Heather Critchlow – Q&A

Unsolved by Heather Critchlow was published by Canelo on 11 May 2023.

Heather kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Unsolved.

Unsolved is the first in a series about true crime podcaster Cal Lovett, who is scarred by the disappearance of his sister when he was a child. After a once-in-a-lifetime interview with a notorious serial killer ends in disaster, Cal flees to Aberdeenshire to make a different podcast. But the case of Layla Mackie – a young woman who rode into the woods on her horse and was never seen again – drags up memories from his past. Someone out there knows what happened, but can he get them to talk?

2. What inspired the book?

Like many people, I listened to the iconic podcast Serial in 2014 and found myself drawn into this new take on an old medium. True crime podcasts have been influential in highlighting miscarriages of justice and finding the truth for grieving families, often after decades of silence. I became interested in the way time changes allegiances and how people who previously stayed quiet may now be willing to talk. But I also wondered how present-day agendas fit into these investigations and whether a podcaster can believe the things they are told.

I knew I wanted to set the case in a remote location and the Aberdeenshire countryside where I spent my teenage years has always been such an evocative landscape for me that it was an easy decision to base Layla there. It was important to me that Cal is surrounded by strong women, who aren’t always likeable. His sister Margot was feisty and determined, a woman ahead of her time who had a lasting impact on him, and his daughter is equally impressive.

3. Do you plan before you start writing or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

I am becoming more of a planner, mainly because structure is the area I have to work hardest at when writing. So, to start with I will try and work out the main plot points and identify any holes. Having done a fairly detailed plan, I then deviate from it remorselessly as my mind takes the characters down all sorts of unintended side routes.

I generally stop and replan several times when drafting, mapping what I’ve written against the beats from the Save the Cat model. If I get stuck, it’s usually because I need to stop and take stock. Once I have a first draft, I’ll go back and do a structural edit before altering anything else. I spent years focusing on the prose when structure is my Achilles heel!

4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that surprised you?

It’s taken me a while to get published and the silver lining to that is that I’ve been able to watch from the sidelines and see how things work. I’m lucky to have an amazing network of author friends and have learnt from them how up and down publishing can be, even for the most successful bestsellers. I like to think that’s made me realistic! One thing that has surprised me is the time and care that goes into the editing process – it’s humbling to have talented people working so hard to make your book better. That’s been magical.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

My ideal escape is a browse in a bookshop, followed by coffee, cake and a chance to read. Or, even better, a day at a spa with some friends (and a book). But those days don’t happen as often as I’d like!

On a day-to-day basis, I unwind by running or walking the dog with friends and putting the word to rights (read: having a therapeutic moan). Then it’s pizza and film nights with my husband and kids.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

This is torture! I have no idea how I am supposed to pick one?!?

… been sitting here twenty minutes now… nope. Can’t do it.

I don’t really re-read books these days as there are so many out there that I want to read. However, this year I loved Sarah Winman’s Still Life and it has so much richness and depth to it that it would be a good choice if you’re really forcing me.

Phew. That was tough.

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Is the waterfall in Unsolved inspired by a real place? The answer is yes! Bennachie, the hill in Aberdeenshire that I grew up in the shadow of, has a secret waterfall. I stumbled on it one day as a teenager and was bewitched by this cascade hidden in a little gorge with an old stone folly overlooking it.

Years later I wondered if I’d imagined it but I managed to find it again, despite the paths in being blocked by fallen trees. It’s just as I remembered.

About the Book

Cal Lovett is obsessed with finding justice for the families of missing people. His true crime podcast is his way of helping others, even if he can’t help himself.

His sister, Margot, disappeared when he was a child. Only one man seems to know something. But he’s behind bars and can’t be trusted.

So when the family of a missing Scottish woman begs for his help, he heads to Aberdeenshire in search of the truth.

Does Cal have what it takes to unearth the secrets hiding in the hills? And what if he finds something that leads him back to the heart of his own family’s past?

You can buy a copy of the book here.

(This is an affiliate link so I may make a small amount should you purchase through it. You can also buy Unsolved from your local independent bookshop.)

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