Mel Sherratt’s debut novel, Taunting The Dead, was a bolt-from-the-blue Kindle bestseller which proved that some self-published authors are more than capable of mixing it with the big girls. Comparisons to Martina Cole are frequently made and thoroughly deserved – Mel writes dark, sexy stuff, full of strong women and very bad boys. Her second novel Somewhere to Hide has just been released, and she was kind enough to join me for a chat…
Tell us a little about Somewhere to Hide…
Somewhere to Hide is an emotional thriller about the fear and effects of crime. It’s the first in a series, The Estate, and each book will have a different main character that pops up somewhere in the preceding book. This book is about a halfway house for women in jeopardy, run by Cathy Mason. She can pack a mean punch when threatened but has a secret in her past that comes back to haunt her, not only putting her life in danger but also the women that she should be looking after.
A typical crime novel begins with a woman’s dead body but you’re more interested in the effects of ongoing violence, why is this?
I’m just interested in psychology – what makes people do the things they do, how people react because of something going wrong. How lives may have been in different social circumstances, chance meetings, that kind of thing. It fascinates me how the people we meet can have such an influence on us – good or bad.
You started out writing chick-lit, what prompted the shift into crime?
People sometimes assume it was my housing officer background but it wasn’t, as it’s usually a news bulletin or a newspaper article that starts off a chain of thought. Taunting the Dead was a personal challenge as I thought there was no way I could write a police procedural. It’s partly why I spend more time with the villains rather than the police – and some readers said I blended Martina Cole and Lynda La Plante’s writing styles. I’m not sure why my writing turned darker except that I like to explore dark subjects. And I love gritty dramas.
Have you brought any elements across the genre divide?
Yes, I think so. Somewhere to Hide has an element of laugh a minute, cry a minute, crime a minute as I explore emotions and fear. I lovingly call it grit-lit because it’s gritty realism through the eyes of some strong women characters. The issues I choose have been covered in both genres too. I’ve also been told that a lot of people sympathise with my nasty characters, feeling for them when things go wrong which I’m extremely pleased about. I’m a firm believer that there is good and bad in everyone, depending on circumstances and just how far we can be pushed.
You don’t shy away from tough subjects – domestic violence, sexual abuse, torture. Did you find it challenging to explore these issues?
My work as a housing officer and the strong women that I often worked with, plus my love of the underdog doing well, sparked off thoughts of writing about an estate. I read a lot of cases that I find on the internet, for instance if I want to try and understand self harm or young teens in prison. That said, I haven’t worked directly with people as I think it would be too upsetting. Some people go through so much it pains me. And it must be hard to be a support worker. I have so much admiration for them.
Somewhere to Hide sees you move away from your hometown of Stoke-on-Trent. What provoked the change of location?
It was two-fold really. I wanted to create a character out of the estate itself. I wanted readers to think it could be just around the corner from where they live. There are good parts and bad parts to every city, I’m sure. The other reason was some of the comments I received about Taunting the Dead and Stoke’s underbelly. I didn’t want to offend any Stokies, pure and simple. Stoke-on-Trent isn’t that bad!
Though fictional The Mitchell Estate is going to be familiar to many of your readers, are you conscious of wanting to show them a recognisable world?
There are lots of victims that go unheard of, stories swept under the carpet, things hidden behind closed doors. I hope to cover issues that some people like to think don’t exist – or certainly not in their world. It also amazes me how many times I see news clip of someone saying ‘you don’t expect this kind of thing to happen on your own doorstep.’ Why? We’re all humans, striving to get along but sometimes, something makes certain individuals flip.
How important has social media been for you?
Hugely important. Two years before I published Taunting the Dead, I started a blog, High Heels and Book Deals, where I interviewed authors and reviewed books. In between these posts, I’d have the odd writing post so I think a lot of people knew about me and my journey.
Also, I use Twitter as my virtual office. I chat on there, I have a laugh and a giggle and I love reading other people’s silly tweets. Writing is a lonely profession but I don’t ever feel alone as I can always chat to someone. And it’s great for asking questions too. For instance, I have an eight-year-old girl in Somewhere to Hide and I wanted to know if, when scared, she would call her mum Mummy or still call her Mum. That type of little detail that I don’t know myself as I don’t have children.
What’s coming up next?
I’m getting book two from the Estate series, Behind a Closed Door, ready for publication in October. I’m also working on the first draft of the second DS Allie Shenton book, Follow The Leader. I have also plotted out a psychological thriller which I am itching to start writing, if I can fit it in!