Your latest novel Cross Fingers is a gripping example of psychological crime fiction. What do you enjoy most about writing this genre?
I like the challenge of crafting a pacey, tightly-written story. That’s something I’m constantly learning about; the importance of a plot with twists and clues that drive the story forwards. Most of all, though, I’m interested in character and what happens when people are pushed to their limits by unexpected and threatening circumstances. I like to create strong women who, while certainly having their own vulnerabilities, are ultimately able to take charge of the situations they’re in.
Where did you draw your inspiration for the feisty lead character, Rebecca Thorne? Did it take a long time to develop her?
Rebecca Thorne was the main character in my last book, ‘Traces of Red’. I wanted a character who I could carry into another novel, maybe even more. She had to be in the kind of career which would allow her to investigate situations which could lead her into trouble but I didn’t want to go the woman detective way because it’s outside my experience and other writers are doing that so well anyway. So I came up with a television journalist- a bit of glamour, some back-stabbing and the possibility of intrigue-. Besides that, my daughter, Amie, has worked in journalism and was able to help me with facts and details so I had a great source of information and help. After that, Rebecca evolved very easily into her own feisty, impulsive, determined and stubborn self!
Cross Fingers revolves around the 1981 Springbok rugby tour. Why this topic?
The easy answer is that the thirty year anniversary was coming up and I was asked to write a few scenes for a film which didn’t eventuate but it had got under my skin and I wanted to do it. Besides that I had my character, Rebecca Thorne, hanging about wanting another story. The other answer is that the tour was a landmark in our history; it divided families, friends, resulted in a distrust of the police force, illustrated to New Zealanders that a certain kind of government will use force against its citizens. At the same time, it demonstrated that, if the cause is important enough New Zealanders, will get out into the streets and protest. In 1981 hundreds of thousands of ordinary New Zealanders demonstrated against a sports team representing an apartheid-led country being allowed into our country. Alongside my character Rebecca I’ve learned so much about the courage and commitment of the protest movement of the time.
Can you describe your research process for this novel.
Geoff Walker, the then managing editor of Penguin was enthusiastic about the idea and was a huge source of information because he’d been a member of COST- citizens opposed to the Springbok tour- at the time of the tour. He had a wealth of stories and he also suggested books, articles and documentaries for me to use in my research. So there was a lot of reading, watching and thinking but, most of all, it seemed whenever I brought up the subject of the tour people had stories to tell. I also spoke to police who’d been involved at the time. I was struck by how momentous this event had been in people’s lives and how it remained such a very strong memory.
Regarding your writing process, do you outline, jump in, or do a bit of both?
I don’t really outline but I think a lot and make a few notes before I start the writing. It’s an odd process to describe because it starts with a feeling- maybe about a place or an imagined character that grows stronger and somehow turns into a story you want to write. The first draft is always the hardest!
Do you have a favourite time to write? If so, when?
I start in the morning and then write into the early afternoon. I like to work for around 3 to 4 hours every day. If it’s hard going sometimes it’s less but when I’m on a roll it’s more….
What are your biggest challenges when writing?
It’s always difficult to begin something new. You have a blank screen and around a hundred thousand words to find. The next challenge is when I’m around half way through I generally get very nervous about whether or not it’s going to work out. The only solution to both problems is to forget the doubts and just keep going.
Any particular writing quirks?
I don’t like to shut myself away but to write in our living room. A comfy chair, my laptop and the view over Otago harbour….
Who are your top writing influences?
I read a lot and I think every good writer I read is an influence in some way- maybe it’s great imagery or the way they portray a character. I like the Ruth Rendel/ Barbara Vine combination, Kate Atkinson, Janet Frame, A.S Byatt, Carol Shields, Tana French, Rose Tremaine, Ian McEwan, Elizabth Strout,Sebastian Faulkes…etc etc.
What are you reading right now?
‘Abide With Me’ by Elizabeth Strout. I read her ‘The Burgess Boys’ and loved it.
What is your favourite thing to do when you are not writing?
Probably reading which makes me sound like a total couch potato but I do like swimming as well- and, of course I love spending time with my family and friends. I’m definitely not a recluse!
What's next for Paddy Richardson?
I’m working on a new novel,’ Swimming in the Dark’. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Leipzig Book Fair, last year and I fell in love with Leipzig so it’s set both in New Zealand and in East Germany under Soviet domination. It’s still at the first draft stage but it’s coming along.
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