Not new to writing urban fantasy—having a handful of YA books already published—British author Elizabeth (E.E.) Richardson’s first adult urban fantasy novel, Under The Skin, published by Abaddon Books, shares some insight into her writing with me here.
First up, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what got you into writing?
I’m somebody who’s always been a writer—I was a huge reader when I was a kid, and for as long as I can remember I’ve been writing my own stories. When I was about ten or eleven I had a school assignment to write a short story that I ended up turning into a much longer epic, which prompted my teacher to suggest I should try writing a book. Ever since then I’ve been working on one novel or another.
Having already written and had published a handful of YA novels, what was your drive to write Under The Skin?
I never really set out to be a young adult writer specifically—as I say, I was pretty young when I started writing, so at the time I wrote about teenagers because I was one! So I was always interested in expanding into writing for adults as well, and when I saw Abaddon Books had an open call for novella pitches it seemed right up my street, since they publish all the genres that I love, and novella length is similar to what I’m used to writing to for young adult audiences.
How big a deal is setting in, Under The Skin? I mean, for me, North Yorkshire beats North London hands down.
There’s an awful lot of urban fantasy that’s set in London— think at this point, you’d need a pretty specialist local knowledge of the city to write something that really stands out. Plus I wanted to create a fictional police unit that would be fairly wide-ranging rather than tied to a single city, both to give me some more flexibility when it came to the cases, and because I envisioned the Ritual Crime Unit as a fairly specialist job with only a limited number of trained officers. This first story takes place across various parts of North and West Yorkshire; I chose that setting because I went to university in Bradford, so hopefully there’s a little bit of familiarity with the area that shines through.
How would you classify Under The Skin, a tale of the supernatural, a police procedural, urban fantasy…or a little of everything?
I’d say it’s a mix of urban fantasy and police procedural. Part of the reason I chose to write about a police unit is that most of the urban fantasy detective stories I’ve read feature private detectives or freelance consultants who have a lot more freedom in how they pursue their cases, so I wanted to write a story that blended the urban fantasy element with the more mundane concerns that police detectives have to deal with—from limited budgets and legal requirements to pressure from superiors and the tensions inherent in coordinating with other forces.
As an author still in her twenties, what made you decide to place DCI Claire Pierce in her fifties?
Well, first I should probably note that I’m actually thirty by now! My online biographies have been lagging behind a bit ever since my first book took such a long time in the journey from acceptance to publication that I was older than it claimed on the back cover. But yes, I specifically chose to place Pierce in her fifties because I’m rather fond of the archetype of the aging, out-of-shape detective who’s married to the job that you often see at the heart of police procedurals, and it seemed to me that it’s quite rare to see a female version of that character without her being made younger and a bit more glamorous.
How do you create your characters? Do you start with a basic outline of personality type, or work them up as you go along?
I usually have a vague idea of the personality I want in mind. Once I start writing and I pick up the character’s voice, the rest unfolds from there, and it’s pretty easy to imagine what he or she would do or say in any given situation.
What sources, in any, influence your work—Science headlines of the day, the voices in your head, other authors you’ve read?
Oh, a little bit of everything, I think. I generally have a clear idea of where I want a story to go when I start, but all sorts of things can influence the little decisions that you make from scene to scene. Maybe a news story about a married couple will make you decide to introduce a character’s spouse to the story, or a scene becomes set in a rose garden because you just listened to a song about one. I think the important thing as a writer is to immerse yourself in words and stories in every form, whether it’s news articles or comics or songs or cartoons or anything; if your imagination’s only drawing from a narrow pool of stories in the same format and genre as you’re writing, then yours is going to sound like any other. You have to cast your net wide.
How do you approach writing a new project; do outline and breakdown scenes, or do you just leap straight into the narrative?
Given the choice, I vastly prefer to just leap in. Writing outlines is like pulling teeth for me. Since this story was an idea I pitched to the publisher, though, I had to write a fairly detailed breakdown for it, and that did end up being quite useful during the writing. I think an approach I’m leaning towards is to leap in and write the first chapter or so, and once that’s helped me to get a proper feel for the main characters and their drives, go on to write an outline based on that.
Do you ever ‘talk’ to your characters as you write about them?
No, I do ‘rehearse’ their dialogue in my head, though! The worst thing is that I’ll sometimes catch myself acting out gestures like nods and head-shakes in that mental run-through of the conversation while I’m walking down the street.
And finally, what can we expect next from you and the RCU?
Hopefully, there’ll be more adventures of DCI Pierce to come—in novel-length, next time, if the interest is there. I’ve fallen in love with the character over the process of writing this book, and I have plenty of ideas bubbling away for future cases. I’d also like to try my hand at some more adult books in general, most probably fantasy or urban fantasy—unless of course I get a brilliant idea for something completely different tomorrow!
Thanks for the interview! It’s always great to be asked. ❦
E.E. Richardson has been writing books since she was eleven years old, and had her first novel The Devil’s Footsteps picked up for publication at the age of twenty. Since then she’s had seven more young adult horror novels published by Random House and Barrington Stoke. Under the Skin from Abaddon Books (Oct. 2013) was her first story aimed at adults. She also has a B.Sc. in Cybernetics and Virtual Worlds, which hasn’t been useful for much but does sound impressive.
You can find the author tweeting at: @devilsfootsteps