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ELENA FORBES talks to Sara Townsend

Written by Sara Townsend

 Elena Forbes read French and Italian at Bristol University, and worked in portfolio management for several years before becoming a full time writer.  She is the author of three books featuring Detective Inspector Mark Tartaglia. She lives in London with her husband and two children.




Evil in Return starts with the murder of a writer, whose best-selling novel about five university friends hiding a secret turns out to have some basis in fact.  How many ‘real life events’ do you put in your novels?

Not sure what you mean here by ‘real life events’.  Evil in Return has a book within the book but Joe Logan’s is a lot less fictional than mine.  I am writing in the present day so a lot of things I read or hear filter through but for the most part it is a fictionalised version of reality.  In the case of this book, thank God!


 Mark Tartaglia and Sam Donovan are both interesting characters, and it’s clear that we’re going to see more of how their relationship develops in later books.  When you created these two, was there anything in particular you were trying to do, or did either of them spring fully formed into your mind?

Tartaglia was a minor character in a book I never finished and I so liked writing him that I made him the main character in Die With Me.  As for Donovan, I’m not sure where she came from.  To be honest, I had nothing planned for them.  Their relationship just evolved as it does in real life with two people who work so closely together, with all its complexities and frustrations.  As they are both single, there is obviously a sexual dynamic, although unresolved.


Do you prefer writing men or women?

I don’t mind either way.  I just treat each as an individual with motivations and feelings.  I try and ‘get into character’, rather like an actor does, so that I know what is driving them at a particular moment, how it feels to be them, and how they would react in a given situation.


Who’s your favourite character to write about?

Most definitely Tartaglia.  He is very much a flawed hero.


Some would argue that writing is a life-long learning process.  With three published novels under your belt now, is there anything you feel you know now that you didn’t know when you wrote the first book?

Life is a learning curve and I am sure that even a seasoned writer with twenty or so books under their belt would say that they are still learning.  All I can say at this point is that each book is an adventure, which is what makes it exciting.


Of your published novels, do you have a ‘favourite’?

Definitely the last one, Evil in Return.  I really liked the story – how the past can come back to haunt the present – and the main characters: Joe, the dead novelist, as well as Alex his friend.  I was sad to have to leave them at the end of the book.  Luckily, I will move with Tartaglia and Donovan onto the next story. 


How does your novel planning process work?  Do you start with an idea, or a character?  Do you plan before you begin the first draft?

I start with a basic idea, a situation and a character, but I don’t start writing until I have the full shape of the book down on paper.  I like to know roughly where I’m going even though the story may take some unexpected turns along the way.


How much re-writing do you do before your manuscript is ready to go out into the world?

So far the re-writing process on all three books has been relatively painless and has been more a matter of layering and nuance than large-scale re-jigging.  A large part of this is probably due to the fact that I do a great deal of the planning and structuring in advance.


Have you always been drawn to crime novels, or do you enjoy other genres also?

I have always loved crime fiction ever since I read my first Nancy Drew, but I read quite widely outside the genre when I can. 


You used to work in portfolio management before becoming a full time writer.  At what point in your writing career did you feel ready to give up the day job?

My father was a writer and I grew up in a house where that was the norm.  I wrote a great deal as a child and always knew it was something I would go back to when I had the time.


Which writers inspire you?

Amongst crime/thriller writers, Peter Robinson and Michael Connelly are two of my favourites as well as Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine. I also love the early Le Carré books.


Writing police procedurals generally requires research, to make sure you get your facts right.  How much research do you do before you begin each new novel?

I do an enormous amount of research to make sure that the details are as correct as possible within the fictional limitations.  A lot of it doesn’t get used but hopefully it still informs the whole.


What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?

Atmosphere is very important to me as a writer and I see places as characters in their own right.  Probably the most bizarre thing I have done so far (from the point of view of others!) was for the last book Evil in Return, which opens and more or less closes in the Brompton Cemetery in central London.  I spent quite a lot of time hanging around there at various times of the day trying to get the mood of the place, which can be quite sinister and intimidating even in bright sunshine, let alone at dusk. I also was researching the general lie of the land, the physical security, the genera routine, and the Victorian graves and crypts to work out exactly where the killer would leave Joe Logan’s body.  I wanted to make what happens in the book as real as possible.


What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I ride a great deal, which I find a fantastic way to switch off.


Elena’s first novel, Die With Me, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award.  Catch up with Mark Tartaglia in his latest adventure, Evil in Return, which is now available.

 Evil in Return
Published 29/07/2010 Publisher Quercus Publishing Plc HBK RRP £12.99

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