Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing prolific crime author Jane Adams. We discuss her Merrow & Clarke crime mysteries, her writing inspiration and process and her extensive back catalogue. And, Jane has very generously offered paperback copies of the first two titles in the Merrow & Clarke thriller series, ‘Safe’ and ‘Kidnap’ for giveaway worldwide.
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
Author Bio: Jane Adams is the author of more than thirty published crime novels. The first, The Greenway, was nominated for both the Authors’ Club award and the CWA John Creasey for best debut novel. Jane is constantly amazed at where life has taken her. Writing had never been on her ‘possible careers’ list, but she says once stories take root in your brain, they just have to be told – and she feels very fortunate that people want to read them. In addition to writing, Jane teaches creative writing, read and mentor for The Literary Consultancy, and is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow and FRSA.
Q&A with crime author Jane Adams
A very warm welcome to Booklover Book Reviews Jane! You’ve just released Kidnap which is the second title in your Merrow & Clarke series. Firstly, can you tell us a little about this series?
Thank you very much for inviting me. The first book in this series, SAFE, is essentially a novel-length chase. I wanted to write something that kept the tension high from start to finish, that had a relatively simple storyline and an intense feel and voice. Lauren appeared in my head first, this young girl with blood on her hands. When she first arrived I wasn’t sure who she was, but sometimes you’ve just got to run with things and see where they take you.
Oddly, the next bit that I knew needed to be in the book was the phone conversation on the beach, when she calls a mysterious number she’s been given and asks for help. This is several chapters in. The detectives, Petra Merrow and Toby Clarke (and everyone else, really) slowly evolved after that point, so I went back and wrote the intervening sections.
Petra – full name Petronella – is ex-army, she’s been a police officer for a while and for the past three years she’s been deep undercover and become very close to the head of a crime family and to his daughter. This raises all sorts of questions about the particular vulnerability of female officers and a whole load of ethical issues. Toby Clarke only joined the police after his father’s death – his father having spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law. I wanted characters that were uncomfortable with their circumstances. Individuals who didn’t quite fit in and whose moral compasses tended to spin a bit, but who were at heart compassionate and honest.
There was unfinished business in SAFE, so I always knew I wanted to pick up the loose ends in another book. I suppose if SAFE was about survival and having to run from trouble, KIDNAP is all about turning round to face it head on.
What research did you undertake when developing your lead characters and storylines?
My research tends to be an ongoing thing, so nothing specific for this series. I try to keep up to date with the latest forensic and investigative developments so there is a valid framework – even if my characters do go on to ignore it! A while ago I did some reading on the fallout from undercover work, both the really high profile stuff that had come to court, and also the impact on the individual that had been undercover. SAFE offered an opportunity to make use of that. There’s remarkably little on women who undertake these roles and I liked the idea of exploring that.
You already have so many different book series on the go. What inspired you to add a new one to your list?
The short answer is Jasper Joffe at Joffe Books. We’d agreed we wanted something pacey and that wasn’t a continuation of an existing series. So I kept sending him ideas and when I sent him a pitch for SAFE he said that was the one. I then had to figure out what the book was actually about!
How do you juggle all your different series and different publisher commitments? Do you have multiple novel drafts on the go at the same time?
I suppose I’ve just got used to doing it. I realised very early on that I needed variety, just to keep my ideas flowing. One of my students said I have what she called squirrel brain. I’ll be going along nicely, talking about something and then something else attracts my attention and I’m off, chasing it. I’ve realised that I tend to work in short, really intense bursts, then need to move on to something else and then back again. I’ve just learnt to work with and not against this (though it does make me pretty unemployable!).
It’s also the case that you can’t just shoehorn an idea or a theme into a particular series and hope it works – or I can’t anyway. The series all have a particular voice but also naturally create particular kinds of stories.
Ray Flowers books get a bit weird – a hangover from the weird fiction I wrote at the start of my career and still write for fun.
The Rina Martin series is more about people and what happens in a small, tight-knit community and is as far as I stray into the ‘cosy’ category.
The Mike Croft books are more police procedural, I suppose. In a review, someone once said they wished they could be friends with him and I can’t think of a greater compliment.
The Naomi Blake books were the idea of my then-agent, the late, great Bob Tanner, when Severn House approached us about doing a series for them. The character of Naomi, a police officer until she suffered sight loss, was partly inspired by a family friend who had lost her vision. I always planned this series as having an ensemble cast, with Naomi holding the centre and other characters, old and young, taking the lead, depending on the story being told. This gave me immense flexibility, something I really enjoyed and I hope to return to the series at some point.
The Henry Johnstone novels came about, again for Severn House, because I really wanted to set something in the Golden Age of crime fiction between the wars. I now have a nice little collection of police memoirs and fingerprint and forensic manuals from that time and have learnt more about drowning fleas than I ever wanted to know!
Organisation wise, I try not to have deadlines too close, though delays and rescheduling through the pandemic really messed with that. I’m usually writing one, thinking vague thoughts about another, researching, making random notes and jotting down ideas. It’s a bit of a mixed-up, ongoing process but it seems to work – most of the time – and it does mean that if I get frozen in with one thing I can go and play with something else for a bit.
I understand you have earned a degree in Sociology and have since worked in a variety of jobs and explored a range of passions, from lead vocalist in a folk-rock band, pen and ink drawing, martial arts, motorbike riding? Which sparked your desire to become an author and/or most influences your writing today?
I suspect that all of this and more contributed. The decision to write was a sudden one, made one November day, walking through Leicester market, not long after my youngest child had started school. I started out with short stories – Fantasy, Science Fiction, Gothic sort of stuff – and then began to write The Greenway alongside a science fiction novel. My husband rescued a typewriter from his works skip and sorted it out for me, though the shift key always needed thumping to get it to work. Eventually having a computer with a decent keyboard and a spell check was just magical.
I was incredibly naïve when I started out but I think that kind of helped in an odd way. I had no concept of how hard this might be so I just went for it and hoped for the best! My first short stories were published in 1994, the same year as The Greenway was picked up for publication. I’d been writing for about three years by that point and was also un-agented, so was incredibly lucky.
I suppose the main driver is that I want to know how things work and what I’m capable of. The answer is I’m often pretty rubbish – I discovered I’d rather ride pillion than just ride and that I’m much safer on four wheels. I loved Aikido and got to the ‘not too bad’ kind of level, probably because the learning process is more cooperative than competitive. I have always loved singing and choir was the only part of school I actively liked. I was actually a cathedral chorister for a few years, in the long-ago time. I still sing when I get the opportunity, though not usually in public these days! Pen and ink is such a great medium and I used to sell drawings (and paintings) through galleries and events. I’ve also worked in a Building Society and packed biscuits, waitressed, worked in a pub, the usual sort of stuff and it’s all good life experience.
More recently I’ve taught creative writing at Adult Ed and University level and I’ve learnt so much from my students. The Sociology degree taught me a lot about independent study and research and that has been so valuable. I also discovered that I was dyslexic and dyspraxic at university and that helped to explain a lot about the way I thought and learnt and approached work and why I’d got through the world’s supply of Tippex when I first started writing. Technology certainly helps with that side of things.
I understand you have earned a degree in Sociology and have since worked in a variety of jobs and explored a rangMost writers are avid readers. Tell us about the last book you read that you absolutely loved and recommended to all your friends?
Inevitably, I read a lot of crime novels. My favourite authors are John Connolly and Phil Rickman with Elly Griffiths and Ben Aaronovitch running them a close second. I love it when I find an author I didn’t know about that has a long backlist and I’ve just made a start on Joy Ellis’s output. Sue Grafton’s books are a comfort read. The last book that made me want to dance and shout about it was not crime at all but Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater. A gorgeous and lyrical YA book that I stumbled upon and which made me very happy.
Do you have any tips for budding authors?
Finish things, even if they don’t turn out exactly as you want them. The act of seeing one narrative through from start to finish, and then trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, is worth more than a several dozen abandoned openings. Writing is a craft and all crafts require you to develop your problem-solving skills.
Once you have something you are fairly satisfied with, go through the submission process. This is also a set of craft skills; writing a cover letter, a synopsis, researching markets. There is also something about the process of preparing your work for other people to see that helps you take a step back and gain a fresh perspective.
Accept that some of what you write will be absolute rubbish, especially if you’re coming back to a project after a break. It can take time to find the voice and the rhythm again, but that’s just a natural part of the process. Once it starts to flow, you just delete the bits you don’t like. It’s all fine.
Be tenacious. It is so hard to break into this world and there is such an element of luck involved. You have to very determined and also remember that rejection happens at all levels and points in a writer’s career. It will sting, but try not to see it as personal. Try to find like-minded people to share your work with. Learning how to give and receive feedback and even criticism and to see your work from an external viewpoint is an invaluable skill.
Write with passion; edit with a cool head.
When can readers who enjoy Safe and Kidnap expect the next title in this Merrow & Clarke series to be released?
I’m hoping to write another this year, but the timing of everything depends on what my publisher wants next. I’m just about to deliver a new Ray Flowers novel. After that…
Get copies of Jane Adams’ Merrow & Clarke crime thrillers from:
Paperback Giveaway – SAFE & KIDNAP
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