Who doesn't love a good murder mystery, especially as Halloween approaches? Today, we talk to Anna Britton about her debut novel, Shot in the Dark, which releases next week! In this author interview, dive into Anna's world of crime/thriller with Detectives Gabe and Juliet, discovering how the book came to be so enriched by these exciting characters.
Hi, Anna. Thanks for joining us! First off, tell us about your debut novel, Shot in the Dark, and what inspired you to write it.
Shot in the Dark is the first in a new crime thriller series, and my debut novel! I’ve been writing for about ten years, and I’m always inspired when a character in a difficult situation pops into my head. The opening scene of Shot in the Dark popped into my head fully formed, and then the rest of the novel flowed from there.
Shot in the Dark opens on a young woman running through a moonlit forest. She’s terrified and climbs a tree, believing she is safe. Then three shots ring out through the darkness.
The next morning, the body of Melanie Pirt is found. Detectives Gabe Martin and Juliet Stern are tasked with finding her killer. But with limited resources, a lack of forensic evidence, and suspects who won’t stop lying, this could be the most difficult case they’ve worked on yet.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
The book is largely told from Gabe’s point of view, with emails, texts, phone calls, and other documents interspersed throughout the novel. Gabe is a Detective Sergeant. She’s been in the post for a few months, but Melanie Pirt’s case is her first chance to take the lead and prove herself. She’s excited and determined, at least until they hit roadblock after roadblock.
Of all my characters, I probably identify with Gabe the most. She has PTSD (undiagnosed), and I drew a lot from my own experiences to write her struggles in an authentic way. She has a past she would rather leave behind but she can’t seem to move on.
I do also have a soft spot for Juliet. She’s a Detective Inspector, and she will do anything to get the job done. She doesn’t care about pissing off co-workers or trampling on people’s feelings – if there is work to do, that’s the most important thing. She seems cold and harsh, but Gabe wonders if there is more than meets the eye (and I just want to give them both a big hug!)
What drew you to the crime/thriller genre, and has it always been your go-to?
It hasn’t! When I started writing ten years ago, I started with stories for young adults. I love that genre – the space to delve into big feelings and travel with characters as they figure themselves out. From there, I wrote some sci-fi and rom-coms.
I had an idea for a crime novel, and it grabbed ahold of me and wouldn’t let go! I found the story flowed really easily, since a killing had occurred and we had to find the killer.
Did you find any challenges while writing this story? How did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was keeping a grasp on the whole story while drafting and editing. The inclusion of emails, texts, phone calls, and other documents means that there was a lot to juggle when reworking bits of the story. I wanted these different elements to allow readers to feel like they are taking part in solving the mystery, without giving too much away. It was a delicate balance, and colour-coded spreadsheets helped me to feel more in control of the story I was trying to tell.
In Shot in the Dark, Gabe struggles with past trauma. Could you tell us a little about your experience with PTSD and how that influences both the story and characters?
One thing I really wanted to do with Shot in the Dark (and the rest of the series) was display PTSD in a similar way to how I experience it. Gabe and I are very different, but we are both women trying to work and live and love while dealing with something going on in our brains that can work against us very strongly.
I’ve had PTSD for my whole adult life. It’s difficult to manage but through therapy and sheer determination, it’s something I’m able to thrive alongside. I have dark times, but I have the tools to look after myself when triggered and I know that the reactions I’m having are due to past experiences, not what’s actually happening in the present.
I wanted to use Gabe’s character to show the journey from being undiagnosed to recognising and managing PTSD. I wanted to show how people can be struggling on the inside but present very differently to everyone around them. I wanted to showcase vulnerability and how having mental health struggles doesn’t have to preclude people from having careers and relationships
There’s bi rep in this story, with two strong leading ladies, something that unfortunately still seems to be found rarely in mainstream detective fiction. Why was it important for you to include this representation?
I didn’t really set out with the intention to do something particularly different. Characters tend to pop into my head, and I try out different things with them and see if it fits. From fairly early on, I felt like Gabe and Juliet as a detective partnership worked really well. It didn’t occur to me that having two women as leads was unusual – but I’m glad now that it’s where this story led me. They are incredibly different and have contrasting struggles, but both are strong and intelligent. We need more of that in detective fiction!
When Gabe started forming in my head, her being bisexual seemed to come as a package deal with who she was (which I’d argue is how sexuality works in life as well). One thing I did make a more conscious decision about was that I wanted her to begin a relationship with a man in Shot in the Dark. Too often, bisexual character’s queerness is expressed in books and other media by them being in relationships with people of the same gender. I really wanted to push back against that. Gabe is just as bi when she’s in a relationship with a woman as when she’s in a relationship with a man. Although her relationship with Ollie is straight facing, it doesn’t change this core truth about her.
Your story is published by the wonderful Canelo Crime! What made you decide to follow the traditional publishing route? Tell us a bit about your author journey!
The traditional route has always appealed to me. I wanted the support gained from going with a publisher and having an agent at your side.
I queried three books before Shot in the Dark, and even changed agents! It was a bumpy road to get here, but I really do feel like it’s all worked out brilliantly in the end. Canelo are a great publisher to work with – I feel so involved in the process and they are so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I especially love what they’ve done with the cover – it’s beautiful!
I have to give a quick shout-out to my agent – Saskia Leach at Kate Nash Literary Agency. She’s been incredible at guiding me through the sometimes mirky waters of having my first book published. It’s wonderful to know there is someone out there in the book world who will always have my back.
I did contemplate self-publishing before Shot in the Dark gained me both an agent and publisher. I’d been writing for ten years, and my stories not being out in the world was beginning to make me sad. I’d only taken the first steps, but already I could see so many advantages to it. I think that whatever way people choose to go, there are pros and cons. Traditional publishing was the way forward for me, but I don’t think it’s the only way to get your stories into the hands of readers!
If you could give any advice to other authors set to make their debut, what would it be?
Be kind to yourself. Having your first book heading out into the world is such a weird and surreal experience. I can’t get my head around it most days. It’s okay to be totally excited about something one minute and panicking about something else the next. Give yourself space to feel things, and make sure to remember the good things that happen.
We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! Is the sequel already in the works? What can readers expect to see from you (and Detectives Martin & Stern) next?
I can’t tell you much about it, but I am currently working on the next in the Martin and Stern series. Expect even more complications at work and in their home lives!
Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?
One TV show I loved and that sparked my interest for police procedurals and detective work was Line of Duty. I loved the way the series was built around solving specific crimes, but there were larger undercurrents that flowed through it all.
The Ruth Galloway Series by Elly Griffiths was another big influence. I love how each of those novels feels like reconnecting with old friends. I really wanted to bring some of that to my series – so I hope you will fall in love with Gabe and Juliet, and want to come back to them again and again.
Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, or games you’re enjoying at the moment? Any recommendations for our audience? Bonus points if it includes sapphics!
I have just read (and totally adored) Something Wild and Wonderful by Anita Kelly – it’s got hiking, a queer love story, and so many beautiful characters that I wanted to grab hold of and never let go! I also recently read The Maid by Nita Prose and The Launch Party by Lauren Forry – two other debuts that blew me away.
At the moment, I’m watching Lincoln Lawyer. I love the twisty stories told over this series and the richly diverse cast of characters. I love getting sucked into a mystery and having no idea how it’s going to play out – which this delivers on in spades.
The last movie I went to see at the cinema was Barbie. It was so fun and thoughtful – and I am not sure I am ever going to get the soundtrack out of my head. Please remember, you are kenough.
About the Author
SHOT IN THE DARK is my debut crime novel and will be published on the 26th October 2023. I'm so looking forward to you meeting Gabe and Juliet, and helping them solve mysteries.
I live on the Isle of Wight, where I enjoy rambling walks with my chronically clumsy labrador and exploring rivers in my kayak. I'm an experienced freelance editor and I love mentoring other writers! When not writing, I'm probably reading or hiding from my towering TBR pile.
You can find me on Twitter (@BrittonBookGeek) and Instagram (@brittonbookgeek) - where I love sharing insights into my writing and pictures of my dog/pastries.
Thank you again for taking a look at my author page - and a MASSIVE thank you if you've ordered SHOT IN THE DARK. I really hope you enjoy it!