Rachel Amphlett is the successful author of a number of thriller novels. Her most recent book, Scared to Death, is the first in her Kay Hunter series and was released on the 6th December. I spoke to her about how she first began writing and she has some very useful tips for any aspiring thriller writers.
How and when did you first start writing?
I wrote my first short story at the age of eight, although my mum had to type it up because no-one could read my writing at the time! I really enjoyed the creative writing exercises we were set when I was at secondary school, but when I left education system my writing got ignored because I was too busy playing guitar in bands.
It wasn’t until a few years after I emigrated to Australia that the right side of my brain started yelling out for something creative to do, and I started off by writing short stories. Some of those got published or won competitions, and that gave me the confidence to try my hand at writing a novel.
I read on your blog that you moved to Australia from the UK in 2005. Do you prefer to use Australia or the UK as the location for your writing, an why?
I prefer the UK, which might sound strange to my Aussie friends, but I think it’s because I spent longer there than I have in Australia. I return every couple of years (and that’s going to be every year in the future so I can come along to one of the crime festivals as well as catching up with family), and I’m very familiar with the culture and landscape. I’m more comfortable writing about English protagonists.
Have you always written in the crime thriller genre, or have you tried a range of different subjects?
Mostly in the crime thriller genre, although I’ve sort of dipped my toe into other sub-genres such as espionage thrillers, and two of my stand-alone thrillers had a bit more romance chucked in because the story required it.
The focus of your latest book, Scared to Death, is a serial killer who is murdering children. I imagine it must sometimes get difficult writing about such intense subjects – is there anything you like to do to relax or take your mind away from writing?
Yes, this series is definitely taking me down darker avenues than I’ve been used to with my previous espionage thrillers. I find walking Floyd, our Saluki, helps a lot – it clears my head and gets me out into the sunlight. I love losing myself in music, too – it’s probably because I used to play in bands and have fond memories of that time. I’ve also got a fantastic support network of other crime authors to chat with over e-mail or Skype. I find it fascinating that we write about these dark subjects but are so friendly!
How did you come up with your lead detective, Kay Hunter, for the new series? Is she based on anyone you know?
Kay isn’t really based on anyone in particular, but a mixture of traits and characteristics I’ve seen in people over the years. I was quite determined that she wouldn’t have a broken home environment, even though she’s had her fair share of personal tragedy and professional obstacles that she’s doing her best to overcome throughout the series. Rather than label her ‘strong’, I’d like people to remember her as ‘resilient’. She knows and understands her limitations – that’s why she relies so much on the team around her. She’s not a lone wolf.
Who is/are your favourite crime thriller authors?
I’ve got such a wide range of books on the shelves and on my Kindle, but as an example I read everything by Peter James, Val McDermid, Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Robert Crais. I’ve also enjoyed a lot of books that have been released over the past couple of years by authors such as Robert Bryndza, Angela Marsons, Martin Edwards, Tom Bale and Caroline Mitchell.
Do you have any tips for aspiring crime/thriller writers?
First, don’t give up.
Read every interview you can with your writing heroes. When I was outlining this new Kay Hunter series, I inhaled every interview I could find with authors such as Peter James, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly and Val McDermid. I can write a good plot, but reading those interviews was like going back to college and sitting in lectures – I’ve got pages of notes.
I did the same years ago when I was learning to play guitar – I’d learn songs by rock bands I liked, but then went back and learned songs by bands that had influenced them – you build up solid foundations that way.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help – the crime writing community is fantastic for that, and that’s what I enjoy about being a member of International Thriller Writers and Crime Writers Association. There’s always someone else you can ask for guidance, and lots of information on their websites.
Scared to Death Synopsis
When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong.
But Detective Kay Hunter isn’t convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.
When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay’s worst fears are realised.
With her career in jeopardy and desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay’s hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.
For the killer, the game has only just begun…