Today, I’m talking to crime writer Heather Critchlow about her brilliant debut novel, Unsolved. Heather talks about the inspiration behind the novel, and shares her experiences of becoming a published author and her top three writing tips.
Unsolved is your first published novel. What was the inspiration for the book?
I’ve been obsessed with true crime podcasts ever since Serial came out in 2014. Series such as The Teacher’s Pet, Someone Knows Something and Up and Vanished have helped solve cold cases decades after victims disappeared – bringing resolution to their families.
I find it fascinating and heartening to see how time, a fresh pair of eyes and some dedication can help unearth the truth. In Unsolved, I wanted to delve behind the scenes and ask what might motivate a podcaster to chase answers. My protagonist Cal Lovett lost his own sister when he was nine years old – she vanished and has never been found – and this drives him to seek justice for others.
The setting of rural Aberdeenshire is also a real inspiration for me. I grew up in the foothills of Bennachie, working part-time in a country house hotel as victim Layla does. The landscape is both beautiful and brutal and I wanted to convey Layla’s isolation when she rides into the woods on her horse and doesn’t come out. Thirty-five years on, Cal travels to the area to help her family find out what happened to her.
As you know, becoming a published author isn’t easy. Could you share your own path to publication?
My path has been very long! I’ve been writing since my teens – and had some horrible rejections in my twenties that put me off for a while. I tried to forget about writing and focus on my career and having children, but it kept nagging at me. Five years ago, I realised writing and failing was preferable to not writing at all so I joined a Writers and Artists course for people who had a first draft of a novel to work on. The course, run by author Bill Ryan, was brilliant and I made writing friends who I still meet up with for feedback sessions every month.
I then met my agent, Charlotte Seymour, at the Winchester writing festival. Once she’d signed me, she helped me edit my novel and put it out on submission with publishers. Sadly, it didn’t sell – and neither did the next one we sent out! Luckily, my third novel to go out on sub sold to Canelo a year ago and it’s amazing to see it in print.
Top three tips for anyone who’s thinking of writing a novel?
Persevere – most writers have long and twisting paths to publication. Rejection doesn’t mean it will never happen.
Keep writing – especially while you are submitting to agents or publishers. If your sub is successful your publisher will want a second novel, if it doesn’t you’ll need something else to go out with.
Make friends – whether online, at festivals or in local writing groups, make friends with other writers. Share your work and enjoy helping each other improve. No-one understands the rollercoaster like another writer…
What book are you working on now and when will it be published?
I am just finishing edits on book two in the Cal Lovett series: Unburied. Cal travels to the west coast of Scotland on holiday and is drawn into investigating a tragic shooting in a remote farmhouse. Meanwhile, there is progress in the investigation into his own sister’s disappearance. Unburied is due out early in 2024. I’m also writing the third book in the series.
Website, social medial links, etc?
Unspoken is out now and available to buy from all good bookshops, including Amazon.