Q&A Interview with Jean Harrod
Today I am delighted that Jean Harrod author of the Diplomatic Crime Series, which include Deadly Deceit being the lastest novel and in the series. Which I highly recommend giving it 5 stars. Has dropped by my blog to take part in my Q&A interview….. So without further ado I would like to welcome Jean Harrod.
Morning, Shell. I’m really happy to be here. Thanks for the invitation.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and background?
I was brought up in north west London, not far from Heathrow. As a little girl, I used to stand in the garden watching the planes circling as they waited to land. So exciting. I dreamt of being on those planes and travelling the world. Back then, I wanted to be an air hostess. That was the only way I could think of getting on those planes. But when a Personnel Officer from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited our College to talk to us about all the embassies and consulates we could work in around the world, it was like a light bulb moment for me. As soon as I could, I applied to join. Much to my surprise, I was accepted, and spent over 25 years living and working overseas as a British diplomat.
When did you know that you wanted to become a writer? and how did you go about it?
From childhood, I have always loved books, especially adventure books. I have always wanted to write, and always have. In my work, I spent my time writing reports, briefings, press releases and masses of factual info about other countries. That was often my job, to report to London on the politics, economics, trade, investment and social issues of the country I was living and working in. In my spare time, I wrote several plays, sketches, revues and short stories. With such a busy job, I didn’t have the space in my head to write novels. However, as soon as I left the Foreign Office, I started writing them.
Can you tell us what genre your books are and the audience you write for?
I am writing a series of crime thrillers based on a female diplomat (Jess Turner). Like all diplomats, she goes from country to country as she climbs the career ladder. But she’s like the proverbial bad penny. Whenever she turns up for work at an embassy overseas, murder and mayhem quickly follow.
My first novel, Deadly Diplomacy, is set in Australia, where I worked for nearly six years. The second, Deadly Deceit, is set in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, where I worked in the Governor’s Office for a couple of years. So I am writing for an audience who love gripping, fast-paced crime thrillers, but with an international backdrop. An audience who like to be out of their comfort zone, and like travelling around other countries.
What is your writing process? and how long does it take?
I set aside two days a week for writing. Some weeks I do more, some less. My first novel took two years to write. My editor made me do lots of re-writing. “Jean,” she would say, “you are writing a crime thriller. We want murder. We want tension. We want conflict. We don’t care what people are eating for breakfast. It’s too slow!” So I speeded it up, and now it “goes like the clappers”, as someone wrote on an Amazon review.
My second novel, Deadly Deceit, which is just out, I found easier to write. This time, I managed to get the plot and characters out in the first draft, although there was still some re-writing to do. I hope that means I’m becoming a better writer. I’m on book 3, so I’ll soon know!
Are your characters based on anyone you know or are they just fictional?
I’ve met many people, of different nationalities, across the world. But human traits are very similar, whatever the country or culture. My characters are a mix of people I’ve met along the way. Having said that, one of two people might see themselves in my novels.
Have you wrote about a personal experience in your novels?
My plots and characters are fiction (I’m bound by the Official Secrets Act for life). However, I include a lot of factual information about the countries I set my novels in; and what it was like to live and work as a foreign diplomat in that country. I think I also give readers a snapshot of the internal workings of embassies, government, and international diplomacy.
It was when I was working as the British Consul in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the 90s that the idea of this series of crime thrillers came to me. As Consul, I was responsible for the protection of British citizens in that country. And they got into a lot of difficulty. I was based in the embassy in Jakarta, but I spent my time travelling across this archipelago of 33,000 islands trying to help Brits in trouble. I spent time on murder investigations, and learnt a lot about forensics and pathology. I spent time in the morgue trying to identify bodies from passport photos. I visited Brits in prison, and attended their trials. I dealt with drownings, and deaths from boat, train, car and plane accidents. I spent time on jungle-clad mountains with rescue forces, looking for missing British backpackers; and helping with the release of British hostages during a terrorist kidnapping. So I have a lot of personal experience to bring to my novels.
What research do you do?
I am writing a lot from memory about a country I have lived in. But it is very important to get everything as factually correct as possible. I try to check everything out, even my memories. Anyway, if I ever tried to take the easy way out and fudge something to save time, my editor picked it up. So I decided I might as well get it right first time.
For my latest novel, which is set in the Caribbean, the plot took shape while I was working in the Turks and Caicos. We had a problem with sloops coming over from Haiti, packed with illegal migrants. With 8 million Haitians just across the water, and only 50,000 TC Islanders, I wondered back then just how far a country would go to stop migrants overrunning them and destroying their culture and way of life. That’s when the dark plot for Deadly Deceit took shape in my head.
I also had to deal with the aftermath of a sloop sinking where 60 Haitians, mostly women and children, who were in the cargo hold of the sloop, drowned on a stormy night. An absolute tragedy that haunts me still.
For Deadly Deceit, I did more research on voodoo, which was part of the plot. Voodoo is more of a religion to the Haitians, mostly spiritual and healing. It came with enslaved Africans who were brought to Haiti in the 16th century. Their slavers forced them to convert to Catholicism and banned their tribal practices. But voodoo simply went underground and became a mix of their former tribal practices, and Catholicism (to fool their slavers). Voodoo has its dark arts too, but not quite like we saw in the James Bond movie of poppet dolls and zombies.
Who would you like to co-write with and why?
I would love to be one of the authors James Patterson co-writes with. Who wouldn’t? I read somewhere that he likes to see an outline of the novel, and then each chapter in draft. That sounds like a good collaboration.
What's your favorite book?
There are so many, it’s difficult to pick one. When I was a child, I loved the Enid Blyton Famous Five adventures, and then the Mallory Towers series. As a teenager, I read the classics as school. Didn’t we all? But, alongside them, I was reading all the Agatha Christie novels too. My mother had to get them out of the Library for me, as they thought I was too young. That’s what started my love of the whodunit. I have read masses of crime thrillers. They were the perfect read as I travelled the world.
What's your favorite food?
Chinese. I have a great collection of recipes, having spent over five years in China in the 1980s - three years in our embassy in Peking, and two years in Shanghai opening a new British Consulate. Fascinating times. (Book 3 is sent in present day London, and in Shanghai in the 80s.) There were no Western restaurants, and no Western food to buy in the shops, when I lived there. So we existed on local Chinese food, which I learnt to cook. I’ve never been so healthy. Honestly!
What's your favorite film?
I would love to see my novels on the screen. Australia is beautifully scenic, as is the Turks and Caicos Islands…
However, back down on earth, both in my job and in my spare time I’ve always been a passionate advocate for British theatre and films. My favourites are: The Railway Children (heartwarming); Zulu (a stunning epic), Don’t Look Now (terrifying); Educating Rita (hilarious); Shakespeare in Love (Tom Stoppard is a great playwright); The Day of the Jackal (great story and thriller).
What's your favorite song?
I haven’t got one, but my favourite artists are Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand, especially when they sing together. As I’ve travelled the world, the Rolling Stones seem to have followed, pitching up in nearly every country to give a concert. What’s Mick Jagger really been up to? So I have a fond memory of their songs, linked to the countries I’ve lived in, across the decades. I love Andrea Bocelli too.
How can readers find out more information about yourself and your books?
My website www.jeanharrod.com has more information about my life and my books. I also give lots of talks, especially across the county of North Yorkshire, where I live. So I may pitch up at a local Literary Festival, Library, or Town Hall near you sometime soon.
Thank you so much for joining me today Jean I wish you all the luck in the world with your books. Which for those of you reading this and would like to take a look at Jean’s books, you can grab on the link below.
Thanks, Shell, for hosting me today. I enjoyed chatting to you.