Hi Helen, It’s great to welcome you to You’re Booked, and congratulations for being shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year.
To borrow a description, Worst Case Scenario is ‘A deliciously dark, unapologetically funny, and nail-bitingly tense psychological thriller’, can you tell us about the circumstances of writing your book and coming up with this storyline?
I was half way through a book when I left my job as a criminal justice social worker. There was a small scene in the story that featured a sweary, unprofessional social worker, Mary, who had dozens of complaint forms in her bag. I ditched the idea I’d been working on, and started over with the Mary scene. Having left the job, I think I finally felt free to write about the complexity of the role.
What does being shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year mean to you?
Some people read my book and liked it! That means everything to me. And Harrogate is my favourite weekend of the year – hoards of book lovers talking about stories – how could that be anything other than glorious? I’m happy! And so honoured.
What are your feelings on the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year more generally?
As a writer, it’s definitely boosted my morale and helped bring my mojo back!
As a reader, the award process over the years has introduced me to some of my favourite writers, and to new voices and settings. It also facilitates a lovely shared reading experience, and showcases the interminable ways of bending and twisting this fabulous genre.
Looking back now, with the knowledge of all that you’ve learnt what piece of advice would you have given to yourself at the beginning of your writing career?
The feeling of dread that lasts for weeks before you get going is part of the process. It’s your friend. Don’t be afraid of it.
Can you remember the catalyst for you beginning to write your first book, whether that was picking up a pen and paper or making a firm start on your laptop? If so, what was it?
I’d been trying to write screenplays for years and getting nowhere. I told myself that I’d try and change my latest film script into a book when my youngest started school. I started on his first day, and it was fun. Prose was my thing!
We’ve heard of some unusual writing habits over the years, what would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I often get up and dance after a scene, if it’s gone well.
To put you on the spot, we have to ask, apart from your own, do you have a favourite book on the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year Award shortlist?
I find this impossible – what fantastic books! The longlist too – wow – I was so surprised to be shortlisted. If it has to be done… I’m going to go for My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.
In this time of pandemic, books, reading and the arts have come to prominence in society with more people turning to crime fiction as their genre of choice than ever before, why do you think this might be?
Things might be bad, but at least I’m not dissolving in a bucket of acid in a shed in the dessert!
Reading crime fiction is entertainment, escapism, and it’s safe to do during a pandemic.
Also, the stories are usually resolved – the baddy is caught, the child is found, the wife gets revenge – and that’s very comforting when the ending of all this is so unclear.
The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is not just a celebration of writers, but of the readers too. What does the pleasure of reading mean to you?
When I take to a book I don’t put it down, it’s a ride.
And finally, what’s next for Helen FitzGerald?
I’m working on something tentatively called The Grey Nomads, and is about Joy (72), who’s lost her husband, and – thanks to a scammer – all her savings. Joy doesn’t want to bother her daughter, whose home has been Canada for the last thirty years. She’s on her own. No-one is going to love her, no-one is going to look after her. She rips the guts out of her husband’s post- retirement hobby, a grotty, oily, Churros van and – with the help of “Alexa” and “George Clarke’s Small Spaces” – builds herself a mobile home. She sells her house in Adelaide, stashes the proceeds in the chemical toilet of her van, and takes off into the desert where she will be gloriously alone, needing no-one, being disappointed by no-one. She will find peace.
But the outback is busy; camper-vans are like flies, secret spots are no longer secret, caravan parks are crammed and stinking.
Worse, the desert has become a battleground for the Young versus the Old.
Gangs of disenfranchised, unemployed youths have taken to robbing grey nomads, who are moving targets, and who deserve it after all – Selfish baby-boomers, doing the Big Lap on repeat till the inheritances and and the care expenses run out.
So it’s impossible for Joy to find peace, even in the desert.
And after she’s robbed the second time, she doesn’t want to anymore.
Gosh, that sounds fantastic we’ll be sure to make room for that on our reading piles.