Writer Wednesday: Mary-Jane Riley

Mary-Jane wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
I can’t remember making a conscious decision about wanting to write – it’s something that has always been there. I’ve always loved reading – libraries have always played a large part in my life – and I have scribbled for as long as I can remember. It took a long time before I could believe someone (other than my family!) might actually want to read what I had written.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Rejection – oh, the rejections! And then writing the first draft – wondering if my characters are doing anything more than drinking coffee in the kitchen, wine in the pub, or tea in the cafĂ©….

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
When you know you have absolutely nailed a scene, that it flows well and does the job it’s supposed to do, and the plot is working out how you imagined.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
 What a question! Louise Doughty and Apple Tree Yard I think…. Such a clever, clever concept and a wonderful dark and twisty tale about a woman in the wrong place with the wrong man and at the wrong time….. And she writes so beautifully.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why? 
It would have to be my main character, Alex Devlin from THE BAD THINGS and AFTER SHE FELL. I’d like to tell her to stop feeling the guilt and to grab life and live it. She is trying to do that, but so many things seem to get in her way….

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
Wow, where do you get these questions from?! Sherlock Holmes, I think. I’d like to take Dr. Watson’s place for the duration of a mystery that needs to be solved and see if I could fathom out how Holmes’ mind works…

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I’m working on a third book with Alex Devlin as a character and set again in East Anglia – a wonderful place for crime novels – and I’m also tinkering around with an idea for something else…

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
Write. Write. And write again. It’s no good daydreaming about it, you’ve got to put in the work… of course, that’s often easier said than done, but….

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
I don’t really have a typical day – I’m not one of these disciplined authors who can sit down at 9.00 a.m. and finish at 5.00 p.m. My best time seems to be very early in the morning, a throwback from when I started journalism shifts at six o’clock. So I try and do a bit then (actually I’m lying, I don’t usually get up until about eight) – two hours at a stretch is the most I can manage – and then some writing at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I usually walk my dog Bella and talk plots through with her.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I have just finished Helen Dunmore’s Exposure, a novel set in 1960/1961 which is loosely about spying. Dunmore is such an elegant writer. And I am dipping in and out of Reacher Said Nothing by Andy Martin – a professor from Cambridge University who sat behind Lee Child for a year watching him write. I reckon it’s the next Stephen King On Writing. Fantastic stuff.


There are so many ways to fall… Catriona needs help.

Her seventeen-year-old daughter Elena was found dead at the bottom of a cliff near her boarding school. The death has been ruled a suicide, but Catriona isn’t convinced.

When her old friend, journalist Alex Devlin, arrives in Hallow’s Edge to investigate, she quickly finds that life at private boarding school The Drift isn’t as idyllic as the bucolic setting might suggest. Amidst a culture of drug-taking, bullying and tension between school and village, no one is quite who they seem to be, and there are several people who might have wanted Elena to fall…

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  1. Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Elle x