As I’m starting from scratch with this website again, and my publishing journey began in late 2011, I thought I’d start a series about why I’ve written the books I have so far.
Taunting the Dead was the very first crime novel I published. It was self-published on 8 December 2011 after my agent sent it out to several traditional publishers, who turned it down.
At the time I was really disheartened as I’d had over twelve years of rejection. Taunting the Dead was the fifth book I’d written and the rejection hurt really bad.
Yet pressing the button on the Kindle Direct Publishing platform and self-publishing the book on Amazon changed my life in so many ways. I often call Taunting the Dead my door opener.
My first cover was made by a friend. I wanted to show an image of a rose left on top of a grave – but I was hardly likely to find an image of that anywhere that I could use! So I sourced out a ‘bleeding’ rose and asked her to create a background that looked similar to a stone, or a slab. I still love that cover, even though it is outdated, and I have a copy of it in print.
In 2012, as the book reached its 50,000th copy sold across three months, I decided to part company with my agent and go it alone for a while. I then self-published three books in The Estate Series (two of which had been turned down by publishers for being too cross-genre – they were a mixture of women’s fiction and crime) and sold over 200,000 copies in total that first year. It was an incredible experience after so many years of knocking on doors and not being allowed in.
In December 2012, I signed with my third agent and in the spring of 2013, I got my first publishing deal with Thomas and Mercer, the crime imprint of Amazon Publishing. I was the first author in the UK to be signed by Thomas and Mercer. They republished Taunting the Dead, as well as a standalone psychological thriller, Watching Over You.
When it came to the next book deal, Thomas and Mercer asked for two more Allie Shenton books and the trilogy was born.
But Taunting the Dead was never meant to be more than a standalone. I never thought of myself as a police procedural writer. I write about families in crisis – affairs, deception, disputing neighbours, arguing couples and their children, ordinary people.
It’s the reason why Taunting the Dead became part police procedural/part psychological thriller. I explored why the suspects did what they did as well as work with the police to solve the crime and show things from the victims’ families point of view.
DS Allie Shenton was never meant to be a police detective either. She was originally going to be a family liaison officer. I’d been reading about transference, where FLO’s had got close to victims and fallen in love with them. I wanted to explore how close was too close.
But the more I wrote of the book, the more I wanted scenes outside the family home too. So Allie became a detective sergeant – a role that is hands-on and with more responsibility than a detective constable.
More recently, as I’m always asked if there will be any more Allie books, I’ve added her in to my latest series, featuring DS Grace Allendale. In that series, she becomes the detective inspector and works alongside Grace. I thoroughly enjoyed getting my leading ladies together to solve crimes.
I don’t think I could write anything like Taunting the Dead now but I did learn a lot about characterisation. For instance, I wanted one of the characters, 16-year-old Kirstie Ryder, to come across like a spoiled brat. She came from a family who were rich through her father being a face in organised crime. So I made her swear – a lot. I thought it would show how she had no respect for her parents but it altered the tone of the book. There was also a fair bit of sex in it. Now I’ve written more books, I’ve toned sex and swearing down to the minimum – even though I swear like a trouper at home!
Would I change Taunting the Dead now? I’m not too sure. I think as a writer, I improve with each book I write, and I’d rather move forwards than go backwards. But it did set me up as a gritty crime writer. And that turned out to be quite a good thing…
Have you read Taunting the Dead? If so, did you read it years ago, or recently? I'd love to hear from you.