Interview with Mel Sherratt

MS-8

What everyday situation drives you mad?
People putting other people down, or looking down their noses at others. I am a firm believer that everyone should be treated equal, especially when it comes down to what they do for a living. Everyone getting paid to do something is important, from the street cleaner to the bank manager, to the care assistant to the head of the ward, that type of thing. There’s no excuse for snobbery and bad manners.  

Your favourite music and the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
My favourite music is bizarre. It ranges from anything current in the charts to R&B soul, really old Motown and The Jam. The best live concerts I’ve been to are to see Take That!

Colours you’d never wear?
Ooh, that’s a toughie, especially as yellow was in fashion last year and I wore a yellow dress to Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England! I like to be as trendy as I can. I honestly can’t think of one.

Name three contents currently in your fridge!
A cheap bottle of Bucks Fizz left over from Christmas, yogurts and veg. It’s never usually full of the latter two – I’m just trying to get rid of my writer’s bum.

Three books that you read that made you want to become an author?
Two Women, Martina Cole. This is the book that started me off with my love of crime and gritty characters and situations.
Broken, Daniel Clay. A book that has stayed with me for years and one I won’t read again in case it breaks that magic! Wonderful dark characters and a compelling storyline.
Stephen King, On Writing. Speaks for itself this one, trying to learn from the best.

It’s movie night – which films do you choose to watch with your friends?
That would have to be a girlie film – I’m a sucker for a bit of love and happy ever after. Seriously, I can’t abide scary films as they put me on edge so much, I don’t find them exciting to watch. I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack. Nor can I see much from behind a cushion…

Your idea of a perfect holiday?
A beach holiday with many good books to read and ALL of the S’s…

Favourite literary or movie villain?
Heath Ledger playing the Joker in Batman.

Your favourite Hitchcock movie?
Erm, sorry but I’m not a fan!

Follow the Leader deals with old grudges and how people sometimes hold on to them. Are you someone who can easily forget about when someone behaved badly towards you or will you remember those things for a long time?
Ooh, that’s an interesting question! I think I’m easily hurt by other people but keep it to myself so maybe it gets to me more in the long run. Being a writer, you have to develop a thick skin or else cry into your pillow where no one can see you. Having said that, I do think it’s really harmful to hold grudges and let incidences grind you down but sometimes I don’t see how they can’t. Maybe it just depends on each individual.

You are giving pretty much away early on who the murderer is in Follow the Leader, whereas in most crime novels the readers have to guess. What made you want to let the reader know early on who did it?
As readers are already picking up on, the main theme of Follow the Leader is bullying, and about how things that happen, or that we cause, early in our lives may affect our futures. I’m a huge fan of the American television series Criminal Minds, so I tried to take the reader into a killer’s mind alongside the police investigation as they worked out who he was. More to the point, I wanted readers to understand why he was killing, rather than it just be a straightforward serial killer captured by the police story.  

To a certain extent the killer’s actions are quite understandable for most people. As a reader you can’t stop yourself from wishing life had taken a different turn for him. Did you want your killer to be someone who could not just easily be damned but that the reader would also feel sympathy for him?
Yes… and no. I sketched Follow the Leader out and wrote it as six separate murders and then went back in to complete the rest. By this time, I ‘knew’ Patrick and why he was doing what he did. So then I decided to add a flashback to a bullying episode, plus a scene where we get to know the victim just before he kills them too – to see whether they were still nasty people or if indeed, like most people I suspect did, grew up as they left school peer pressure behind. There was a big part of me that wanted you to feel sympathy for him because his life had been hard, but ultimately I wanted you to be shocked because he thought two rights would make a wrong.  

I couldn’t stop feeling that the real bad guy got away at the end of your book, as he played a big part in the fucked up life of the killer. Do you think life sometimes has a way to punish the wrong people?
I do. Look at how many victims never recover from crimes. Often the people who have harmed them get away, or don’t get caught. Worse than that, people are too afraid to speak out for fear of what might happen then.  

Follow The Leader is a great deal about what absolute arseholes children and teenagers can be. Do you think people can definitely change and that everyone deserves a second chance? Do you remember an outsider like Patrick going to school with you? Or did you sometimes feel like an outsider back in your school days?
I do think people can change and yes, I believe everyone deserves a second chance. I am a hypocrite sometimes though, for instance, if a crime deserves a worse punishment that it is given, I do rage a little. Justice is often not done.  
I felt like an outsider at my high school. I was the new kid. I moved schools in the last two months of the first year. By that time, everyone’s friendships had practically been cemented. I did make friends but I always felt as if I didn’t fit in. I also lived a few miles away from my school and had a separate group of friends at home during the evenings, so I never interacted with people as much as I needed to, I think.

Follow the Leader contains a lot of child abuse. After all the scandals in recent history that have been unearthed do you think these terrible things still happen more often than people might guess, probably right under their noses in their neighbourhood?
I never meant the story to focus on that but, yes, you’re right. As Patrick revealed himself to me as a character, it was his memories of his life that made me realise that he had been a victim of abuse from a young age. Sadly, I do think there are things like these that I have written about going on all the time. Look at how many people have been freed after being held captive for years in basements, for instance – it beggars belief.

You are a keen observer of everyday life and the relationships of women and men, the little wars between couples and the way they make each other miserable sometimes. Also, the characters are really coming to life on the pages and you feel like you’ve seen or met them before. Do you sometimes use people you know as role models for your characters?
Never. The characters just come to me. I start with their stories and then as they develop, their relationships with other characters do too. And then I twist.

Everyone who has been following your career knows you have been trying to get a traditional book deal for a long time. Now that you have reached that goal and your dreams came true what has changed for you? Are there things that were better when you were still the independent self-publishing gal? What has turned out for the better?
I think it’s actually all turned out better. Because of my success self-publishing, I was approached by several agents after parting company with my previous one, and was able to work with a fantastic lady, Madeleine Milburn, who really gets my work and treats me as an equal. Through her, I’ve been offered two two-book deals and I feel my writing is going from strength to strength, if that doesn’t sound conceited, because she allows me to be who I am. She is so encouraging.

Looking back what do you think are the biggest mistakes you made in your self-pub days that you’d want to prevent others from doing?
I learned that there is a massive difference between copy edits and structural edits. After working with a publisher, I’ve learned so much that I am grateful for that opportunity alone. The editor I worked with has nurtured me – she adds the glitter to my words.

Do you want to keep writing your beloved ‘grit lit’ or could you imagine going different paths and try other genres?
I think I’m going to stick with my beloved ‘grit-lit!’ As I touched on earlier when I mention that Madeleine ‘got’ me and my writing, I did fight against being gritty, and sweary, and sexy at first, but I just find the stories that I can make up are what I enjoy. Hopefully that comes across to my readers!

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