TODAY’S GUEST AUTHOR – SHERRYL CLARK
Sherryl Clark’s first venture into crime writing, Trust Me I’m Dead was shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writers Association UK Debut Dagger Award for a new writer, and after reading it, I’m not surprised. It’s a cracking read full of clever characters and plot twists that keep you guessing till the end.
Sherryl’s here to chat about the book and share some writing tips.
Sherryl Clark has been reading and writing crime fiction for many years. Her early crime novels are now all in the bottom drawer, and in 1996 she began writing books for children and young adults, resulting in more than 70 titles published by Penguin Random House, UQP, HarperCollins, Pearson and Macmillan Education. Her books for young readers have won awards and been published overseas. Her middle grade crime novel, Dying to Tell Me, was published in the USA by KaneMiller and was a VOYA Top Shelf pick.
She continued to write adult crime fiction for her own enjoyment, and entered her novel, Trust Me, Im Dead in the 2018 CWA Debut Dagger Awards. She was delighted to be shortlisted. This has led to a two-book deal with UK publisher, Verve Books. The sequel to Trust Me, Im Dead is tentatively titled Dead and Gone, and will be out in 2020.
HOW SHERRYL WROTE TRUST ME I’M DEAD
TIP 1 – WHERE INSPIRATION COMES FROM
What was the inspiration behind your new book?
A long time ago I read an article that had a little snippet in it about a man who had died and left behind a tape recording that was a huge surprise to his family. It was the little spark that kept nagging at me as an idea, and the novel grew from there (into something a bit different). I know I kept that article, and one day I’ll find it! As is the way with these things, I suspect it won’t be what I remember, but it did get me going. The character of Judi just grew and grew, but I can see bits of her in old short stories I have written.
TIP 2 – KEEP GOING
You’re best known for your children’s and YA books, what made you decide to write a murder mystery?
I have always loved reading crime fiction and that goes back to my teenage years. I’ve actually been writing crime for much longer than the children’s books. My first attempt at a novel was crime, and so was my second. The first was truly terrible; the second was a bit better but I received a lot of rejections for it. However, the character in the second one reappeared in a couple of short stories that were published. That’s the kind of thing that keeps you going. My middle grade murder mystery, “Dying to Tell Me”, was the result of wanting to write another crime novel but for a younger audience. I wrote the first draft of “Trust Me, I’m Dead” back in 2008-09, and revised quite a few times, and even started a sequel in 2014. And now here I am!
TIP 3 – PLOTTING
Did you plot, Trust Me I’m Dead in the same way you’d plot one of your children’s or YA novels? If not, what was different about the process?
I’m not a great outliner, I’m afraid. If I do anything, I diagram the plot and subplots. But with this novel, it grew from something fairly basic and probably way too short, and each revision added more words and layers, so it was more organic. In my children’s novels I can throw too many threads in, and then have to weed some of them out. With the adult novel, as long as I kept notes on the threads (my “bible”) and drew a good timeline, I could keep better control of all the ins and outs, and how well I was hiding the solution. I find the red herrings most often come from characters making mistakes, or making assumptions, like we all do, rather than anything tricky I can come up with! The follow up novel (called “Dead and Gone” at the moment) needed a lot more notes and diagrams, I found. With each book, I also now have to keep track of what has happened before. It can be so easy to accidentally change someone’s name, or something in the setting or description.
TIP 4 – THE IMPORTANCE OF FEEDBACK
How long did Trust Me I’m Dead take to write from initial idea to publication?
Eleven years! Although in that time I have written quite a few children’s and YA novels, so it hasn’t been a constant eleven years. Over that time I’ve had several lots of feedback from people, including one I paid for which was quite disheartening, but each lot of comments did contribute to another solid revision. The editors at Verve have been great, too, and with their feedback I trimmed about 5000 words which really helped to tighten the pacing.
TIP 5 – CHARACTER GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
What have you enjoyed most about writing this book?
Writing the character of Judi, and seeing her develop and grow. And now the book is out there, I’ve just loved readers’ responses to her. I hoped they would like her and feel for her, despite her tough exterior, and it seems that they do. She’ll never be mushy, that’s for sure. I’ve just received feedback from a writer friend to the follow up novel, and am really pleased with her comments on Judi – now I’m thinking about my ideas for Book 3 and making notes.
TIP 6 – FOR WOULD-BE CRIME WRITERS
What are your top 2 tips for would-be crime writers?
One is research. Invest in good resources and spend plenty of time to get the details right. I have half a dozen really good books now (some recommended by other crime writers), and there is so much on YouTube that’s helpful. But I’ve also now done a certificate course in crime scene investigation and forensic medicine, which filled everything out and was so valuable to me. The other would be spend as much time on your characters as you do on your plot. Plot can be strengthened and holes can be fixed, but a strong central character and supporting cast make a huge difference to whether you’ll be asked for more novels after the first one.
Judi Westerholme hasn’t seen her addict brother for four years and now he’s been murdered. Judie is devastated, but not surprised. She knew that Andy mixed with some pretty seedy people.
What shocks her are the discoveries that her brother had been clean for years and now has a two-year-old daughter. After a traumatic upbringing, Judi’s never had the urge to be a mum. In fact, having been raised by an abusive father and complicit mother, she doesn’t like to get close to anyone.
She’s even more shocked to discover that Andy’s wife is missing and that her brother appointed Judi, the older sister he was once close to, as guardian for two year-old …
Judi wants to know who’s responsible for her brother’s death, but she doesn’t expect that returning to Melbourne where he lived is going to land her in the middle of a gangland war. Andy has left her a bizarre set of clues to follow and if she doesn’t solve the puzzle fast, Judi and … could end up dead.
Trust Me I’m Deadis a full of suspense and action. But it’s not just the physical conflicts that draw you in. Judi, the main character is facing an emotional crisis as well. She feels she owes it to Andy to find his killer and ensure his child’s safety, but this forces her to delve into a past she’d rather forget. Then there’s the enigmatic policeman … who threatens to break down emotional walls that she has worked hard to build up over time.
Sherryl Clark sets up a world that’s very relatable. She uses insightful detail to ground us in the world of her characters and their story. The nuanced characters, clever plot, masterful suspense and hint of romance make Trust Me I’m Deada book that I found hard to put down.
WHERE TO BUY THE BOOK
Trust Me I’m Dead is published by Verve Books UK and the e-book is available on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo and Nook. Print copies can be purchased from the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville or direct from the author sherrylc1 at optusnet.com.au. Her websites are https://sherrylclarkcrimewriter.com and https://sherrylclark.com