Steph Broadribb is one of the writers you should definitely be watching out for during New Talent November, particularly if you like the kind of action seen in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series along with a strong female protagonist. Her debut novel Deep Down Dead is out now for Kindle and as a paperback from 5 January. The book features Lori Anderson, who has the unusual job of hunting down bail absconders in Florida… or wherever they run to. We asked Steph to tell us more about Lori, the Sunshine State, and driving around with someone tied up in your boot.
So, your debut crime novel is here. What are crime fiction lovers going to love about it?
Deep Down Dead is an action thriller. It tells the story of Lori Anderson, a female bounty hunter and single mom to nine-year-old Dakota. Dakota has leukaemia, and with the hospital bills racking up, Lori has no choice but to take on a job that will make her a fast buck. But the fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is JT – Lori’s former mentor. He’s the man who taught her everything she knows. He’s also the man who knows the secrets in her murky past. It’s a fast-paced chase across six states in three days, with the stakes – both personally and professionally – rising for Lori. She’s a kick-ass female lead, but she has vulnerabilities too. I’m hoping that thriller fans will love her determination and steadfast refusal to give up no matter what life throws at her, and enjoy going along for the ride!
Where did the idea for Lori, the female bail bond bounty hunter, come from?
The very first scene I wrote with Lori actually comes about two thirds of the way through the story now. It was the September I started the MA in Crime Fiction at City University, and we’d been set a writing assignment for the first week. I was in the US at the time, and was driving from West Virginia to Florida, the journey Lori makes in Deep Down Dead. When I was miles from anywhere, in the heart of rural Virginia, I realised that one of the taillights on my car was broken. I was literally over 100 miles from a place I could get it fixed, and I remember driving along the freeway thinking what if I get pulled over by a state trooper? My imagination starting working, and I thought – what if I got pulled over and as I was talking to the state trooper someone inside the trunk of the car banged and called out? That got me thinking about what sort of person might travel with someone hidden in the trunk, and from there Lori began to take shape!
Can you give us a taster of who JT is and what their relationship is like?
JT is Lori’s former mentor and lover. He taught her everything she knows about bounty hunting, and was the love of her life. They haven’t seen each other for 10 years, and there’s a lot of unresolved issues between them. JT’s a big, rugged guy who has a reputation as a superstar bounty hunter and a bit of a loner. He’s big on justice, and although Lori takes the job to pick him up she has reservations – both about being back in contact with him, and over the offence he’s been arrested and bailed on. She thinks there must be more to the situation than the bond paperwork is telling her – and she’s right!
Why Florida, what did you want to explore with that setting?
The US is such an amazing place to set a novel as every state is different in culture, geography and weather – which gives you so many possibilities. I chose Florida as Lori’s base because firstly it’s a place I know pretty well – I have family there and so am a frequent visitor, and also because it’s such a diverse state. When people think of Florida they often think of Miami, beaches and theme parks – the tourist world – but there’s a whole other side to the place that’s waiting to be discovered; the central Florida residential areas, and the wild beauty of the Everglades to name a couple. I wanted to explore both the familiar and the less familiar aspects of the place with my story.
And the prose is first person, in quite a colloquial voice. What was it like writing in this way and getting it right?
It’s a lot of fun to write! From the first scene I wrote, Lori’s voice just kind of appeared fully formed. I think the fact I was in the US at the time helped. I was surrounded by people who talked like Lori and so it seemed natural that she talked that way. That said, I am conscious of being a British person writing an American, so I did check out some of the language and references with American friends and family to make sure it was as authentic as possible. I hope I’ve pulled it off!
You’ve been blogging as Crime Thriller Girl. What are the key things about doing so which helped you become a crime novelist?
One of the great things about blogging is that you get to read so widely across the sub-genres. Crime fiction is such a broad genre – from action thrillers, police procedurals and psychologicals all the way through to the cosies – and blogging helps introduce you to new writers and series. It also helps you learn about the world of writing and publishing. I’ve been going along to crime writing festivals like Crimefest, Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate, and Bloody Scotland for a few years now, and everyone is so welcoming and generous with their advice – it’s a fantastic community to be a part of.
What was City University’s crime writing course like?
I was part of the first cohort of people that did the MA in Crime Fiction. It was a fantastic experience partly because of the brilliant tutors Claire McGowan and Laura Wilson, and my fantastic guest mentor, Zoe Sharp. And also because of the great group of people I was on the course with including super talented writers Rod Reynolds (The Dark Inside/Black Night Falling) and David Young (Stasi Child). We really bonded as a group and still meet up regularly now, a couple of years on, to workshop our latest works-in-progress. I think the main thing I learnt from the course was the importance of experimenting and finding your own voice, and the value of getting critique on your writing. We wrote and workshopped new material every week, and getting that feedback on what worked and what didn’t come across so well, really picking apart the writing, was the thing that helped me learn the most.
How did your book deal with Orenda come about and what’s the process of going from unpublished to published author been like?
I’d actually met Karen Sullivan – the powerhouse head women of Orenda Books – previously at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival. I was pitching Deep Down Dead, then in a much earlier form, at the Pitch Perfect event and she was playing football in the England vs Scotland crime writers football match! She’d encouraged me to send the story to her, but it wasn’t until quite a while later that I actually did. I’d got to know Karen quite well by then having blogged about some of her great books and been to some of the legendary Orenda book launches, and I was nervous about sending it in case she didn’t like it. Thankfully she did! The process of going from unpublished to published has been a wonderful experience. Karen and West Camel are such a great pair of editors that the process of turning Deep Down Dead from a manuscript to an actual book has been both fun and a great learning process. Now it’s starting to make its way out into the world and people are reading it I find it both exciting and rather nerve-wracking, but I’ve been totally blown away by the support of the crime writing and blogging community.
Your book has a rough edge, and lots of action. Who would you say your main influences are?
Action thrillers are my true reading passion – from John D MacDonald’s original Travis McGee series, through to established series like Lee Child‘s Jack Reacher and Jeff Abbott’s Sam Capra – the faster and the grittier the better! More recent action series, like Tom Wood’s Victor the Assassin, Mason Cross’s Carter Blake, and Steve Cavanagh’s Eddie Flynn are also on my must-read list. I do love a dynamic female lead though, and Zoe Sharp‘s Charlie Fox is a real stand out for me. Films like Thelma & Louise, and the Long Kiss Goodnight, are also fantastic because they combine action, great characters and are female led. I’d love to see more like these in both books and film.
What’s next for you?
Well, with Deep Down Dead launching I’m getting out and about to a number of events. I’m at Iceland Noir and Portsmouth Dark Fest in November, and have a bunch of stuff in the pipeline for the new year including a special Spirits in Crime Fiction event at Milroys of Soho with fellow crime writers Daniel Pembrey, Rod Reynolds and Michael Grothaus. I’m also writing the second book in the Lori Anderson series – Deep Blue Trouble – so that’s enough to keep me out of mischief for now!