Interview with Zoë Sharp, Crime Writer, Photojournalist and lovely lady

I first met Zoë Sharp when I took part in her one day creative writing workshop, ‘A man comes into a room with a gun...’ (If you get the chance, I fully recommend it!)  I soon came to realise what an inspirational and humorous person she is.  When I asked her about the interview she agreed straight away.  Thank you Zoë

A little bit of background; Zoë was just fifteen when she wrote her first novel.  She created her no-nonsense bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox, after receiving death-threat letters while working as a photojournalist.  She has published ten novels and her work has been optioned for TV.

Questions on Zoë
Q1.         Who is Zoë?  

A1.         Good question. Some days I’m not entirely sure! I was born in Nottinghamshire, but brought up largely living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. I opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve, and wrote my first novel when I was fifteen. Before that I was merely loafing. After a weird and wonderful variety of jobs in my teenage years—some of which I really can’t talk about—I became a freelance photojournalist in 1988, and I’ve been making a living from words and pictures in one form or another ever since.

Q2.         Lee Child said ‘If he were a woman, he’d be you’.  If you were a man, who would you be?

A2.         Hmm, are we talking real person or fictional character here? Being Lee must be pretty cool, although, thinking about it, why on earth would I want to be a bloke? Far too many disadvantages for my liking.  Apart from being taller, which would be very useful—I could ride larger motorbikes more easily. Cop out answer, I know, but there it is. I have no secret longings to change gender!

Q3.         I’ve read that BLACK BEAUTY was the most influential book you read as a child, what is the most influential book you have ever read?

A3.         I think that one is probably still pretty well up there. It’s not often that an author writes only one book, published shortly before their death, that is still so well-known more than a hundred years later and not only changed public opinion (on the humane treatment of animals in Victorian London) but even brought about a change in the law. That’s some legacy.

Q4.         I think I’m right in saying that Charlie rides a Buell Firebolt motorbike, I know that you also ride bikes, what bike do you ride now and what is the bike you would most like to own?

A4.         Ah, well, Charlie did have a Firebolt, but she doesn’t have it any longer. If you want to know why, you’ll just have to read FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine. It made a noble sacrifice, if that helps! In fact, Charlie’s first bike, a Suzuki RGV250, also came to a sticky end. She didn’t get much of a chance for any biking in her latest outing, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, but I think she’ll be feeling the call of two wheels again very soon …

As for me, my last bike was sacrificed while we were building our house. It was a lovely baby FireBlade—a Honda CBR400RR grey import <sigh>. I’m now after either a Triumph Street Triple or a Ducati Monster. Or possibly more of an off-road bike.  Still making up my mind about that one. I tried my hand at sidecar racing recently, going round Mallory Park on a Formula Two outfit. It was quite a blast, if tough on the ribs!

Questions on Charlie

Q1.          After meeting you, whenever I read your books now I get a strong sense of you in Charlie. Mainly because you are both very strong women with a good sense of humour.  Did you base her a little on yourself?

A1.         LOL. I used to deny this, but nobody believed me, so now I simply say it’s all entirely autobiographical and leave it at that. But inevitably I think when you write a first-person protagonist, something of your own speech and thought patterns seep into the character. Charlie arrived not long after I started reading thrillers and was somewhat disappointed in the women portrayed in those books. They always seemed to scream and fall over and need rescuing. I wanted to read about someone who would be the one doing the rescuing, and Charlie was the result. The Chicago Tribune described her as ‘Ill-tempered, aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled: arguably one of the most enigmatic—and coolest—heroines in contemporary genre fiction.’

Q2.         Why Charlie? Did you purposely use an androgynous name?

A2.         Actually, I didn’t—not consciously, anyway. Some characters, you cast about for ages looking for the right name for them. Charlie turned up with that name already her own and if I’d tried to change it she probably would have thumped me. After all, she’s already changed it herself once. It came briefly into KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, that people sent looking for ‘Charlie’ were not expecting a woman, but since then her name has not caused any confusion. Actually, when I was still writing the first book, a friend who was a writer-in-residence in the prison service took part of it to read to the inmates, and it took them several chapters before they realised Charlie wasn’t a bloke. I think some of them were quite disappointed!

Q3.         Twentieth Century Fox TV took up the option for the Charlie Fox series in 2010, is there any news?

A3.         Sadly, no, but I was told at the time not to hold my breath. I would be nice if it happens, but for the moment I’ll keep scribbling. I’ve had one of my short stories, ‘Tell Me’ turned into a short film, which was fascinating to see how other people interpret your characters and even the inflection they put on the dialogue.

I was also very honoured that the talented singer/songwriter Beth Rudetsky wrote a song inspired by FIFTH VICTIM, called ‘The Victim Won’t Be Me’ and the staff and students at Vision West Notts in turn put their interpretation on the song to turn it into a music video. It’s fascinating to see a twice-removed view of your own work. And it’s a fabulous song as well!
 Q4.         Your Dad typed up the manuscript for your first book, what does he think of Charlie?

A4.         I think he’s more concerned about where the inspiration for Charlie’s father came from! She has a very conflicted relationship with her parents and every time her father, consultant orthopaedic surgeon Richard Foxcroft, turned up on the page he rather stole the show. I decided I would have to focus more on this at some point, which eventually came about in THIRD STRIKE: Charlie Fox book seven. The good doctor discovered his dark side in that book, so now I think my father’s even more worried …

Actually, my father keeps threatening to dig out that dusty old first manuscript, which is in a box in the attic somewhere, and put it on eBay. I just threaten him at this point. I don’t think that particular piece of work will ever see the light of day again.

Questions on writing

Q1.         I am easily distracted, how do you keep distractions at the door, any tips?

A1.         There’s one vital thing you have to remember about dealing with distractions, and that’s … ooh, look, a shiny penny!

OK, no, I think everyone struggles to keep themselves on track at some point or another, which is why events like NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—are so popular, as they help focus your mind into a relatively short, reasonably containable burst of activity. But otherwise, writing a novel is like eating the proverbial elephant—one bite at a time. I try to write something every day once I’m into a book, just to keep the momentum going, and I scribble notes about the next chapter or scene while I’m away from my computer, which helps me concentrate when I do finally sit down at the word-face. Plus I keep a summary of the story so far, just a brief note of the conversations and action, which not only helps me keep track while I’m actually writing, but is very useful as an overview when it comes to editing afterwards.

Q2.         You previously told me that you carry out extensive research.  What was the scariest piece of research you’ve done?

A2.         It’s all great fun rather than being scary—that’s why I do it. I probably have a fairly high threshold when it comes to physical danger—ie, too dumb to appreciate the risks—otherwise I wouldn’t have spent all those years hanging out of moving cars with a camera for a living, scraping my elbows on the road surface to get very low-angle action shots. I love doing the research, whether it’s driving rather quickly across Germany or finding out how to sabotage a ferry, or firing belt-fed machine guns. I draw the line at getting myself beaten up or shot, although I have learned a lot of self-defence moves for the books. Such knowledge is never wasted.

Q3.         Tell us about DIE EASY.

A3.         If you wanted the elevator pitch for DIE EASY, it would simply be that it’s my take on the old Bruce Willis classic, ‘Die Hard’ but set in New Orleans, which is known as The Big Easy, hence the title. There’s a big celebrity fundraising event happening in New Orleans in aid of Hurricane Katrina, but such a gathering of riches attracts altogether the wrong kind of attention, which Charlie finds herself in the middle of. She’s unarmed, handicapped by civilians, and unsure if she can trust the one person who should always have her back.

Q4.         What new projects have you got on the go?

A4.         Wow, how long have you got? I’ve just brought out a couple of e-box sets of the early Charlie Fox books. The first, A TRIPLE SHOT of Charlie Fox, contain s KILLER INSTINCT, RIOT ACT and HARD KNOCKS, plus a bonus standalone short story, ‘Last Right’.  The second is ANOTHER ROUND of Charlie Fox, which contains FIRST DROP, ROAD KILL and SECOND SHOT (this one isn’t available in the UK because of rights issues) plus a bonus standalone short story, ‘Tell Me’. I’ve also just brought out my own e-book editions of SECOND SHOT and THIRD STRIKE  (again, everywhere except the UK, where they are already published by Allison & Busby).
Last month saw DIE EASY’s publication, as well as another standalone short story, ‘The Night Butterflies’. I’m doing edits on a standalone crime thriller which I’m hoping to have out soon, and I’m also editing a supernatural thriller. Then I have the first of a trilogy to write with a new character, the first of what I hope will be a new series, and not forgetting Charlie Fox #11, as yet untitled. Should keep me busy for a week or two …


Finally, I’d like to thank you on behalf of CrimeWarp and myself for agreeing to give us this great interview.

Cheryll Taylor Rawling

 You can find out more about Zoë and order her books via her website;