Zoë Sharp is not only a fantastic crime writer, but she's an eccentric dabbler, and the world can never have too many of those. Having made a name for herself crafting sharp crime books centering on a powerful female lead, she makes an important mark on an otherwise male dominated genre, and has fun doing it. We spoke with Sharp about her Charlie Fox series, and how she prioritizes creativity over all else. And don't miss her newest book The Last Time She Died, out now!
Murder & Mayhem: The bio most often found for you online is short, but action packed. More so than most. Your books take on a similarly fitting “get to the point” approach. Is that an approach you sought after in your work, or did it develop over time?
Zoë Sharp: I’m a follower of Elmore Leonard, when he said: “I try to leave out all the parts readers skip.” Early in my reading career—and we were all readers before we were writers—if I started a book, I always tried to finish it. Now, I have a lot less time. Something has to grab me fairly fast for me to stick with it, and I think most readers are like that. You know, though, very quickly, if you like the sound of a writer’s voice or not. It’s something about the way they break up the sentences, the sheer rhythm of the way they put down the words. You know, before you’re halfway down the first page, if you’re going to enjoy the story, regardless of anything else about the book. And yes, I do like to hit the ground running—I’m a sucker for a good opening line.
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You did something that most writers wish they would have, which was forgo the expensive, and long, academia route in favor of starting early and just doing the actual work of writing. Looking back, could you have seen that going any other way?
That’s a hard one to second-guess. I have a fascination with words and their hidden meanings, so it’s the kind of thing I love to dive into. My dictionary is covered in sticky notes marking the weird and interesting words. I’m sure that could have been nurtured in my early years by a good English Language teacher—and there are some fantastic ones out there, I know—but I wasn’t lucky enough to have one. So, I just tend to pick up things as I go. Researching the books is one of the best things about writing fiction. It’s a great excuse to absorb knowledge, although you then use only a fraction of what you’ve learned. It just has to be the right fraction…
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Check Zoë Sharp's newest book!
The Last Time She Died
It’s often mentioned in write-ups about you that you started writing your Charlie Fox thrillers after receiving death threats. But you worked as a photojournalist during this time? Who’s out there threatening photojournalists that we need to perhaps warn others of.
I’ve always tended to be interested in fields that are seen by some as traditionally male. A lot of my photojournalism work was in the motoring field. There will always be those who think that women and cars don’t mix. I was unlucky enough to fall foul of one. I was sent to do an interview with a guy who had got me there under false pretenses and was then very surprised when I didn’t turn up alone. All this took place around the same time a UK real estate agent, Suzy Lamplugh, went to show a prospective client around an empty property, and was never seen again. It made me put some time and effort into learning how to physically protect myself, which became the basis for the character of ex-British Army soldier-turned-bodyguard, Charlie Fox.
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The importance of having a strong female lead in a book is huge. In what ways do you think readers, female or otherwise, can benefit from reading the adventures of Charlie Fox?
As I said, that experience made me learn some serious self-defense. Which, in turn, brought it home to me how feasible it was for someone who is smaller and physically less strong than their opponent, to avoid being overpowered, injured or killed. One of the most important lessons is to be aware of your surroundings, of who is walking behind you on a busy street, and to be paying attention rather than staring at your phone. Even something as simple as remembering to wear gloves when it’s cold, so you don’t walk with your hands in your pockets. At the start of the series, Charlie is teaching self-defense classes, but quickly migrates into close-protection work. She first learns how to protect herself, then how to keep others from harm. The aspect of the character that has always really interested me, however, is her natural killer instinct. She knows, given the right provocation, that she has the mind-set and the ability to kill, and she’s struggled with that realization for most of her adult life.
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Charlie Fox could pretty easily translate over to visual media. Like a graphic novel, or something that would fall within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Are you a fan of comics? And most importantly, did you watch WandaVision?
When I write, I tend to visualize every scene as if I’m watching it on a big screen, then I simply write down what I see, and I hope that when people read that page, they feel they’re watching the same movie I saw. I’ve read a few graphic novels but, to be honest, the pictures are better inside my head than they are on the page. No, I haven’t watched WandaVision—yet. But I’m a fan of Paul Bettany, so I’m likely to get around to it.
This is my favorite portion of the extended bio on your website: “Zoë Sharp leads a somewhat peripatetic lifestyle. When she isn't crewing yachts, renovating houses, or improvising weapons out of everyday objects, she can often be found international pet-sitting in various corners of the world.” I think you seem like quite a delightful character. An eccentric even. Those are hard to come by these days. There are a lot of people who try hard to seem eccentric, but it only counts if it comes naturally. What would you say about this?
Hey, in my family, I’m considered the normal one!
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I think it would be great fun to read a book of yours that centers on an international pet-sitter. Any plans? And if not, what can we expect to read from you next?
It has occurred to me in the past that international house and pet-sitting would be a nice linking theme for a series. Or maybe just a standalone. It would certainly put someone into the wrong place at the wrong time, which is always ripe for mischief and misadventure. Actually, next out from me will be a prequel to the Charlie Fox series, then later in the year the first of a new series for Bookouture, about a girl who comes back to claim an inheritance, ten years after she went missing. Certain members of the family are suspicious about this fortuitous reappearance, as they’re pretty sure they killed her, the night she disappeared…
Apart from that, I need to be getting on with the third part of my crime thriller trilogy set in the English Lake District and featuring CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston. And then the next in the new series. Other than that, I guess I’m just loafing…
Want to read more of Zoë Sharp's Charlie Fox novels? Download the titles below.