Sheila Quigley is a bestselling crime author, who became a national news story when Random House acquired her first novel, Run For Home, with major coverage throughout the press and television. Many of her novels are set in the fictional estate of Seahills, in Houghton-le-Spring in the city of Sunderland. Her latest novel Thorn In My Side is a tight and brilliant thriller which is impossible to put down. In it DI Mike Yorke returns to the north east and is immersed in his most bizarre case, which involves a flogged corpse and children disappearing the length of the A1. The novel takes the reader to Holy Island and an explosive secret going back to the dawn of time. If you haven’t got Thorn In My Side on your bookshelf you don’t know what you’re missing out on.
Sheila met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about pathology and revenge.
Is there a particular experience that has had an influence on you as a writer?
The short answer…Life!
When I was around seven years old I could not read a word, too busy daydreaming in the class room, and being really good about avoiding the issue when it was my time to stand up and read.
Eventually, of course it was always going to happen, I was caught and made to stand up and read out of this book that held nothing but squiggly lines in it. I ran home crying that day and determined to learn how to read I picked up the local newspaper, and pointed at a word to my mother. I learned five new words every night by staring at each one and repeating it over and over. Within three weeks I was top of the class for reading and already way in advance of my years. I raced through all the Enid Blyton books and anything I could get my hands on and pretty soon I was into sci fi, and horror. That was when I discovered Steven King. I guess you could say he has been my biggest influence, he doesnt waste words and gets right down into it, thats the way I love to read and the way I love to write.
Tell us about Thorn In My Side.
Thorn In My Side is slightly different from the Seahills series, more thriller than crime although in my mind the two genres can only be seperated by a whisker.
DI Mike Yorke is coming home. After three months in London, he’s looking forward to being back in the north east, but he’s barely off the train before he’s deep into the most bizarre case of his career.
A viciously flogged corpse. Teenagers disappearing the length of the A1. Horrific new street drugs, and buried somewhere is a deadly secret that will lead him down paths so dangerous, he will question the very fabric of society.
I throughly enjoyed writing Thorn In My Side. I think when you have done 5 in a series a change is refreshing. Nowhere Man no. 2 starts within hours of Thorn finishing, a third is planned but then it’s back to the Seahills.
To what extent do you think the class system in England informs crime and influences crime fiction in the UK?
There is a class system in the UK, no doubt about it, even though people, mostly the middle, upper classes will try to deny it.
Greed, mostly of the high classes, plenty of cash but feel the need for more. Difference being they can afford an expensive lawyer and within hours be free.
Love, when a mother steals new shoes for her children, she cant afford an expensive lawyer and ends up banged up for a year or sometimes more.
Jealousy, a human trait which stretch’s across all classes and brings out the worst in us all.
Rich pickings for a crime writer, and stories people love to read about. I think crime writing defines us all, people like to think, there but for the grace of God go I.
Who are your literary influences?
I fell in love with Enid Blytons books, and also loved the Bobsy twins, my first taste of american writing. Quickly moved to Fantasy, loved Anne Mcafferys Dragons of pern series. Then found Steven King. The Stand is my all time favorite book.
Do you think that there is a difference between crime and pathological crime. If so what is the difference and how does it present itself in fiction?
Ordinary crime, shall we say a break in, a stolen bag snatched off some ones shoulder, are mostly spur of the moment, as is a man or a woman on a night out spot their ex with a new boy or girl friend and totally lose it, and someone ends up in hospital and the other behind bars. In fiction, these sort of crimes can provide nice little fillers, but rarely the main plot.
Pathological crime on the other hand is mostly planned, and the bad guy, evil to the core mostly can make for entertaining reading. There is such a guy in Thorn In My Side.
Do you think revenge is a popular theme because it shows ordinary men and women stepping outside the law?
Revenge now then, haven’t we all wanted to get our own back. right down to nursery school. when the first boy you met pulled your hair or the first girl kicked your shin.
In the adult world Im counting teenagers in this, some seek revenge in cruel gossip and spreading lies. Some with a darker mind find only actual bodily harm can ease there need. The latter makes for great fiction.
Do you think that for a man or woman to slip over into killing they need to dissociate from their perceived selves into someone else and what does that someone else throw away in terms of gender conditioning and all it is intended to socialise?
Depends what sort of killing. Does a soldier have to leave himself behind when he goes on the battlefield. I don’t think so he does what he’s trained to do.
A spur of the moment killing, doubt if there’s time to step outside of yourself nine times out of ten its just reaction, kill or be killed.
Even a planned killing which is totally different from the above, now that has to be already in you, I think ninety percent of us do not have they ability to plan a murder.
Graham Greene said that writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
Ice melts very quickly.
Personally I think a thick skin is what’s needed most, to bounce back all of the rejections a writer meets at the begining of his/her career. And in the middle.
Sometimes it takes years and years to get published, then the ice is gone at the first smile from a publisher. But never shed the thick skin, you’ll never know when you will need it.
What are you working on now?
Now I am working on the second book in the Thorn In My Side series, Nowhere Man.
It starts within a few hours of Thorn In My Side ends.
DI Mike Yorke goes to london to search for the man he grew up with who he is convinced is in with a hidden group of people called the familes who have ruled the world for the last thirty centuries. And who now plan a cull of the human race.
Meanwhile Smiler a used and abused street kid is left behind on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne with Brother David a monk, to protect Aunt May who is in a coma.
Smiler insists he has the same abilty as was given to St Cuthbert the gift of second sight. Mike Yorke however does not beleive this and finds a reason for what ever Smiler comes up with. In an uncertain world they all come together to end the yoke the world has been under without even knowing it.
Do you think crime fiction seeks to deliver justice when there is none in the real world?
I think people love it when the bad guy gets caught and justice is served, it gives them that feel good feeling. Because we all know in real life that it doesn’t always happen.
Sheila I am sure this compelling and perceptive interview will bring you new readers.
Find all things Sheila Quigley at her website here.