Interview with a crime writer: Abi Silver
I met Abi last year when queuing for CrimeFest. She was just about to release her first book and we shared our excitement about crime writing events.
A month or so later, I read her debut thriller ‘The Pinocchio Brief’ during my honeymoon (that's what happens if you marry a crime writer). Young solicitor Constance Lamb pairs up with veteran Judith Burton to defend a schoolboy accused of killing his teacher. I loved the story and was excited to hear that this year, Abi returned to CrimeFest as a panelist with her second Burton & Lamb thriller, ‘The Aladdin Trial’.
More twists, intriguing plots and very pertinent questions about the role of technology in our lives? Yes, yes and yes! This time, the legal duo teams up to defend Ahmad, a Syrian refugee, accused of murdering a patient in the hospital where he works as a cleaner. ‘The Aladdin Trial’ is fresh, gripping and offers quite some food for thought. If you love a good thriller, you'll want to put it on your reading list.
How did you start writing thrillers?
As with most things, it was a combination of factors. First of all, I love any story in which there is a mystery and it’s resolved in an interesting or unexpected way, so writing in a genre I enjoy was always going to be fun for me. Second, my legal background lent itself to writing stories involving investigations and detective work. Then, I also wanted to draw attention to some of the dangers of relying on technology to solve all our problems (one of the key themes running through my work) and I sensed that doing this via the thriller route would be interesting for readers. And finally, I had tried writing something more ‘quirky’ a few years before and publishers turned it down (sadly) for being too difficult to sell.
At what point do you decide who is the killer in your story?
I have a vague idea at the beginning who it will be, but in each of my books so far (and that includes the third one, which is in a fairly advanced stage of writing) I have changed my mind later on. One positive result of any about turn (I try to remain optimistic at all times) is that I know I won’t have made it obvious earlier on that that particular person was the killer, as I didn’t know it myself (!)
In ‘The Aladdin Trial’, you evolve your story around two important topics – refugees and prejudice. What drove you when creating your characters?
There are many situations in which I have found myself in the minority in the circles in which I have moved; for example, being the product of a state school education, being a northerner, being a woman, being Jewish, being a mother, being a lawyer, being English (when travelling and living overseas) but, to the extent I have suffered any prejudice, its effects have been fairly limited and I could easily shrug them off. In some ways, it made me more determined to succeed. But I recognise how fortunate I am and how vulnerable some people are, especially when they are displaced from their homes and everything which is familiar to them. I wanted to capture some of that in the characters of Ahmad and his family.
Justice and technology are two recurring themes in your thrillers. Both ‘The Pinocchio Brief’ and ‘The Aladdin Trial’ have plausible plots on how technology can interfere with people’s lives. What would you do if your next plot turned into reality while you were still writing it?
I think you must have a crystal ball, which you will understand when book three hits the shelves, as that is exactly what happened a few months back. I discussed it with my publisher and editor and we decided to go ahead in any event. It’s always a danger when you try to write in an imaginative way about contemporary themes.
You’ve had to do a certain amount of research for ‘The Aladdin Trial’. What would your Google history say about you ☺?
Great question. So, I was very tempted, when you asked this one, to look up my Google history, but I know that would occupy me for weeks, so I am resisting and this is from memory. Apart from the obvious, which is that I have been checking for reviews of The Aladdin Trial recently, as it only came out last week, my Google history would reveal a person who is thirsty for knowledge about all sorts of random things. It would be a kind of stream of consciousness of arbitrary ‘stuff’ which interests me.
For example, yesterday I Googled ‘Schrodinger’s cat’. I had read a very deep article in New Scientist on this ‘thought experiment’ and wanted to understand it a bit more – suffice it to say I am only slightly better educated now than before. Also, in response to a question from my middle son, I tried to find out what ‘best-selling’ really means in publishing terms (also left not much the wiser). I also follow all the big legal decisions, like the one on civil partnerships for heterosexual couples and I am always looking up the origin of words (I particularly like Greek words with mythological connections – like ‘tantalising’) and I read lots of articles on AI and its advances.
What is your next writing adventure?
There will be a third Burton & Lamb thriller out in 2019, possibly in the spring this time. And I am fairly sure there will be a fourth, as I have another three ideas ‘on the go’ which I am keen to advance. After that, I may seriously try to rehash my earlier work, although I suspect that looking at it with ‘published’ eyes, I may decide to leave it precisely where it is – on my PC.