Interview with Lesley Kelly

Songs by Dead Girls book cover
I first met Lesley Kelly when we were both "Spotlighters" in the Crime in the Spotlight slots in 2016's Bloody Scotland. Since then, we have both been involved in "Murder and Mayhem" book events across Scotland and have met up many times.

Last week, I reviewed Lesley Kelly's latest book Songs by Dead Girls. You can read the review here. This week, I'm delighted to share my interview with her.

Your third book, “Songs by Dead Girls” has just been released. This is the second book in the Health of Strangers series. Tell me a bit about it.
When Scotland's leading virologist goes missing, Mona and Paterson from the Health Enforcement Team are dispatched to London to find him. In a hot and unwelcoming city, Mona has to deal with a boss who isn't speaking to her, placate the Professor's over-bearing assistant, and outwit the people who will stop at nothing to make sure the academic stays lost. Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, Bernard is searching for a missing prostitute, while Maitland is trying to keep the Chair of the Parliamentary Virus Committee from finding out quite how untidy the HET office is.

What inspired you to write it?
Inspiration comes from all different places. We had an inspection at work, which made me think, aha – maybe the HET should be inspected by a politician. Also, a colleague joined our work having previously worked in an organisation with a clear desk policy. She made us tidy up. A lot.

Where does the title come from? Did you choose the title or did the publishers have a major hand in the decision?
With titles, the usual procedure is that I suggest something and my editor says, ‘Hmm, have you got any other ideas?’ I then generate a list of about twenty alternatives, before we both agree that the original title was the best one after all! But Songs by Dead Girls met with early approval from the fine minds in the Sandstone Press office. Although I’m a bit worried that it’s yet another crime novel with ‘girl’ in the title!

Your characters are incredibly vividly drawn. How do you ‘find’ your characters? Are you the kind of writer who has pages of notes about each one?
They’re all sitting in my head, chatting away to each other. Or, in the case of the HET team, busy fighting with each other. I haven’t kept lots of notes about my characters, but as I’m now writing book number three, I’m finding that I have to keep looking back to the earlier books to remember how old Mona’s mother is, or what Carole’s kids are called. I need to get organised on this.

picture of Lesley Kelly
Lesley Kelly
In this book, one of the characters, Mona, is taken out of her comfort zone and dispatched to a different city where no one wants to be helpful. How fun was this to write? And were you drawing on personal experiences?
The London bit was incredibly fun to write! I visited London quite a lot in my twenties, but hadn’t been down to the Big Smoke for years. So I dragged my kids there on a fact-finding mission, to ensure that I got the geography right. We had a fabulous weekend at the Science Museum, and wandering along the South Bank. But when I was sitting on the train back to Edinburgh, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t actually checked any of the geography that had been the main purpose of the visit…

What’s a typical writing session like for you? I know you have to balance writing with both a busy family life and a full-time job. How do you manage?
Writing tends to be done in very short bursts, because, as you say in the question I’m very busy! I aim to write 400 words per day, which is a really achievable amount, until you miss a few days and suddenly you need to write 2000 to catch up. I’m very relaxed about where I write (home, parked car, side of kid’s sporting events) and what I ‘write’ on (PC, laptop, paper, dictating into phone).

Will there be more from the Health Enforcement Team? When might we be able to read more about Mona and Bernard?
Certainly will! The next book, Death at the Plague Museum, is approaching the end of its first draft. And, in addition to Songs, there is also a free downloadable short story available on Amazon. The Art of Not Being Dead features all the HET characters, and is set chronologically in between the first and second book in the series. The HET 1.5, so to speak. Do download it, and, as always, if you could spare a minute to leave a review…

Thanks, Amanda, for the questions!

You can follow Lesley Kelly on Twitter:
She is also on Facebook:

Books by Lesley Kelly:
A Fine House in Trinity (long listed for the McIlvanney prize)
The Health of Strangers 
Songs by Dead Girls

And... remember that I have one copy of Songs by Dead Girls to give away:

Give away

I have one paperback copy of Songs By Dead Girls to give away. All you need to do to be in the draw to win it is to sign up for my newsletter by midnight (BST) on May 20th, 2018. A winner will be drawn from the list of newsletter subscribers and emailed in the week following the end of the competition. If there is no reply within three days, the next name drawn will be contacted. If you are already signed up for my newsletter, you do not need to sign up again. You are already eligible for the draw.

The competition is open worldwide. My decision is final.

To be in with a chance to win a copy of Songs By Dead Girls, just subscribe to my newsletter. It comes out once a month and subscribers are not only in the draw for the book, but will get a free novella and all my special offers.
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