Auhtor Interview


by Helena Stawicki

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 within him.

Every Breath you Take, published by Random House, is out now.

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 come back.

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 away,

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 computer?

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 again.

Helena: But you can't just write - you must have the idea already?

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 people talking...

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 be?

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 me again.

Helena: So you're a fighter, Sheila. You've got fighting spirit.

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 for months.

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.


Helena Stawicki owns a typing and transcription business,, in Sunderland, North East of England.

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