Helen Forbes is a crime writer living in her hometown of Inverness. She’s the author of the DS Joe Galbraith novels, In the Shadow of the Hill (2014) and Madness Lies (2017), and the more recent standalone psychological thrillers, Unravelling (2021) and Deception (2022).
LGT: Hi Helen, quite a lot has happened in the five years since we last talked on the Smorgasbord, would you like to give us a quick recap on your publishing success?
HF: I’ve published two further novels. During lockdown, I was working on Unravelling, a psychological thriller set in Inverness, centring around the former psychiatric hospital, Craig Dunain. It was a difficult time to attract a publisher or agent, so I decided to have a go at self-publishing, under the imprint Scolpaig Press. It was a steep learning curve for me, but Unravelling was published in July 2021, and I’ve no regrets so far. I then went back to the Edinburgh psychological thriller that was previously entitled And in that place… It’s now Deception, and I published it in February 2022.
LGT: What have you learned about writing since we last spoke?
HF: I hope I’ve continued to improve as a writer. That’s certainly been the feedback from readers of my more recent books. They are better structured and more tightly edited than my first two books, not least because I now use a professional editor. After my experience of having three months with no work during lockdown, during which time I wrote non-stop, I’ve also learned that I would love to be a full-time writer, if only it would pay!
LGT: How would you describe your style of writing?
HF: There’s a dark mood to my writing, although I do try and lift it with humour (often dark too!). Although I enjoy descriptive writing, I try to keep it down, as not every reader appreciates it. My work tends to be character-driven. It’s usually the characters that come to me first, rather than the narrative.
LGT: What are you working on now?
HF: I’ve completed another Edinburgh-based thriller, called Queen of Grime, featuring a crime and trauma scene cleaner with a secret that endangers her and her family. It’s a dark, but humorous, tale, which I really enjoyed researching. It’ll be published before the end of the year, and I hope the maggots and mayhem won’t put readers off. I’m now working on book two in the series. I’ve also just finished a prequel novella called Spoils of the Dead, which will soon be available free to my email subscribers (see my website for details of how to join my email list).
LGT: What does literary success look like to you?
HF: Selling enough books to be able to write full time.
LGT: Tell me about one of your best writing moments.
HF: I recently received the following feedback from a major publisher after submitting the MS for Queen of Grime - Your writing really is excellent and you do setting and atmosphere so well. I loved the darkness to your writing. I was dead chuffed, but, sadly, the publisher went on to say she didn’t feel she could market a crime and trauma scene cleaner as a main protagonist. I hope she’s wrong! It still felt like quite an accolade, particularly as she asked me to let her know of any future writing projects and to keep in touch.
LGT: What advice would you give to your younger self?
HF: To start writing in my teens, instead of waiting until I was over 30, and then staying in the closet, with no proper tuition or support, for far too long.
LGT: If there was one person (contemporary or historical) you could spend a day with, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?
HF: Neil Gunn. I adore his writing. We’d spend the day walking in the Highlands and discussing his writing, his inspiration and his beautiful prose.
LGT: Now for the name game.
Name three authors who inspire you:
HF: Patrick Gale, John Boyne, Elizabeth Gilbert.
LGT: Three books that stunned you when you first read them (hallelujah moments):
HF: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey), Four Letters of Love (Niall Williams), Academy Street (Mary Costello).
LGT: Three favourite books not included above:
HF: American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins), The Nothing Man (Catherine Ryan Howard), City of Lights (Elizabeth Gilbert).
LGT: Three favourite films:
HF: The Crucible, The Silence of the Lambs, The Green Mile.
LGT: Three recurring songs on your playlist:
HF: This Beautiful Pain by Runrig, Song for a Friend by Aztec Camera, Born to Run by Springsteen.
LGT: Any final words of wisdom?
HF: No. Just a huge thank you for giving me an opportunity to appear again on the Smorgasbord. I can’t wait to find out what’s changed for your guests over the last five years, and to meet some new ones.
LGT: Thanks Helen, it's been a pleasure.
LG Thomson is the author of seven novels, including Boyle’s Law, a noir thriller set in the Highlands. Her writing has appeared in a wide range of anthologies and literary publications including Wyldblood Magazine, Epoch Press, and Art North. Her latest book, Modernist Dreams Brutalist Nightmares, is a narrative memoir about being part of the first generation to grow up in Scotland’s most ambitious New Town. It will be published by Outcast Press in fall 2022. Find out more here.