Katherine Howell worked as a paramedic for fifteen years and uses that experience in her bestselling crime novels. Her fifth novel Silent Fear was released earlier this month.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
I read everything I could get my hands on. Stand-outs were the Milly Molly Mandy series, the Little House books, various Enid Blytons and Norah of Billabong books, and then the Trixie Belden series. (Not so much Nancy Drew : she seemed a bit prissy.) I don't remember ever NOT loving books. They were everywhere in our house and my parents were big readers, and used to take me and my brother and sister to the librery every week. We are still all voracious readers.
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I first dreamed of being a writer as a teen, and started writing short stories from that time, but I didn’t actually believe I was a writer until my first book Frantic was published in 2007. Even then it didn’t feel real!
I hope my readers have a great time while reading , feel completely absorbed in the story and can’t wait to find out what happens, and they take away the feeling that their time was well spent.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
Yes, absolutely. I find it's impossible now to turn off that microscope: I'm always lifting the blanket of the story to peer at the scaffolding the writer has built underneath, and thinking about their choices in everything from words to chapter beginnings and endings to plot. It can be exhausting and I miss being absorbed in the story but I figure it's a side-effect of the wonderful job I get to do now, so I'm okay with it.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
I always keep reading while I write, and often find it helpful, especially if it’s really good crime fiction. It reminds me of the power of words on a page, and makes me feel hopeful and inspired.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.
Tess Gerritsen, for her medical detail and pacy stories; James Lee Burke, for his descriptive powers and his characters; Michael Robotham, for his suspense, his characters, and sheer story-telling inventiveness; George Pelecanos, for his incredible characterisation; and Leigh Redhead, for her humour and the way she blends it with her exciting stories.
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. I’ve read this multiple times and would be more than happy to read it again.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
When the characters feel real, the story has me gripped, and I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
Clunky writing, especially in the dialogue; boring characters; a story that doesn’t grip me. If a book has one of these but not the others I will sometimes persist, but it depends what I have lined up to read next.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
I love the work of James Lee Burke. He writes crime novels set in the US – one series in Louisiana, one in Montana, one in Texas. I love his characters, his stories, his descriptions, and his writing style. I’ve read all his books more than once and sometimes when I’m having a rough day writing I’ll grab one off the shelf and read a couple of pages and immediately feel inspired by the possibilities of what are, when you get down to it, just words on a page.
If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?
Tough question! This list is subject to change ...
James Lee Burke – The Tin Roof Blowdown. Much of Burke’s work is set around New Orleans and in this novel starring his regular character Dave Robicheaux he also shows the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. It’s challenging because it’s so real, but it’s wonderful.
Michael Robotham – The Wreckage. See below, in ‘best read for 2011’.
Robotham again – Shatter. An extraordinary and chilling crime novel.
Peter Temple – The Broken Shore. I love Temple’s pared back style.
Kim Wilkins – The Resurrectionists. I don’t read a lot of speculative fic/fantasy but I adore this one. The characters leap off the page and the story gets me in every time.
E Annie Proulx – The Shipping News. I love the descriptions of the Newfoundland setting, and the quirky characters.
Leigh Redhead – Thrill City. Redhead has this finely-tuned sense of humour and timing, and can write scenes that make you laugh out loud then fill you with suspense. Each book gets better and better.
Kate Grenville – Dark Places. The story of an awful man but told with such wonderful dramatic irony. I’ve read this countless times and will read it countless more.
Neil Cross – Luther: The Calling. Great character, story, and such spare writing.
Russell Banks – Affliction. The main character, Wade Whitehouse, has ideas of fixing his life but nothing goes right. Beautifully told.
What was your 2011 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
‘The Wreckage’ by Michael Robotham. Robotham’s stories are always intriguing and his characters so real. I loved this book for its settings (it takes place partly in London and partly in Baghdad), the story, and those characters again.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
I think there’s room for both e-books and print books. Some people will take up the e-books and that’ll be all they ever read; some will read both, some will stick to print. I’ve used an e-reader but prefer print books. The ease of getting a book at any hour and wherever you are is an attraction, but I don’t know that e-readers will necessarily encourage more people to read. It will be interesting to see!
Katherine Howell's work has won awards and is published in multiple countries and languages, and in print, e-book, and audio form.
You can find out more about Katherine here.