Interview by Lucy Sweeney Byrne of Books Go Social
This is an interview I did with Lucy Sweeney Byrne of Books Go Social – I am grateful for the opportunity to reproduce it in its entirety here. (MM)
Since she started writing seriously in the mid-1990s, and it is difficult to understand how she has managed to find time for anything else since, Margaret Murphy has published eleven crime thrillers – two under her co-authored pen name, A.D. Garrett. Murphy, along with her writing partner, Professor Dave Barclay, have just released Believe No One, the keenly awaited sequel to the critically acclaimed Everyone Lies. I managed to catch the ever-busy Margaret Murphy between writing sessions for a quick interview. Here, Murphy discusses how a brush with death kickstarts writing, co-authorship, and crime fiction.
Me: You have had numerous careers before becoming an author – so my first and favourite question for any author is; what made you want to start writing?
Murphy: A burning passion which dates back to my first attempt to write a ‘grown up’ story at the age of ten. That one owed much to Raymond Chandler – specifically Chandler films, as I remember – and caused great
hilarity in my family (astonishingly, given that it was awarded a gold star by my teacher). I continued writing, though secretly, after my first bruising critical appraisal, but as my teaching career got under way, I stopped for a while: I have Lupus (SLE), and coping with chronic illness and a full time job took all my energies. I suffered two TIAs in the 1990s and was at risk of a full-blown stroke for a time – and a brush with death does concentrate the mind… I got back to writing, and haven’t stopped since.
Me: I think the aspect that many writers and readers alike find especially intriguing about your writing as A.D. Garrett, is that it is undertaken as part of a writing partnership, alongside Professor Dave Barclay. How do you find writing as part of a team? How does the process work? It is not your first time in a writing partnership – what is it about co-writing that appeals to you?
Murphy: Writing can be a solitary existence, and I had always been intrigued by the team effort involved in writing for TV and theatre. I have collaborated with creative media experts and other writers on TV and multimedia ventures in the past, and although those projects didn’t make it into production, I found the process exciting and creatively stimulating. People often assume that my background is in English/Humanities, but I am science trained and taught biology for seventeen years, so when my agent suggested a collaborative project with a forensic scientist, I jumped at the chance. Our roles are quite separate – I do all the writing, and have final editorial say – which simplifies things, but we worked closely on outlining the two novels, agreeing character details and plot, with Dave coming up with the more unusual scientific content and briefing me when I need insider knowledge of a particular procedure or situation.
Me: How do you and Professor Barclay go about outlining your novels?
Murphy: The most thrilling aspect of planning Believe No One was the research trip – Dave and I headed out to the United States to meet with experts in law enforcement: CSIs, Homicide and Cold Case Detectives, Team
Adam consultants, Medical Examiners, District Attorneys, and even a judge. I blogged the trip at ADGarrett.com, and there were some fascinating moments, including a burglary suspect caught in a felony crime as we observed his interview!
Me: You are a successful and prolific author in your own right. What attracts you to crime fiction, and what made you want to change things up and enter a writing partnership?
Murphy: Dr Lucy Burke, who knows a thing or two, says that people write about things that upset, disrupt and concern them. I find that a penetratingly wise observation, because although I had no intention of writing crime fiction, here I am with eleven crime/mystery thrillers published. At the age of eighteen, I’d read just about every novel on my parents’ bookshelves: Agatha Christie and GK Chesterton on my mother’s night stand, and at my father’s bedside, thrillers – from Alistair Maclean to Ed McBain – which were considered ‘unsuitable’ for an impressionable teen. I read these surreptitiously, sneaking them off the shelves while he was at work. I didn’t move in the English country house circles of Christie’s protagonists (I still don’t!) and the gun-toting detectives and hard-drinking women in my father’s US paperbacks were worlds away from my experience, so when I started writing, I chose what is now termed speculative fiction (the science geek in me, I suppose), and supernatural suspense. I thought I’d blended the two perfectly in a 1995 novel about a haunting on the recently-launched internet – until an agent told me it was crime fiction (all that clandestine reading must have stuck). That novel became Goodnight My Angel – my debut – and it must have been the right genre for me, because it was shortlisted for the First Blood critics’ award.
So, I suppose the change to a writing partnership was firmly rooted in pragmatism. Jeffery Deaver has said of his Lincoln Rhyme series: ‘Publishers want something that’s totally unique and has been incredibly successful before.’ It’s typical of his wit, self-deprecation, and razor-sharp observation: when he created Lincoln Rhyme, Deaver reinvented Sherlock/Mycroft Holmes for the 20th century – and the character remains unique (and historically hugely successful) even into the 21st century. In the same way, CSI and Silent Witness, both highly successful series, are predated by The Expert, a BBC TV series which had its roots in the novels of forensic pathologist Professor Bernard Knight. The A.D. Garrett collaboration is unusual in the fact that it is a collaboration, and novelistic collaborators are still relatively rare – but add in the combination of creative writer and forensic scientist, and you have a unique pairing.
Me: Everyone Lies and now Believe No One are the two novels which have been published under the A.D. Garrett pseudonym. As anyone can see from the first pages (which can be read on BooksGoSocial.com), these books
are pretty gritty in their subject matter. Other than your extensive trip to America, how do you and Professor Barclay usually research your materials? Do you find it disturbing to write about these topics? How do you get into the head of your criminals? Do you ever research real cases, or psychological accounts, to create your characters?
Murphy: Dave was Head of Physical Evidence at the UK National Crime and Operations Faculty for ten years, where he undertook reviews in 233 murders or murder series, so there was no shortage of gritty subject matter! But the books aren’t based directly on any case, so we discussed scenarios and I outlined, with Dave advising on the specifics of scientific content which wasn’t readily available from online or other sources. But without creativity and imagination good research becomes text book regurgitation; it is vital in fiction to use research inventively. Often, a minor detail that he as a practitioner takes for granted can spark an idea for a scene, or an exchange – or a way to turn the evidence on its head – and I’m constantly looking for ways to confound the readers’ expectations. As for psychological insights, I read a lot of psychology texts and articles – especially criminal psychology – in an attempt to understand the mindset, rather than to find templates for characters. I studied for a year on a psychology degree course, too, which gave me an insight into the workings of the human mind.
Me: Do you have a plan for these characters mapped out to the very end of their stories beforehand, or do you develop it from book to book?
Murphy: We had the backstory mapped out, and I had a notion of where I wanted to take Fennimore’s story and the mystery of his missing daughter, but it is only with the outlining of book three in the series that I’ve worked out a resolution. Which is how it should be – since Suzie’s disappearance mystified clever clogs Fennimore, it’s only right that it should baffle me! Readers do want to know, and one reviewer said straight out that she hoped that this storyline wasn’t strung out for too long. All will be revealed, I promise. Fennimore’s protégé, Josh Brown, has also caught the imagination (and the hearts!) of readers, and I’ve had a fair number of pleas to let them know a bit more about him and his shadowy past. Some is revealed in Believe No One (the second book in the trilogy), and I can promise readers that they will know a lot more about the student by the end of book three. As for Fennimore & Simms… who knows where their story will take them?
Me: Do you have an ideal reader in mind when writing?
Murphy: It’s always useful to have a reader in mind – they act as your internal editor as you write. S/he is probably an iteration of myself – so I am writing to entertain someone a bit like me, who likes to test their powers of deduction, and is interested in psychology. They will be someone who doesn’t shy away from the dark reality of crime and its consequences, who cares about the victim, and not just the puzzle. My ideal reader also enjoys an occasional moment of humour to lighten the darkness.
Me: In Believe No One, Simms and Fennimore are both relocated to America from Manchester. What was the reasoning behind moving the action to America? Is A.D. Garrett trying to ‘make it’ in the U.S., or did you feel it would benefit the characters to have a change of scene, or a little of both?
Murphy: Ah-ha, well spotted! The American market is a tough nut to crack, particularly since the global meltdown, and although I had been published under my own name in the US previously, the Manchester setting was proving difficult to sell in the US. My agent felt she could convince a US publisher to take on the next novel if we set it in the USA. Fortunately, Professor Fennimore is a consultant in forensic science, so he can relocate to wherever in the world his skills are needed. Getting Kate Simms to St Louis was more tricky, but Dave came up with the idea of a UK/USA police procedural ‘method swap’ – which does happen from time to time. We outlined the novel, went armed with questions, and the trip paid off in shedloads: there are so many differences between the UK and the USA law enforcement – many of which were great for story. I completed Believe No One, the US-based novel, in 2013, and I’m delighted that St Martin’s Minotaur took both that and Everyone Lies.
Me: Wonderful – congratulations! Well, unfortunately, we are pretty much out of time, so I’ll just ask one last question; any plans for your next instalment? Any hint of a book three for fans to look forward to?
Murphy: Absolutely! In book three, Fennimore undertakes an evidence review in a Miscarriage of Justice case. I am working with forensic scientist Helen Pepper for this novel (and many more in the future, I hope!). Helen is senior Lecturer in Policing at Teesside University, and advisor to the TV producers of Vera and Shetland.
Buy Everyone Lies at AmazonUS
Pre-order Believe No One at AmazonUS
UK readers may purchase the books at AmazonUK
To sample the first pages, visit www.BooksGoSocial.com. Don’t forget, to keep up with A.D. Garrett, follow on Twitter @adgarrett1, or visit the official webpage: www.adgarrett.com