I was absolutely delighted when Mary-Jane Riley asked me to kick-off the Blog Tour to promote her latest book, Dark Waters having been a huge fan of the previous two books in this series which features journalist Alex Devlin.
I have interrogated Mary-Jane Riley about Dark Waters in the following Q&A Session.
Well Mary-Jane Dark Waters is the third in the journalist Alex Devlin series; is it getting easier to write the books now the character is developed or does it sometimes curtail how you’d like her to behave?
Hmm, interesting question, Cleo. I’ve always found Alex pretty easy to write. It’s like I’ve always known her, perhaps because there’s a bit (a lot?) of me in her. I do usually know how she will react to events, and that’s what makes writing the novels with her centre-stage so satisfying. It’s not what I want to happen but what Alex wants to happen, how she reacts, the decisions she makes. I hope she always behaves true to character, and there’s no point in making her do something she wouldn’t. Does that make sense?
Tell us a little about Dark Waters, was there a Eureka moment which inspired the novel?
Dark Waters begins with the discovery of two bodies on a boat on the Norfolk Broads. The idea of using the Broads wasn’t so much of a eureka moment of inspiration as a slow realisation…. The Bad Things is set on the Suffolk coast, After She Fell on the crumbling cliffs of North Norfolk, so for my third I felt I wanted to go inland. And then I thought about the atmospheric Broads and how a boat could stay moored for several days before anyone would wonder what was going on….. That was the basic premise and I built the novel up from there! Sometimes that’s all you need, and I asked myself the usual questions: who were the people who had died? How had they met their end? Why were they on the boat? Did they know each other? And so on. I think I have probably done a disservice to the Broads, though, it really is a gorgeous place to visit!
Do you have an idea what situations you are going to place poor Alex in next? Yes, that’s me checking that there is another book in the pipeline!
Yes. Oh, you want me to say more? Well… no, you’ll have to wait….
How long does it take to produce your first draft of each book? Yes, this is me trying to work out how long I have to wait for the next book!
It varies, and though I would love to be one of those people who writes the whole story as a first draft, I’m not. First of all I think about the story. A lit. Then I write bits, some of which will be scrapped. After that, when I think I know what I’m doing, I tend to write a third, then go back over that and edit. After the second third I’ve just about got the story I want to tell in my head or in my notebook as bullet points and can write the last third pretty quickly…or at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I’m just past that stage now! Then I read it through again and edit, and for my final edit I print it out and go through it. It probably takes about nine months in all.
You chose to set the series mainly in Norfolk with the memorable opening of two bodies being found on a barge in the county, however we also travel across the county boarder to Cambridge University. How much research do you do on the settings to make them feel so authentic?
I’m glad they feel authentic, thank you! I’ve lived in East Anglia for many years, and when I was a BBC reporter I travelled quite widely across Norfolk and Suffolk, so I know the area pretty well. My husband and I do take day trips out to the main places where the books are set – so Southwold for the The Bad Things, a village called Happisburgh for After She Fell and Wroxham and Ludham for Dark Waters. We do an awful lot of walking around and I take photos, and we usually ending up eating fish and chips. For the Cambridge section of Dark Waters I went to Cambridge, and I also spoke to a good friend who was at the university, so she could give me some insights!
In this episode, without giving too much away, Alex is having family problems. She really hasn’t had an easy ride so far in this area so I’m wondering do you secretly hate her or is it more that you enjoy showing her tenacious nature?
I love Alex! In Dark Waters she really suffers from being in the sandwich generation, don’t you think? Still trying to look after her son, Gus, and also her parents, particularly her father whose health is failing. I think it’s true of the lives of many women between, say, forty and fifty, don’t you? I do love how she battles through and survives both mentally and physically.
This book delves way back into the past in one strand of the storyline. I find this kind of storyline very appealing but wonder how hard is it to choose how much to reveal of the past when the main action is taking place in the present?
That’s another great question! I write the different strands separately and I’m not sure I actually ‘choose’ how much to reveal, it sort of happens naturally…. I suppose, thinking about it, that I look to that storyline as an echo of the past – I don’t want to overwhelm the present action. I usually end up cutting a lot of the past story, making it, hopefully, tighter.
Do you have a writing routine?
A very loose one…. I like to get some writing done in the morning after I have walked the dogs, even if only a little because at least I’ve got started. Hopefully I’ll do a couple of hours (with frequent breaks!) then maybe an hour after lunch and another hour early evening….that is in an ideal world….one I don’t really inhabit!
Do you read books in the same genre that you write in?
I do, I love the genre….reading and writing it. I enjoy a good thriller too and a long, rich saga!
What was your last read?
I have a couple of books on the go…. Wendy Cope’s new poetry collection Anecdotal Evidence, and an interesting spy thriller The Language of Secrets by Asuma Zehanat Khan, but that’s not what you’re asking is it! I have just finished Skitter by Ezekiel Boone, which is about man-eating spiders and the end of the world. I love a good sci fi /dystopian thriller…..
Wow, having fallen a little bit in love with tenacious journalist Alex Devlin at the start of this series; Where the Bad Things Are, there is always a tiny worry that your heroine can let you down. Oh no, this book opens with a frankly gruesome description of bodies decay and didn’t stop twisting my emotions hither and thither until I sadly turned the last page.
Two bodies are found dead in a barge on the Norfolk Broads and Alex just happens to be in the area at the time. Seeing a chance to make a scoop she chats to the boat owner and the police ringing her old boss Bud Evans to see if he’s willing to run a piece. Within a day or so the verdict of suicide being the one the police are going with unsurprisingly as the deceased connected over the internet on a suicide website. Now I love it when crime fiction takes in (the often depressing) contemporary twists and although I’d vaguely heard of such sites, I was interested to see the character’s take on them too.
As always Mary-Jane Riley spoils her readers with a number of different strands all being played out simultaneously giving the reader no chance to catch their breath. We have the most recent past covered to give us some idea of what has happened in the gap between the end of After She Fell and the start of Dark Waters. We see the family continue to come to terms with the actions of her sister which dominated the first book and we also visit Cambridge University in the early 1970s, in haunting extracts from a first year’s foray into this great place of learning.
I love the fact that Alex is a journalist rather than a Police Officer as that way she isn’t so bound by procedures, or the need to act as a team. Some of the lighter scenes see her negotiating a way to stay on the story when Bud dispatches Heath from the crime desk to file the story. The battle between doing a more worthwhile story rather than extreme coupon is so compelling that Alex, much to the disgust of her friend Lin, is prepared to use her free time to dig into the lives of those who died on the barge but only if Heath lets her in on what he’s found out so far. I wonder how often this kind of dynamic plays out in the world of the freelance journalist.
As in the previous two books, you can’t doubt that any of these characters are anything other than real people.
With so much action going on it must be easy for the author to lose the oomph that makes the characters who they are, but not Mary-Jane, each one from primary to secondary characters are absolutely alive and kicking (well apart from the dead ones!) The plotting is ingenious with the steps along the way being revealed at just the right point to keep the storyline moving forward without ever feeling that the author is holding out on us.
I raced through Dark Waters, thrilled to catch up with Alex, delighted with the twists and turns that this tale took us on and so I turned the last page, sad to say goodbye, until next time!
First Published UK: 16 March 2018
Publisher: Killer Reads
No of Pages: 332
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Alex Devlin Series
DARK WATERS is the third crime thriller in the series featuring journalist Alex Devlin. It begins with a macabre discovery on board a pleasure cruiser on the beautiful Norfolk Broads – the decomposing bodies of two elderly men. It appears the dead men did not know each other and police suspect an internet suicide pact.
Alex’s search for the truth reveals a darker story. She finds a connection between the two men and possible links to other unexplained deaths.
As she investigates further, the stakes rise and her own family becomes embroiled in the mystery. Her inquiries lead her to the University of Cambridge. Could the roots of the puzzle lie there with a tragedy that unfolded amongst a group of carefree students many years before?
Long-buried secrets come to the surface and Alex’s life and the lives of her family are on the line. As the past and the present collide, Alex questions everything she thinks she knows about those she loves.
Find Mary-Jane Riley on social media
Mary-Jane wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Mary-Jane has three grown-up children and lives in Suffolk with her husband and two golden retrievers.
DARK WATERS is her third crime thriller featuring investigative journalist, Alex Devlin.
If you like what you’ve read the links to buy the books are here!