Interview: Vanessa Robertson

It’s publication day for Vanessa Robertson’s second novel, and the first in her Kate Carpenter series – Don’t Blink. Vanessa popped by the blog to tell us more.

How long have you been writing? Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?

I’ve written since I was a child – I had a blue Silverette portable typewriter which I loved. Took it seriously too – I might have been ten but I made carbons of my work in case I wanted to submit to publishers! As I got older, I realised that being a writer wasn’t a thing that people actually did – or so I thought – and I stopped writing. When I was in my twenties and early thirties I didn’t know what to write.

After years in the book trade, we sold our bookshop and I finally had time to write and – crucially – knew enough about the business to feel confident that there was a market for what I wanted to write. The rise of indie writers and faster-paced digital-first publishers also meant that I felt less constricted by genre.

I entered Bloody Scotland’s Pitch Perfect event—not a singing event, fortunately—and pitched the idea for what was to become my first book, Death Will Find Me, a crime novel set in 1920s Edinburgh with a heroine who was a former spy and the only suspect when her estranged husband was murdered. I was one of the winners, picked by a panel of agents and publishers, and that gave me the confidence to keep writing.

In early 2019, Death Will Find Me was published, and although that’s a world I want to get back to very soon, I was also having fun writing a series that had been brewing for years and so Don’t Blink, the first of the Kate Carpenter thrillers will be out in May. I’ve also released a short novella, Vanishing Point, to introduce Kate to readers and that’s available free via my website as well as to purchase. The second full-length book, Trace Evidence, will be out in a few months and I’m currently writing the third.

What do you enjoy about writing crime fiction?

I write crime fiction for many reasons. I’m fascinated by what pushes people over the edge to commit a crime, why some people have that brake on their actions and others don’t. Is it morality? But then, what’s morality? Sometimes good people do bad things for reasons that we can all sympathise with. Readers have told me that in Death Will Find Me, they cried for the murderer and the victims and I’m pleased by that.

The Kate Carpenter thrillers are set against a backdrop of art crime and that fascinates me. It’s a huge area of criminal activity—second only to drugs and illegal arms dealing in monetary terms—but it still has the image of being somehow high-class when in actual fact it’s a long way from the Thomas Crowne Affair image of bored billionaires stealing Monets to hang secretly in their Bond villain-style lairs.

And there are other areas of art crime that interest me—forgeries are the obvious area, but also looted art, and there’s a lot of dirty money laundered through the trade. But again, my novels aren’t solely concerned with the details of the crimes, it’s about the characters, so although Don’t Blink centres on a stolen painting by Mark Rothko it’s really about power and revenge and what it takes to face up to your tormentor.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that I write crime fiction because I’m fascinated by what drives people to extremes. I’m also horribly well-behaved so maybe it’s a way of exploring that darker side of my personality without the risk of ending up in prison?

Are you planning on spring-cleaning your bottom drawer? Any manuscripts or ideas you plan to dust down and revisit? Or is spring for you about new beginnings and a new project?

I have a folder on my computer labelled ‘Random Ideas’ and every so often I rummage through that and see if there’s anything I want to go back to, but actually, I’ve been pretty focused so far this year. A publisher asked to see some ideas I had for a series—she loved Don’t Blink and my writing but wasn’t sure readers were interested in art crime—and so I’ve been working that up. And I’ve been concentrating on getting the Kate Carpenter series going well. I should have at least two plus the novella published this year and possibly even three if the current manuscript comes together soon. Then I really want to write the next 1920s one, but there’s also this series the publisher was interested in, and if Kate sells well then the fourth of those will be beckoning… Essentially no—I have enough projects on the go and really need to concentrate on finishing those off rather than getting distracted by shiny new ideas!

Can you tell us – or hint at – what you’re working on at the moment?

Currently, I’m working on the third Kate Carpenter book—Smoke and Mirrors—and making notes on endless post-its for the potential new series of police procedurals and for the second 1920s novel.

Do you have writing habits – such as always getting up early to write, or writing in the evening? Or do you write when the mood takes you? Are you a plotter or a “pantser”?

I generally write in the morning—sometimes I’m up and at my desk by 5am—and do admin-type stuff, and interviews like this, in the afternoon. Very occasionally I write in the evenings. I vary between plotting and pantsing and I’ve read every book and listened to every podcast going about the merits of both methods. The difficulty I have with plotting in lots of detail is that it seems to take away the fun of writing. But if I go with pantsing—or “discovery writing”, I can drift off on a tangent and then it can take a lot of work to get the novel back on track. Lately, I’ve been trying to pin down the key moments of stories so that I have waypoints that I know I’m aiming for and then see where it goes. That way I won’t get lost along the way but I still have opportunity for surprises.

Where do you write? Have you got a little nook at home, or do you write wherever you happen to be on a laptop or on your phone?

I write mostly at home where my office is on our open-plan landing. I have a desktop computer there and a laptop that I take with me when I’m out and about. I used to write in cafes a lot more when I lived in the centre of Edinburgh but now that we live in the country trips out are less frequent and more planned. I have a couple of local writing friends and we often meet up and combine writing sprints with coffee and chat, and that’s good fun. If I’m stuck on a plot point, it’s amazing how helpful it is to bounce ideas about over piece of cake!

Tell us about your latest release.

Don’t Blink is the first in a series of thrillers centring on Kate Carpenter, advisor to a number of wealthy art collectors with a discreet sideline in the recovery of stolen and looted artworks. Life is busy—her clients have money to spend, her violent ex-boyfriend has stepped his stalking up a notch, and she’s in the midst of a complicated transatlantic love affair. She’s called in when a canvas by Mark Rothko is stolen and soon realises that neither the theft nor the painting is quite what it seems. But she’s cost the owner a fortune and he’s going to make her pay for that. Soon Kate finds herself having to dig deep to find a way to defend herself and to find out the truth behind the missing painting.

Find out more about Vanessa and her books – and download a free prequel novella, Vanishing Point – at her website: Don’t Blink is out now, available from Amazon.

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