Katherine Howell is an Australian ex-paramedic who uses that experience to excellent effect in her bestselling crime series featuring Sydney police detective Ella Marconi. She talked to The Big Thrill about her work.
Tell us about your latest book.
SILENT FEAR is the fifth book in the series, and it kicks off on a searing summer’s day when paramedic Holly Garland rushes to an emergency to find a man collapsed with a bullet wound in the back of his head, CPR being performed by two bystanders, and her long-estranged brother Seth watching it all unfold. Seth claims to be the dying man’s best friend, but Holly knows better than to believe anything he says and fears that his re-appearance will reveal the bleak secrets of her past—secrets which both her fiance Norris and her colleagues have no idea exist, and which if exposed could cause her to lose everything.
Detective Ella Marconi soon suspects Seth too, but she’s also sure the dead man’s wife is lying, and the deceased’s boss seems just too helpful. But then a shocking double homicide related to the case makes Ella realise that her investigations are getting closer to the killer but also increasing the risk of an even higher body count.
The book is published on February 1st by Pan Macmillan, and is available in Australia and New Zealand in print, audio, and e-book form, and in the US as an e-book.
Do all your books involve paramedics? Was that your intention from the beginning of the series?
My early idea for the series was to have it focus solely on paramedics because I doubted my ability to write a convincing police character. A draft of the first novel showed me that it didn’t work, however, because it simply wasn’t plausible to have the paramedic investigating the case. Bringing in a detective character would let me show the reader the progress of the investigation and add another interesting point of view. I realised that my worry grew out of the depth of knowledge I have of paramedic life—having done that job for fifteen years, every little detail is seared into my memory—and the fact that I don’t know the police world in the same way, and I also realised that plenty of crime authors know only as much about that job as I do and turn out some fine books. I just had to research it. Now Detective Ella Marconi is the star of the series and I have a more or less rotating cast of paramedics involved in each case, sometimes as victims, sometimes witnesses, sometimes more.
Where do your characters come from? Are they purely imaginative, or partly based on real people?
My characters are 99% invention. The 1% I take from real life consists of specific gestures I see people make, fragments of dialogue I overhear, interesting actions and attitudes and expressions I come across. In a couple of my books I’ve named characters after people, either friends who asked to be part of the book or people who’ve won fundraisers, but the names are all I’ve used of them.
Generally in developing a character I know the type of plot I want to use them in, and decide what personality traits will work best with that, and then I start to write and they build themselves on the page.
Have you always wanted to write?
Absolutely. I was one of those kids always scribbling in a notepad and telling stories to their friends, siblings, pets—anyone who’d listen, or, rather, couldn’t get away! During my years as a paramedic I studied at university for my Bachelor of Arts in writing, then went on to write a thesis on suspense in fiction for my Masters. I applied what I learned there to the manuscript I was working on at the time, and soon after it sold as part of a two-book deal, first in Australia and then in Europe.
Who are your favourite authors?
I’m a fan of George Pelecanos, Michael Robotham, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Leigh Redhead, Peter Temple, Tess Gerritsen, and James Lee Burke. Outside the genre, one of my all-time favourite books is Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. I also like the work of Kate Grenville, particularly Dark Places, and E Annie Proulx.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I think it’s important to remember that good work takes time. By that I mean not only time to write and rewrite each book but time to develop the skills of the writer to a publishable standard. I wrote for seventeen years before my first novel Frantic was published, and I see that time as like an apprenticeship. I have four ‘learner’ manuscripts in the bottom drawer, as do most of the authors I know, and I can look at them and see my skills develop with each one. Writing manuscripts that may never be published isn’t a waste of time, it’s a necessary step on the journey.
Are you currently working on a new book? Can we get a sneak peek?
At the moment I’m putting the finishing touches on the draft of the sixth Ella Marconi book. It begins when paramedics Jane and Alex attend a minor car accident and find the driver appearing paranoid and claiming someone was after him. Detective Ella becomes involved when the same man is later killed by a train, and witnesses on the platform say he was pushed.
The ITW’s yearly conference, Thrillerfest, is rapidly approaching. It’s a long way from Australia, but can Big Thrill readers expect to see you there?
Yes indeed! It is a long way but I’ve wanted to attend a Thrillerfest since they began in 2006 and I’ve always wanted to see New York too. I’ve put my hand up to present on a panel but also can’t wait to hear the other speakers and learn from the best in Craftfest.
Katherine Howell is a former paramedic and the bestselling author of four crime novels, with her fifth, Silent Fear, being released in 2012. Her critically acclaimed and award-winning work is published in multiple countries and languages, in print, e-book, and audio form. She holds two degrees in writing, is studying the role of female doctor investigators in crime fiction for her PhD at the University of Queensland, and teaches writing and editing. She lives in Queensland with her partner, who owns a bookshop.
To learn more about Katherine, please visit her website.