Delighted to have JM Hewitt, aka Jeanette, as my guest today. She’s been a strong contender in the Retreat West competitions and has just had her first crime novel published. She’s here talking about that experience and the book, which is set in Chernobyl.
My debut crime fiction novel, Exclusion Zone, was released a couple of weeks ago. The days running up to the release were among the strangest I’ve experienced. I was nervous, in fact I was terrified. It’s all well and good sitting alone and writing a novel and there’s a glow of pleasure when the publishing offer comes through, but it’s a whole different ballgame when it is actually released onto the reading public.
What if it’s terrible? What if there’s some giant error that has slipped through the net? What if it doesn’t make sense? When I got word from the publisher that it was up on Amazon for sale I froze. I wanted to hold on to the general feeling of safety for a little while longer, but I tentatively contacted a very good friend who is a wonderful book blogger going by the name of Crime Book Junkie. She had been responsible for my cover reveal, and her natural enthusiasm and kindness made me take the leap of faith to tell the world that my book birthday had arrived.
It was then a case of playing the waiting game again, but on Wednesday I was checking it on Amazon, and I suddenly realised that the book was at number 156 in the International Mystery and Crime category. That was a stunning moment, it meant people were actually buying it, and then, when I woke up the next day to find it was at number 50, well, I couldn’t ask for much more. In the days following I’ve had my first four stars rating on Goodreads and two people have described it as “gripping”. So at the moment I feel that I can let myself breathe a little.
Exclusion Zone is a crime thriller based in Chernobyl and the research on this abandoned place has been absolutely fascinating. I didn’t want to let it go, and luckily, as I’ll be appearing at a few book festivals and events this year I didn’t have to. As 2016 is the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster I’ll be incorporating the facts in my presentations.
The more I delve into Chernobyl, the more it grabs me. One thing I keep talking about is the parallels between what was a man-made disaster and the subsequent effect it has had on the wildlife. Deserted Chernobyl is now effectively the largest nature reserve in the world. Undisturbed by human, animal has thrived. There’s been little detrimental health issues with them too, which is super interesting.
Of course, Exclusion Zone is also a crime thriller, and this was my first foray into the criminal world. I knew my protagonist was Alex Harvey, a private detective in his mid-thirties, I’d been building him in my mind for a long time. Alex is a loner, a playboy, somewhat flashy and money-orientated. And it’s the promise of a €30,000 retainer that tempts him to take on a job in the wilderness of Chernobyl.
My female lead is nineteen year old Elian Gould. She is the polar opposite to Alex; she has few friends, doesn’t care about money or material worth and prefers to stay under the radar. Inevitably when these two unlikely people are thrown together, well, let’s just say there are sparks!
My other characters have stayed with me too, how can they not? A writer doesn’t just write about these guys, we live and breathe them for many months or years. We learn how they would think, feel, react and live. And Exclusion Zone has many colourful characters. One of my favourites is a secondary character called Sol. He was never planned, but he popped up and before I knew it he had a whole life laid out on the pages. Luckily, I don’t have to let them go, at least not yet.
Exclusion Zone is the first in the Detective Alex Harvey series and I’ve already started work on the sequel in which Alex and a few others from Exclusion Zone appear. I don’t know how far this series will go, but I can say with certainty it will definitely be at least a trilogy.
In another strange parallel, my partner (who is responsible for the design of promotional items, sponsorship, and technology in the way of websites and all things computer-y as well as providing good old fashioned support) and I have been invited to Kiev by the guys who run Chernobyl Tour (www.chernobyl-tour.com). Once there I’ll be giving a talk on the book and its origins in a university and a bookstore. In return we will also get to go on the actual Chernobyl tour, which promises to be an ‘eye-opening experience of a post-Apocalyptic world’.
And when I mention this, I can’t help but think of Exclusion Zone, and how Alex and Elian went into Chernobyl and what happened there, and I sincerely hope that it won’t be a case of life imitating art…
Thanks so much for your guest blog, Jeanette. As the launch of my debut novel approaches, I completely get the fear you talk about here! I’m looking forward to reading this book and the ones that follow in the series. Stay safe in Chernobyl!
If you’d like to win a signed copy of Exclusion Zone, leave a comment below telling us why you’d like to read it. I’ll pick a winner using the random number generator on 12th March 2016.
If you’re not lucky enough to be the winner, then you can buy a copy here!
FREE DRAW UPDATE: The random number generator picked number 3 so the winner of the free signed copy of Exclusion Zone is Bonnie McCulloch – congratulations Bonnie!