Paul Kane’s latest novel Her Husband’s Grave was recently released and as part of his Blog Tour this week he has kindly agreed to answer some questions for Lotte’s Library. Thanks Paul!
As someone that is new to your work I wondered what you’d want new readers to know about you?
Well, I’ve been writing for some time under the name Paul Kane, but am a relative newcomer to the crime scene. Before these books I was probably best known for my post-apocalyptic novels reworking the Robin Hood mythos, gathered together in the omnibus Hooded Man. Having said that, the very first novel I ever wrote with an aim to seriously having it published was The Gemini Factor, which is a procedural with a supernatural element; that’s due to come out this year as an anniversary edition through Gestalt Media. In terms of the PL Kane books, they’re domestic noirs with an investigative strand to them, though this is via individuals rather than the police. We’re in the POV of ordinary people trying to get to the bottom of some quite unsettling crimes. I’ve always been a big fan of digging into the emotional core of characters and situations, so hopefully in these books I’m presenting ‘real’ individuals who suddenly find themselves in predicaments that force them into action. In Her Last Secret, for instance, it’s an estranged father trying to find out the truth about his daughter’s death. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, obviously, and I think it’s relatively easy to put yourself in Jake’s shoes when he finds out what’s happened. Then when nobody seems to be getting to the bottom of things, he takes it upon himself to investigate – largely because he’s trying to make up for how things worked out between him and Jordan. I’ve always tried to write believable characters, even if I’ve been telling quite an outlandish tale, because if we don’t care about those first and foremost, we also won’t care about what happens to them. Everyone’s made mistakes in their lives, nothing’s ever black and white, and characters like Jake reflect that. From some of the reactions I’ve had, it certainly seems like Jake, his wife Jules and co. come across as real. They’re definitely real to me, as I’m writing them. So, as a new reader I’m hoping you’ll be moved, but also entertained – and the stories keep you guessing.
How long did it take you to write Her Husband’s Grave and what was that process like?
I wrote Her Husband’s Grave last summer. If I remember rightly I started towards the end of June or beginning of July, then finished a draft the first week in September. I’m a big planner and do a lot of research, so although I’m quite a fast writer when I get into a novel there will have been months of prep ahead of that. I also work out a detailed synopsis and chapter breakdown ahead of sitting down to write, which gives me a fairly good guideline to follow. That doesn’t mean I stick slavishly to them, however, because there’s always scope to veer off and explore something that crops up while you’re writing, but I do feel like I’ve got a rough idea in my head where the book will be going. I also like to have an end point in mind, as that gives me something to work towards; I see it as like following a map towards a destination. You might discover short-cuts or have to take detours, but generally I’ll end up in the place where I wanted to be. I know some friends who just sit down and write without knowing where a book is going, they might even have detectives investigating a crime and not know who did it till the cops find out themselves. That would send me loopy, my mind just doesn’t work like that, and frankly I’m in awe of writers who can do it.
Did something inspire you to write Her Husband’s Grave or did it develop as you wrote?
I’ve always wanted to do a set of books where the locations are just as important as the characters, maybe even more so. In Her Last Secret it was the town of Redmarket, an amalgamation of various places where I grew up. With Her Husband’s Grave it was Golden Sands, a location very much inspired by family holidays when I was young. My better half Marie – O’Regan, who’s a superb writer and editor herself – and I had also been planning a convention for a couple of years at Scarborough, so we’d been visiting that section of the coast quite a bit and I soaked up a fair amount of the atmosphere from the area. I love places like Flamborough, Whitby, Hornsea – where our good friends Pete and Nicky Crowther of PS Publishing live – so this was my chance to weave all of that into a book. The series Broadchurch is a good example of what I was trying to do with the sense of place in Her Husband’s Grave. I’m also a big fan of Val McDermid’s books featuring the psychologist Tony Hill, famously played by Robson Green on TV, and also Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels. So I’ve always wanted to do something along those lines, though this is slightly different as my psychologist Dr Robyn Adams is quite damaged herself, coming off the back of a case that almost killed her – and is then almost immediately dragged into a family drama when her cousin Vicky’s husband is found murdered. Seeing how she dealt with that was one of the best writing experiences I’ve ever had.
What comes first for you – the plot or the characters? Does it differ depending on the book?
They both tend to come at the same time for me, one feeding into the other and vice versa. I love bringing characters back to places they used to know, because although that familiarity is there, things will have changed over time and that makes for a more ‘fish out of water’ type of situation. It’s just enough to put them on the backfoot when they’re already stressed about trying to work out who committed the crime. With Robyn, for instance, there’s a link of childhood memories of summers with Vicky which were actually better than her homelife with her mum. So that’s a perfect example of a character and place being created at the same time, so one can bounce off the other. It’s happened with all three of the HQ novels, including the one I’ve just written for them during lockdown.
Do you have a favourite character and/or moment in Her Husband’s Grave?
Oh, hands down my favourite character is Robyn! I love her to bits and hope I get to do more with her down the line, as there’s so much left to explore. She’s quite complex and although she might like to come across as a professional and on the ball she’s pretty messed up. Very messed up, actually, as we discover the more we follow her progress. Then there’s the way she ends up interacting with other characters, like Vicky and her small daughter Mia – Robyn is jealous of the family life she has, or rather had till Vicky’s husband was killed, while Vicky is envious of the career and perfect life Robyn seems to have from the outside – and also the ‘will they, won’t they?’ thing going on with younger cop DS Ashley Watts. Robyn is very much the central character in Her Husband’s Grave, just like Jake was in the previous one, even though we get chapters from other characters’ points of view. At the same time villains are always fun to write and this book was no exception; I won’t say any more because I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t read the novel yet, but you’ll see what I mean when you do. That sense of fun and playing with bad guys I think comes across massively in everything I write. I remember having a whale of a time writing De Falaise, who was my version of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Arrowhead. Well, you can imagine how much fun I could have with such an iconic villain, whilst as the same time giving him my own personal spin.
Did you find writing any parts of Her Husband’s Grave challenging? If so, why?
It’s always hard to write emotional scenes for me, as I get really into them and live in the moment – I can actually see those scenes playing out and I’m a bit of a softy at heart. Sometimes I write something quite horrific and I think to myself, ‘what are you doing, why are you putting these people through this?’ But of course the story demands it in the end, I’m not so much doing it to them as simply reporting it like I used to do in my early journalist days. That’s where I started out, working for newspapers and magazines, so I think that stood me in good stead for this kind of work. I also found it quite hard to write about the serial killer aspects, doing the research for all that because it was quite upsetting at times. To read about and watch – if it’s a documentary – the different methods that people have been murdered this way can leave you quite shaken. But if you want to bring a sense of authenticity to your writing, it has to be done. There’s just no getting around it.
Just as I think I have it all worked out you throw in a plot twist that makes me question all over again – and I never seem to see them coming until the last minute. Do you plan your twists before writing or do they come to you as you write? And how do you keep them so surprising?!
I do plan them, yes. It’s just the way I like to work, figuring it out in the planning and outlining stages first before even writing a word. I think it helps you get an idea of the book as a whole, the shape of it, and where you can best slot in a twist or few. The best ones happen organically, however, so even though you know you need one at a certain point, you have to let it unfold like you didn’t know it was going to happen yourself. You sort of kid yourself things are going to go along as normal, getting into the moment as I said before, then bam! you slip in a twist that you worked out all along and end up surprising even yourself at how you dropped it in. I’m also one of those people that if I’ve watched a film or read a book, likes to see someone else’s reaction to a twist when they come across it. I love seeing the surprise on their faces of ‘well, I didn’t see that coming’ just as much as I enjoy experiencing it myself when I get the rug pulled out from underneath me.
Do you have any writing quirks you’d be willing to share with us?
Not really quirks as such, but things like I have a certain way of working. Like if I’m doing a longer piece I’ll try and do 1-2,000 words before lunch, then maybe 1-2,000 before dinner. I get into a kind of routine, and I think again the journalism kicks in there because you’re treating it like a day-job. Because of course for me it is a day-job! I don’t like to let anyone read my work, apart from Marie if she’s not too busy, before handing it in. That’s just another routine I’ve got into over the years, just trying to develop a sense of whether you think yourself something is fit to send out there. I don’t really have any rituals or anything that I do when I’m writing or when I’ve finished, apart from maybe a celebratory drink when the work’s done!
What is your writing kryptonite?
It used to be noise, like being in a room with the TV on or someone playing music, but I’ve had to train myself out of that lately – not least because of being in the house with the family while lockdown’s been happening. It’s not fair to ask for complete silence in the house when all’s that’s going on, so if I’m writing now I just put headphones in and try and tune it all out, try and get into the zone with the writing that way. Other than that, I think it’s just that the story you want to tell never really lives up to your expectations, if you’re like me. It’ll always be better as an idea than when you try and execute it, because we’re all learning as writers all the time. The minute you think to yourself, ‘this is brilliant’ or ‘that’s perfect as it is’ I think you’re in danger of believing your own publicity. I always struggle with my writing, with my editing, trying to hone whatever it is I’m working on until I just have to let it go. There have only really been a handful of things I’ve written I’ve been totally satisfied with, but I see that as a good thing because it keeps you on your toes. Keeps you striving to do better and write the next thing that’ll hopefully come closer to living up to your expectations.
Can you tell us if there’ll be a third book that combines the characters from Her Last Secret and Her Husband’s Grave???
There’s definitely going to be a third HQ book, as it was a three-book deal, and I’ve just handed that in. I can’t really talk much about it, but there’ll be at least a couple of characters you’ll have seen before, though the tale is told mainly through a brand new one. All the books are designed to be read as standalones, so you don’t necessarily need to have read Her Last Secret to enjoy Her Husband’s Grave. But if you have, then a couple of things will make you smile knowingly when you get to them. What I can tell you is that Jake and lawyer Sam from Her Last Secret are back in a novelette I wrote at the start of lockdown called ‘Confessions’. That’s set after the events in both books, and at the time of writing we’re still discussing where exactly that’s going to see the light of day, so watch this space as they say. I can promise it’ll shake things up in their world, if nothing else, and would make a great jumping off point for further adventures. It also briefly introduces the main location of book 3, so is a bit of a teaser in that way.
P.L. KANE is the pseudonym of a #1 bestselling and award-winning author and editor, who has had over a hundred books published in the fields of SF, YA and Horror/Dark Fantasy. In terms of crime fiction, previous books include the novels Her Last Secret and Her Husband’s Grave, the collection Nailbiters and the anthology Exit Wounds, which contains stories by the likes of Lee Child, Dean Koontz, Val McDermid and Dennis Lehane. Kane has been a guest at many events and conventions, and has had work optioned and adapted for film and television (including by Lions Gate/NBC, for primetime US network TV). Several of Kane’s stories have been turned into short movies and Loose Canon Films/Hydra Films have just adapted ‘Men of the Cloth’ into a feature, Sacrifice (aka The Colour of Madness) which recently sold to Epic Pictures. Kane’s audio drama work for places such as Bafflegab and Spiteful Puppet/ITV features the acting talents of people like Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who/Shetland), Alice Lowe (Prevenge) and Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint). Visit www.plkane.com for more details.