ and your future projects.
Thank you for allowing me to visit the blog today, Dave. I really appreciate it. I can be contacted on social media at:
Friends of Hunter’s Chase –
Val was interviewed by Yorkshire Writers’ Lunch member, Dave Rigby.