Meet Debut Mystery Author J. Woollcott
What a pleasure to welcome debut author J. Woollcott to my blog today. When I read the description of her novel, I knew I wanted to read it!
Below are her responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio and contact links.
Few things are as exciting as the publication of your debut novel! Congratulations are definitely in order for A Nice Place to Die, published by Level Best Books. Can you tell our readers a bit about the novel and what inspired it?
Lynn, thanks so much for having me. A Nice Place to Die introduces Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride and his partner DS Billy Lamont. The book opens with Ryan at a crime scene in a Forest Park outside Belfast. A young woman has been murdered and when Ryan sees the body, he makes a heart-wrenching discovery at the scene, a discovery he chooses to hide even though it could cost him the investigation – and his career. Unwilling to lose the case, and wanting desperately to find the murderer, he doesn’t reveal this secret to the other officers in the investigation and indeed, removes more evidence as the case progresses. Things get even more complicated when the victim’s sister becomes involved and Ryan finds himself drawn to her. This book has a lot of twists and turns and family secrets. I’ve added several sub plots and a bit of humor too.
My love of mysteries and puzzles inspired the book. I also enjoy the settings and characters in books by authors like Ann Cleeves, Elly Griffiths, and Peter May. That’s the kind of mystery I enjoy reading and I thought why not try to write the kind of book I love to read?
I noticed that you’re a Canadian writer who was born in Northern Ireland. What led you to decide to set your novel in Ireland?
I’d been hearing a lot recently about write what you know. I was born in N. Ireland and lived there for many years. I also have a cousin who was in the police. I thought, this is a wonderful opportunity. I usually go home every few years so next time I go I can look into settings. Of course, wouldn’t you know, just when I decided I could do some follow-up research, Covid hit. I had to rely on my memories and Google Earth.
Did you always know you wanted to become a writer?
No. I enjoyed writing, always loved English in school, but at home in N. Ireland, writing was not really an option as a career path. Not for me anyway. I loved art and design so went to Art College. That way at least I knew I had a viable profession.
What attracted you to mystery writing?
I can’t tell you one specific thing, although Enid Blyton had a lot to do with it. She wrote the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. When I was young those books were my favorites. My mum loved mysteries too and always used to say ‘I love a good murder,’ so maybe that was it.
I noticed that you’re a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Was your experience there significant in terms of your growth and development as a writer?
Yes, I did two separate courses there. I did a summer study workshop with various American and Canadian writers lecturing, and a year-long post-grad mentorship program with Canadian thriller writer Robert Rotenberg. That was an eyeopener. I wrote and rewrote my first chapter endlessly for Bobby and in the end, it didn’t even make it into the book. But I learned a lot about process from him.
Your work was receiving recognition in prestigious writing contests prior to landing a publishing contract. Was this an important step in your writing career? In what ways?
The first book I ever wrote was a thriller about a young boy who was kidnapped from a large Mexican market. I took a chance and entered Abducted in the Arthur Ellis Awards and was thrilled to be longlisted in the unpublished section. More than anything that first little bit of recognition helped me and made me determined to carry on. I went on to be longlisted for A Nice Place to Die in 2019 and 2020 and shortlisted as a finalist in 2021. A Nice Place to Die also won the RWA Daphne Du Maurier Award in 2019 for Unpublished Mainstream Mystery and Suspense. You cannot underestimate the importance of having a few awards under your belt in a query letter. It certainly doesn’t hurt and often when you enter competitions you get valuable feedback from the judges. That alone is worth the entry fee.
What is your writing process like? Are you a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in-between?
Well, that is the question, isn’t it? A couple of years ago I took Simon Wood’s course, Plot Thickeners. That was so helpful. In Abducted, I started at the beginning and just wrote. But that is a stressful way to do it, for me anyway. I don’t completely plot, but I certainly have a beginning, middle and end. I also, (usually) know who the murderer is. Lately I’ve been writing things on index cards, different colors for different characters adding timelines to them, spreading them all over the floor and promptly losing them or mixing them up. I think it will be a helpful process if I can sort it. Everyone says it is. And post-its. But they curl up and drop off the white board. Not helpful.
Are you able to write fulltime or do you have another career?
I took early retirement to travel and write and then came Covid … so I wrote.
What are you currently working on writing-wise?
Book two in the series, Blood Relations. Retired Chief Inspector Patrick Mullan is found brutally murdered in his bed. Ryan and Billy are called to his desolate country home to investigate and in their inquiry, they discover a man whose career was overshadowed by violence and corruption. Is the killer someone from Mullan’s past, or his present? And who hated the man enough to kill him twice?
Anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked but I didn’t?
For any of you writers out there who are querying, I know it’s difficult to stay positive. Good luck and keep at it, listen to advice if offered and keep learning. It’ll happen.
Great advice, Joyce! Thanks so much for visiting today.
J. Woollcott is a Canadian writer born in Northern Ireland. She is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and BCAD, University of Ulster. Her first mystery, Abducted, was long-listed in the Canadian Arthur Ellis Awards in 2019. Her second book, A Nice Place to Die, won the RWA Unpublished Mystery/Suspense Daphne du Maurier Award in 2019 in New York. A Nice Place to Die was also long-listed in the Arthur Ellis Awards for 2020 and short-listed in the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence in 2021. She is working on part two of the Ryan McBride Belfast Murder Series, Blood Relations, due out in August 2023.
She is a member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Suncoast Writers Guild.
A NICE PLACE TO DIE
The body of a young woman is found by a river outside Belfast and Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride makes a heart-wrenching discovery at the scene, a discovery he chooses to hide even though it could cost him the investigation – and his career.
The victim was a loner but well-liked. Why would someone want to harm her? And is her murder connected to a rapist who’s stalking the local pubs? As Ryan untangles a web of deception and lies, his suspects die one by one, leading him to a dangerous family secret and a murderer who will stop at nothing to keep it.
And still he harbors his secret …
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