One of the lovely things about being a writer is that you get to talk to other writers about their books and I am delighted to welcome on to my blog today Helen Bridgett to talk about her new book “Wrong Sort of Girl”
Helen said, her writing journey started when, having failed miserably with every New Year’s resolution that involved diets, one year, she set herself a completely different goal – to write a novel and give it as a Christmas present. Having written one, she couldn’t stop!
As well as crime, Helen also writes feel-good fiction. Her first novel, The Mercury Travel Club featured laugh-out-loud characters who took on a life of their own resulting in the sequel, The Heat is On. Then, in 2020 a new set of characters took up the main stage in Summer at Serenity Bay – a fictional village on the glorious Northumberland coast. These characters will be back on November 12th 2021 for Christmas at Serenity Bay.
Outside of writing, Helen loves being outdoors walking with the dog and enjoying a glass of wine and banter with friends.
So, Helen, welcome. Thank you for joining me on my blog today. 2021 has been a busy year for you hasn’t it, with the publication of your debut crime novel – One by One – featuring Professor Maxie Reddick, published by Ruby Fiction. And now your second book in the series, “Wrong Sort of Girl”, an intense and gripping thriller, has been published on 12th October 2021; and I, for one, was delighted you brought Maxie back for a second book, before we start, can you say something about the book.
Wrong Sort of Girl
Book 2 in the Maxie Reddick Series
A young woman has gone missing. It’s nearly Christmas. Why does hardly anyone seem to care?
Kelly Ingles should have been a case to tug on the public’s heartstrings: a young woman who’s gone missing in the run-up to Christmas.
But Kelly wasn’t perfect – she liked to party, enjoyed a drink, didn’t always make the best decisions. And when evidence of her drunken antics appears online, it becomes clear that Kelly might not just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time; she might also be the wrong sort of girl to encourage public sympathy.
It’s a case that’s right up Maxie Reddick’s street. As a criminology professor, she’s made it her mission to challenge unconscious biases within the criminal justice system – the sort of biases that cause girls like Kelly to slip through the cracks.
But can she get the police and public on board before it’s too late?
Maxie set up the ACU, can you tell me something about that and her relationship to the police?
The ACU stands for the Applied Criminology Unit and it’s a department that Professor Maxie Reddick has set up at her University. My novels aren’t police procedurals but I needed my heroine to have a job that justified her getting involved with investigations. So Maxie is a professor of Criminology and during my research I discovered that many Universities do have departments that conduct research for their local police forces. They might look into profiling or cybercrime and the work they do informs policy. So Maxie has a genuine reason to be involved with the police investigations and although she’s an expert in policing, she isn’t restrained by the rules – it’s the ideal situation for her.
I love that all your novels feature strong female leads who are faced with situations that they have to resolve. And the ACU is an ideal vehicle and such an original idea for a character and in your books puts Maxie so close to the investigations. I love that we see how she works each case out. Can you tell me a bit about your research?
I do so much research but fortunately it’s something that I really love doing. In fact there is always a danger that I’ll get so lost in the research that I actually forget I have a book to write! UK crime statistics and police procedures are easily found online and I keep them close to hand when I’m writing. I also look into the programmes Universities are running to see what the hot topics are – they can quite often inspire a theme within the novel. For example in Wrong Sort of Girl, I talk about Unconscious Bias – which is a very well researched area of criminology. It’s about how we judge people based on how they look and how this affects the type of justice they receive. My victim – Kelly – is a party loving woman and because of this, the public don’t really seem to care about her. It’s a fascinating area to read about. I was also really interested to find out about the spike in missing persons at Christmas and why that happens. The police do often think that a Christmas missing person is sleeping off a drunken night and will eventually come home – knowing this gave me a time window to use for my story.
As well as online research, I do get out there and walk the streets I feature at different times of the day. I like to check out the lighting, how busy places are, whether there are any little side streets I hadn’t noticed and also whether they have any CCTV. I also do strange things that can involve acting scenarios out. I’ve asked for my hands to be tied behind my back so I can see what it feels like and I’ve lain on the concrete floor of the garage to see how long it takes for my body to go numb! We’re a very strange bunch we writers!
Who or what inspired this book?
The series was initially inspired by a newspaper article into police statistics and conviction rates. The numbers were appalling and showed that convictions were falling so more and more crimes were going unpunished. It also showed that the rates varied widely across the country – so some forces were much better than others. I was really surprised by this and wanted my heroine to be very angry about them. She hates TV cop shows where all crimes are solved – and usually within the hour! She wants to get involved in investigations because she really believes she can help.
With regard to this second book in the series, I was motivated (because inspired seems the wrong word to use) by the horrific trolling some women seem to get on social media. My victim isn’t perfect – she drinks, flirts and parties – but why does that matter? I really wanted Professor Maxie Reddick to show the world that it doesn’t matter – we’re all important no matter what we look like.
In the book Maxie imagine walking a mile in one of the suspect’s shoes. If you could walk a mile in anyone’s shoes, whose would they be and why?
Oh – what an interesting question. I’m drawn to saying a member of the Royal Family – possibly the Queen in her younger years. I don’t think anyone outside the family can truly understand what it’s like to be born into that regime and to live a life in public. Does she ever kick off her shoes and snuggle up on the sofa watching The Chase with a cuppa a packet of hobnobs? Does she even know what hobnobs are?
And if I can’t be the Queen, then perhaps I’ll be Beyonce for a day so I can know how it feels to belt out songs and dance on stage. I couldn’t do it for long though – those heels would kill me!
You and I both write about imaginary towns, are Helmsforth and Stanmer based on real places. How do you create your locations?
Yes – they are based on real places but as the names suggest – they’re a bit of a mash-up! For this series, I needed a location which had both a coastline and canals. I decided to use Lancashire as the base because I went to University in Lancaster. I knew from there, Maxie could easily reach Morecambe Bay for the coast and could reach the canals and Victorian mills of Galgate and beyond. I also needed to work in smaller towns because they’re less likely to have CCTV in the streets. So the storyline really dictated the area but I have to say, I have really taken liberties with the geography of the area!
Who or what inspired you to write thrillers?
I do read very widely – so I usually have both a thriller and a rom-com on my bedside table. I also watch TV detectives and am always trying to guess whodunit! In deciding to write a thriller, I wanted to try and put readers in the driving seat. Maxie is just a normal person and she has to work out what has happened – I hope that readers go on that journey with her and ask themselves what they would do in her situation. She isn’t prepared to sit back and do nothing and I imagine many people would feel the same. I wanted to create a book based on real issues that readers will recognise.
I was once told a good way of getting to know a female character was to analyse the contents of their handbags. At one point Maxie’s handbag is turned out. Talk about four or five things found in there that you think tell us something about who Maxie is?
Well Maxie likes to eat so there is bound to be some chocolate in there! Or at least the wrapper of a bar she’s already finished!
Her phone is never far away as she records her thoughts and questions from crime scenes on it and she’d want to keep a photo of her son Karl close to hand. She’s also suffering from empty-nest syndrome as he’s recently left home so cannot resist messaging him way too often.
Maxie is also the co-host of a weekly podcast – Criminal Thoughts. With her co-presented, she discusses issues that appear in the news or recent research that she’s conducted. She’s a professional so would want to listen to it and think of ways to improve it. So she’d probably have some earbuds in her handbag so she can listen to it on the go. I imagine they were a gift from her son as Maxie would not have thought of getting wireless ones.
And finally, Maxie gets herself ready to face the world by putting on a bright lipstick, so she’d definitely have at least one in her bag. She loves deep plum or red colours and when she’s wearing a bold colour – she becomes Professor Maxie Reddick – a strong and forceful woman.
I know you have another book Christmas at Serenity Bay due out next month and this a feel-good novel that I’m looking forward to reading. How easy do you find it to switch from one genre to another?
It’s a little like switching genre when you’re reading. Some days you want to read something that will give you a laugh and on others you want to be challenged. In all my novels, I have female protagonists who find themselves in a situation they haven’t faced before so in many ways, I’m just acting out those scenarios. Writing crime can be quite draining – especially when you’re doing the research so it is lovely to be able to switch off and get back to having a good old giggle with my rom-com characters.
Both books are set at Christmas, tell me about Christmas in the Bridgett household.
I tend to host Christmas for the family as I do love cooking. I also love baking and will be getting into the mood with this year’s cake in a few weeks on stir-up Sunday. I soak the fruit for at least 24 hours before it goes into the cake as this really makes it moist and if you prefer not to add alcohol then a fruit tea tastes truly delicious.
Aside from baking, I think I’d like to start some new traditions this year. Last Christmas was different for everyone and we did some things that we wouldn’t have done previously because of that. In particular, we had a long walk along the clifftops in the morning with my parents. We’d taken flasks of coffee and slices of stollen and it was really lovely sitting in the fresh air having a Christmassy picnic. It was a relaxing start to the day and something that I would really like to continue.
Thank you so much for your time today Helen, good luck with the book, and I hope we meet Maxie again soon.
Google Books: https://bit.ly/3Fr8FEH
Website: Wrong Sort of Girl (rubyfiction.com)
Author links? www.twitter.com/Helen_Bridgett