Thursday, June 23, 2022

Daggers Finalist Laura

As our second Debut Dagger interview for 2022, we welcome author Laura Ashton Hill with her shortlisted manuscript, Holloway Castle 

 Tell us something about yourself, Laura. What is your life like when you’re not writing?

LA:  I’m a mother of two secondary school age girls and married to a publican. The pubs are great places for picking up snippets of local history— particularly of a criminal nature. As a judge my grandfather sentenced the Kray twins. I’ve met people who knew them, journalists who covered the case and even heard about the carpenter who, the night before the trial started, worked in the dock of court number one at the Old Bailey. His job was to extend the bench so they could fit all ten of them in!


Is this your first entry into the Debut Dagger? Where did you hear about this contest for unpublished crime novels, and what decided you to enter? Have you entered other writing contests with this or other works?

LA: This is the second time I’ve entered. I sent off for a mini critique because

I wanted to check my synopsis was working and my story was heading in the right direction. At the time I wasn’t sure whether to enter the competition, but the response was so encouraging I decided to give it a shot— I’m really pleased I did!


Tell us a little bit about your shortlisted manuscript: cosy, noir, police procedural? Not easily categorized?

LA: Holloway Castle is a historical crime novel set in 1953. It was inspired by research into the work of my grandfather, the Rt Hon Justice Melford Stevenson. As a barrister he defended Ruth Ellis, the last woman in England to be hanged. She died in Holloway Prison in 1955. I grew up around the corner from the prison and the story of Ruth Ellis was told many times in my house.


Do you like your hero(es) or your villain(s) better? 

LA:  I would have to say heroes— but the boundary between heroes and villains is a fluid one for me. My heroes are flawed and there are always reasons why my villains behave the way they do. I have a certain amount of empathy for both, but more for the hero. Having said that, the real villain of my story is the criminal justice system in the 1950s, when it was legal for a husband to beat his wife and yet the consequences of his actions were unacknowledged and misunderstood. I don’t have much sympathy for the system because, to this day, women are still being let down by its failures. For Sally Challen to be branded a cold-blooded killer for so many years highlights the extent to which this is still the case. 


What is one thing you wish you’d known when you started writing this novel, that you would warn other beginning crime novelists about?

LA: This is my second novel. I wrote my first when doing a Crime Fiction MA at UEA. Although I was awarded a distinction and it was longlisted for the Caledonia First Novel Award 2021, there were sensitivity issues and I ended up deciding it would be better not to pursue it. For my second novel, I’ve been careful to write from the perspective of a character who comes from a place that is closer to my own experiences and I think the work is better for it.

Are there any considerations that need to be taken into account when using true crime as inspiration for fiction?

LA:  Yes. Although my novel is inspired by the case of Ruth Ellis, my protagonist Kate is a fictional character. I’ve researched women who have gone on to kill abusive partners and seen certain behaviour patterns that have informed my writing. But the story is a result of my imagination. That’s been important to me, not only because I wouldn’t want to cause any further upset to Ellis’ relatives, but also because it frees me up as a writer and allows me to form a narrative that works better for fiction.

In Holloway Castle, Kate is haunted by memories of her husband’s controlling and violent behaviour. Kate must learn that her death might not provide her with the peace she so desperately seeks. But will her sentence be reprieved? Who else is she sharing a cell with? And will she finally forgive herself for a murder that wasn’t her fault?

Holloway Castle is a crime novel about the imprisoning effects of domestic violence. 


A subject close to my own heart, Laura. My first in the Falls Mystery series, When the Flood Falls, follows an ex-RCMP officer who has fled a violent spouse (also a Mountie). 

Best wishes with your shortlisted manuscript and your future writing goals.


Find Laura at Instagram or Twitter 

 #Debut #Dagger #DaggerAwards #CrimeFiction #CWA #contests #longlist #Texas #amwriting #WritingCommunity #Mystery


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