Welcome to The Estate – where drama meets crime. Whereas The DS Allie Shenton Series are fast-paced and thrilling police procedurals, with a murder to solve in each book, The Estate Series are a little more relaxed – lots of colourful characters and gritty subject matter, covering many social issues.
This series is very much based on emotion; about people getting through most things with a little help from their friends. This time, there’s a tiny bit of laughter among the day-to-day nightmares of living with violence and misfortune. Life isn’t always a bed of roses…but most of the time we survive it, don’t we? I chose to base The Estate in the fictional place of Stockleigh this time. Why not in Stoke-on-Trent? Because I wanted to create a sense of place on the estate itself. And also, I believe the Mitchell Estate can be found a few miles from anywhere in any town or city.
This is how I think of The Mitchell Estate when I am writing:
It’s anywhere you’ll find dysfunctional families such as the Gallagher’s (Shameless). It’s anywhere the teachers try their best to educate the kids in schools similar to Waterloo Road. It’s where you’ll find Del Boy and Rodney in a high-rise block of flats living close to The Royle Family. It isn’t far from Happy Valley. At times it’s as sad as Eastenders: often it’s reminiscent of an episode from The Jeremy Kyle Show. There are houses similar to those shown on Life of Grime, characters similar to those from The Street and Accused, hoping to be controlled by Law and Order UK. At times it’s as miserable as Eastenders: others as humorous as Phoenix Nights.
In a nutshell, The Estate Series is laugh a minute, cry a minute, crime a minute. But it’s always where you will find a friend. Someone who’ll pick you up when you’ve been knocked down to your lowest.
Q&A with Mel
You started out writing contemporary women’s fiction. What prompted the shift into crime?
People sometimes assume it was my housing officer background but it wasn’t, as it’s usually a news bulletin or a newspaper article that starts off a chain of thought. TAUNTING THE DEAD was a personal challenge as I thought there was no way I could write a police procedural. It’s partly why I spend more time with the villains rather than the police – and some readers said I blended Martina Cole and Lynda La Plante’s writing styles. I’m not sure why my writing turned darker except that I like to explore dark subjects. And I love watching gritty TV dramas.
Have you brought any elements across the genre divide?
Yes, I think so. THE ESTATE SERIES has an element of laugh a minute, cry a minute, crime a minute as I explore emotions and fear. I lovingly call it grit-lit because it’s gritty realism through the eyes of some really strong women characters. The issues I choose have been covered in both genres too. I’ve also been told that a lot of people sympathise with my nasty characters, feeling for them when things go wrong which I’m extremely pleased about. I’m a firm believer that there is good and bad in everyone, depending on circumstances and just how far we can be pushed.
You don’t shy away from tough subjects – domestic violence, sexual abuse, girl gang fighting . Did you find it challenging to explore these issues?
My work as a housing officer and the women that I often worked with, plus my love of the underdog doing well, gave me the background for writing about an estate. I then read a lot of case studies that I’d either find on the internet or in the media. For instance if I want to try and understand self-harm or young teens in prison, often I can turn to Youtube or research on Google. That said, I haven’t worked directly with people as I think it would be too upsetting. Some people go through so much it pains me. And it must be hard to be a support worker. I have so much admiration for them.
THE ESTATE SERIES saw you move away from your hometown of Stoke-on-Trent. What provoked the change of location?
It was two-fold really. I wanted to create a character out of the estate itself – I wanted readers to think it could be just around the corner from where they live. There are good parts and bad parts in every city, I’m sure.
Though fictional, The Mitchell Estate is going to be familiar to many of your readers. Are you conscious of wanting to show them a recognisable world?
There are lots of victims that go unheard of, stories swept under the carpet, things hidden behind closed doors. I hope to cover issues that some people like to think don’t exist – or certainly not in their world. It also amazes me how many times I see news clip of someone saying ‘you don’t expect this kind of thing to happen on your own doorstep.’ Why? We’re all humans, striving to get along but sometimes, something makes certain individuals flip.