Called out one night in the hope that she can identify the body of a man found in a field, Edinburgh forensic geologist Jessica Spargo – Jez – inadvertently becomes involved in the investigation of a university lecturer’s murder. The investigating officer, Tom Curtis, hands her a small glass vial and asks her to analyse its contents. She agrees to do it. The results confound everyone.
Media attention around a seemingly unconnected incident on a construction site near Edinburgh means that all work has stopped. An object discovered beneath the site confounds everyone, including the police. Employed by the firm’s owner to attempt to solve the mystery, Jez falls foul of an uncooperative site manager. Unruffled, she perseveres. Meanwhile, the murder mystery deepens. Despite her reluctance to become further involved, she has her own theories about the origin of the vial’s contents, theories the police do not accept.
To Jez’s dismay there are more deaths. As she says to Curtis, ‘I don’t do bodies. I’m a geologist, I look at rocks. If I’d wanted to look at bits of body then I would have become a surgeon or a pathologist.’
WHICH CHARACTER WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE IN THIS BOOK?
It has to be Jessica (Jez) Spargo. I have spent the last two years with her, I know how she thinks and feels, and why she does the things she does.
DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE A BOOK/READER WHEREVER YOU GO?
I only take a book with me when I know I am going to have a few hours of free time, like when I stay at hotels on my own, or when I’m travelling by train or plane. I do most of my reading at home.
SAY SOMEONE ASKS IF THEY CAN USE YOUR NAME IN A BOOK. WOULD YOU RATHER BE THE ‘GOOD ONE’ OR THE ‘BAD ONE’?
Probably the good one. I think that is because years ago I was a policeman, and always wanted to help people. Though perhaps being a ‘baddie’ would suit me! I do know how the ‘bad ones’ work! I seem to have a technical brain, so I would have to be a techie baddie.
DO YOU PREFER TO READ/WRITE STANDALONES OR SERIES?
I do like reading a series, probably because when I find a writer I like, with characters I like, it makes choosing books easy. But I like standalone novels too, of course – though I do tend to have favourite authors. In the search for new authors, I started buying books at random, three at a time. I stopped doing that when I realised I only liked one out of the three.
My three published books have all been standalone novels. I have thought about making Ground Rules a series, with Jessica Spargo (Jez) as the main character. She had a minor role in my last novel, The Man Who Played Trains. I haven’t decided if I shall write another for her, it depends very much on the reviews.
WHERE CAN I FIND YOU WHEN YOU ARE READING?
When I am reading I am usually sitting comfortably, somewhere quiet, usually at home. Other times I’m in a train or plane. I like writing in coffee shops, but I don’t like reading in them.
WHERE CAN I FIND YOU WHEN YOU ARE NOT WRITING/READING?
In my workshop fixing things or restoring old motorbikes. I have a garden, so there is always plenty to do. I like walking. I live in Scotland, where there are many interesting places to go.
CAN YOU WALK PAST A BOOKSTORE WITHOUT GOING INSIDE?
No, never! They pull me in like a magnet. I like secondhand bookshops too, they have such a wide range of titles and out-of-print books. If I could afford it (and if I had the room for them) I would buy a dozen or so every visit!
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
That is a difficult question. I try not to be proud of anything much. I suppose I am proud of having written three novels, including Ground Rules. My last one needed so much research that it took four years to write. Ground Rules took two years. I don’t think many readers realise how much effort can go into writing a novel.
WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU HOLD YOUR NEW BOOK IN YOUR HANDS FOR THE FIRST TIME?
It’s like the end of a journey. I don’t feel particularly proud, just relief that it’s done. It has been a pleasure to write, but a chore to publish. Getting publishing is the worst bit. I think most writers hate it.
You know that feeling you get when you reach the end of a good book and you feel a bit empty, the story is over and you are no longer part of it? I sometimes get that feeling when I reach the end of a novel I’ve read, but not at the end of one I’ve written. I know that if I want to, I can write another novel with those same characters. Or I can start a completely different one with new people.
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING WRITERS?
Write what you love. Writing should never be a chore. And “Just Keep Writing”, the advice given to me by Ian Rankin (I’m name-dropping here) when he presented me with a runners-up prize at a Crime Writers Debut Dagger Award ceremony. I’m sure he gives that advice to all writers – but it is very good advice. I did keep writing. And I did get published.
Thank you, Richard Whittle and Damppebbles Blog Tours
About the author
Richard has been a policeman, diesel engine tester, university student and engineering geologist. Writing as Alan Frost he was shortlisted from several hundred international competitors for the CWA (Crime Writers Association) Debut Dagger Award.
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