Tuesday 20 April 2021

Author Guest Post ~ Leigh Russell


I am delighted to welcome Leigh Russell to the blog to share her guest post

about writing her latest novel, Rachel's Story


What on earth could prompt a crime writer to turn her hand to dystopian fiction? That’s the question readers have been asking me since the publication of RACHEL’S STORY, my twenty-fourth book and my first dystopian novel. It’s a question I struggle to answer. After my debut crime novel CUT SHORT was published, I recall being asked why I had written a crime novel, and I struggled to explain my motivation for writing about a murderer.

For me, ‘wanting to write’ was never an issue. The stories just worked themselves into my imagination and I wrote them down, with no idea where they came from. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells Scout that the only way to understand another person is to ‘climb into his skin and walk around in it’. As authors we do this all the time with our characters, but I prefer not to try and analyse my ability to ‘climb into the skin’ of so many killers. All I can say is that my debut crime novel must have been written when I was feeling angry.

Whatever drove me to start writing, like many writers I didn’t set out to look for a story to write; our stories find us. So I never intended to write a dystopian novel, just as I never planned to be a crime writer. In fact, I had no serious ambitions to be a published author until I started to write. And it all began with a story.

My detective, Geraldine Steel, continues investigating murder cases in the fictional world she inhabits, just as my life has continued in the real world. But a little over a year ago all of our lives changed as we were struck down by covid. There was some discussion among writers and readers about how much the real world situation would impact on our stories. Many authors felt unable to dismiss what was happening, but I made a decision straight away to ignore the pandemic in my books. For me, fiction offers an escape from the anxieties, the challenges, and the chores of real life. Not only did I decide not to focus on the pandemic, I didn’t even want to think about it while I was writing. So Geraldine Steel continues to conduct her murder investigations in the world we once knew as normal. Hopefully we will return to that normality very soon.

But our experiences and our inner lives creep into our writing in unexpected ways, and while I continued ignoring the pandemic in my crime novels, I found myself writing a dystopian novel. The darkness in the world where Rachel lives is perhaps a reflection of our communal experience, as we struggled to adapt and survive through lockdown with our lives more or less intact. Many people lost loved ones, many lost their livelihoods. We will come through this global crisis battle scarred and bereft.

One effect of lockdown on my own life was that it gave me more time to read. Genre has never defined my reading. I read widely, irrespective of genre or period, through romance to fantasy, crime to saga, historical novels and those books which defy categorisation. I’ve never considered myself a fan of dystopian fiction. Yet many books which have made a lasting impression on me fall into that category. Authors who spring to mind include George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, Aldous Huxley, Nevil Shute, John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, PD James, Anthony Burgess, HG Wells, RC Sheriff... I could go on.

Dystopian fiction is, above all, fiction of ideas. In creating dystopian worlds, writers invite us to speculate about ourselves and our own world. So in 1984 Orwell is not just creating a fantasy about the future, and in his novel On the Beach, Nevil Shute is not merely speculating about a world after a nuclear holocaust. The best dystopian fiction writers explore where dangers inherent in society in the real world could lead us. They might have been writing at almost any point during the past hundred years, but many of the dangers they foresaw continue to threaten us today. Some, have even explored the effects of a pandemic.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I wrote my first dystopian novel as we were living in lockdown. I never planned to become a crime writer. Now, thanks to Rachel, I am also a dystopian novelist.

Bloodhound Books
6 April 2021

In a world where food is scarce, the government rules and ordinary people only exist to serve, can there ever be happiness?

As a child, living in a post-apocalyptic world, Rachel is initiated into The Programme where selected young girls are medicated to make them fertile.

Fearing for her future, Rachel escapes. But freedom comes at a price, as she learns when she joins the outcasts struggling to survive beyond the city walls.

The Geraldine Steel series is published by No Exit Press.

More about Leigh 

Leigh Russell has written twenty-four novels so far, and her Geraldine Steel crime series has sold over a million copies. In addition to her crime series featuring detective Geraldine Steel, Leigh has written two trilogies and two stand alone psychological thrillers. Rachel’s Story is her first dystopian novel. Leigh chairs the judging panel for the Crime Writers Association’s prestigious Debut Dagger Award, and is a Consultant Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund.

Twitter @LeighRussell

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