November 16

Blood Axe – Q&A with Leigh Russell

Today I am delighted to be able to welcome Leigh Russell to Grab This Book. I  was introduced to Leigh’s work last year when I read Race to Death a great murder mystery which featured DI Ian Peterson who also takes the lead in Leigh’s new book: Blood Axe.  I was thrilled to be offered the chance to join the Blood Axe blog tour and I was delighted that Leigh agreed to take time to answer a few of my questions.


Can you tell us a little about Blood Axe?

Blood Axe features perhaps one of my simplest and yet most mysterious killers so far. It’s difficult to say too much without risking spoilers, so I think all I can say is, please read the book and find out… In Blood Axe, Ian Peterson has his work cut out trying to trace a very elusive killer while, at the same time, coping with the threatened break down of his marriage.

Blood AxeBlood Axe is the third book to feature DI Ian Peterson as the lead character yet readers may still primarily associate you with the Geraldine Steel novels. Why did you decide to give Peterson a chance to run solo rather than create a new detective team from scratch?

When Geraldine Steel moves to London, leaving her sergeant behind, they keep in touch. Ian Peterson appears briefly in her following books. So when the Geraldine Steel series became popular, and my publisher was talking about my writing a second series, a spin off series for Ian Peterson seemed like a good idea.  It has been a challenge to develop the two characters and have them  interact across the two series, at the same time making sure each book also works as a stand alone for readers who chance upon any of them. After what happens to Ian Peterson in Blood Axe, there are plenty of interesting possibilities for his future, but I don’t want to include any spoilers here!

Do you begin a new book by deciding that you are going to write a Geraldine Steel or Ian Peterson story or does the plot idea come first and you work out which character is the ‘best fit’ for the lead?

The process starts with my schedule, and which series I need to write for next. If I have to deliver a manuscript for Geraldine Steel in six months’ time, I can’t become engrossed in a story set in York.  Recently I  signed a three book deal with Thomas and Mercer, as well as accepting another three book deal for No Exit Press. With the new Lucy Hall series to write, I have decided to focus on Geraldine Steel and the Ian Peterson series is going to lapse for a while. But he is not going to disappear as a character, so you can speculate about what is going to happen next, which is what I’m doing right now.

As Blood Axe draws upon on the history of York, and features one of the main tourist attractions in the city, I imagine that Blood Axe was always going to be a Peterson book?

Yes, the inspiration for Blood Axe came to me while I was on a visit to York. By chance the British Museum was hosting a major exhibition, with lectures, about the Vikings, giving me access to some of the world experts on Viking culture and civilisation. The exhibition and lectures were fascinating, and the experts were incredibly helpful, as I was keen to make sure my Viking’s thoughts and beliefs were as authentic as possible.

Why did you choose York for Peterson’s stories?

I wanted him to move to a town or city that was a long way from Kent, where his wife’s family live. He has connections with the area, as he was born there. But the most important reason was that I love York, and setting the Ian Peterson series there means I can go there regularly on research trips. I’ll be back there in November for book signings, and back again in March when I’ll be talking at York Literature Festival about why I set my series in York.

I always like to ask this:  Why do readers love serial killer stories given how horrific the concept is in reality?

True crime is a popular  genre, and I understand its appeal, but I don’t like reading about real crimes. I find it too upsetting. Yet somehow, in fiction, crime becomes a form of entertainment. I think there are several reasons for the appeal of serial killers. Crime fiction is, basically, goodies and baddies. The more evil the villain is, the more desperate readers are to see the killer brought to justice. So serial killers make for tense reading. They can also be interesting characters, and I am always fascinated by my killers. A review in Crime Time wrote that ‘Russell takes the reader into the darkest recesses of the human psyche’. I’m not sure how I get there, but it’s all fiction!

On a more personal level, what do you enjoy reading? Who do you consider to be your favourite authors?

 My taste in reading is fairly eclectic. I was fortunate enough to spend four years studying English Literature at university, which meant that I basically spent four years reading. I really can’t pick out favourite authors, but a few I particularly like are Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Mary Shelley, Dickens, Jeffery Deaver, Edith Wharton, Kazuo Ishiguru, Frances Fyfield, Lee Child, Simin Beckett… there are hundreds more… it’s a bit of a mixture!

leigh_russellWhen do you find time to write and do you have a writing habit or routine?

I am so busy at the moment, with a new book just out, that is quite difficult to find time to write. That said, I have no set routine, and am rarely free to spend a whole day at home focusing solely on writing. There is always something going on, meetings with my publishers, book signings, library talks, literary festivals, interviews, research, apart from everything else in life… When I can spend a day at home, I usually stay in bed until late morning, answering emails and planning my writing for the day… with a little procrastination on social media thrown in… After that, I move into my study and settle down to write. Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter to me where I am as I write in bed, at my desk, in the car (not when I’m driving!), on the train, in cafes. I never leave the house without my ipad. The final edited manuscript for the first book in my new Lucy Hall series, Journey to Death, was emailed from a beach in the Seychelles where I had gone on a research trip. With the Internet, you really can write anywhere in the world.

Are you a meticulous plotter, do you sit down and prepare exactly how the story will unfold before you start to write?

I try to plot my books carefully in advance, but my ideas don’t always work out. The overall shape of the book is in my head before I start, what Lee Child calls his “five second elevator pitch”, but writing books is an organic process for me. If is much more fun to write and see what happens. Sometimes it works out on the first attempt. With more books to write, I am having to work to tighter deadlines with less time for revising and reworking, so I might have to be more meticulous at the planning stage.

When not writing how do you enjoy spending your downtime?

I haven’t had any down time for about six years, but I enjoy what I do and think myself lucky to be able to write full time.

Finally, can you give us any clues as to what we can hope to see in your next book?

I’m just planning the ninth Geraldine Steel novel. There may be some surprising revelations about Geraldine’s family that lead her to question herself and the kind of person she is. Oh, and there’s a murder fairly early on…


My thanks to Leigh.

Blood Axe is published by No Exit Press and is available in paperback and digital formats here:

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Posted November 16, 2015 by Gordon in category "Blog Tours", "Guests