Between The Lines: Michelle Davies
Updated: May 14
Michelle Davies is the author of the highly-acclaimed DC Maggie Neville series. She's currently working on her sixth novel. I interrupted her.
Michelle began her career as a journalist, and it was while reviewing crime fiction for The Sunday Express that she came up with the idea for her debut novel, Gone Astray, which was published by Pan Macmillan in 2016. The debut was such a success it spawned three equally thrilling follow-up books based on DC Maggie Neville, a police family liason officer: Wrong Place, False Witness and Dead Guilty.
I’ve been an avid reader of Michelle’s since I first laid hands on Gone Astray. I love the depth she brings to her characters and the fact that she weaves complex stories that somehow manage to hold themselves together without confusing the reader as so many crime novels often do. I read Gone Astray on a train and was so absorbed I almost missed my stop (some swearing happened as I disembarked in a fluster). I caught up with her during lockdown from her home in North London where she lives with her husband and young daughter.
Where did you get the idea for the DC Maggie Neville series?
I once worked for a brilliant magazine editor who drummed it into me that if you’re going to do something, make sure it hasn’t already been done. So when I decided to write a detective series I knew I had to choose a character that hadn’t featured as the main character in a crime novel before and I got the idea for a Family Liaison Officer (FLO) after interviewing Kerry Needham, whose son Ben went missing in Kos in 1991. During the interview Kerry mentioned how much she’d come to rely on her FLO and that was it, I had my main character. I did a lot of research at the outset to get the details right – fortunately I was put in touch with Duncan McGarry MBE, the former Met detective whose job it was to overhaul family liaison nationwide after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry revealed how lacking it was. We’ve kept in touch and he helps me with all my Maggie books.
Do you use a magic software programme when you write, or are you more of a quill and blotting paper type?
I’m somewhere in between! I always write and edit in Word. I did once look at Scrivener, which allows you to move chapters around without using cut and paste and has virtual Post-it notes, but I found it too overwhelming. So I write in Word then stick Post-it notes denoting what’s in each chapter on my office wall.
What do you do when writer’s block hits? Drink? Redecorate?
I stop writing and step away from the book for a few days off. There’s no point ploughing on when you’ve hit the brick wall because what you do write will be rubbish and you’ll have to re-do it anyway. I then try to go for a long walk, because that’s when I get my best ideas and I can usually mentally undo the plot knots that trigger writer’s block in the first place.
What book do you wish you’d written?
George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones series. I quite like the idea of writing a sweeping, epic fantasy, plus the television residuals would be nice.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I remember being given a Hamlyn hardback book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that I read so much the spine completely cracked and disintegrated. Sadly, I don’t still have that copy and I don’t think it’s in print any longer.
This, but loads older
If you were thrown in prison and could only take one book to read over and over again, which book would you choose?
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. JK Rowling is very good at recapping so I wouldn’t need to have read the other six books first and it’s such a massive volume it would keep me occupied for months at a time.
When did you decide to become a writer?
When I was 12. During my first year at secondary school we had to write a story over three chapters for English Language. I got top marks and my teacher, a very memorable character known as Mr O-W who reminded me of Timothy Claypole from Rentaghost, remarked that I could be a writer when I grew up. It was obviously an off-the-cuff remark that he said to all the kids, but I seized upon it and that was that.
What was your first job?
I worked in a convenience store that had a video shop in the back. We got free crisps and all the new releases first.
Sweet! How did you settle on your writing process?
It’s always been dictated by my daughter’s routine! I began writing my debut while I was on maternity leave, using her naptime to get the words down. Then I worked around her nursery hours and now I write according to her school day, between 9am and 3.30pm. It’s made me disciplined because I can’t concentrate as well when she’s at home. Not because she’s noisy, far from it, but because I go into a zombie-like state when I’m writing and it’s not fair on her.
Do you map out a novel and its characters, and plan chapters and the entire plot, or do you just write and see what happens?
I plot to the nth degree. I can’t just write and see where the book goes - I need to know exactly what happens and how it ends. I’m writing my second novel for Orion at the moment, and worked on the outline for three months before I began the novel. The outline ended up being nearly 6,000 words long! But now I’m writing it I’m finding it straightforward because I know what’s meant to happen next.
When were you happiest? You can say if it was, like, last month upon discovering a forgotten pack of Monster Munch at the back of the cupboard
In terms of my writing, I’d say right now. My first psychological thriller, Shadow of a Doubt, is due for release in November and it’s with a new publisher, Orion, who I’m really excited to be signed with. I loved writing my Maggie series and I shall definitely return to her, but it’s been a great experience to stretch myself by writing something different and my new editor, Francesca Pathak, is a dream to work with. She’s pushed me to push myself, which is what every author needs.
What’s your favourite smell?
Bvlgari’s ‘Au The Blanc’ perfume. It’s my signature scent.
If someone walks past you and smells like this, it might be Michelle
What programme makes you scream at the TV?
Right now it’s the daily Coronavirus briefings and the ineptly repetitive questions the journalists keeping asking.
Describe yourself in five words
I cheated and asked my daughter! She said kind, usually (!) helpful and a good mummy.
Sounds like you’ve got her well trained
Michelle’s new thriller, Shadow of a Doubt, will be released in November. You can bet your shorts I’ll be reviewing it here first.
Buy the DC Maggie Neville series here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/gone-astray/michelle-davies/9781447284185
WIN! SIGNED COPIES OF WRONG PLACE AND GONE ASTRAY
For the chance to win a signed (disinfected, carefully wrapped and posted-while-maintaining-social-distance-rules) copy of Michelle’s first two novels in the DC Maggie Neville series, comment below and tell me the title of your ‘prison book’ – you know, the one you’d take to prison if you were permitted to read only one book while banged up. I’ll pick a winner at random on 15 June. Good luck!
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