Helen Salsbury interviews author and S&C regular contributor Christine Lawrence about her latest novel, a psychological thriller set in the homeless community in Fareham.
Helen Salsbury (HS): Why did you write Don’t Step on the Cracks?
Christine Lawrence (CL): I wrote it after being concerned at the amount of homeless people I kept seeing in the streets of Fareham and Portsmouth. It seemed as though there were more and more people without a roof over their heads. People talked about those on the streets as though they were to be shunned, that they were all drug addicts, alcoholics, beggars, and thieves who were only there due to their own bad choices and behaviours. I wanted to find out more about what could be done to help and to show people that homelessness could happen to anyone.
HS: Do you have an ideal reader in mind when you write?
CL: My ideal
reader would be someone who enjoys reading thrillers with a message.
HS: All your novels are set in South Hampshire with plenty of recognisable settings. Why?
CL: Writing about the area in which I live and am familiar with adds depth to my writing. When people read a novel that’s set in a place they know, it seems to bring enjoyment to their reading, especially if the writing is set in a time in the near past. The memory of walking down a street that they are reading about, brings another level. In my latest novel, I used the fact that every time I walk through my local town, I see homeless people, I figured that my readers must see them too.
HS: How do you develop your novels?
CL: I start with an idea, create a couple of characters, usually based on people I have seen or known in the past, then imagine the kind of situation they may be struggling with. After devising a few characters and working out how they interact, I start to plot.
HS: How do you get to know your characters?
CL: I devise characters by getting inside their heads, writing a personal journal for each, allowing them to tell their own story, family life, childhood, etc.
HS: How would you describe your writing style?
CL: I write from the heart, using emotional situations, with descriptions of the scene and what the characters are feeling and experiencing.
HS: Much of your writing focusses on traumatic relationships, mental health and healing journeys. What moves you to write about these subjects and how much has your previous occupation as a psychiatric nurse informed this?
CL: I write about things that I am passionate about. Having personal experience of abuse, traumatic relationships and how to overcome and heal, both for myself as well as with the many people I have worked with, I feel it’s important to give a voice to those who have struggled with life’s issues.
My previous work as a mental health nurse has been very important in informing the situations and resolutions that I write about. It has given me ideas for so many rich characters and stories that just had to be shared to help the general public have an awareness of what life is like for those who are suffering.
HS: Which character in Don’t Step on the Cracks did you find hardest to leave at the end of the book and why?
CL: I enjoyed all of the characters. I don’t have a specific one that was hard to leave. I think it’s because they feel real to me, and I’d like to imagine that they are all moving on with their lives in a positive way somewhere.
HS: Who would you like to be compared to as an author?
CL: I don’t think about comparing myself to other authors, and can’t imagine ever being well known. I think I am successful in that I have three books now, and although all self-published, and probably only read by a few hundred people, I enjoy what I do very much. It’s kind of enough.
HS: What’s your favourite kind of research?
CL: I love going out into the world and talking to real people, asking questions and using real-life stories to develop my ideas. I also love reading the research available in the history centre. I am researching life in the Portsmouth Borough Asylum during WW1 at the moment and I love to spend time reading hospital records of that time. I also love reading books, other novels similar to those that I write, and anything I can find to enrich my knowledge.
HS: What advice would you give to a novice writer when it comes to research?
CL: My advice is to look at any avenue you can: use libraries, the internet, talk to people, travel to the places you want to write about and get to know them.
HS: Which era are you most at home with as a writer?
CL: So far the era I felt most comfortable in writing about was the 1970s and 1980s mainly because those times are in my memory, I have a good recall, and there were no mobile phones and internet then so it was more simple to write about.
HS: Given the number of creative writing workshops you are involved with running, you clearly enjoy teaching them, can you tell me why?
CL: I love to share what I know with others. It gives me a good feeling when I see people develop their writing and performing skills. It’s great to help a person to achieve their potential. Writing is a powerful tool for healing and building confidence and that is so important for well-being.
During Portsmouth BookFest, Helen and Christine will be joining Loree Westron on Wednesday 23rd February for a live panel discussion led by interviewer Vin Adams: ‘A funny thing happened while I was researching my novel.’ Using anecdote and illustration, this chatty, fun and informative event will explore the role of research in creating authentic and compelling novels.
Christine will also be co-tutoring a series of workshops alongside Jackie Green, ‘Speak Up: writing, performance and finding your voice’ on 21st and 28th February and 7th March. On 12th March she will be appearing on the Mystery Fest Contemporary Crime panel.
Don’t Step on the Cracks is available available at:
- The Book Shop, Lee on the Solent
- Online from here
- Direct from the author, by email to email@example.com
Book ‘A funny thing happened while I was researching my novel’, ‘Speak Up: writing, performance and finding your voice’ and/or the Mystery Fest Contemporary Crime panel here.