We asked crime fiction author Elena Forbes a few questions about her latest instalment in the Mark Tartaglia series, her favourite crime fiction writers, and her advice for young writers. Here’s what she had to say:
- What can readers expect from Mark Tartaglia in Jigsaw Man?
I obviously don’t want to give too much away in terms of the plot, but the book opens with Tartaglia in a down place – listless and dissatisfied with life. He will grab with both hands the challenges that are thrown at him.
- Where did the inspiration for the character of Mark Tartaglia come from?
I’m not quite sure where the inspiration came from. Tartaglia was a minor character in a book that was never published, really not much more than a walk-on role. I then discovered that I liked writing from his perspective and it was an easy step to make him the lead in Die With Me.
- You’ve discussed the importance of setting before—for our readers, can you explain why you pay close attention to setting(s) when writing your novels?
Setting is very important to me. It creates atmosphere and colour and a richness to the narrative and the way the characters respond to their setting is also very important.
- What authors (or books) were—or still are—inspiration for you as a crime fiction writer?
I can’t say that any one writer has been a direct inspiration – I don’t try and write like anybody else. But there are a number of writers whose work I admire and enjoy. Amongst crime/thriller writers, my top picks would be Le Carre as well as Peter Robinson, Michael Connelley, James Lee Burke and Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent).
- How did you make the transition from working in portfolio management to becoming a full-time writer?
My father was a writer and I grew up in a creative environment. I always told myself stories and writing a novel seemed a natural thing to do even after a career in finance.
- Do your ideas for the Mark Tartaglia series come from within (e.g. moments of inspiration) or are they based on elements of real-life crime (e.g. things you’ve heard in the news) in which you can focus on a particular detail and build a story around?
Ideas come from all over the place and there is no fixed pattern. I can be lying in the bath (my favourite place to relax) or driving down the motorway and an idea will pop into my head from nowhere. Newspaper articles can also spark an idea, but usually in an off-beat way not directly related to the subject. There is no rhyme or reason to where inspiration comes from unfortunately.
- What are the elements needed for a truly great crime fiction novel?
It totally depends: there are so many different models. I personally prefer stories that are character driven, but I also need the setting to feel real and vibrant, as Michael Connelley does so well with LA. He makes LA a character in its own right.
- Do you have any advice for young writers with a particular interest in writing crime fiction?
My main advice would be to develop a habit of writing – even if you only have an hour a day. It’s important to do it regularly. It’s amazing how the regularity creates inspiration. Also it’s very important not to try and write perfectly. You just need to write. You can go back and edit later.
- What are you reading right now?
Susan Hill wrote a wonderful short memoir called Howards End is on the Landing. She and her husband decided that they wouldn’t buy any books for a year as they had too many unread books around their house. I’m trying to follow their example – I buy loads of books and don’t always get around to reading them – and am discovering all sorts of gems sitting on my shelves. I’ve just finished Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow about twenty years after everybody else, and am about to embark on Snow Falling on Cedars, after a brief spell reading some old Dick Francis novels.
- What’s next for Mark Tartaglia in the Mark Tartaglia Series?
I’m not sure at the moment. I’m working on a thriller about an old murder and a miscarriage of justice. The idea didn’t fit into the police procedural format and the protagonist is female. I’m missing writing about Tartaglia so hopefully it won’t be long before I’m back in his point of view.
Detective Inspector Mark Tartaglia has spent the night in a west London hotel with a woman he has just met. When he is called to the same hotel the next morning to investigate a murder, he realizes it must have taken place while he was there. The investigation takes a horrifying turn when he recognizes the young female victim.
Still reeling from shock, he learns that another case he has been investigating — the body of a homeless man found in a burnt-out car — is also not what it seems. Tests reveal the corpse has been assembled from the body parts of four different people.
Under mounting pressure from the media and unsure where his loyalties lie, Tartaglia must solve this macabre puzzle before the Jigsaw Killer strikes again.