Killer Instinct, by Piatkus, followed by Riot Act and Hard Knocks. First Drop came next, achieving bestseller status with the Independent Mystery Booksellers' Association and being nominated for a Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel. This was followed in the UK by Road Kill, and Second Shot, published simultaneously in the UK and the States. The seventh Charlie Fox book, Third Strike, was published in summer 2008, followed by Fourth Day in 2010, which was again nominated for the Barry Award. Fifth Victim was published in the UK (US February 2012).
Zoë’s books are now available in hardcover, paperback, large print, audio and e-format. In 2010 the Charlie Fox series was optioned by Twentieth Century Fox TV.
Welcome to Crawl Space, Zoë!
Thanks, Sarah ― it’s great to be here!
Above I've mentioned your bestselling Charlie Fox series and I want to ask about that in a moment, but you also write short stories. When we met at CrimeFest last year, you mentioned a very exciting short story with a structural challenge. What excites you most about planning and writing short stories?
ZS: Ah, yes, the story we were talking about eventually came out as Across The Broken Line. The structural challenge was a broken-up timeline that hopped backwards and forwards from different points in the story. It starts at fifteen minutes ago, then a week ago, then ten minutes ago, then a month ago, and so on. Drove me insane getting it to all fit together. But that’s part of the appeal of a short story. It gives you the opportunity to explore a structure, a story, a style, that you either might not want to sustain for an entire novel, or allows you to test the water before you go on to a longer work. I’ve a short story called Lost And Found in the MWA anthology Vengeance (out April 2012), edited by Lee Child. In that, I played with two alternating viewpoints, in second and third person, present tense. It was enormous fun to do.
I really look forward to reading those short stories! Charlie Fox has been optioned for a TV series, and I know you’ve dreamcast the major roles (including one of my favourite actors, Michael Kitchen, as Charlie’s dad). Did you always have a very firm idea in your mind of the physicality of the characters, right from when you started out with Charlie and co?
ZS: Not at all, sadly. I find characters tend to introduce themselves to me after they’ve arrived on the page. Having said that, I had a pretty good starting point for everybody physically … except Charlie. Because the books are written in first person from her viewpoint, as the writer I’m always looking out at the world through her eyes. She’s not the kind of girl who spends time gazing into a mirror, so her appearance is always only lightly described. She is what you want to make of her.
I think that's great. Nothing worse than reading first person attempts to convey how gorgeous your hero/heroine is. I remember Dick Francis resorting to other people telling his heroes how sexy they were! You’ll be at CrimeFest again this year, both as a moderator and a panelist. To coin a phrase, I thought you kicked ass as a moderator last year, but which role do you prefer?
ZS: I like either, to be honest, and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to do both this year. Moderating a panel is more stressful, but only because I want to get it right on the day and that’s a time-consuming exercise beforehand. Also, it’s your job to keep all the plates spinning and not let one panelist hog the mic too much, or let another clam up. I’ve only ever had one Panelist From Hell, but that, as they say, is another story …
Staying with the theme of kicking ass, you’re moderating a panel subtitled, Spirited Protagonists and Tricky Situations. How much do you enjoy dropping Charlie into tricky situations and watching her kick her way out?
ZS: Yeah, and that has to be both the best and the most scary panel to be moderating at this year’s event. Lee Child, Sue Grafton, Brian McGilloway and Jacqueline Winspear. Wow. I shall be listening much and speaking little, methinks! But to get back to your question, I do enjoy putting Charlie in tricky situations. Someone once described it as putting your character up a tree and throwing rocks at them, and that’s what I do. I love to play with preconceptions, though, which is why in Second Shot I took away Charlie’s physical capability (it’s not giving away too much to say she gets shot twice on the first page) so she can’t rely on her self-defence skills to get her out of trouble. And in Fourth Day I took away her support network and her sense of self-belief. Constantly pressure-testing the character is what keeps it interesting for me as the author―and hopefully for the reader, too.
You used a great definition of flash fiction when describing what you’re after in the winning story for Flashbang (which you’re judging): ‘It’s about movement and energy – a covert snapshot, taken on the fly, rather than a formal portrait.’ Can you expand a bit on that here?
ZS: Erm, isn’t the point to be brief? OK, for me flash fiction is all about getting straight to the heart of the story―you don’t have time to build up to it slowly and set the scene in a leisurely way. It’s a little like TV or film in the sense that it’s all about maximum story for minimum screen time. Get into the scene late, get out of it early. In some ways, Twitter is the perfect training ground for flash-fiction writers. Only having 140 characters to play with really makes you think about every word you use to get your point across.
Thanks, Zoë, that was fun. Looking forward to seeing you at CrimeFest.
ZS: It was a blast, wasn’t it? Thanks for having me here, Sarah. Catch up with you in Bristol in May ― not long to go now.
Zoë will be at CrimeFest in Bristol, 24-27 May 2012. For full details of the programme and to buy tickets, please go here. For a chance to win a pair of weekend passes, enter Flashbang and see if Zoë picks you as a winner!