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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot - Katherine Howell

1. Your first novel FRANTIC has been a big success and congratulations on an engrossing read. The story features 2 very strong female characters in Sophie Phillips and Ella Marconi, both put under extreme pressure. Were you consciously aiming for this powerful dual lead or is that the nature of their jobs? How closely did you draw off your experience as a paramedic for Sophie?

I always wanted to use the paramedic angle, but I also wanted to develop a series. Having a paramedic protagonist as the ongoing character was going to be a problem, though, because it wasn't plausible to have her rush about the city solving crime or going through some incredibly difficult and traumatic experience in each book. Detective Ella Marconi was the answer: she could give the procedural angle on the story, she could provide access to information about the case that the paramedic could never have, plus she was another point of view so allowed the reader a break from the shellshocked mind of Sophie.

I drew from many of my experiences as a paramedic for Sophie, mixing and matching elements of what I'd been through so her cases are not lifted entirely from real life but do stem from there. I like to use the little things that only a paramedic could know: what it's like to crouch in the backseat of a crashed car, caring for the trapped passenger while the driver sits dead behind the wheel and rain pours down outside, for example, or how blood flows off the stretcher and onto the ambulance floor and out under the back door as you're rushing a dying patient to hospital. How you feel about the ones you can't save.People are fascinated with what goes on behind the ambulance's darkened windows, and the books let me show them.

2. THE DARKEST HOUR, your second book will also feature Detective Ella Marconi I believe. Can you give us an overview of what's in store for her?

In THE DARKEST HOUR Ella has been given a temporary spot in the homicide squad and is desperate to make it permanent. What she needs is a good strong open-and-shut case, and she thinks it's fallen right into her lap when a dying man tells Paramedic Lauren Yates the name of the person who stabbed him. But as she works the case, Ella starts to find a few things don't add up - and then Lauren comes to the office, desperate to withdraw her statement ...

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

I love Australian crime fiction. Leigh Redhead is a favourite, as are Peter Temple and Gabrielle Lord. I have all Kathryn Fox's and PD Martin's books too. It seems to me that the scene is healthy and growing, especially when you consider how many Australian crime novels are now being published overseas and getting great reviews if not winning prizes (eg, Adrian Hyland's Diamond Dove and Temple's The Broken Shore).

4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

That's a good question. I think we're doing pretty well, with blogs like these discussing the books, and organisations like Sisters in Crime who work so hard to bring readers and writers together and let the wider reading public know what's happening in the crime fiction world. I guess every author would like more exposure for their own books but there is only so much media space out there, and so many books are being published. I think writing a good book that grows its own good word of mouth is what matters - and the writing part is certainly the only bit of it authors can control.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who > would you like it to be and why?

I think Ella would get on well with Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone. I can picture them putting their feet up and having a good yak!

Katherine Howell's first novel, Frantic was published in 2007. The Darkest Hour is her second book and will be published later this year. You can find out more about Katherine Howell by visiting her website.

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