I love Helen Fields’ books. Have I ever mentioned it? Maybe once or twice . . . Her third book in the Luc Callanach and Ava Turner series, Perfect Death, was published on the 25th of January, and it’s even better than Perfect Remains and Perfect Prey, if that’s even possible!
For my stop on the blog tour I have a wonderful, insightful Q&A with Helen, who very kindly answered all my questions about her books, Edinburgh and her writing process. Get ready to Google some rather delicious French actors . . .
- What was the inspiration behind Luc Callanach, Ava Turner and their respective backgrounds?
It was Luc who arrived in my imagination first. I wanted to move away from the stereotypical older, gruff detective and bring a bit of sexy back into police fiction. Having decided that, I needed to make his character more complex – hence the somewhat traumatic backstory – and I couldn’t think of anywhere more interesting in the UK to drop a stunningly good-looking frenchman than in Scotland where he was bound to be given a hard time! I need Ava to counterbalance Luc and to befriend him, but it was vital to me that she was completely unimpressed by him. Ava is the sort of character who rips up the rule book and I enjoy the interactions between the two of them.
- And following on from that, what was your starting point when you decided you were going to write a book? Was it the overarching premise of a crime series set in Edinburgh, the central characters, the killer/scenario in Perfect Remains – or something else?
Edinburgh is a city of ghosts. It has such a gothic atmosphere and historic beauty that it’s easy to set crime fiction there. What I needed to do was bring characters into that setting who would offer different perspectives on how they saw the city. I enjoy the fact that it’s not Luc’s natural habitat. It means he has more to say about the place. (I also have an excuse to visit regularly for research, so it was slightly self-serving too!)
- Do you have any essentials you need when writing – e.g. coffee, comfy chair, music / no music?
I like to listen to music when I write but it has to be very familiar to me so I don’t concentrate on it too hard. There’s one Crash Test Dummies album that I’ve discovered I can write to for hours on repeat and never get bored. When I’m stuck for an idea, I put it on and start writing immediately. Strange but true! I also drink copious amounts of decaffeinated tea, and need a reasonably tidy space or it annoys me. Other than that, just biscuits really…
- Luc Callanach is a very memorable, dynamic (and swoonworthy) character that lots of readers have fallen for. Was that your aim / hope when you were writing him, or has his popularity taken you by surprise?
I’ve been delighted by the effect Luc has had on readers. Someone recently emailed my publishers absolutely demanding to know what was going to happen between Luc and Ava because they simply couldn’t wait and see any longer. That came as a bit of a shock to me. As a writer, it’s always the greatest compliment when you’re characters become so very real to readers. A few people found him rather grumpy to begin with, and he was supposed to be, given what he’d been through. Now, though, Luc is a much more human character, and for me it’s the interaction between him and DS Lively that’s the most fun to write.
- Who are your favourite detectives / protagonists in crime fiction?
Without a doubt, the combination of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ It’s such a dynamic, risky and unlikely pairing, and Larsson sets the stakes so high, that the whole book carries the reader at a pace I haven’t experienced in many other books. I love the strength of the the female figure, and the fact that she never waits around to be saved by anyone.
- How did the titles come about? Was it always the intention to call them all “Perfect ***” or was that something that followed on from Perfect Remains?
The title Perfect Remains was my own. The publishers liked it so much they decided to use it as a way of branding the series. In an increasingly competitive crime fiction marketplace, it helps if your books are memorable and immediately recognisable. It also allowed the designers to let their imaginations loose when it came to the covers, all of which have been wonderful. Can’t wait to reveal the cover art for Perfect Silence!
- If the BBC came to you tomorrow and said they wanted to turn your series into a prime time drama, and you had full say on the matter, who would you cast as Ava and Luc?
I have two actresses in mind for Ava. The first is the brilliant Karen Gillan (Dr Who & Guardians of the Galaxy) who would bring the cheekiness and humour to the role. Ava Green (Casino Royale & Penny Dreadful) offers that straight talking, confident sexiness that I also think Ava has. The dramatisation rights to the series were optioned before the first book in the series was published, and that raised the interesting question of how you would cast Luc. For me, he needs to be a genuinely French actor (nothing worse than a fake French accent). Grab an internet browser and see what you think of these two options…Gilles Marini or Nicolas Cazalé. Enjoy!
- How does creating and spending time in the heads of incredibly gruesome or calculating killers affect you, and what do you do to step away from them when you’ve finished writing for the day?
I don’t really get affected by what I write. For me, the acting of writing gets the images out of my head and that’s cathartic. I often finding myself crying when I’m writing very sad sections, but I’m genuinely invested in the protagonists winning the day, so I feel that I can do something about the nastier elements of what I write. My background is criminal law and I was involved in cases that had some very unpleasant elements. I think that when you’ve dealt with aspect of crime and criminals in the real world, writing fiction seems less terrible. I’ve met some of the real monsters and I was glad to leave them behind when I left the Bar.
- If someone told you they wanted the perfect weekend soaking up Edinburgh’s atmosphere, which sights / areas would you tell them to visit?
Well, it’s inevitable that you start at Edinburgh Castle, which has the benefit of giving you perfect views of the city. Walk down The Royal Mile but ignore the tourist shops. Do stop in at the Inn on the Mile and try a Clover Club Cocktail with egg white. (Best make that your last stop of the day, as the chances are you’ll want to try out all the other cocktails after that). If you’ve packed your hiking shoes, take a walk up to Arthur’s Seat, the peak that overlooks the city. The Royal Botanic Garden is not to be missed, and the National Museum of Scotland is somewhere I could happily be left alone for days. And walk the bridges looking at the architecture. They are beautiful marvels, too often taken for granted. Have fun and don’t forget to spit on the Heart of Midlothian (yes, it’s an actual thing!)
I was lucky enough to meet Helen when I went to her launch of Perfect Death at Waterstones in Southampton a couple of weeks ago. It was a brilliant evening, and Helen is utterly lovely. I’m so delighted to be able to take part in the blog tour for this amazing book, and I’m already counting down to Perfect Silence‘s publication in August.
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Helen!