Q.Why did you become a writer, Tracey?
A. I’m not sure you ‘become’ a writer; I think you either are or you aren’t. I spend most of my day writing something, whether in my day job or out of it. I guess it just grew out of that. I’ve always had a vivid imagination and made up stories to tell younger family members, and most of my working life has been about coming up with something, whether an advertising slogan or a reply to a letter… I can’t NOT write, if that makes any sense!
Q. What inspired you to write Personal Protection?
A. Truthfully? I’d been playing around with a short story with the same protagonists and when the search for the Crème de la Crime competition entry form fell through my door, the idea of doing a longer work featuring the same characters inspired me. I was already in their headspace.
Q. Your protagonist, Randall McGonnigal, is a bodyguard and a bouncer at a lap dancing club. Do you have personal experience in any of these areas?
A. I’ve always had a sort of Klingon or samurai sense of honour and loved action films, so while I’ve had no personal experience of being a bodyguard or a bouncer, I do know a few of them and it was no great stretch to write about one. And no, before you ask: I’ve never tried pole dancing either - everybody wants to know that!
Q. How do you go about your research?
A. Research? Well, obviously it depends on the story. Mostly I sit down and write the tale, then fact-check later. I visit the places my stories are set - or in this case, live there already. I talk to people who have jobs in the business I’m planning to write about and I read a LOT. I don’t use the internet much. Practical experience gives you a more realistic and visceral feel to what you write. Sometimes the research will lead to a new avenue for the tale to go down, or add an extra layer of complexity. Occasionally it will mean re-writing or changing something to get it right. Fight scenes I usually work through in slo-mo with willing victims! I need to see if I’ve got the angles correct, or if what I want to do is possible. And of course I make use of my own life experiences to breathe life and believability into the characters. But research forms a very small part of the writing for me. I confess I want to entertain. Getting the facts 100% correct is less important than telling a story that will keep people reading till the end. It is, when all’s said and done, fiction.
Q. There’s no denying that Personal Protection has some pretty steamy encounters in it – what are the challenges of writing sex scenes?
A. If writing it arouses you, it’s worked. If it doesn’t, you’ve failed. The challenge is in finding the right language to get the message across without making it completely pornographic, while at the same time not sliding into Mills & Boon territory. I hope I get the balance right. Some of my other work is erotica, where the story is less important than the sex, so I’ve had experience of writing smut and something a little more hi-brow. I like to think that Personal Protection nicely straddles the line between crime, gender fiction and erotica.
Q. It’s unusual in crime fiction to have a gay central character. In choosing to write from Randall’s point of view, were you responding to this gap in the market?
A. I’ve always written what I liked and adapted my style to the moment. There were plenty of feisty straight girl detectives out there already. Writing to win a competition (I was one of six chosen out of around six hundred applicants) meant finding something that bit different that would catch the judges’ eye. There was less desire to respond to a gap in the market, but it was good to give a voice to a minority that had been under-represented in mainstream crime fiction. In a real way, Randall is me. They say write what you know, so having Randall as a lesbian was the easy part. What I wanted was to make her just another person; her sexuality was incidental to the story. What she does and how she does is more important than flag waving.
Q. In your opinion, who would be the perfect actress to play Randall in a movie version of Personal Protection?
A. If it was going to be adapted to an American setting, I’d say Gina Gershon without a second thought! But I’m having more difficulty finding a Brit actress who could play the part credibly, since nearly all the current crop are tall skinny femme waifs! Maybe Kate Beckinsale with a really short haircut? After watching her kick-ass in the Underworld films, at least I know she could handle the action scenes. Tori would have to be Halle Berry!
Q. What is your routine when you’re writing? Take us through a typical day.
A. Is there a typical day when I’m writing? I’ve yet to find one! I’d love to be one of these people who can set aside so many hours in a day and dedicate them to the craft, but I’ve never been able to write to order at a set time. Inspiration strikes at the damnedest moments! I could be in my day job and an idea will strike me and I have to boot up the word processor and get it down, print it off and get back to what they pay me for. I can be dropping off to sleep and the exact way to finish a chapter will come to me, so I have to get up and write it down then. If I let myself go to sleep, it’s gone in the morning. Mostly I’ll have a great idea (or a submission call will go out that will inspire me), then I’ll fire up one of my computers and start to write. Next thing I know it’s dark, I’m hungry, and I’ve got between six to eight thousand words down. On a good day I can write 75 pages of a novel in one go. On a bad day it’ll be editing something already in existence or writing a few paragraphs. I wish I could tell you there was a magic formula that worked the same way every time, but I’ve never found it if there is.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m about to feature in a Steam Punk erotica anthology, “Carnal Machines” (out in May), and I’d written a companion story which I hoped would be taken up by a similar tome, but it was not to be. However I enjoyed writing the story, so I’m giving it a little light reworking and submitting it to another publisher who I hope will like it as much as I do. There is a strong mystery element involved, but it’s less crime-based than Personal Protection and has a stronger sense of fun. And of course I’m still writing Randall’s adventures and looking for someone to take these full length novels on. But we’re in a recession and publishers are reluctant to go with mid-listers who don’t bring in as much revenue, so…
Q. Is there anything that your readers would be surprised to know about you?
A. Hell, it’s hard to answer this one without giving personal stuff away or looking like a complete fool, isn’t it? Okay, I probably mentioned it before somewhere, so I’m reasonably safe with this. I’m a fairly sober individual, frown lines rather than laughter lines give character to my forty- something year old face, but the one thing I can’t stand to be sober and staid about in my life are my socks. I have a huge collection of multicoloured socks in stripes and patterns and so I’ll be wearing this cool looking black suit and crisp white shirt and underneath there is this screamingly bright set of violet, orange, green, red and yellow striped socks. It just gives me a lift to put a pair of the things on. It’s become a standing joke now. Everybody buys them for me. They go on holiday - they bring me back socks - I must have socks from more countries in the world than anyone else! It’s Christmas, socks, it’s Easter, more socks! I don’t usually walk around with any ID and I don’t have a mobile phone. My mother jokes that if I die suddenly and messily, providing my feet survive, she’ll have no difficulty identifying me! So when you look at that picture of me in my tux…
“Personal Protection”, by Tracey Shellito, is published under our eCC Creative Crime eBook imprint on April 29th.
Photo by Sarah G