Listening In: Michael Wood on crime novels, crafting thrilling fiction, and knowing who the killer is

Listening In is a series of author interviews, featuring authors whose works have been transformed into audiobooks! Journalist and proofreader Michael Wood is the author of the “darkly compelling crime series,” the DCI Matilda Darke Thrillers. These audiobooks are “perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride, Mark Billingham and Val McDermid.” All titles in this series are narrated by Stephanie Beattie.

UK ONLY – Michael Wood’s titles are on sale NOW for £4.99, June 1-7 (inclusive)!

Michael Wood is a freelance journalist and proofreader living in Sheffield. As a journalist he has covered many crime stories throughout Sheffield, gaining first-hand knowledge of police procedure.

He also reviews books for CrimeSquad, a website dedicated to crime fiction.

Michael on Facebook | Twitter

Please tell us more about the DCI Matilda Darke Thriller series! Why should we listen to them?

You should listen to it for the thrills and the unexpected. I like to surprise myself and my listeners/readers by killing off regular characters and putting others in peril. I don’t write for shock value, but I enjoy tackling dark subjects and including gruesome crime scenes. I have many friends in the police, crime scene management, and pathology who answer my questions for authenticity. It’s a thriller series and my main aim is to make it thrilling.

Could you please tell us about your career as an author? What first drew you to writing?

I’ve always been a fan of reading from a very young age. I loved to escape into the world of fiction. I still do, even as an adult. I remember looking at all the books I had as a child by Roald Dahl and thinking how amazing it would be to have my name on a book. I cannot remember a time when I wanted to do anything other than write.

What drew you to Crime Thrillers? When did you know these were the genres you wanted to write?

The first crime thriller novel I read was The Sculptress by Minette Walters. I thought it was amazing. I went out and bought all her other thrillers. I think she’d written about five at that point and I devoured them. I realised I was reading something special. She’s still my go-to author when I want something tense yet familiar. From there I moved onto the Dalziel and Pascoe series by Reginald Hill. On Beulah Height is possibly the closest to perfection as a crime novel can get. I wanted to be among these two greats. 

You are also an accomplished crime journalist. What are the biggest difference in your approach to journalism and writing a novel? Are there any similarities?

I wouldn’t say accomplished, but I’ll take the compliment. I was a terrible journalist but I loved court reporting and was often found in a Magistrate’s Court looking for the most interesting or unusual cases to report on. There’s so much drama in a court room, and in the corridors outside, too. The main difference is that in reporting, especially in court reporting, you have to tell the truth. I know journalists get a bad press at times, but the truth is important. With writing a novel, it’s all make believe and as much as I strive for authenticity, I do take liberties with certain areas to fit the story. The writer is certainly more in control of their fiction than a journalist is of their story.

We’d love to hear about your writing process. Please elaborate!

I’d love to hear about my writing process, too. I often look at a finished copy of one of my books and wonder how I managed to write it. I pick up stories and ideas from many different places – reading other crime novels, watching the news, watching true crime documentaries, researching other ideas. I leave an idea in my head before I write it down. If it’s an idea worth pursuing, it will stick in my head and niggle away at me until I start looking deeper into it. Then comes the research part, which is my favourite part of writing. I love learning new things and I’m lucky to know a detective and a crime scene manager and a pathologist who are always ready to answer my questions. I always like to make sure I know who my killer is before I begin writing. The third Matilda Darke novel is the only one I started without knowing the identity of the murderer and it was agony to write. I may not know what happens in the middle of the book, but I need to know my beginning and my ending before I start. Everything else is a big surprise, even to me.

Where is your favourite place to write?

I’ve recently moved house and I’m currently having a room turned into a purpose built office. I’ve never had that before. I’ve always used the corner of the living room and currently I’m writing at the kitchen table. I’m looking forward to having a dedicated room for writing in and I hope that will be my favourite place.

Describe your writing style in five words or less.

Fast-paced. Exciting. Dark. Dark. Dark.

Any advice for emerging writers?

Once you’ve decided what genre you want to write, devour everything you can within that genre. For me, I write crime, so I read mostly crime fiction. I read modern, golden-age, historical, Nordic Noir, American, British, cosy crime, courtroom thrillers, everything. Although you need to write an original story and something that hooks the reader, you need to know what is popular at the time, what will sell, what will interest a reader. Writing is all about creativity, but publishing is all about money. My second piece of advice is to simply write. Stretch your writing muscles and write every single day. If you’re writing a novel, work on that, but take a breather occasionally, write a short story, even if it’s just a couple of pages long. Write a journal and play around with words, language and ideas. Writing is a lonely profession and you need to love it.

What do you do when you experience writer’s block or reader’s block?

Thankfully, I’ve never experienced writer’s block so far. When I’m halfway through a novel, I’m thinking about writing the next one and coming up with the story and plotting it out so I can jump straight into it as soon as I’m ready. As for reader’s block, that does happen quite often, especially if I’m reading a book I’m not particularly enjoying by a favourite author. At those times, I go back to my old faithfuls. The Sculptress by Minette Walters, On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill, Distant Echo by Val McDermid, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – they’ve all been read many many times.

What has been the most exciting part of having your novels transformed into audiobooks?

The most exciting part is having actual actors read the stories. I know of a few authors who narrate their own books and I was terrified I was going to be asked to do it. It would have sounded incredibly wooden. Actors can put all the emotion and drama into the narrative. It gives the story and extra layer of excitement. It’s almost like you’re listening to a radio play than having a novel read to you.

Stephanie Beattie has narrated the entire DCI Matilda Darke Thriller series. Did you have any say in her initial casting? Is having the same narrator across your series important to you? What made Beattie the right fit?

I didn’t have a say in the initial casting but Stephanie is reading them incredibly well and I’ve had many messages from listeners saying they love her narrations. When a new book comes out, they ask if Stephanie will still be reading them, and I hope she continues to do so. She’s done a wonderful job. I’m very happy with them and even happier that the listeners enjoy her narration, too.

Please recommend an audiobook you absolutely adored!

I’m a big fan of CJ Tudor and Richard Armitage read her second book, The Taking of Annie Thorn. He did an amazing job. He has such a smooth voice which helped with the darkness of the story. He was perfectly cast.

What are you reading (or listening to) right now?

I confess I haven’t listened to an audiobook for a while. However, I’m currently reading The Lock-Up by John Banville. I’ve only recently discovered his work, but he’s such a talented author. I love his writing style. I highly recommend Snow. That was a brilliant read.


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