I’ve been interviewing authors who write female-led crime series, and starting us off is Zoë Sharp who writes the Charlie (Charlotte) Fox series.
Niki Mackay: Did you consciously decide to write a female-led series?
Zoë Sharp: Thanks so much for inviting me onto the blog, Niki! Did I consciously decide to write a female-led series? Yes, absolutely. The role of women in crime fiction has always fascinated me. They tend to be the victims—the ones having violence done to them rather than the ones perpetrating the violence. Writing a female main character who discovers she is capable of extremes of violence under the right circumstances, and following her journey, felt like a really interesting idea to explore.
NM: If so, why?
ZS: I loved to read thrillers growing up, but I was always frustrated by the female characters—they seemed to scream and fall over and require rescuing by the guys rather too much for my taste. I wanted to read about a woman who was more than capable of rescuing herself. Or, better still, someone the men would turn to when they needed rescuing. At that time, I couldn’t really find the kind of character I wanted to read about, so I decided I was going to have to write my own. Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox was the result. Paul Goat Allen in the Chicago Tribune described her as: “Ill-tempered, aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled: arguably one of the most enigmatic—and coolest—heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”
NM: How did the idea for your protagonist’s background come to you?
ZS: At the time I started writing about Charlie, back in the mid-1990s, the scandal of the hazing of trainees at the military barracks at Deepcut was just beginning to break. I’d heard all the arguments against women in the forces—and am still hearing them, to be honest—and Charlie’s background grew out of a combination of those elements. I wanted somebody who had the ability to kill, but who was denied an official outlet for that skill, as the army would have given her. Where does she go from there?
NM: What series, if any, did you read before you wrote yours?
ZS: I read quite a few of the Sue Grafton alphabet series with California Private Eye, Kinsey Millhone. I was also a big fan of Robert B Parker’s Spenser series, and I read every book on Simon Templar, The Saint, by Leslie Charteris. I also read a lot of thrillers, but these tended to be standalones rather than series books. And I’d call the Dick Francis crime thrillers more a series of standalones. There were few continuing characters, but the protagonists had enough similar elements that each book felt like a continuation of the last. I’ve been trying to do the same thing, in a small way, with the two standalones I’ve done so far, THE BLOOD WHISPERER and DANCING ON THE GRAVE.
NM: Did they inform your work?
ZS: You can learn a huge amount from reading really good fiction, and the authors I mentioned above are certainly terrific writers. As I began to write, I read more series books, such as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. They all taught me something about how to keep the work fresh. I think you have a choice when you write a series. You can either keep the main character static and unchanging, or have them take their own personal journeys alongside the story in each book. In some ways it’s a lot easier to have them unchanging. That means it doesn’t matter at what point the reader joins the series, they won’t be missing out on any points of the journey, or encountering spoilers for the earlier books they haven’t yet read. But for my own interest and enjoyment, I wanted to keep Charlie changing and growing, even though that occasionally means you find you’ve written yourself into a corner in an earlier book.
NM: What are you currently reading?
ZS: I’ve just started a post-apocalyptic thriller by Devon C Ford called SURVIVAL. Very interesting premise and nicely done. I try not to read too much in the same genre when I’m writing, but I’m also reading WHAT EVERY BODY IS SAYING, an FBI Agent’s guide to speed-reading people, by Joe Navarro. Sometimes, research is the most fascinating aspect of this job.
NM: What are you currently working on?
ZS: I’m well into the next in the Charlie Fox series, which will be number 13. Plus, I’ve just finished a prequel, TRIAL UNDER FIRE, and revamped and extended the FOX FIVE short story collection. More news on both those two soon!
Zoë Sharp was born in Nottinghamshire but spent her formative years living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. She opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen. She began her award-winning crime thriller series featuring former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox after receiving death-threats in the course of her work as a photojournalist. Her most recent book is the standalone crime thriller DANCING ON THE GRAVE — her take on the Washington Sniper incident, set in the English Lake District. When not writing, she can be found doing house renovation, crewing yachts, improvising weapons out of everyday items, or international pet-sitting. Find out more at www.ZoeSharp.com.