Interviews / Novelists

Interview with Nadine Matheson: “Just write the story that you want to tell.”

Nadine Matheson is an acclaimed author whose work in the crime fiction genre has been highly praised for its gripping and tense storytelling. Her second novel, The Binding Room, featuring the character D.I. Henley, was published in 2023 and has been well-received.

Matheson’s first novel, The Jigsaw Man, was lauded as one of the best crime novels to read in 2022 by the London Evening Standard. In addition to writing, she is a regular speaker at various events and is committed to supporting other writers through her coaching programs.

Hi Nadine, your background as a Criminal Solicitor brings a unique perspective to your writing. How do you believe your legal knowledge has influenced your writing style and storytelling approach?

My legal knowledge and more specifically my trial experience taught me the importance of firstly creating a narrative that a jury can easily follow and that has all of those essential elements of suspenseful storytelling i.e. establishing the protagonist and antagonist, creating hooks and a convincing conclusion. 

As lawyers, part of your job when analyzing a case is to establish the important facts and to ignore, what I call, the noise. The noise is irrelevant information that doesn’t advance or negatively affect your case. As a writer, I try, especially when editing my drafts, to remove the noise i.e. excessive information, showing not telling etc. 

Stylistically, my legal knowledge hasn’t influenced how I write but it did teach me the importance of having a clear structure when plotting and writing my novels and to also recognise that every person’s own story arc is unique. Every client that I’ve represented has had personality traits and a backstory that is unique to them and that is what I keep in mind when I’m creating characters for my own stories to ensure that they’re not cliched or one dimensional.

The Jigsaw Man and The Binding Room both feature DI Anjelica Henley and the Serial Crimes Unit. How did you come up with the idea for this character and series, and what do you hope readers will enjoy about these books?

DI Anjelica Henley came to me about a year before I wrote a single word of ‘The Jigsaw Man’. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing at the time but I’m sure that I was at my desk and an image of a woman standing on Lewisham High Street, in South-East London, opposite Lewisham police station came into my head.

I could only see the back of this woman and I knew that she was a detective, and she was hesitant about going into the police station. I also knew that this woman was returning to her job after a traumatic event and that she hadn’t recovered from the trauma. That’s all I had, and I didn’t know what I was doing with her but she wouldn’t leave my head.

A year later, I had nearly completed the first year of my Creative Writing Master’s Degree and in order to complete the programme you had to write a full novel. I knew that I wanted to write a police procedural and I knew that my novel involved a copycat serial killer.

One day I was going to my Pilates class and parked my car in front of a building that used to be Greenwich Police Station. I instantly knew that the detective that popped into my head a year ago worked in that building and was part of a small team called the ‘Serial Crimes Unit’ and that they were in pursuit of a copycat serial killer. 

I hope that readers will enjoy, obviously, the thrill ride of the story but also the authenticity of the settings and the emotional impact of the investigations on everyone involved. I want every reader to finish a chapter and say to themselves ‘just one more chapter’ and carry on reading because they’re so engrossed in the story and are equally invested in the characters.

The Binding Room is described as a “gripping and heart-pounding crime thriller”. How did you balance the tension and suspense with the need to tell a compelling story and develop interesting characters?

I recognised very early on in my writing that tension and suspense isn’t just the result of having endless scenes of violence. A scene that involves a person simply waiting at the bus-stop could be a very tense moment if I’m able to invoke a strong sense of the person’s unease as they wait and what they can see and hear at that moment.

I’ve always told myself that there needs to be context to the scenes of violence or tension in my book. Gratuitous violence just for the sake of it won’t do anything to move the actual plot of the story along and the readers will be able to see straight through scenes and recognise it as a cheap ploy. Endless displays of violence reduce the tension and suspense in the book.

I like to think that I’m able to create the balance because we’re always with a character during those moments of discovery and confrontation. Tension and suspense can be in many forms i.e the build-up to an argument between Henley and her husband or the tension that is a result of Ramouter not knowing the location of his wife and the discovery of a body.

As an author, what was the most challenging aspect of writing your two books, and how did you overcome those challenges?

The biggest challenge for me when writing The Binding Room was typical ‘second book syndrome’ and writing during a global pandemic and lockdown. There was a constant devil on my shoulder telling me that The Binding Room wasn’t that good as The Jigsaw Man and that I wouldn’t be able to do it again. I had to have a very strong word with myself and tell myself that all I had to do was ‘write the story’ and that it didn’t matter that the first draft was messy. Just write.

I don’t remember many challenges with The Jigsaw Man but I think the main one was learning how to write a novel whilst working full time as a lawyer. I had to learn how to plan a novel and to also steal time in order to write. 

With the success of your books, readers are likely eager to see more from the DI Henley series. Can you give us a sneak peek into what you have planned for the future of this series?

I can. At the moment, I’m completing the edits on book three in the series called The Kill List and it involves Henley and the Serial Crimes Unit reinvestigating a 25-year-old murder. Here’s a small slice of the blurb. 

While an innocent man sits behind bars, a serial killer with a gruesome signature has started killing again. And only Anjelica Henley can stop him.

 I’ll also be writing book four in this series and cross fingers will finally finish the legal thriller that I started last year.  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers looking to break into the crime and thriller genre?

The best advice I can give is to read as much as you can and experiment with writing in different sub-genres within the crime and thriller genres. Also, don’t put too much pressure on yourself by thinking that you must write the next Gone Girl. Just write the story that you want to tell.

Can you tell us about your writing routine? What does a typical day look like for you?

On a very good writing day, I would be up at 7am and would do a Pilates class or a strength class and 20 minutes on my rowing machine. I would then have  breakfast. I need breakfast to start my day. I’m not one of those people who can start their day with just a cup of coffee, firstly I don’t drink coffee and secondly, I would crash and burn by 10am.

I would be at my desk at 9.30am. I check my emails first and then I write. The only interruptions to my day would be if I’m recording an interview for my podcast called ‘The Conversation.’ I’m not a big lunch person but I will take a break at lunchtime and go for a walk and then I will continue writing until 6pm and then have my dinner.

That is a perfect writing day but sometimes the day doesn’t go to plan, and you can spend half a day staring at a blank screen or pretend that you’re researching when you’re really just scrolling through Twitter and shopping and then have a manic flurry of writing at 4pm.

If you could have a conversation with any author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be?

That is a very good question. I would like to have a conversation with Zora Neale Hurston.

What are some of your favorite crime and thriller books or authors, and what do you believe sets them apart in this genre?

James Elroy, Denise Mina, S.A. Cosby. These authors don’t follow trends and don’t write in a way that is ‘painted by numbers. They’ve taken their genres and enhanced it by the uniqueness of their writing voice and the fearlessness in taking their characters down a dark and unrelenting path.

Can you describe what your writing workspace looks like?

I love my space. It is very light and the sun streams through the window. Thankfully my desk is in the corner otherwise I would just be staring out of the window.  I have my Alexa echo on my desk as I usually have the radio or a podcast playing in the background. There are plants in my workspace and books but not loads as the majority are kept downstairs. I have a large canvas print of the justice league on the wall as I’m comic book geek and a batman and the joker Funko Pop! on the shelves. My space is warm and comfortable and there’s also a daybed which is just great for when I need to take a little break from my desk or record a video.

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