Turning to crime

10 October 2015

By Pan Macmillan

Shari Low talks about her new novel with Ross King, Breaking Hollywood, and how writing a crime novel is 'sometimes terrifying, often challenging but always strangely and absolutely satisfying'.

A quick scan of my book shelves at home and it soon becomes clear that I’m deeply unfaithful when it comes to the love of any particular fiction genre.

A lifelong voracious reading habit, compounded by twelve years as a book reviewer for a newspaper has given me eclectic tastes. Wonderful, heartwarming novels by Marian Keyes and Jenny Colgan nestle next to retrotastic delights by Sidney Sheldon and Harold Robbins. The complete works of Shakespeare share a space with the complete works of Jackie Collins. One shelf hosts a treasured coupling of Jilly Cooper’s fabulous bonkbusters and my favourite tomes of all time, the exquisite brilliance of James Clavell’s Asian sagas.

But if I were to swear an oath of fidelity to one field of fiction, it would be the dark world of crime and punishment, that corner of my room where the international kingpins of carnage cohabit in a deadly cease-fire with the overlords of Tartan Noir. So it’s no surprise that after a decade of writing novels about tangled relationships with a comedic twist, stepping into the shadows to write a gritty thriller was a creative step I was longing to take.

Jono Leith, the dark, destructive character in Taking Hollywood had been living in a corner of my mind for a long time, so when Ross King and I sat down to discuss the storylines for Taking Hollywood, we knew by the end of the first conversation that the glittering sheen of our Hollywood glamour would be tarnished by a twisted, brutal thug from 80s Glasgow. Not the most natural combination, but we instantly understood how it could work.

Leith was that pervasive presence, not inspired by any one person, but an amalgamation of many, that force of evil that touches so many lives, giving a proverbial kicking to all around them and leaving scars that last a lifetime.

Leith was a man I remembered, one I recognised, understood and despised. Making him a reality twisted my guts, as he stood there, tooled up and spitting venom, daring me to challenge him, to take him on, knowing that by the end of it there was a real possibility that only one of us would still be standing. No spoilers here, but the battle was brutal.

In our second book, Breaking Hollywood, Ross and I knew that we wanted to return to that precarious dichotomy of stellar lives and harrowing deaths. Behind every line, every page, every action, is the foreboding threat of a killer who is teasing, taunting the characters, deciding who will live and die.

Writing it was sometimes terrifying, often challenging but always strangely and absolutely satisfying.

So am I now a hostage to a life of crime?

Not quite.

I enjoy my time in the shadows, but I still love to emerge, blinking, into the sunlight. Like my reading, my writing will avoid fidelity to one genre, alternating between killers and complex affairs of the heart.

Two very different themes – but I like to thing there’s some synergy there. Whether we’re talking murderous thrillers or relationship thrills, both come with a crime scene and a hazard warning.

Breaking Hollywood is out now.

Zander Leith, Davie Johnston and Mirren McLean, three movie industry legends whose stars shine bright over Hollywood. They've fought their way to the top and glossed over the sordid secrets that gave them their fame and fortune.

But in the city of angels, happy endings only happen on screen, because in the shadows of success, there's always someone waiting to take you down.

When lives are threatened, Zander, Davie and Mirren realise there is a killer out there who knows everything about them, one who will go to any lengths to take their revenge. And the nightmares they left behind are about to become a deadly reality...

Read the first chapter