Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Interview with Sheila Bugler

Welcome to Triskele Book Club, Sheila, so to start can you tell us a little about your debut novel, Hunting Shadows, and its origins?

At its heart, the novel is about parental love and the importance of giving a child a safe, secure, loving world to grow up in. And the damage inflicted on children deprived of this.

The plot centres around the search for a missing child and the idea for the novel came from an incident that happened when I was a student. A friend of mine was sharing a house with a woman he didn’t know very well. One day, she arrived home with a baby she said was her child. Only it wasn’t … It didn’t take my friend long to work this out, especially when subsequent news reports focused on the disappearance of a local child. My friend went to the police and, very quickly, the child was reunited with its parents.

In the years that followed, I couldn't stop thinking about that poor woman. What sort of terrible desperation would drive someone to steal a child? Could I ever imagine being driven to such an act?

When I started writing Hunting Shadows, I had two young children. The huge responsibility of being a parent was wonderful and daunting. It brought that incident from years ago to the forefront of my mind. I started to imagine different reasons someone would take a child, and the effect that would have on everyone involved. And so the book began.

Characterisation is very strong in the novel, DI Ellen Kelly was someone I instantly connected with, so where do you start when plotting a new character?

Voice. Always voice. I have to have the character’s voice in my head and, once that’s there, everything else follows. By voice, I don’t mean how their words sound when they speak them aloud. For me, voice is about a character’s internal dialogue. It’s about the way they think, the way the approach life. It’s not easy to explain this but it is the single most important thing that gives life to a character.

Who do you class as some of the greatest literary characters of all time?

Ooh what a great question. There are so many, I’m going to give you my ‘off the top of my head’ answer. Here are the top four that spring to mind:
Jay Gatsby - The Great Gatsby is just sublime perfection
Ellen Olenska -The Age of Innocence
Paul Mclean - Norman Mclean’s brother in my Desert Island novel, A River Runs Through It. Mclean’s writing brings his brother so perfectly to life it’s heartbreaking. I have read this book many times and will continue to do so. It’s a masterpiece.
The wonderful, paranoid and brilliantly eccentric Martin Dean from Steve Toltz’s incredible debut novel, A Fraction of the Whole.

Which crime novel would you have liked to write?

Any one of Megan Abbott’s novels. Or Stephan Talty’s recent novel, Black Irish.

Where do you stand on the subject of research, love or loathe? And how do you handle it?

Loathe it. Absolutely hate it with a passion. I’m very impatient and I just want to get on with telling my story. I find it really hard to care enough about the procedural side of stuff (not a great attitude when I’m writing a detective series!).

I’m very lucky to have a contact at Lewisham police station who has helped me with some tricky procedural questions in the past. And I have a wonderful editor who makes me tidy up the bits I haven’t researched properly!

What do you think your Irish background brings to your writing?

A huge amount. I am a reluctant emigrant. I adore Ireland and miss it (despite being very happy in the UK). For me, writing really is a way of connecting with my country. I write Irish characters (not exclusively, of course) and it was always very important to me that Ellen’s roots were Irish. At the moment, I can’t imagine writing a novel that doesn’t have some connection to Ireland.

When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted to do anything else. I started late, though, but that’s because I just wasn’t confident enough, until recently, to really believe I could do this.

Location is a focus in Triskele books, and your attention to detail around the London boroughs, using parks and street names, in your novel is a strong theme too. How do you rate the importance of getting the right location?

For me, location is really important. My novel is set in south-east London and the north Kent coast, two places very special to me.

In all the best crime novels, location is as important as plot and characterisation. I am a huge fan of North American literature and one of the many reasons for this is the way the landscape of that beautiful part of the world becomes such a part of the story.

Outside the US, two authors who evoke location brilliantly are Ken Bruen and Robert Edric. Galway is the setting for Bruen’s Jack Taylor novels. It’s a place I know and love. Reading Bruen’s novels is a wonderful way of reconnecting with the place. Hull, on the other hand, is somewhere I’ve never been to, although, thanks to Edric, I feel as if I have. Edric’s Song Cycle trilogy, set in Hull, are amongst the best noir fiction I've ever read.

You’ve followed the traditional tough route into publishing, but what is your opinion on the current move in the market towards acceptance of quality, independently published books entering the mainstream?

I think it’s brilliant. There are so many talented writers who are independently published and their work deserves wide recognition. In crime writing, for example, Gillian Hamer and JJ Marsh stand alongside the best names in the genre and I’d love to see their books reach a wider audience.

Even with a publishing deal, it is tough getting people to notice you. I’ve got a team of people working on my behalf. For indie authors who do it by themselves, it must feel, at times, like pushing an elephant up a mountain.

Finally, what’s next for you?

There’s so much I want to do. I always have half a dozen different novel ideas knocking around in my head. Recently, I dreamt the entire plot for a TV crime series. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it so I’m trying to map that out at the moment. And, of course, I’m working on the sequel to Hunting Shadows. It’s called Watch Over You and it will be published in 2014. It’s a dark, twisted novel about dark, twisted women. I think it’s going to be good.

Hunting Shadows is published by Brandon Books, an imprint of the O'Brien Press.

Sheila Bugler grew up in a small town in the west of Ireland. After studying psychology at University College Galway, she left Ireland and worked in Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland and Argentina before finally settling in Eastbourne, where she lives with her husband, Sean, and their two children. Sheila adores crime fiction and has never wanted to write anything else and would be delighted to share her recommendations and to hear yours too. If you'd like to contact Sheila, you can do so through her website: or via Twitter: @sheilab10.

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