This week I am delighted to welcome crime writer Catherine Fearns to my blog. Catherine is the author of an intriguing series of thrillers. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the first two so was delighted to hear that she’s writing the third.
Hi Catherine and welcome to my blog. First off, tell us a little about your books.
I write crime thrillers with a supernatural element. Set in contemporary Liverpool, they are inspired by the Victorian gothic, and by the occult detective stories of the early twentieth century. Readers can follow the story as a straight police procedural, or they can wonder whether there might have been other forces at work. I wanted to develop this idea of the unknowable, of the hidden world beyond our own, and I wanted to watch Detective Inspector Darren Swift’s gradual journey from cynicism towards an acceptance of the supernatural.
Reprobation is inspired by the concept of predestination; the theological doctrine that God decided at the beginning of time who would go to heaven (the elect), or hell (the reprobate). It’s a concept that has always fascinated me. One day I was walking on Crosby Beach, where everybody in Liverpool does their best thinking, and I suddenly had the idea for a story based around this theme. I stayed up all night writing, and by the next morning I had several thousand words and a cast of characters in my head. A crime thriller gradually developed around them.
Consuming Fire is the sequel to Reprobation, and was published in February 2019. It is also inspired by spiritual themes, although it has a very different feel. When I moved to Switzerland two years ago, I discovered the mysterious phenomenon of coupe-feu. There are traditional healers, known as guérisseurs, who use a combination of pagan ritual and Catholic prayer to cure a range of conditions. Coupe-feu cures burns. It’s still common in Switzerland, and is even done over the telephone. So I rather blasphemously turned this around and wondered what happen if instead of praying to angels to cure burns, you prayed to demons to cause fire? And you did it over the phone? Around the same time I discovered an eighteenth century German epic poem by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, which has an obscure subplot in which the fire demon Adramelech plots to become more powerful than both God and Satan. So I thought you could create an evil cult out of these two ideas, a cult that may or may not be responsible for a series of crimes.
Consuming Fire also employs the gothic technique of the ‘found text’; the main narrative is interspersed with extracts from a mysterious seventeenth century grimoire that may or may not be real.
That’s brilliant. (Great covers, too!) So, how would you describe your genre?
Crime thrillers. Although my books could also be considered within the Supernatural Suspense or even Horror genres. Reprobation can certainly be read as a standalone, but Consuming Fire is a sequel, and I am currently writing the third in the series.
Are you one of the elect?
Dr. Helen Hope is a lecturer in eschatology – the study of death, judgement, and the destiny of humankind. She is also a Calvinist nun, her life devoted to atoning for a secret crime.
When a body is found crucified on a Liverpool beach, she forms an unlikely alliance with suspect Mikko Kristensen, lead guitarist in death metal band Total Depravity. Together, they go on the trail of a rogue geneticist who they believe holds the key – not just to the murder, but to something much darker.
Also on the trail is cynical Scouse detective Darren Swift. In his first murder case, he must confront his own lack of faith as a series of horrific crimes drag the city of two cathedrals to the gates of hell.
Science meets religious belief in this gripping murder mystery.
Liverpool is in the grip of an intense heatwave, and strange things are happening.
A woman dies in an apparent case of Spontaneous Human Combustion; a truck explodes on the dock road; the charred corpses of pets litter the city; forest fires ravage the pinewoods…and there are birds everywhere, silent flocks drawing in ominously.
Detective Inspector Darren Swift thinks there are connections, and his investigation delves into the worlds of football, nightclubs and organised crime. But is he imagining things?
Dr. Helen Hope doesn’t think so. And she believes the key lies in a mysterious seventeenth-century occult book which has gone missing from Liverpool Library.
In the blistering sequel to Reprobation, DI Swift is forced to confront some inconvenient ghosts from his past, as a terrifying shadow lies over his city’s future….
Both are cracking good reads. What inspires you most when you sit down to write? Is it characters? Settings? Books you’ve read? Or none of the above?
Theme came first; in fact, I didn’t start out writing a crime thriller at all. I started writing about predestination, because I wanted to understand it. I wasn’t sure if it would be a blog post, a piece of historical research, or even a song! But very quickly a story began to construct itself, and the characters took on lives of their own. Before I knew it I was writing a crime thriller. Setting is important; the books are very much tied to their location of Liverpool, and in that sense I have been inspired by crime fiction that has a strong sense of place; for example Dennis Lehane (Boston), Ian Rankin (Edinburgh). Now that I’m on to writing my third book, the characters are well-established and I would say they are taking the lead. DI Darren Swift, Helen Hope and Mikko Kristensen are on their character arcs and I can’t wait to see what happens to them!
I love the characters and am really looking forward to meeting up with them again.
So, tell us a bit about your writing journey.
Over the years I always loved the writing aspects most about the various jobs I was doing. I worked in banking and had several papers published in very dry financial journals. But I didn’t even imagine being a creative writer until very recently. I was a stay-at-home mum volunteering as a breastfeeding counsellor with a health charity, and I was asked to write a review of some breastfeeding apps for their in-house magazine. It was a very short project but I enjoyed the writing process so much that I think I got the bug. Shortly after that I began writing a blog, more as a diary than anything else, and I found the process very cathartic. The blog led to me getting work as a music journalist, and I was so enthused that within a year I had published nearly fifty articles. Writing for magazines and websites gave me the discipline of being professionally edited and I began seriously learning the craft. I joined a writers’ group and tried some short stories and flash fiction. I had to work hard to stamp out the clipped, legal tone in which I had been trained to write professionally, and it was a joy to return to a more natural, literary style. I would say that my writing is still quite concise though. My books are relatively short; I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as florid!
Reprobation was not my first attempt at a novel; a 60,000-word manuscript for The Veilmaker lies hidden password-protected beneath a series of subfolders on my laptop. I cringe to think that I actually submitted it to a few agents, and it has now been abandoned! But this was the novel in which I taught myself how to write a novel.
We’ve all got those hidden away first attempts, haven’t we? But, as you say, it’s the best way to learn your craft. Tell us a little about your future plans.
I’m really excited about the third book in this series, entitled Sound, which is currently being edited and will be released this September. It’s very much a sequel to Consuming Fire, and the three books form a trilogy. After that, if people are still enjoying my series I’d love to carry on and see where it leads. There is a lot of potential I think.
But I also have a couple of ideas floating around for historical novels. My degree was in History, and I loved the historical research I had to do for Consuming Fire, including the process of writing the seventeenth century pastiche elements.
I will also carry on with my freelance music journalism; it barely pays but it’s a great excuse to go to the heavy metal concerts that I love.
That’s great. I have to admit, heavy metal music is a closed book to me but I absolutely loved that aspect of your books. And as for the gorgeous Mikko…..
Now, how about sharing with us three things that we might not know about you?
- 1. I almost became a concert pianist. As a teenager I performed in big competitions and had an audition for a conservatoire. But I decided to do an academic degree instead. For a while I played for weddings, restaurants, theatres and so on, but I eventually stopped completely. And it’s probably my biggest regret. I always feel a bit sad when I sit at a piano now. I’m sure that’s why I write about music. And why I force my kids to have piano lessons!
- 2. I play guitar and sing backing vocals in a heavy metal band. I absolutely love it, but I’m not very good at the guitar, I don’t really know how to sing, and I’m by far the oldest in the band. Our drummer is 14, to give you an idea. It’s like that movie School Of Rock, and I am definitely the embarrassing Jack Black character.
3. Reprobation was written entirely at night. My youngest daughter didn’t start school until this year, and I have three other children, so my days were full. Plus I was too embarrassed to tell my husband I was writing a novel, so I didn’t write in the evenings. I would wait until everyone was asleep and then sneak out of bed. Now I have weekdays to myself when the kids are at school, and I’d like to tell you that Consuming Fire was written at a romantic desk or in a lakeside café, but I have to admit that my favourite place to write is my local McDonalds.
McDonalds, eh? Now, that’s something I have yet to try! Thank you so much, Catherine for such a fascinating interview.
And now, for those all important social media links
The all important buy link.
Catherine Fearns is from Liverpool, UK. As a music journalist she writes for Pure Grain Audio, Broken Amp and Noisey. Her short fiction and non-fiction pieces have been published in Here Comes Everyone, Toasted Cheese, Offshoots & Metal Music Studies. She holds a degree in History from Oxford University, a Masters from the London School of Economics, and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association. She lives in Geneva with her husband and four children.