Interview with British Crime Author Pat McDonald

Pat McDonald

If you would like to be featured in an author interview, drop me a line.

I had the pleasure of meeting Pat on Twitter, and I am delighted she agreed to an interview.


You can find Pat’s books on Amazon, her Author Website, on Facebook or on Twitter @issyblack.

What are you currently working on?

Current work in progress is a move to a different genre. My Y.A paranormal thriller Breaking Free is about stalking and is set in the North of Wales, UK. It has a hint of historical W.W 1 drama that is surprisingly haunting! One of the characters in Getting Even escapes from the clutches of the bad Detective Chief Inspector and although he pursues her she drops out of the plot. I pick up the story when she returns to a small but close community in North Wales. I wanted to explore how someone could ‘lose’ themselves and to examine further about stalking and its outcome.

When and how do your characters come to you? Is it in a moment of inspiration, an epiphany? Or do they grow in some murky recess of your mind?

 My characters come often out of a character trait of someone I meet, have known or from something they have said. I am a great observer of people and often sit and watch them wherever I find myself – people are fascinating! In fact I began my first crime novel by noticing a man whilst I was helping someone at a craft fair – I thought he looked the part of a detective and he became Luc Wariner in my series. I love ‘oddball’ characters; describing and developing them gives me great pleasure. P.C Hugo Bott is the most unlikely police officer who enters at Rogue Seed; he is a legend in his own police force for being in the right place at the right time.

There’s an acceptance that authors often write in traits or characteristics of themselves into their work, you have several books, is there any part of you in any of your characters?

It would be difficult for a writer not to put some of themselves into their characters as experiences and thoughts will inevitably be there. Yes, I’m in there somewhere, not necessarily as a complete character, but I write every scene imagining myself as a particular character and what they might say, do or feel – and yes even the bad ones I’m afraid – not that you understand I have ever tortured or killed anyone! I do remember thinking when my very bad drug dealer was about to die and his last thoughts were about leaving his dog, a pit bull called Mutt, in his car, whether he would be okay. It would have been my last thought too if in the same circumstances.

 How do you develop your characters? Do you let them brew in your subconscious, use character interview sheets, or something completely different?

My characters do take on a life of their own as I write each scene I’m there inside them. I do, however, draw up a schematic, especially important for a trilogy where there are so many characters, and the need for continuity between books. I only note minor traits i.e. like name or ginger hair so that I don’t mix them up with other characters. When you have a lot of characters it becomes more important to differentiate between them, and often I go back to reread a part where they appeared before to pick up their character. Other than knowing my characters well, I have no special way of developing them other than by imagining ‘being’ them.

Are you a planner, or free writer?

I am a ‘free flow’ writer of fiction and sometimes amaze myself with how my plots just come to me as I write. When I begin to write the next chapter or sub-chapter I have no idea what I am about to write. Endings are an issue for me and it is why I began with a trilogy; usually I have more than one ending and that will lead on to the next book. At the moment I am writing a one off book and am at the point where I need an ending which I must say is developing from a germ of an idea I had only this week – we will see! When I think of a good ending I usually write it and then work back to develop the plot to that end. Some writers believe the first line of a novel is the most important part, but for me it is to have a good ending.

When you are developing a book, what tools or techniques do you use, e.g. timelines, mood boards, character interviews, scraps of notes?

As a ‘free flow’ writer I allow my plot to take me forward; what I do is begin to edit during the writing process and take notes where I think something needs picking up, developing or explaining and so I write myself instructions i.e. ‘need to’, ‘write this into the story’ etc. Editing allows me to ensure the time line works and continuity is essential. You can’t kill someone off in Chapter 10 then have them appear again later!

Has your technique changed over time?

What has surprised me the most is that my technique has changed little since I began writing fiction. I heard someone say in a TV interview that there was a difference between being a ‘writer’ and a ‘story teller.’ The first plans what they intend to do, the second just sits down with a blank screen or piece of paper and writes. I used to be a writer in an academic world where most things follow a formula. Now I am a fiction writer, a teller of stories, and I just write them from the start until I finish. No one is more surprised than I am that this works or from where the subject matter comes from. I believe that this is what works for me, why change that?

Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you actively look for it?

Inspiration for my books comes from my observations of the real world, which I think is reflected in them. I admire people who write fantasy and sci-fi and amazing stories about imaginary worlds. I know that I couldn’t do that, perhaps because I am so fascinated by this world in which I live. It is full of inexplicable phenomena and extra ordinary people. It provides me with sufficient material to allow my imagination to take it and ask ‘what if’ in those circumstances this was to happen. Just a twist can take something ordinary and make you wonder at it. I do think, however, that I have some deep recesses of my mind where lurks a murky pool of things to draw upon. My imagination can take and view the ‘ordinary’ and turn it into something else entirely. I am a student of reality and reality can be quite alarming, and at other times incredibly lovely as well. Of course it helps that I spent my entire career in research and my definition of a researcher is someone who is ‘licensed to snoop!’

What kind of an environment do you write in? Day/night/silence/music/desk/sofa etc.

I am one of those writers who can write anywhere. I particularly enjoy sitting in public places, like coffee shops. I did write most of my crime trilogy in one particular coffee shop – the busier the better for me because it is where an abundance of ‘would-be’ characters are passing through. But I have also written on a plane going out to Dubai as one of my characters surprisingly travelled to and all her scenes were written actually in the places mentioned. Interruptions don’t bother me and although I don’t play music or have the TV on, I am not disturbed if music is playing in the background, I can actually switch off. The one thing I do need to do is write every day. I have an office at home and can write straight on to a computer screen, but prefer to hand write and then type up later. I use hard back A5 writing books and gel pens, which in my only concession. The first type is the first edit.

I’m 53K words into my first novel, it’s taking over my brain! What advice can you give me on completing it? Or maybe an easier question. What do you wish you had known about writing a book before you started?

I think that every writer will be different and I do have my own way of doing things. I would and do advise writers just to write. I tell them to stop trying to conform to a preconceived set of ‘rules for writers’, which I believe stifles creativity. Let it flow as you think it, give reign to your thoughts, ideas and imagination. I do speak out about people who write books and articles on how you should write, what words you shouldn’t use and a whole gamut of advice on the destruction of adverbs, because I believe it frustrates and destroys genuine expression. Think about your story and be true to it; you conceived it because you wanted to tell it, so concentrate on how you imagine it could proceed and end. Is there more than one ending? There is nothing worse than reading a book and finding yourself disappointed by the ending. But at the end of the day it is YOUR story, so be true to yourself – how would you want it to end? With a ‘bang’ or a ‘whimper’?

The publishing industry is in decline across the board. Do you think things like the Kindle are bridging the gap, is there still the same love for the written word, or is it being diluted by the modern obsession with tech and gadgets? 

 I am well known for speaking out about ‘real’ books and the continuation of libraries that bring literature to everyone. I am after all a book collector and I buy hard back or paper back copies of other writer’s books. The introduction of self-publishing and e books has given the world exposure to a huge number of hitherto undiscovered talented writers and that I think is a good thing. I do feel quite sad though at how people give away their work or price it so low to be competitive in this vast market. Even some of the well-established writers have spoken out about how they would not make it today and how their publisher had confidence in them for years before they broke through. The problem with tech and gadgets is the habitual round of charging, re-charging and batteries. Okay, I like reading in the bath and I take a real book in with me; I may nod off and dip it into the water, but paper dries out! I always say when called a dinosaur because people tell me that Kindles can go everywhere – well so can books, but they don’t need maintaining!

50 Shades of Grey author EL James was reported to make around £100k a day at the book’s height, and the upcoming film will make her millions. Do you find it a shame that the most lucrative and famous book franchise of the moment is one so widely derided for its lack of literary value? Or is it just good to have a book going mainstream?  

Doesn’t every writer want to write a book that will be acknowledge as a future classic? It depends why people write – if it’s to make money then and become a millionaire that’s another matter. I wonder if J K Rowling can still go and sit in her coffee shop and write unmolested from people interrupting her. Critics are what they are and it doesn’t matter what is written someone will not like it, but I would rather get a review that actually lays claim to enjoying my work and that can see what I was trying to achieve than anything else. I just got one of those and it thrilled be beyond belief!

If a fascist regime was burning the world’s libraries, what books would you save?

Oh horrors! Too close to my Achilles heel this question! I am someone that people give books to for safekeeping. People tell me I can sell books on e-Bay so why do I want to keep so many? If they don’t know the answer to that, then they aren’t a bookish person. I can’t pass a second hand book shop or a W.I book stall and come away empty handed. Burn books you ask? Maybe, if I had to answer this, I’d take my cue from the film The Day After Tomorrow where they burnt the section on Taxation, but other than that, I would be part of the underground movement that would be saving books!

Which publishing route have you taken? Did you always know you were going to go down this route, and if so why?

The route I took was to scan the internet for someone in a crime genre who was offering a free critique and approached them. I just wanted to know if I could seek some advice and of course it was a big step from writing with the door closed (as Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing) and was a huge jump letting someone else read my work. I expected the first rejection slip and some advice, but got an offer which shocked me. I had no idea about self-publishing, and all the outlets that are available. I was able to learn from the variety of professional people across the publishing process what was needed. At the end of the day, whichever route you go down, the hardest part is finding an audience for your work and everyone is vying with everyone else in that. There is no easy way to go about it, it takes hard work and if you believe in yourself then you have to put the time and effort into it. In that I am like everyone else.

What do you wish you knew about the publishing process before you started?

I am not sure I can really answer this question. I have been published many times within the academic world and my experience during my life has been different at different times. I remember the days when you got a contract with an advance and a time scale for submission to keep to. Not much has changed except for a more competitive field. The process is still the same with regards to producing a book ready for publication. I still have to fight to preserve my text because there are so many rules and regulations around now; and having an American publisher there is a language difference too. I am afraid I come out fighting when quality audit tells me which words to use and whether it should be a small c or a capitol C etc. I defend my Englishness within a British police force because I want to keep it authentic. So far I have been able to do that. The actual publishing process hasn’t changed an awful lot, except there are more ways and platforms to do it.

What is the best advice you could give to aspiring novelists like me? Or what was the best advice you were ever given?

My advice I have already stated above about being true to yourself and your story. You are the author, it is what you want it to be, unless you are employed by a publication that has its own formula. The beauty, for me in the literary world, is finding new and exciting views of the world from someone else’s perspective (and where applicable an imaginary one). If everyone wrote in the same way I fear we would miss out on some very special literature. One piece of advice I was given, not about writing but about my own work, was to believe in myself; accept my own style and believe that it is as legitimate as anyone else’s and to stop wanting to be someone else. It took me a while to stop apologizing that my work wasn’t a Jane Austin!

Is fanfic to be welcomed as it broadens interaction and the readers experience or a scourge that devalues the ability of an author?

Where would I be without Wikipedia! I hadn’t heard of this, but since I looked it up, it kind of follows on from what I have just said about being yourself. I have my own favourite literary people, but cannot understand why someone would want to write something using the characters created by someone else. Not an easy thing to do and to do justice to, but I can’t help wonder what the original author would think if they knew. Maybe they would be flattered? I don’t know the answer to that. It isn’t something I could do or would want to do and I certainly wouldn’t want someone to do that with mine.

I am finding more and more, that writers often have several creative outlets. Do you? Or is writing your one source?

Writing is all I have ever wanted to do from when I wrote poetry as a teen and short stories. I admire a great number of creative people, artists, sculptors, photographers, playwrights etc. but for me I am doing the thing I need to do the most.

 If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I spent too many years telling myself I would write fiction one day. I should have spent my life doing it but was sidetracked by the real world.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I have always wanted to write and have done, but fiction was my goal and I allowed myself to be diverted by academic writing for too long!

What authors do you admire, and why?

There is such a long lists of people. I make no secret of my admiration for Stephen King and as a book collector I have most of his work – his imagination is beyond belief. The best book he has written (despite what I have said earlier), is On Writing because he gives an account of his own journey, in his own inimitable style of course. Every writer should read it. I like some of the classics like Dickens, the Bronte’s, and Thomas Hardy etc. I read Ruth Rendell, and other crime writers. I love psychological thriller writers like Minette Walters, Jeffrey Deaver, and the medical related thrillers from Robin Cook. But these days because I meet a lot of authors I tend towards whatever tempts me and this is very eclectic. I admire a lot of new and up and coming authors and wherever possible try to read and review their work. The problem is ‘too many books, not enough time!’


If you want to know more about Pat, her bio is below:

British Crime Author Pat McDonald lives in a rural part of the Midlands, United Kingdom. She previously worked as a researcher, project manager and programme manager in the NHS and in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. She is now a full time novelist. Her crime trilogy (nicknamed ‘The Blue Woods Trilogy’ because of an over active imagination at disposal of bodies!) consists of Getting Even: Revenge is best served cold, Rogue Seed and finally Boxed Off. 


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