Debbi Mack interviews thriller author Zoë Sharp on the Crime Cafe podcast.
The transcript is below, if you’d like to read it.
Debbi: Hi everyone! This is the Crime Cafe, your podcasting source of great crime, suspense and thriller writing. I am your host, Debbi Mack. Before I bring on my guest, let me remind you that The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set is available for sale at all major and some minor online retailers. The Crime Cafe Short Story Anthology is also available online for sale and it’s $0.99 for the anthology and $1.99 for the boxed set, so check it out. Just go to debbimack.com and look under “Crime Cafe” or “Books” to find the books there. And with that, I would like to now introduce an author who created one of the most awesome female protagonists ever. The character is Charlie Fox and the author is Zoe Sharp. Zoe, it’s great to have you here today!
Zoe: Thank you very much for inviting me, Debbi. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Debbi: I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you on! So, you have one of the most fascinating bios ever! You actually wrote your first novel at 15?
Zoe: I did! It dates me horribly to say my father typed it up with carbon copies. And it went out to publishers and received what’s known in the trade as rave rejections. So, it still sits in a box in the attic and my father, bless him, keeps threatening to get it out and put it on eBay.
Debbi: Oh, that’s so cool!
Zoe: At which point I remind him that it won’t be long before I am choosing his nursing home and he should be nice to me.
Debbi: Good for you! And you became a photojournalist. I think that’s very cool and you mention that Charlie Fox grew out of the death threats you received as a photojournalist. What was that about?
Zoe: Yes! That was, that was a weird set of circumstances. I was working in the motoring field. I was involved with a lot of auto magazines and I was sent to see a collection of cars with a guy. When I arrived two things happened. The guy was very surprised to see that I was not on my own as he was clearly expecting, and the collection of cars did not exist. So, it was around the time when a real estate agent in the UK, called Suzy Lamplugh, who’d gone to show a client around a vacant house, and was never seen again. And the death threat letters started, you know, shortly after that incident. And I was kind of wondering whether it was the guy who’d been hoping to get me on my own. So, it tends to concentrate your mind. Started me learning an awful lot of self-defense. But it also sort of sparked off the character of Charlie Fox.
Debbi: Well I can just imagine. That must have been very scary.
Zoe: It was first annoying and only afterwards when the ramifications sank in did it get a lot more scary.
Debbi: [laughs] Yeah. Well I love Charlie Fox. When I was a kid watching action movies, it was always the women who put themselves in harm’s way and who would do what I would call “tripping over their shoelaces”. Running with the man and then they would fall or something.
Zoe: Yes, always sprain their ankle.
Debbi: Exactly! They would need some sort of help. But, I’ve always enjoyed strong women on movies and on TV. When I was a kid I used to watch The Avengers and I just loved Mrs. Peel and, and Honey West. I’m dating myself now. But…
Zoe: It was exactly those kind of characters that I wanted to get to with Charlie Fox. And it still bugs me that even now you have to specify that a female character is strong.
Zoe: Whereas you don’t have to do that with a male character. Nobody ever describes, you know, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher as a strong male character because you just, you kind of assume that unless there is something very specific about the character, he is going to be strong just by the very fact that he’s male. So, I like to write about capable female characters and even in the stand alone, I’ve done the female character of Kelly Jacks, is still very capable and, not quite as deadly as Charlie but very capable.
Debbi: That’s awesome! That’s something that I’ve wanted all my life. I wanted that so much as a child and it’s wonderful to see that now. See more of that now.
Debbi: I mean you need more of that.
Zoe: We still do and it’s weird. Even in sort of my normal life. As I mentioned, I used to be involved with car magazines and that was a rarity, to be a woman working in that field. I started that nearly 30 years ago. But even so, it’s still not that common for women to be involved in that field or to be knowledgeable in that field. But, more recently, I’ve been renovating houses and I find that whenever you have any kind of technical ability to do renovation work, guys look at you with their jaws open and go, “Where did you learn to do this”? And it was my mother who came up with a brilliant answer to this which was she said, “You should just tell them I learnt from my mother”.
Zoe: That would be such a good answer.
Debbi: Well I have to tell you I used to do electronics technology. That was my first major, quote/unquote, when I started college and there were two other women in the class.
Debbi: And the guys looked at me, I was a lab tech, and the guys looked at me and they were just like, I don’t believe it! And I ended up showing one of them up, which really [laughs] kind of, at that point they actually gained a little respect for me. But, and my sister was also an auto mechanic. But, that’s a whole other story.
Debbi: Let’s talk about Charlie Fox [laughs].
Debbi: Okay, I’ve noticed that Charlie starts off really strong in that first book, which just grabbed me and has grown and developed over the course of the series. Can you talk a little about how she’s grown and developed?
Zoe: Well, yeah, I think when you write a series character, you either have the choice, you make the decision fairly early on that you’re going to keep them very static in their personal development. And for a write in some ways that makes life easier because it doesn’t matter what order then people read the books. If the character doesn’t change, it’s only the events happening to that character that are different from one book to the next. But I wanted the character to change and develop. I always knew from the start that she would go from teaching self-defense into close protection and then sort of, she’s now really moving through a side, I suppose a side door of close protection into a more proactive role. That’s where I’m taking her in the latest book. And, certainly where I plan to take her from this point forwards. So I wanted the character to develop and I wanted to go on as much of a personal journey in each book or sometimes that spans several books, as I did to her actually having to deal with the events of each separate plot. And so I’ve always gave her, right from the start, she discovered she had an ability to kill, which is a very difficult aspect for the character to come to terms with herself. And it’s something again, we’ve talked about the difference between male and female characters, but the guys are kind of expected to shoot the villains and go and have a, you know, a beer in the bar at the end of the day. Women are, are treated differently if they are able to do that. They either become psychopaths or they become somehow ice cold or sassiness. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to keep her a very kind of human, slightly vulnerable person. But, her abilities do give her a kind of psychological hang ups.
Zoe: But nevertheless, she recognizes that you know, you cross her line in the sand and she has the capability to stop you in your tracks.
Debbi: Umm-hmm. And I admire that about her and about your writing. Sean Meyer, an interesting character that you introduced in book two, as I recall, was this part of the plan to show Charlie’s vulnerabilities without weakening her and can you talk a little about their relationship?
Zoe: Well they’ve had a slightly complicated relationship. I think that’s the easiest way to say it.
Zoe: And it doesn’t get any easier. Yes I needed somebody to, as a bit of a foil for Charlie, somebody who initially in the early books, she was very admiring of. She wanted to emulate and gradually, gradually, that relationship has almost changed over in that she has become the strong side of the partnership. And that in itself was very interesting because people do develop and they do change. Sean has changed quite a lot over the course of the series. And, you know in the latest, but I’m not going to give away, but their relationship comes to something of a crisis point in the latest book.
Debbi: Ahhhh. Interesting! Yeah, I was just going to ask you about the latest book and you said that she’s more complicated than ever.
Debbi: How is she more complicated and where do you see her going from here?
Zoe: Well, the latest book I wanted to deal with, some aspects of her past so, I not only used very current events happening in the Middle East, but I also wanted to elude back to the guys who attacked her when she was in the army. And a little bit more contest on that and, in the role of people who were a little higher up the food chain who, Charlie never realized were quite as involved as they were. So, she kind of sets an element of her past to rest in the latest book. But it also means she’s closed some doors in her personal relationships. And, she’s looking to set off in a slightly different direction. So, I can’t say too much without giving away kind of what happens in the new book in Fox Hunter. But, it’s, it was very interesting to write. It took me awhile to write this one and I wanted to get her in a story right.
Debbi: Well, you’ve intrigued me, totally. And, let’s see. I was going to ask, you also have a stand-alone novel, correct?
Zoe: Yes, I do. The standalone, I have one out at the moment called The Blood Whisperer and I also did a joint novella with another author called, An Italian Job.
Debbi: That sounds really cool! Is that espionage I believe?
Zoe: Well, the other author is John Lawton who is an espionage thriller writer.
Zoe: The novella is more of a straightforward thriller, although, interestingly I do drag into it a couple of characters from the series. So, not Charlie herself. I have to, I have to say, but, it does have some little crossovers cause it’s all, they’re all kind of set in the same world.
Zoe: You create a world and, you populate them with these side characters you sometimes pop up in other, in other places. So, but I am planning to do, I have another couple of standalone books that should be out fairly soon. In the next six months I hope.
Debbi: Okay, well that’s great! And what’s the process of collaboration like for you? Do you enjoy it and how does that work?
Zoe: I do enjoy it because we had a very rough framework for the book, but inevitably when you, ok, you handover a baton to the next author and say, “Okay, it’s your turn to do the next scene.” When it comes back to you it isn’t always as either you would have written it or where you were expecting it to go. And I like that! It presented quite a challenge and also I’m a big fan of John Lawton’s writing. I feel it made me up my game on the writing front as well.
Debbi: Very cool [laughs]. So let’s see, what else can I ask? Oh, I guess it’s the Charlie Fox series has been option for television. Is that correct?
Zoe: It’s been optioned twice, the Charlie Fox series and I think it’s, the option has just ended at the moment so, we’re looking around again to see what television or film prospects there are for Charlie.
Debbi: Well, I would think they would be extremely good because strong female protagonists are in now, and I know that women in Hollywood are hunting for these roles. They can sink their teeth into these roles and they would love, I think, a role such as Charlie Fox.
Zoe: Yes, it’s quite sad in some ways that one of the iconic strong female characters in movies has to be, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character in the Alien series, and that was originally written for a man.
Zoe: They cast Sigourney Weaver without changing the dialogue or without changing the script as far as I’m aware. So, it’s a shame that they have to do that in order for a female character to be so memorable.
Debbi: I know! Another tendency I see is towards superhero type characters.
Debbi: The woman has to be some kind of superhero fighting machine as opposed to a human being and that just, I get a little tired of that. But, it’s just great to have a character like Charlie Fox out there and I surely hope that it gets made into a movie or television show.
Debbi: You have my…
Zoe: So do I!
Debbi: Sincere best wishes there [laughs].
Zoe: Thank you! Even in the latest book, there is one scene where she’s confronted with this guy and she gives him at least two options to avoid a physical altercation with him. So, she will still do everything she can to avoid a fight. But once it gets that far then she’s going to make sure she’s going to end the fight quickly.
Debbi: Well, very good. And if you could cast anybody as Charlie Fox, who would you pick?
Zoe: Oh, that’s a question that keeps being asked. I find it easier to cast the other characters than I do Charlie. I mean that last option was taken out by an actress called Kathleen Rose Perkins, who has been in one of the NCIS series, and she’s also been in, I’m trying to remember, The Episodes I think was another TV series she was in. And she would have been very, very good. I’m trying to think who else. I do like Gina Carano who’s been in some of the Fast And Furious films. She has the right kind of physical carriage for Charlie, I think.
Zoe: It’s just whether she could do a British accent.
Debbi: [laughs] Interesting! Okay, well, I think I’m going to wrap things up here while we still have sound.
Debbi: And is there anything you’d like to say before we close out?
Zoe: Well anybody who is interested in finding out more about Charlie, I have quite a bit of stuff on my website, which is zoesharp.com. And, if they would like to sign up for my mailing list, they will get a free e-book.
Debbi: Awesome! Always a plus!
Zoe: Yep [laughs].
Debbi: So, thank you so much for being here, Zoe. It’s been wonderful talking to you.
Zoe: Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you Debbi.
Debbi: Thank you. And thank you everyone for listening. Don’t forget The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set and Anthology are on sale on my website. Check it out under “Crime Cafe” or “Books”. And buy Zoe’s books because they are awesome! And with that, I will simply say, thanks for listening. Please subscribe to the podcast, and I’ll talk to you again in two weeks.