Sheila Quigley is an author from the North East of England.
She has previously had 3 crime fiction novels published
Run for Home, Bad Moon Rising and Living on a Prayer, all
featuring feisty D.I. Lorraine Hunt.
In the new novel Every Breath you Take, D.I. Lorraine Hunt
faced her toughest case yet as her resources are tested
to the limit by a killer with no conscience, no remorse,
just a pitiless hatred for the girls who inspire desire
Every Breath you Take, published by Random House, is out
Helena: Firstly, Sheila, thank you for agreeing to answer
these questions exclusively for Spinetingler Magazine. I
realise how busy you must be and really appreciate you taking
the time. Secondly, thank you for writing a terrific novel
I could barely put down once I’d begun. I think 'Every
Breath you Take' is going to be your best seller so far!
Tell me a little about your background, I believe you started
writing stories when you were very young.
Sheila: I started reading when I was 7, I probably started
writing stuff down when I was about 11 years old and it
just rolled on from there. I started sending stuff I'd written
out and stuff was coming back, I'd send it out, it would
Helena: But that didn't put you off?
Sheila: No, it didn't put me off but I am as stubborn as
a mule. I just knew, you know, that it was something I had
to keep on doing. There's two novels in the bottom drawer,
one's a horror and one you would call a general novel, that
I know now aren't fit to be published, they would have to
be totally rewritten but you learn as you go along, I thought,
right, this isn't working, I'll write a screen play. So
I wrote a screen play about cigarette smuggling in the North-East
and I sent it to my Agent and he 'phoned me straight up
and said this is brilliant but it's hard to sell a screen
play by an unknown. Would you write a book, set in the North-East
about gangsters? So, honestly, to get that response I went
upstairs and I was crying and laughing and crying and laughing
and I started 'Run for Home' and they went for it straight
Helena: From beginning to end, tell me about your writing
process, how long it takes, do you have a routine that you
keep to, are you the type who is frightened of tempting
fate by doing it differently?
Sheila: No, nothing like that.
Helena: Do you write it out long hand are put it on the
Sheila: Oh straight on the computer. I don't start until
2.00 p.m, I am not a morning person! I get what I have to
get done in the house or outside in the morning, then I
start about 2.00 p.m. and I am there until about 11.00 at
night, apart from the odd breaks here and there.
Helena: Do you set yourself a set amount to do each day,
like so many chapters a day?
Sheila: No, just what comes. I'll probably write an average
of about 5 pages a day then after a few days or so, I'll
go back and re-write and then the 25 or so pages that I
have done will become 33 pages right? Then I'll roll on
Helena: But you can't just write - you must have the idea
Sheila: I have a rough idea but by god, it can change day
to day, sometimes I will have the villain in mind then suddenly
think, no no no, that will be a better villain, that's the
bad guy now! It changes as it goes, even though the basic
outline of the plot is there, it changes as it goes.
Helena: Do you think that your books give a realistic view
of crime in the North -East, or particularly Sunderland,
and if so, do you think that this could potentially put
people off visiting the area, due to the quite gruesome
contents of the books?
Sheila: Well no I don't actually because the Seahills Estate
could be set anywhere. Anywhere around the world. People
are basically the same everywhere, we all want the same,
we all fear the same.
Helena: All your books are a series featuring Lorraine Hunt
and her team of Detectives based at Houghton-le-Spring C.I.D.
Did you base Lorraine Hunt on any one you know?
Sheila: No, she just came to me.
Helena: Oh, right, She just happened to be tall, blonde
and glamorous then?!
Sheila: Yes, she is tall, blonde and glamorous.
Helena: Are any characters based on family or friends?
Sheila: Not one of them. I think, if I'm honest, you look
around at people and see these little characteristics from
about 5 or 6 people and that can create one person, one
character, and I think that's the way the process works.
Helena: So even if you're out and about or listening to
Sheila: Yes, you do it unconsciously though, you don't even
know that your doing it because when I sit down, the character
comes on to the page fully clothed, with the background
etc., it all goes with it.
Helena: I asked you about this at your recent book launch,
because here in the North East of England, the people, as
a whole, are gritty, are true to their roots and have to
be strong, or else they would be trampled on..... is that
what you wanted to convey in the character of Lorraine Hunt,
a strong, typically Northern woman?
Sheila: Yes but also, though, the genuine warmth of the
North East people but even on these sink Estates anywhere
in the world, you have your good guys, you definitely have.
Helena: Lorraine Hunt isn't as hard faced as she tries to
Sheila: Of course, she has a soft spot inside but I genuinely
believe there are good and bad people in every walk of life,
whatever Estate you live on, you could live on a big posh
Estate and there will be some nasty pasties there, without
a doubt, you live on what people call Sink Estates and some
of the people are the most wonderful people in the world,
the salt of the earth.
Helena: Your books manage to be a gritty and realistic depiction
of difficult working class lives interrupted by moments
of 'grand guignol'. How important is the horror in your
books? How do you achieve a balance between the everyday
and the unthinkable?
Sheila: What can be horror to one person, might not necessarily
be horror to another person. Some people can pick themselves
up, dust themselves down and get on with it and some people
just crash and that's a true fact.
Helena: Do you ever have to rein yourself in? Have you ever
come up with an idea for a book that the publishers have
said no, you've gone too far, this is too much.
Sheila: No. Not yet!
Helena: All of the books are based on song titles, the first
one 'Run For Home', by Lindisfarne, 'Bad Moon Rising' by
Creedance Cleerwater Revival, 'Living on a Prayer' Bon Jovi
and your latest book, of course, 'Every Breath you Take'
by The Police. Why? Were they favourites of yours?
Sheila: They are favourite songs of mine, you can tell what
kind of music I like but they also fit in with the content
of the books. I think a good book title sells the books
as well, though, don't you?
Helena: Oh yes, mind you, I never had you down as a big
Bon Jovi fan, Sheila!
Sheila: Ooh, yes (starts singing Living on a Prayer!)
Helena: Everyone knows the songs as well, and really, 'Every
Breath you Take' has really sinister lyrics, so it fits
in perfectly with the book. I was wrong actually, in assuming
all of your books would have song titles from bands or an
artist from the North-East of England, like Lindisfarne's
Run For Home'.
Helena: Well Sting is from the North East too!
Helena: This is your fourth novel. Does the thrill of seeing
your books on shelves endure?
Sheila: Without a doubt, it's absolutely fantastic. You
know, on my last trip back from London, someone was reading
Every Breath you Take on the train and I was so tempted
to go over to them and ask them if they wanted me to sign
it, but I was frightened they would think I was just a total
nutter masquerading as an author!
Helena: Have you any plans to do a stand alone novel?
Sheila: Not at the moment, I'm quite happy with the series
that I have and I'm thrilled with the feedback from the
readers, but you can never say never.
Helena: What do you think are the biggest obstacles facing
aspiring authors today? Do you think there's too much competition?
Sheila: Oh there's a large market out there with some fabulous
books, the biggest problem is getting noticed, standing
out above the crowd, there's so many people write who just
haven't been published yet and you have to keep trying,
keep knocking on doors, never ever give up. Just because
an author hasn't been published yet, doesn't make their
books any better or any worse than ones who are, you know?
They just haven't been discovered yet. You have to persevere
and keep on and on and never give up. You wouldn't believe
some of the things that have happened in my life. I've been
down, I've been up. Years ago, I went to the bingo with £3.00
and won £1,000.00. Four times that's happened to me.
Helena: Bloody hell, Sheila, can I come with you next time
you go play Bingo!
Sheila: I've had luck, huge luck but I've also had huge,
really huge problems that most people wouldn't bounce back
from. I had a heart attack. I woke up in the hospital bed
and thought "f**k this" and I got out of bed,
honest to God, the Nurse said "where do you think your
going?" and I said "I'm not lying in bed".
It had been a mild heart attack but I wasn't going to be
beat. Then I was diagnosed as a diabetic about twenty years
ago. According to my Doctor, I'm the worse behaved diabetic
they have got but also the healthiest! Finding out I was
adopted at eight years of age was horrendous, a huge shock.
For two years I went crazy, like smash things up, rebelling.
Helena: Did you trace your real parents?
Sheila: I waited until mum and dad were dead before I did
it but yes, I did, my real mother was already dead by then
which is just as well or I'd have punched her in the face.
I was still angry. I found out then that she had had one
child which she kept, had me, who was adopted but then went
on to have two more children. That was such a blow. Why?
I could've understood if she'd been a kid herself trapped
with a kid and adopted me that way, but the way it was?
No. I met my real sisters briefly but the bond wasn't there,
I truly believe the bond is formed at birth and they just
weren't a close family, if they had been, maybe things could
have been different but they weren't, they have never seen
Helena: So you're a fighter, Sheila. You've got fighting
Sheila: Oh without a shadow of a doubt, I'm a fighter. I've
had to be, with four kids. One New Year's Day, years ago,
it was night time, I didn't have any money at all. not a
fucking penny. I had to go begging for money to my mother-in-law
who I hated, and that's what it came down to, having to
beg to borrow some money to feed the kids. My mother and
father had only been dead for a couple of years, where I'd
lived, I know they would have scraped together to help me,
a friend came in once before that, another time when I was
struggling, and I was sitting at the table with the babies
without a f**king penny to my name. Within ten minutes of
her finding out, she was back in my house with a loaf of
bread, some beans, butter, you know the basics, she had
gone around the street getting donations. But the night
I had to go and beg off the mother-in-law, I walked around
the corner and found some money in the street, it was a
horrible night, pouring with rain, cold, you know, it was
New Year's Day Night, no one was about, I was in the street
near the pub, and the money must have been lying there all
of New Year's Eve, and it was £35. A fortune for that
time. I bent down and couldn't believe my eyes! This is
the god's honest truth, a few years before that, I was working
in a factory and trying to get spare money together for
a drink at the Christmas party. I had enough for one drink.
I was at the bar, I was wearing a coat with a belt which
always fell out of the loops and would fall onto the floor.
That happened, and I bent down to pick the belt up and found
two £20.00 notes! That was like two week's wages.
I thought I can't say in front of all these people at the
bar 'Whose is this' because 40 bloody people would claim
it was theirs!
Time and time again, I have been dead lucky like that and
that little bit of luck could keep me and the kids going
Helena: It shows in the way you write and in your books,
gritty, realistic, real.
Sheila: Like I say, Helena, I've been down, up, you have
to keep on going or you sink, it's as simple as that. I've
never given up on anything.
Helena: Well I've enjoyed our chat, Sheila. I'll end with
asking you what’s next for Sheila Quigley?
Sheila: The book I am currently writing goes back into the
past and fills in the missing gaps, so to speak. The next
book goes back in time to when Lorraine was a teenager and
Jack explains what really happened with the motorbike crash,
I've actually done that motorbike crash, it's three bikes
that crash into a jeep, and I have re-wrote it 5 times and
I am thrilled with those pages, I think they're brilliant,
even though I say so myself, because I really wanted it
to be spot on. So it's told in flashback and fills in the
gaps, before going to real time and explains how it relates
to the modern day story.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Helena Stawicki owns a typing and transcription business,http://www.virtual-secretarialservices.com,
in Sunderland, North East of England.
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