Today, I’m delighted to welcome Val Penny to Virtual Book Club, my interview series which gives authors the opportunity to pitch their novels to your book club.
Val is an American author living in South West Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud, and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, Hunter’s Chase and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books. The third book in the series, Hunter’s Force, follows shortly.
Q: What is it about your novel that you feel makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?
Hunter’s Revenge is an excellent book for book clubs because it’s a crime thriller with its background in the aftermath of World War II, but the action takes place in modern Edinburgh. The novel has a varied cast of characters and a riveting storyline that will provoke discussion.
Q: Before we get into the nitty gritty, perhaps you can take us back to how you came to be a writer.
I have always enjoyed hearing stories and telling them. I felt the need to write them down so that I didn’t forget them. It began when my sister and I were little. We shared a bedroom and after our mother had told us a bedtime story and put out the light, my sister would ask me to tell her a story. The first book I ever wrote, when I was nine, was called The Adventures of the Douglas Family. I even did the illustrations however, to date, it has not been published.
I returned to writing when I was being treated for breast cancer. I was too ill to do much except read and watch daytime television. Daytime television gets very old very fast, so I started a blog reviewing the books I read www.bookreviewstoday.info . As I began to feel a little better and had a little more energy, my husband suggested that, if I knew so much about what made a good book, I should write one!
Q: Do you have a day-job and, if so, is it a distraction or does it add another element to your writing?
My high school English teacher gave me help to improve my writing and encouraged me to pursue my interest in writing. That guidance has stood me in good stead ever since. I took early retirement after I was diagnosed with cancer. However, since I finished my treatment, I work part-time as an English tutor, helping school pupils to pass their exams and improve their own writing skills. This definitely adds another element to my writing, in a most positive way.
Q: We already know that you write crime thrillers, but what can readers expect?
Hunter’s Revenge is an exciting, layered novel with a variety of characters who weave their story with humour and integrity. It’s sharp, witty and impossible to put down. The prologue provides plenty of intrigue and the twists and turns keep readers guessing.
Q: The protagonist in your novel, Hunter’s Revenge, is DI Hunter Wilson. What six words best describe him?
Hunter by name – Hunter by nature.
Q: Where does this story fit in with the rest of your work?
Hunter’s Revenge is the second book in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series. The first, Hunter’s Chase, was published by Crooked Cat Books on 2 February 2018. The third, Hunter’s Force, also with Crooked Cat Books, will be published in 2019. The books, although part of a series, can be read as stand-alone novels.
Q: Where is the book set and how did you decide on its setting?
Hunter’s Revenge is set in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. I lived there for many years and it has everything my characters could want. Edinburgh’s a small city so that my characters can get from one place to another quickly, if they need to do so. With only 500,000 inhabitants, it’s like a large village: everybody knows everybody else. It is also a city many people know of or have visited, and it is interesting to read a story set somewhere you’re familiar with.
Q: Are you hoping to entertain or illuminate?
My main objective is to entertain and interest my readers. Although, I do research those areas outwith my expertise very carefully, so that the novel is as accurate as possible. In Hunter’s Revenge, I had to find out more than I ever thought I would need to know about guns, bullets and the different kinds of wounds they can inflict in the wrong hands.
Q: At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?
When I had decided that the principal victim would be a friend of my main protagonist, the title suggested itself and my publishers agreed with my choice.
Q: Was the seed of your story an idea or an image?
The seed of Hunter’s Revenge is contained in the prologue and the story rolls out from there. It’s crucial that DI Hunter Wilson and his colleagues show their admiration for the victim and their horror at the manner of his death. Hunter, his team and the reader must all want to solve this brutal murder.
Q: David Chabon wrote that dreams are ‘night truths, oozing through into the waking world, unseen not because of vanity or self-delusion or fear, but because we spend so much of our waking lives sleepwalking.’ Do you keep a notebook by your bed? And if so do you censor its contents by daylight?
I do keep a notebook by my bed, another by my comfortable chair in the living room, another on top of the bread bin in the kitchen, one in my handbag and I still have innumerable scraps of paper with ideas, half formed descriptions and bits of overheard conversations scribbled on them. I censor all of them ferociously. (Although I usually keep them, just in case …!)
Q: Which scene did you find the most challenging to write and why?
The most challenging scene to write was definitely Jenny’s funeral scene. The thought of a young girl dying in alone was bad enough, but also dealing with her mother’s loss of her only child was difficult.
Q: Which book would you give to a young person?
The book I would give to a young person is Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. It is an exciting story but the book also contains some vivid descriptions and historical details of life in nineteenth century London. It also contains many characters that every one should know about because they have become integral to our heritage, for example: Fagin, Mr Bumble and Bill Sykes.
Want to find out more about Val and her writing?
If there’s anything else you’d like to ask Val please leave a comment.
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