Following her trip to England for the Festival this July we caught up with Amanda Kyle Williams to find out her Harrogate Highlights, what she is reading at the moment and what a course in ‘Practical Homicide Investigation’ involves!
The first book in her new series, The Stranger You Seek introduces Georgia bail recovery agent and former FBI profiler, Keye Street. With witty dialogue, tense plot twists and a flawed but fascinating heroine this is a must read for anyone looking for a new series to get hooked on! The follow up, Stranger in the Room is also available now.
Thank you for taking time out to answer our questions. You were a panellist at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival this July, what were your highlights of the Festival?
Ah, well not sure this is a highlight but I can’t resist. The moderator on my panel, who had done a fabulous job with intelligent questions that kept the writers talking, suddenly covered her mouth midway through and dashed off the stage only to lose her breakfast in a bag someone held out. There was five seconds of terrified silence as four writers were left on stage with absolutely no idea how to go on. Fortunately one of the authors had the presence of mind to take over and keep us moving. We had a lovely discussion! But seriously what I loved about the festival, besides it’s in gorgeous Harrogate, was the huge crowds. Gives writers like me an opportunity to introduce myself to a new audience. It’s not like that out there in the real world touring bookshops. It’s brutal. People are busy. Hard to get them out of their homes and into a bookstore to support an author. You’re talking to three people and thirty empty chairs. So thank you Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival for bringing together a bunch of crime fic lovers and writers and allowing me to be part of a great event. I made some friends. And I’ve had letters since the festival from new readers who discovered me there.
Have you been to any other crime festivals, and if so how do they compare to Harrogate?
If I had to compare it to another festival it would have to be The Decatur Book Festival, which is the largest independent book fest in the United States, though it allows all genres. It also happens to be in my hometown of Decatur, Georgia. Like Harrogate, it’s a small town. Once a year it’s crammed with 75,000 readers and 300 writers and for two days it’s heaven. We close down the streets for books! What’s not to love about that? As for festivals that concentrate solely on the crime fic world, here in the States we have several. But it’s so different. Basically you’re in stuffy conference hotels. The old inn at Harrogate was so lovely. The organizers are due some pats on the back for scheduling great events loaded with heavy-hitters from the crime fic world. Thoroughly enjoyed my panel, especially the unexpected turn it took. (laughing) Is that so wrong? I caught a few other great panels as well. I have a rule at crime writing festivals and conferences—find Val McDermid’s panel. She always gets my eyebrows up and gives me a laugh.
Your biography includes a long list of previous jobs, including work with a PI firm on surveillance, how has this influenced your writing?
That job, working with a PI firm in Atlanta, ended up informing my work more than I could have imagined. I was also a registered process server at the time, serving court papers to people who did not necessarily want to be served. My protagonist, Keye Street, is doing a lot of the jobs I did back then. I’m writing fiction around them, of course. I did not carry a 10mm Glock like Keye always has handy. Not all Americans are heavily armed. Most of us would end up blowing off our own toe.
You have taken courses in criminal profiling and something rather intriguingly called ‘practical homicide investigation.’ Firstly was this as exciting as it sounds and how important was this research for your writing?
These courses were geared to law enforcement professionals so I was probably the only one who was excited. They were very patient with the overly enthusiastic writer. The course titled Practical Homicide Investigation was taught by a seasoned cop from New York. He has a book out by the same name that is quite detailed and informative. I took the course so I could have some real world understanding of how a homicide department approaches an investigation, about protocol. My protagonist is a private detective but she also works with law enforcement as a consultant because her background is in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. Readers are savvy. They want you to get it right. And they deserve that. Taking the time to do this kind of research gave me the confidence I needed to jump into writing mystery/thrillers with a hint of the procedural and to produce relatively authentic fiction. Studying criminal profiling was meant to help me understand how a profiler works a case, how they might interpret the physical aspects of a crime scene and infer psychological characteristics on the offender.
Your protagonist Keye Street has something of a complicated life, what inspired you to create a character with so many challenges?
I think we all have challenges and complications, to be honest. We generally try to be decent humans and we fail sometimes. We have demons to wrestle down, addictions, obsessions, selfishness, insecurities. We construct all these obstacles that get in the way of our own happiness. I wanted to keep it real. I wanted readers to see themselves in Keye. Even though I’m putting my detective in extraordinary circumstances, she’s tragically human with all the frailties that come with that. And, there is a very rich tradition of damaged private detectives in fiction. We like them because they’re a little broken. We root for them because they’re trying like we are to find their footing.
The books sucked. Is that a good enough reason to just quit? It’s really a blessing and a curse when your first works are published. As a writer, I didn’t know my ass from my elbow. I hadn’t even begun to learn how to write in an honest way. A friend of mine used to tell me “Just write like you talk. I’d read that. But this doesn’t feel real.” Sounds easy doesn’t it? It’s not. You have to mow down some walls. You have to learn to write without pretension, let the veil down, take your own ego out of the mix. Doesn’t matter what you’re writing. If you’re not willing to just let go, just let it fly, it’s not going to ring true. It took me a while to get there. I needed to find something authentic inside myself before I could develop characters that look and sound like the people we know. I had to be willing to pile them up with human flaws and not give a damn about what that says about my own shortcomings. That was a journey for me. It took until I was fifty years old. Hey, don’t judge. I’m a late bloomer. The great thing about having produced a small press series is that ten years later I came to the Keye Street “Stranger” series with a good understanding of how to handle a series, how much to give a reader who starts with book two or three.
Which other writers have inspired you recently? Who would you recommend to You’re Booked readers as not to be missed?
Actually, I’ve been going back to some old favorites like Raymond Chandler, Pat Conroy and James Lee Burke. Do you see the common thread? All these writers have an amazing gift for setting, for dropping the reader into a place. Love that. I want to know what the air smells like and feels like, what the food tastes like, what the accents sound like. It’s something I work hard on in my books and writers who can do that inspire me. As for today’s bestselling authors, I like the ones that grab you in the first chapter and don’t let you go—Tess Gerritsen, William Landay (Defending Jacob), Kathy Reichs, Lee Child, Michael Connelly. I’m waiting to check out Cornwell’s latest. I just read a debut that was some of the most hard-boiled writing I’ve read in a while. Peter Farris Last Call For The Living. It’s about a bank heist and a backwoods brotherhood of the most despicable men I’ve ever read. Hated them all and could not stop reading it. Incredibly raw and well written, especially for a debut. It does not shine a positive light on the American South, but I’ll be in line for Peter’s next book.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to aspiring crime writers?
Know your monsters. If you know them, you can make them real. Why are they doing what they’re doing, what does it say about their psychological and emotional needs? Profile them. Get inside their head. Scare the hell out of yourself. It pays off.