Sunday, February 27, 2011

Musing While Meandering by Zoë Sharp

Zoë Sharp is the author of the Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox series of crime thrillers, featuring her ex-Special Forces turned bodyguard heroine. The latest in the series is Fifth Victim in the UK, and Fourth Day in the States.

Last year the series was optioned by Twentieth Century Fox TV, and Fourth Day has just been nominated for the Barry Award for Best British Novel 2011.

Zoë blogs regularly on her own website – – and is one of the contributors to the award-nominated blog site,



Musing While Meandering 
by Zoë Sharp

A big thank you to Kaye for inviting me over to Meanderings and Muses. It’s lovely to be here. And congratulations on your retirement last month, Kaye! I bet you’re already wondering how you ever found the time to work.

This is a very appropriate blog for me, because I write on the move all the time. Sometimes, quite literally, as you can see.

Even though we live in the UK, which is barely the size of Florida, and are currently paying something horrendous like ten bucks a gallon for gas, we drive around a LOT. If I didn’t use the time in the car to good effect, I’d hardly get any writing done at all.

But being on the move is somehow very conducive to plotting, and unravelling knotty bits of $plot that just won’t sort themselves out while I’m sitting staring at my computer screen at home, although I do a lot of that, too.

I should point out, for those of you of a Health & Safety persuasion, that I’m in the passenger seat while all this is going on. I’m usually the navigator when we’re on the road – unless the sat-nav’s trying to direct us the wrong way up one-way streets or down unmade farm tracks. I haven’t quite mastered the art of driving and scribbling at the same time, although I believe I’ve seen it done by delivery drivers in London. They can also talk on the phone, steer with their knees, light a cigarette and work out a quote on a calculator balanced on the steering wheel.

But that, as they say, is quite another story.

Kaye suggested we include pictures of our workspace and, much of the time, my mobile office is it. Of course, it’s not always possible to have a laptop open on my knee – twisty roads not only make the damn thing slide around, but I’ve also found that as I get older I’m more prone to car sickness than I was. Which is most definitely Not a Good Thing.

So, in that case I resort to my neck-top computer:


This is one of the things I love about being a writer. A few sheets of scrap paper, a clipboard or similar to lean on, and a sharp pencil, and I can write anywhere. You never know where the muse will strike. In fact, some of the best ideas I’ve had for the books have come to me while I’ve been in the shower. (I know, that probably comes under the heading of Too Much Information.) I’ve even wondered about hanging a wax crayon or Chinagraph pencil in the cubicle so I can catch the gist of an idea on the glass shower screen, but getting it off afterwards might be a bit awkward. Not to mention scary for anyone else using the shower afterwards, who would find semi-deranged messages about death, destruction and mayhem scrawled all over the walls.

Kaye also suggested that pictures of us with our pets always went down well, but being on the road so much means we’ve never been able to have any (sigh). As a child my family had Siamese cats, most of whom thought they were really dogs – one would even retrieve things thrown for him. Noisy, destructive, affectionate, and incredibly cunning, I loved them.

Then I graduated to ponies and horses, but now we have to make do with the red squirrels who have built a drey in one of the trees in the garden. They are incredibly springy little animals, with tufty ears and a very high cuteness quotient. 

I think because Andy and I do all our travelling together, it hasn’t lost its appeal. In fact, we’d like to do more of it. And in March we’ll be back over in the States again. I can’t wait.

I was invited to attend the Tucson Festival of Books in Arizona at the beginning of March, and then it seemed rude not to stay on for Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe New Mexico at the end of the month. Between the two we’ll be in California – south and north – as well as Arizona, doing various bookstore and library events, and catching up with a whole host of old friends in the mystery community. It’s one of the best things about this job – we’ve met some amazing people and got to spend time with them.

Packing for Arizona, California and New Mexico in March, including two conventions and a lot of travelling, is going to be interesting. We always try to pack as light as possible, so once we get to the States we can travel with carry-on baggage only, which saves a lot of time on internal flights. This is all we took for a twenty-three-day tour I did back in 2007. This time, though, we might just stretch it to TWO wheelie bags!


The reason for this trip – apart from to escape the British winter – is the US publication of the new Charlie Fox book, Fourth Day.

Ever since Charlie started working full-time as a bodyguard in the States, I wanted to set a Charlie Fox book in California, and I also wanted to write something about cults, so the two naturally came together in this book. I did a huge amount of research about Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Synanon organisation, which initially started out as a drug rehabilitation program. Of course, the trick then is to leave most of what you’ve learned OUT of the book. I’m writing a fictional novel, not a textbook.

But I’ve always liked to pressure-test Charlie in different ways and different situations that are as realistic as I can make them, and this gave her the opportunity to be psychologically as well as physically tested, to the point where even those closest to her – those she trusts the most and expects to trust HER – are unsure of her true motives.

It was a fun book to write – and yes, a lot of musing about the plot and characters was done in the car, whilst meandering about the country!


Julie D said...

Love it, Zoe! When I was writing my first novel, I wrote whenever and wherever I got an idea. Now with the second, I'm more still about it. I guess it goes with the unbelievable difficulty (to me) of the sophomore effort.

Would love to connect at LCC (I'm driving!) and please let us know where you'll be in CA (I'm in LA).

Best to you!


Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Julie

I'm sorry - I replied to this last night and it seems to have eaten it.

Sadly, Difficult Second Novel Syndrome rapidly becomes Difficult Latest Novel Syndrome, and I have yet to find a cure!

Looking forward to seeing you in Santa Fe for LCC, and maybe in LA, too. The full itinerary is on the tour page of my site -

See you next month!

Jane Finnis said...

Zoe, I love the idea of you writing plot pointers in the shower! I do quote a lot of thinking as a car or train passenger too, and make notes on a tiny recorder, which is fine in the car but I have to be careful on trains. I feel inhibited about saying "Passing a dense wood, looks remote, an ideal spot for hiding the body..." I mean what would the rest of the train think? I try to make it clear I'm a writer: "In chapter Three, passing a dense wood, looks remote, an ideal spot for hiding the body, the detective wouldn't think of looking there."

Julie D said...

I was afraid of that, Zoe. LOL

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Jane

Had to laugh about your eavesdropping fellow travellers. I seem to remember Lesley Horton had a similar problem when she rang her local water authority to inquire about fictional access to a particular reservoir. Why do you want to know, they asked, and she replied, "Because I need to dump a body there ..."

Still, anything that stops your eavesdropping fellow travellers from reading over your shoulder is worthwhile in my experience!

Zoë Sharp said...

Sorry to break that news! Still, at least the sense of achievement you get when you reach THE END also never dwindles ;-]

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Hi everyone - Thanks for dropping by.

Zoe, thank you!!!! I loved having you and hope you'll come again.

I can't wait to read Fourth Day - I am a huge Charlie fan!

Zoë Sharp said...

Hi Kaye

You're very welcome. Hope our paths cross again soon.