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Crime Writing: Questions with Sam Blake

This week, Dublin Book Festival gave you the opportunity to ask number one bestselling author, Sam Blake, all of your burning questions. If you want to ask Sam even more detailed questions about how to improve your own crime writing, be sure to sign up to her Masterclass as part of #DBF2020.

Amanda J Evans: You always have fabulous character names, where do you get the name ideas from and are they very important to you when planning your stories?

Sam: Thank you! I find names really tricky – sometimes they just arrive fully formed – like Dawson O’Rourke (inspired by the climber Dawson Stelfox) but often they change at the end of the book when I suddenly realise that I’ve got five characters whose names start with J! I ended up with a Tess, Jess and Bes in one book which wasn’t ideal. I like names that are distinctive that you as a reader aren’t going to mix up, probably because I read late at night and sometimes have to go back to sort everyone out, if I’m tired. The characters in Keep Your Eyes on Me arrived with their names formed – I was sitting in a car in Croxley Avenue in Watford, looking at the road sign, when Edward arrived in my head, and I knew Vittoria was called Vittoria, but I spent ages trying to get her to be Victoria and Irish, which didn’t work at all. When I realised it was the Italian version, her ballet background all made sense and her character fell properly into place.

Ruth O’Leary: I’d like to ask Sam if she gets some of her ideas from real life crime or if they are completely fictional.

Sam: I think all writers are influenced by what they hear in the news, but all my crimes are completely fictional. I’m very conscious that there are victims in real life crime, so I steer well away from anything similar. I tend to start with the motivation – what the perpetrator hopes to get/achieve and work out what happens from there.

Dolores Andrews: Is crime a genre you always wanted to write in and when you were young was it mostly crime you read? Love your books by the way!

Sam: Thank you! Yes, I’m fascinated by puzzles and random detail, and I’ve always read lots of crime. I think picking up Michael Connolly’s The Black Echo in the library really got me hooked on reading nothing BUT crime, and he took me to Lee Child (same shelf!). I’d always adored the Famous Five and devoured The Hardy Boys and I love a book with mystery and intrigue, so crime ticks all the boxes for me!

Lucy Campos: Do you add red herrings to your novels already on your first draft, or do you add them later once the story is better shaped?

Sam: Ideally I work out the twists as I develop the story, when I’m in the planning stage, but in at least two books I’ve decided to change who the killer was well after the first draft was finished – often your subconscious mind will have laid a breadcrumb trail to that revised ending, and once you’ve made the change, you discover all sorts of pointers that you didn’t see before. The red herrings usually come along with that because, for me, it’s important to surprise the reader and give them lots to think about.

Many thanks to Sam Blake for taking part in our #AskAnAuthor series!


#AskanAuthor is an initiative at the Dublin Book Festival that encourages our audience to pose questions to the authors at DBF 2020. We may be going digital but we want to make sure that our audience don’t miss out on direct engagement with the authors. 

You are invited to submit questions to each week’s chosen author via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Email. Create a tweet or post containing your question and include the hashtag #AskAnAuthor. Alternatively, you can send us an email at info@dublinbookfestival.com with #AskAnAuthor in the subject line.