2 Nov 2017

Blog Tour / Author Interview - Fair of Face by Christina James

A double murder is discovered in Spalding some days after it takes place.

The victims are Tina Brackenbury, the foster mother of Grace Winter, a ten-year-old who escapes the killer because she is staying her friend Chloe Hebblewhite's house at the time, and Tina's infant daughter. Enquiries by the police and social services reveal that some four years previously Grace was the sole survivor of the horrific massacre of her mother, grandparents and sister at Brocklesby Farm in North Lincolnshire, a crime for which her uncle Tristram Arkwright is currently serving a whole-life tariff.

Why did Amy Winter, Grace's adoptive mother, send her to live with a foster parent? Is it a coincidence that both of Grace's families have now been brutally killed? And is it possible that Grace's uncle, a notorious con-man, has found a way to contact her from his maximum security cell?

DI Yates and his team face a series of apparently impenetrable conundrums.


If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?
I’m not clear about how collaborative authoring works. Writing has always seemed to me to be a very solitary activity. But I’d love to be able to share my MSs with another writer sympathetic to my work who could offer advice on how to improve it. Ours would be a reciprocal arrangement: I’d want to help them, too. If it was another crime writer, I’d probably choose Donna Leon: I much admire her work, and would value her advice, and although I wouldn’t be able to translate her novels, I might be able to suggest a few alternatives to some of the phrases her translators use. If it could be anyone at all, I’d opt for Sebastian Faulks – who, although he isn’t generally thought of as a crime writer, as the creator of Enderby has written one of the finest crime novels I’ve ever read. But I’m not sure how he’d react to me!

What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?
I mostly write in my office, because my day job is based at home, so that’s where I usually am. However, I travel frequently, and I like writing on trains and planes. I often visit London, and when I’m there I sometimes visit the British Library to write between meetings. I also always choose somewhere quiet for my main annual holiday, so that I can spend my mornings writing – often devoting this time to working on the outline of a new novel. I’ve just returned from two weeks in the Dordogne, where I wrote for several hours each day. I try to write every day wherever I am – at least 1000 words. But often the day job, or some other aspect of daily life, intrudes and I don’t manage it!
What is the hardest part of the writing for you?
Sticking to a daily routine, as I’ve just said.

When and why did you first start writing?
Like many authors, I’ve more or less been writing for ever. I started with a children’s book while I was still at primary school. When I was in my twenties I wrote a very literary novel, which was sent to Liz Calder, who was then and is still a famous editor (Jonathan Cape and Bloomsbury). She told me I could write but that I needed more plot. I persevered with the literary fiction for a while – I’ve written three novels which will never see print – but I took her point. I thought that focusing on crime fiction would help me to develop my plot-building skills. That’s when I started writing the DI Yates series.

How did you come up with the idea for your book?
Each of the Yates novels is a psychological thriller (I don’t do blood and guts) and each one is, I hope, quite different from the others. The plot and main character of Fair of Face was one that I’d been thinking about for some time. I’m not going to say too much about it, as this will almost certainly result in a ‘spoiler’. It’s about a very sensitive subject. Like all the Yates novels, it’s partly set in Spalding, in South Lincolnshire. One extraordinary thing about it is that after I’d started writing, a crime very similar to the one in the novel actually happened there. This is the second time that a major ‘real life’ event has mirrored something I’ve already written about. I’m not superstitious, but it is spooky!

Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?
I’m a huge reader! The Booksellers Association’s definition of a ‘heavy book buyer’ is someone who buys 12 books a year; I’ve reached my quota well before the end of January each year. I read history, biography, current affairs and popular science as well as fiction, and I usually have several books on the go. At present I’m reading A Social History of England 900 – 1200, edited by Julia Crick and Elisabeth Van Houts, and Incarnations: A History of India in 50 Lives, by Sunil Khilnani (the latter to prepare myself for an upcoming visit to India). Fiction-wise, I’ve just finished reading The Squeeze, by Lesley Glaister, and I’m about to start 4321, by Paul Auster.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
Revise, revise, revise is my mantra: but by this I don’t mean embroider your work. The trick is to pare it down, so that the prose is as elegant, timeless and spare as you can make it. Much easier said than done!