In 2001 Ricki Thomas took a gamble and gave up her day job to follow her dream. She’s been writing full time since then in many formats and genres. Her breakthrough came in 2009 with her novel ‘Hope’s Vengeance’.
‘Unlikely Killer’ was published next in 2010 and was a runaway success, remaining top of the Kindle psychological thriller charts for over eight months, and in the top ten for twelve. It was the 29th bestselling book for Kindle in 2011.
‘Bloody Mary’ is Ricki’s latest release.
She met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about genre and crime.
Do you think genre holds an author back?
Yes, I do, very much. I find it very restrictive, especially now my name is associated with thrillers. I love writing in every format and genre, and am very keen to release some of the comedic writing I’ve done, especially the feature scripts, but I’m aware that dark and mysterious is perhaps what is expected from me! However, I’ll keep writing whatever I feel like at the time, in whichever genre, and hope that the work stands for itself, even if I have to write under a pseudonym.
Tell us about your latest novel.
My latest novel, I’m not sure whether to tell you about the latest published or the one awaiting publication, so I’ll tell you a little bit about both: Bloody Mary was released in November last year, and is a very dark thriller concentrating on the very different lives of a family re-united after thirty years. As is probably expected of my novels now, there are a few deaths along the way, culminating in a dramatic and unexpected ending. I know many readers prefer a happy ending, but when I’m writing the characters decide their journey, and what happened to them shocked me when it poured out onto my keyboard, but it felt right.
Bonfire Night is still with the publisher awaiting a decision, but I’m hoping it’ll be out in time for Christmas. In a copse on the outskirts of a small village the body of a young mother is found, shot. The police soon find that another woman, elderly Dot, whose life revolves around gossip and scandal, is missing. Links are soon made to a series of three murders from the early 1980’s, and both cases are investigated concurrently, leading to some dirty revelations from the past for one of the officers involved. Jeff is desperate to keep his family name untarnished, despite being dropped from the case due to the family link, but his boss is convinced that two members of the family committed the murders. When Jeff is injured his devoted wife takes up his work, and the tale she reveals tells a vastly different story to the conclusions the police have arrived at….
I’m currently writing Black Park, another dark thriller, and loving it!
What do you make of the E Book revolution?
It’s been a phenomenon, the past couple of years have changed millions of peoples’ reading habits! On a personal level I’m from the old school, I love the feel and smell of a paper or hardback, and I don’t own a Kindle (or similar), but I can understand the appeal to the many readers who use them. I saw yesterday that the latest statistics (from Amazon, I believe) show that over 50% of book sales are now electronic, so this reading revolution is obviously here to stay. The downfall for the authors is that the royalties shrink because of the lower prices, but to know that so many people are now reading more because of the convenience and cheaper price makes that worthwhile!
To what extent do you think the class system is still prevalent in the UK and reflected in its literature?
What an unusual question – I like that! I think that, despite efforts to equalise the ‘classes’ over the years, there is still a divide, but I would suggest it’s more of a financial divide as opposed to high, medium and low class. The current recession has had a detrimental effect on most people financially, but the good thing is that people are remembering (or learning) to cope on a budget and be more resourceful, both with time and money. My own experience has shown that there is an amount of snobbery within the writing business, yet that’s not a class issue, possibly more of a hangover from the days before the independent publishers began to appear – they’ve made publishing accessible to more writers. The face of publishing has changed beyond recognition since I began writing 14 years ago and, on the whole, I believe that’s a good thing. So, summing up, no, I don’t think class is so much of an issue any more, but willingness to accept all genres (amongst the traditional publishing houses) definitely is.
Who are your literary influences?
In all honesty I’m not really sure anybody has influenced my writing style, but the dark genre probably manifested in childhood. I loved reading as a child, especially Agatha Christie, which is probably where the love of mystery came from. As a young teen I read Steven King and James Herbert, then discovered Sidney Sheldon, and I adored the way his books were so fast-paced. Since then, although I do occasionally read novels (currently Black Shadows by Simon Swift, he has a wonderful writing style), I’m more into factual books, be it forensics, true crime, psychology, that kind of thing. My publisher, Wild Wolf, isn’t afraid to take risks, which often makes for some amazing novels, so I’m enjoying getting through their catalogue, albeit slowly as I don’t want to take the risk of somebody else’s work influencing my own voice. That said, I can’t praise Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones enough, the book was tremendous, and the film beautiful, poignant, and both happy and heartbreaking – I think I could read the book and watch the film constantly and not lose the sense of awe it gives me!
Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
In context he’s describing the way he was emotionally unaffected at the age of ten when a boy died in the hospital bed next to his own, because it was more important to hear the reactions to his death, and the outpouring grief. I think it’s a hugely personal statement, not a generality to all writers, and it’s just his perception of what he believed was his own ‘coldness’. As a notoriously depressive man, he was probably beating himself up a bit! In contrast, the many wonderful writers I’ve been lucky enough to meet over the past few years have mostly been compassionate, kind, and humorous people, way too warm to have a trace of ice anywhere inside!
How would you like to be remembered?
For being able to say ‘one beer, please’ in 100 different languages… I would say just kidding but….! Seriously though, it’s important to me that my work isn’t forgotten, it feels like I’ve spent my whole life preparing for the stories that are tumbling out, and I’ve had hard knocks in the process that I hope have made my writing real, not only from a storyline perspective, but also an emotional one for the reader. I see every bad experience (and good, of course) as another area to develop and explore. I hope that my work is good enough to not fade when I eventually do.
What are you working on at the moment?
It’s all quite intense at the moment, which is good, keeps me busy! My last novel is with the publishers and has been for a while, and I wanted to wait until I had a definite yes (or no) before I began the next, so I took on a thriller/horror feature script (One Long Night), but now that’s completed and in the revision stages, I’ve decided to start on the next novel, Black Park. It’s been in planning for about a year, so I’m quite excited about it, but also eager to finish it as the planning for the next one is already underway, and I hope to have them both completed by the end of the year. 2012 has been busy, work-wise, which is just how I like it, but when Christmas comes I want to be project-free for a couple of weeks! Then on to novel seven next year…
How would you define crime?
I think the definition of crime is simply a person/persons breaking the law, but the treatment of crimes and their individual punishments is more an aspect to comment on. I have no statistics to use, but I think that many ‘criminals’ are over-punished for actions that seem irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, and in contrast some crimes seem (to me) to be under-punished. One of my bugbears is rape and child sexual abuse. These often don’t come to court in the first place due to lack of evidence, but the victim can never recover from having suffered from these dreadful, and unfortunately commonplace, crimes. I find it ludicrous, some of the petty crime that leads to custodial sentences (non-payment of council tax, TV licence, shoplifting), and yet some dreadful crimes (stabbings, manslaughter etc) receive a pathetically inadequate sentence. I have spent the majority of my life (yes, I was a weird child!) studying the psychology of criminals, particularly murderers, and the very nature of their personalities – is it an illness? – it can lead to them being very confident, and very smooth-talking, which, if well-trained personnel aren’t brought in to analyse the way their minds work, can lead to them literally getting away with murder. Personally I think the judicial system in our country is useless, because criminals who are known to have done the crime often ‘get off’ on technicalities. I don’t believe I’m the only person who doesn’t feel safe walking the streets, and I certainly won’t let my 8 year old out to play alone, as I used to do freely as a young child. But to define crime in itself, it’s a given: if you break the law, it’s a crime.
If you were paid a sum of money to carry out a hit how would you go about doing it to avoid detection?
Tempting as it may be in these frustrating financial times, I’d have to say you could never pay enough for me to kill someone. Avoiding detection, that’s the real tough one in writing nowadays, now that forensic testing is so advanced – merely a trace of DNA is enough. If you’ve never had your DNA tested that’s a good start as it won’t be on any files. A victim who has no link to you. Commit the crime somewhere obscure ensuring you have an alibi. In all fairness, only a psychopath with a desperation to fulfil his/her torturous dreams would follow those rules, and luckily they are few and far between!
Thank you Ricki for an insightful and great interview.