I’m thrilled to have fellow author and fellow Lancastrian, Denise Greenwood, here today. Whereas I hail from East Lancs, Denise was born and raised in Blackpool, but then lived and worked in Manchester for a number of years where she was drawn to the theatre, comedy clubs and culture scene. She now lives with her husband Jerry and son Rees on the fringe of an old Lancashire mill-town on the western slopes of the South Pennines. After a long career as a Policy Development Manager for a major UK retailer she turned her skills from technical material to writing fiction in 2010. She uses her unconventional life experiences and love of psychology to create characters and stories to push the boundaries of fiction. Her first two books Temptation and Star Keeper are contemporary literature which attracted full page features in Northern Life and Style Magazines.
Welcome, Denise, and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions, I know how hectic releasing a new title can be. Also best of luck with the book launch. Not that I think you’ll need it as Crushed sounds like a fabulous read.
What inspires you as a writer? And what got you writing in the first place?
My inspiration can be described as being hit by a lightning bolt. A sudden idea can overwhelm me when I’m in the strangest of places, e.g. a church pew, a car wash or while exploring a cobbled street.
My first lightning bolt was while I was sitting on a church pew. I was immersed in an idea and I couldn’t shake it off for days. Then later after my lightning idea had grown did I naively think that by writing it down I would then be free of it and get back to my normal life. That wasn’t the case. I wrote the first chapter of my first novel Temptation.
Crushed is very different to your first two novels. Why the change in direction?
While writing Star Keeper, the sequel to Temptation, I enjoyed exploring my darker side and so when the lightning hit again I knew I had to follow my instincts. I wanted to enter that dark side and create two characters, each with a unique way of life and perspective. A chance meeting would throw them together before they evolved during a series of misunderstandings and challenges. Writing Crushed was a challenge for me too but it was one I relished.
Tell us a bit about your book? And what was it like writing your first murder scene?
A young boy develops an unnatural obsession and grows into a killer then finds his perfect victim. A chance encounter with a young woman challenges his patience, rigid perspective and strict lifestyle as he struggles to maintain his façade. Is his victim all that she seems? A conspiracy of external threats forces the protagonist to change, pushing him to the edge of reason before experiencing a shock that alters him and impacts everyone around him. You will be taken into a number of directions as the killer’s personality is revealed and his victim’s plight and intentions are uncovered.
Writing my first murder scene was an unsettling process. I was fully prepared to write it but as the words filled my laptop screen I didn’t see them, I saw beyond them to become both the killer and victim. When I’d completed the task I had to go away and compose myself. I wasn’t then able to return to my laptop until the following day. I needed to distance myself in time and space. When I then read what I’d written the day before I was amazed. I didn’t have to make any changes whatsoever. It was as I’d planned and visualized at the time of writing it.
Did you do any research for the book and what did this entail?
I spent around six months researching various details for my books. The first stage was travelling to the places I used as inspiration for scenes, taking the physical journeys I want my characters to take. I spoke to people in that area, made notes and took photos. The second stage consisted of both online research and speaking to the professionals who were able to provide the detail I needed for murder scenes. Using everything I had collated I was then able to create the bones of my overall story-line and it provided me with visuals I could use to get me into the zone when writing.
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
My main protagonist Barrington was a strange delight but pushing him to the edge of reason was only made more thrilling by then introducing his perfect victim. She had to be such a creature of secrets and surprise that she would baffle Barrington. Their conversations developed a weird poetry. Time would fly by whenever I wrote their dialogue and it was almost like I was in a theatre seat and watching them rather than writing their words. It would take me ages to wind-down afterwards.
What does your writing process look like?
I am structured in my approach although I like to stick to an overall time-scale rather than have a daily schedule. Watching a clock or counting words each day would stifle my creativity. At first, I just write without the restraint of too many rules but I do use my carefully-planned and detailed plot notes and character profile sheets as guides. Later, I re-read and then shape the results before continuing. I don’t worry too much about the order of chapters. Only when I have a completed first draft will I decide the order and that can change again as I re-write.
Peace and quiet helps although I am able to shut-out noise and distraction quite easily when required. Wherever I write I need lots of tea and so writing in cafes can be an expensive business.
Who is your favourite author and what strikes you about their work?
My favourite author is Thomas Hardy. Not only did he know how to expertly ensnare a reader in the emotions of his characters but he also did it with such eloquence that I sometimes had to re-read a sentence several times. I was lost in admiration for the skill he had in weaving his words.
Can you tell us about your future plans? Are you working on your next novel?
Having completed the research stage for a new novel I am now up to chapter five. I do not have a title yet. It will make itself known to me as I write. Having explored my darker side I now find that I am quite at home there and my challenge is just how far I can go into it.
If you had to describe Crushed in just three words, which three words would you choose?
Dark, chilling and compelling.
A boy shocks a teacher and classmates with his act of rebellion. His parents are dysfunctional and his lifestyle solitary and indulgent. The boy represses his emotions until he finds an intruder in his den, a tree-house. He is consumed by his new compulsion, to hear a fragile bone being crushed. Elspeth, a girl with red hair is the victim.
14 years later, however, his encounter with red-headed Caprice opens a floodgate of emotions and repressed memories. Just when about to re-enact his childhood experience, a security light flashes. Caprice opens her eyes. Barri makes a surprising decision, he takes her home.
Barri’s reluctant guest is impressed by Radburn House and its mysterious occupant. Without realising it, she challenges Barri’s rigid routines, strict perspective and limited patience. Meanwhile, Caprice explores Radburn and we find out more about this unhappy young woman.
Barri’s break in routines doesn’t go well. He is plagued by resurfacing memories. His plans are thwarted and he must wait to fulfil his yearning. Having a stranger beneath his roof raises old resentments about sharing but he forms a new plan after a strange conversation with his guest. He doesn’t know that she escaped a tormentor, her last attempt to do so. Barri tells her he will sell his home after New Year and offers her a temporary job as housekeeper. She accepts. We then find out how anal Barri’s habits and expectations are.
Barri is unaware that he is being watched by a Carer at the Old Folks home next door. She is a nosey, bitter woman who jumps to conclusions to make her life more interesting. She makes it her business to find out about Barri and his unusual ways. Through Caprice, Barri begins to see him-self as others do but tries to control emotions and challenges. His routines change again. He adjusts but suffers mentally. Caprice makes allowances for odd behaviour but finds new ways to test her host. The only power she had was that taught by her old tormentor, she a pawn in his twisted games.