Updated on May 19, 2015
An interview with Deborah Valentine
Today I’m talking to Deborah Valentine, a British author who has been both traditionally and self-published. She lived in California for a while but – unusually – came home after missing the British weather!
Deborah’s book Unorthodox Methods is the first in a series of crime novels featuring the fascinating protagonist, Kevin Bryce. I read the second in the series, A Collector of Photographs, which was short-listed for an Edgar Allan Poe, a Shamus, a Macavity and an Anthony Boucher award. Her recent novel The Knightmare departs from the Kevin Bryce crime fiction series, and is a novel with a supernatural twist.
Collector is the first novel in a series of books about Kevin Bryce. Had you always intended to write a series, or was there something compelling about the character that made you want to revisit him?
Although in the US it was released before the others, Collector is actually the second in the series. Unorthodox Methods was the first, and Bryce is introduced as a Sheriff in Lake Tahoe. It’s funny looking back on it now: I hadn’t intended to write a crime novel and certainly had no thoughts of a series. I was just finding my feet as a writer. But as the story developed, it turned into a crime novel and at one point I needed someone ‘official’ to show up and be investigating the art thefts in the story. It was then I learned that characters have a mind of their own — Bryce certainly did! He wound up taking over the whole book.
I had to re-write the beginning because I realised his relationship with the female character, the artist Katharine Craig, was a driving force in the plot. The pair had real chemistry. I had originally intended Katharine to die at the end of Unorthodox Methods, but Bryce wouldn’t let that happen. So she lived and a series was born. I felt there was a lot more to explore within their relationship and how it would affect his life. She had a big impact on him—he wound up leaving the Sheriff’s department and living in Ireland with her, which offered the scope to explore ideas about love, what you’re willing to do for it, how it changes you, and the problems and insecurities it can create, while still staying within the crime genre.
As I said, I hadn’t intended to write a series but Bryce is a quietly dominant old boy, so it made things interesting. Now I find I like writing a series because of what it allows you to do with the characters. It’s like friends: the longer you know them, the more intimacy you have, the more you discover — both good and not so good—and the relationship deepens. It’s the same with the characters that you (supposedly) create — they do feel like separate entities you’re constantly learning new things about. There’s a certain frisson between Bryce and myself, because I feel he elbowed his way into my life. As it would in the real world, this annoys me, so perhaps that’s why I put him in such uncomfortable situations. It’s good for the storylines — and allows me my revenge! I like finding his weak spots and torturing him a little.
Roxanne is a painter and the language in her diary sections often reflects that (commenting on light, shade, colour, etc). Is this style something that came naturally to you in your writing?
Yes, it did. It’s a theme I often revisit in other writing and have done so recently in a screenplay I co-wrote with the actor/director Bill Hutchens. I’m not sure why, perhaps it offers an opportunity to talk about creativity without it being directly about writing — the attention to detail, the play between shades of light and dark — and I also that believe no matter what kind of creativity is yours, there are similarities in the process, so we’re in the ‘write what you know’ territory.
I take a lot of inspiration from visiting galleries and looking at paintings. I do it with stories that aren’t necessarily art-related and keep postcards of artworks that intrigue me, that capture a related atmosphere or moment in time. There might also be a bit of wish fulfillment at work. I’d love to be able to sketch or paint a decent watercolour but unfortunately don’t seem to able to draw so much as a straight line, so I write what I’m unable to physically accomplish. The visual is very important to me. It’s just the way I think.
You’ve written elsewhere about the fact that you wrote the Kevin Bryce series in longhand. Do you do all your writing on computer now, and does any part of you miss writing by hand?
I’m definitely a computer girl now. Writing longhand was a necessity at the time, but I’m glad that time has passed. On the other hand, I feel fortunate that when I first started writing there really wasn’t the option of a computer, they were just making their first appearance. It’s hilarious to think about how much things have changed in a relatively short period of time.
Writing in longhand and then transferring it to a typewriter disciplined you to examine every word over and over again through every draft in a way that writing straight onto computer doesn’t encourage — it’s very good for a young writer. Yet the computer has its advantages and I’m very grateful for them. No more longhand for me unless it’s a note scribbled on a handy scrap of paper!
Your new book, The Knightmare, is more of a historical adventure, something of a departure from your usual crime fiction. Are there any other genres you’re interested in writing?
The Knightmare is the beginning of a series of books with a supernatural element and I will be exploring other genres within it. I have a ghost story outlined as well as book that I would probably describe as a ‘period environmental thriller’. When I say ‘outlined’ I use that term loosely — I really don’t outline but I have enough notes to know where I’m going and who is going to be there with me. I may very well do another crime novel as well. We’ll see.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
I’m writing the sequel to The Knightmare, called Who Is Huggermugger Jones?. It continues the ‘will they find a way to be together?’ dilemma of Conor and Mercedes from The Knightmare — all in the present day this time — and also introduces the character of Whit, a Welsh musician with second sight. He finds his gift more a curse than a blessing and has to find a way of coming to terms with it before it destroys his life. His story is intertwined with that of Conor and Mercedes. Again, another series and the fun of seeing these people dip in and out of each other’s lives, and of getting to know them all better. I can’t think of anything I like doing more.