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Interview with SARAH WARD

Written by Tony R. Cox

You built up a reputation as a reviewer and blogger of crime fiction. What took you from the safety of writing about authors to becoming one yourself?


When I first started reviewing I had no intention of writing a book. The reading for the various sites that I was reviewing for, though, gave me plenty to think about and expanded my notion of what constituted crime fiction. It was the start of the Nordic Noir phenomena and it made me realise location could act as a catalyst for the plot. Setting is hugely important in all my books and I realised that an area I knew well, the Peak District, would be the perfect place for a murder.

I think it was around 2012, that I decided to have a go at my own writing and see how far I could get with a novel. I finished a book that I wasn’t particular happy with but my characters of DI Sadler and DC Connie Childs made their first appearance there and I decided to use them in the novel that became In Bitter Chill.


You are well known for your knowledge and love of Nordic Noir, and you have a special affinity to Iceland. Is the Nordic element over? Is Noir now global?


The term Nordic Noir is strange because it covers a range of writing from hardboiled to cosy mysteries. I think any umbrella term which captures the readers’ imagination is a good thing and a lot of Scandi writers who might not have been translated into English found a wider readership as all things Nordic became more popular. I don’t think the trend I over but I think publishers are more discerning about what is being translated. I definitely still read it!


You write about Derbyshire, but you’re not a born and bred Derbyshire lass. Is there something special about that county that attracts your style of descriptive, thriller writing?


I’m only from over the border in Cheshire so it was an area I already knew well. I live very high up in the Peaks and in the winter I’m occasionally cut off which gives this wonderful claustrophobic feeling to the place. I don’t think it’s necessarily specific to Derbyshire - I love writing about isolated rural communities and how within a stunning landscape, awful things can happen. I like to combine dialogue with descriptive prose, there’s no point using an atmospheric setting if you’re going to ignore it in your writing.


What books influenced you ... after Enid Blyton?


I was a huge Agatha Christie fan and read lots of the other golden age authors. Christie’s plots can be excellent and I love the way she pulls her readers into the mystery. I also had a secret crush on Lord Peter Wimsey so Dorothy Sayers books were a great read for me as a teenager.

I read and re-read Ruth Rendell and I remember, in my twenties being blown away by Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton. And, of course, the Nordic writers especially Arnaldar Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdardottir.


Are there any particular authors who have recognisably influenced your style?


That’s hard to say. I wrote my first book, In Bitter Chill, while I was living in Athens, Greece and I was very much feeling my way in terms of how I wanted to write. I like authors whose books are very setting focused so I really admire Elly Griffiths and William Shaw but, really, I read these authors after I started writing. I’m not sure I’d be able to pick out my own influences.


You have written three murder mysteries staring DC Childs, who has her own hang-ups, and each one has a near central theme of family: a missing girl; the complexities of family relationships; and a family violently obliterated. What is it with you and dysfunctional family relationships?


Ha ha. My Dad’s noticed this too. My family are perfectly fine but I think that, living in an isolated community where people know each other’s secrets going back generations a lot of tension which can simmer over into murder takes place within the home. I think, generally, families can be a huge source of strain for people and yet there’s an unspoken acknowledgement about ties that underpin the relationship, say, between brother and sister. I explore this in my latest book A Patient Fury.


You have a new book being published in September this year. Can you give us a taster?


In the 1950s, six girls walk into a railway tunnel and only five emerge. Decades later, the reverberations of the act of violence which took place begin to be felt and Mina’s dying mother asks her to “find Valerie”. Meanwhile Connie Childs is concerned to hear that women have been dying unexpectedly and begins to think that someone is settling old scores.

I really enjoyed writing A Shrouded Path as part of the action takes place in the 1950s, a period I don’t remember which meant more research than usual.  The fifties is a period of great nostalgia for my mother’s generation and it was moving to read about it in more depth.

Sarah Ward

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