Bestselling Mystery and Thriller Author
By Maggie James
In today's blog post, I have the pleasure of interviewing J.F. Penn.
J.F. Penn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the ARKANE thriller series and the London Mysteries, starting with 'Desecration'.
She lives with her husband in South London, describing herself as a cat lover, who enjoys a glass of pinot noir along with chocolate as her main vice. She walks a lot and travelling is her main addiction.
We talk about travel, gender bias, body modification and corpse art - yes, really! Read on...
Early influences and other genres...
What other authors and books have influenced your fiction writing, especially in the early days?
Umberto Eco’s 'Foucault’s Pendulum' is one of my early influences, along with 'The Name of the Rose'. James Rollins 'Sigma' series and Matthew Reilly both influence my love of action-adventure, while Stephen King helps me with the dark side. I also love the Preston & Child 'Pendergast' books for a slightly odd detective angle, and John Connolly for the supernatural side of crime.
Do you see yourself moving into genres other than crime/thriller? If so, which ones, and what is their appeal?
I write non-fiction for authors and creatives, which fit in the ‘self-help’ genre, because I love to help people and want to share my lessons along the writer’s journey. I am also intending to write a travel memoir one day, about the spiritual places I have visited.
Gender preconceptions and publishing
What other genres do you enjoy reading? Are there any you don't read?
I don’t have a TV so I read as my primary escape and pleasure. I read a lot of entrepreneurial and business books, sci-fi, YA, literary fiction as well as thrillers and action-adventure. I have just finished John Connolly’s 'The Wolf in Winter', and am looking forward to Laini Taylor’s 'Dreams of Gods and Monsters', coming soon.
Tell us what influenced your decision to publish your novels using your initials rather than your full name.
I wanted to separate my fiction and non-fiction brands, so that people who love the darker side of thrillers don’t end up with a book on 'Public Speaking for Introverts'!
I also wanted to take out the issue of my gender, as some initial reviews commented on the violent scenes and how a woman could write such a thing. Using J.F. enables the reader to focus on the book, not the author!
I’ve written more on this here and here.
You love travel - do you visit the countries you write about in order to conduct your research?
I’ve always travelled a lot, and have lived all over the world. My books are based mostly on places I have already visited; for example, I first visited Jerusalem in 1991 and the city features in a number of the ARKANE books.
Travel and the dark side of humanity...
Since I have started writing full-time, I have begun travelling for specific research purposes, for example, I spent a long weekend in Budapest to research ‘One Day In Budapest,’ and that comes through in the detail about the House of Terror and the synagogue, as well as the Holy Right of St Istvan. That story only came to life because I actually visited the places I wanted to incorporate.
Travel is my addiction, and one of the reasons I do this job!
Do you think that the crime and thriller genres are popular because many of us harbour a dark side that seeks expression?
Stories are a way for us to experience vicariously. Of course, none of us really want to be involved in high-speed chases or violent gunfights, but by reading about them, we can experience the thrill without the risk. We move through the world with the characters and join them on the journey, suffer their pain and joys, but without it being real.
Firing up the muse
I write thrillers because I want to take people from their everyday life, from their daily commute, from boredom or monotony into another world, even for a few hours. I write about darker topics because our world is so safe these days, and yet humans crave risk and drama, so books are a great way to get a fix!
Tell us about a typical fiction-writing session for you. How do you fire up your muse?
I get my ideas from places and real life objects, for example, my next novella will be ‘Day of the Vikings.’ I wanted to write a kick-ass, fast-paced adventure story that takes place on one single day, and I saw that the British Museum had an exhibition on the Vikings. I took my notebook, and looked at the exhibits. Something in particular caught my eye and began the tale, then I started to research Vikings in Britain and the story was born. I do some outlining, but not much, and then I just start to write. I listen to storms and rain on repeat and try to get 1,000-2,000 words done per day on the first draft, before moving to the editing phase.
J.F.Penn's latest novel, 'Desecration'
Tell us about your latest novel, 'Desecration'. Will this be part of a series surrounding DS Jamie Brooke?
'Desecration' is the first in a darker crime series that will be based in and around London, so I am calling them ‘The London Mysteries,’ as right now I am unsure what will happen to Jamie!
Here’s the blurb about 'Desecration':
Death isn’t always the end.
LONDON. When the body of a young heiress is found within the Royal College of Surgeons, Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke is assigned to the case. An antique ivory figurine found beside the body is the only lead and she enlists Blake Daniel, a reluctant clairvoyant, to help her discover the message it holds.
When personal tragedy strikes, Jamie finds her own life entwining with the morbid fascinations of the anatomists, and she must race against time to stop them claiming another victim.
As Jamie and Blake delve into a macabre world of grave robbery, body modification, and the genetic engineering of monsters, they must fight to keep their sanity, and their lives.
The next in the series, 'Delirium', will be out in the next few months, when Jamie teams up again with Blake Daniel. Blake will also feature in ‘Day of the Vikings,’ as he works at the British Museum.
'Desecration' delves into some macabre topics, such as body modification, corpse art and teratology. Are there any subjects too gruesome for you to cover or do you have a 'no holds barred' approach?
I think writers have a responsibility to tackle topics that are difficult for people to think about. Death is an obvious one, and in 'Delirium', I use the themes of suicide, mental illness and madness. I also want to evoke an emotional response in the reader, because what’s the point in reading unless you are changed in some way?
For 'Desecration', I was viscerally affected by the Hunterian Museum medical specimens and wanted to explore why that was so disturbing to me, as well as communicating that in a story readers would enjoy. I think gruesome is in the eye of the beholder, since there are things that disturb me that others aren’t bothered by, but also the other way around.
One of the things I care a lot about is the empowerment of women, and all my main female characters, including the evil ones, are kick-ass. So I wouldn’t write anything that involved women being degraded in any way, or anything in the torture porn realm. My violence is ‘A-team’ violence, so like the TV series, you rarely see the detail, but lots of things explode!
Coming next from J.F.Penn...
Can you tell us about your next novel?
I have two books coming in the next few months. 'Day of the Vikings' is another fast-paced novella, in the same vein as 'One Day In Budapest'. It is a rollicking read, a romp through the British Museum as Neo-Vikings rampage in pursuit of an ancient staff of power. It features Dr Morgan Sierra from 'ARKANE' and Blake Daniel, the gorgeous psychic from 'The London Mysteries'.
'Delirium' will come after that, and opens with a murder of a psychiatrist at the old site of Bedlam, the mental hospital in London. The book delves into the abusive history of psychiatry, as well as pursuing the murderer and it features Jamie Brooke and Blake to help her.
Thank you, J.F.Penn, for agreeing to let me interview you.
A woman after my own heart, what with her love of cats, travel and writing, not to mention dark fiction themes!
You can find more about J.F. Penn and sign up for new releases at JFPenn.com: Thrillers on the Edge. You can also connect with her on Twitter @thecreativepenn or on Pinterest/JFPenn.
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Coming up in the near future is a chat with best-selling novelist Robert Bidinotto, author of 'Hunter'. Following J.F. Penn's comments above, I'll also be covering the issue of gender preconceptions when it comes to fiction writing.
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