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Zoë Sharp was born in Nottinghamshire, but spent most of her formative years living on a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. After a promising start at a private girls' school, she opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve in favour of correspondence courses at home.

Zoë went through a variety of jobs in her teenage years, from yacht delivery crew to van driver, horse riding instructor to pensions and mortgage advisor, including a tough six months selling advertising for a local newspaper. In 1988, on the strength of one accepted article, she gave up her regular job to become a freelance photo-journalist, and has been making a living writing and photographing ever since, mainly for the motoring press.

Zoë wrote her first (unpublished) novel when she was fifteen. Her professional writing career took off in 2001 with the publication of the first Charlie Fox book - Killer Instinct. This was followed by Riot Act (2002) and Hard Knocks (2003). In 2004, Charlie Fox found herself in Florida in the breakneck thriller First Drop, published by Piatkus in the UK (2004) and by her new American publishers, St Martin's Press, in September 2005. Zoë did an extensive signing tour to promote the new book and it immediately achieved bestseller status with the Independent Mystery Booksellers' Association. Piatkus publish the fifth book in the series, Road Kill (October 2005). Two further Charlie Fox books are scheduled for publication in America.

Zoë lives in Cumbria, and is married, but says she would rather have a motorbike than children. Her hobbies are sailing, fast cars, (and faster motorbikes), target shooting, travel, films, music, and reading just about anything she can get her hands on. She and her husband, Andy, who is a non-fiction author, have just finished self-building their own house.

 

ZOE SHARP

Q: Did you actually choose to work in the Mystery genre and if so why? (What does it offer that others do not?)

A: The first mystery novel I probably read - certainly the first one I owned - was an old copy of one of the Leslie Charteris tales of Simon Templar, The Saint, which was given to me by my grandmother, having been given to her in 1941. It was titled The Misfortunes of Mr Teal and I still own that book, nearly thirty years later. It was such an eye-opener after the children's books I'd been reading up to that point. I loved it.

Then I progressed on to thrillers, but sadly the female characters all seemed a bit weak - they screamed and fell over and twisted their ankles and largely had to be rescued by the men. I wanted to read about women who were a little more self-sufficient and eventually I decided simply to write my own, which is where Charlie Fox came from. I feel that the mystery/thriller genre gives me a great deal of scope to explore the darker reaches of this character, and that's the side to her - and to all of us - that fascinates me most.

Q: How much of your protagonist in either series is based upon yourself and/or important figures in your life?

A: Oh, it's all entirely autobiographical ... Actually, I used to try and come up with a reasoned argument about how it's hard with a first-person narrative not to introduce certain aspects of your own personality, your own speech rhythms and sense of humour, into your main protagonist. The reader, after all, sees everything that happens within the plot coloured by that character's viewpoint and experiences and it's easier to write from a position that goes some way towards mirroring your own stance. And Charlie and I do share a lot of interests. Like her, I am a keen motorcyclist, I used to be a competition target rifle shooter, and I learned a great deal of self-defence for the early books. But, I would add, obviously I am not an ex-squaddie with a precarious relationship with my parents, a past decked in scandal, and an often unreasonably developed killer instinct

Q:Which of your books comes closest to accomplishing your intention and why?

A: The one I have yet to write. To be honest, I think the new one, Second Shot probably comes the closest so far. I hope I am still improving my craft with each novel I write, cutting out the excess words, paring down the description, making the dialogue sound more like just a natural conversation. And, of course, I hope that next year's book, Third Strike, is better yet.

Q: Who or what have been your major influences regarding your writing? (What particular book/writer/film/person/event made you want to write and why?)

A: I started writing the first Charlie Fox books after receiving death-threat letters in the course of my work as a freelance photojournalist. No, I wasn't stalked - people keep repeating that story, but it isn't true. The death-threats were very professional, though, cut out of newspaper like a ransom note, but they were being sent to the magazine's address rather than my home. That got me thinking about what I would do if I did come under a direct threat of that kind, and so Charlie Fox was born.

Then after I'd started writing the first book, I met Val McDermid at an event she did in the upstairs room of a little pizza restaurant in my home town and she was very encouraging to me as an unpublished, unfinished writer. Since then, of course, I've been amazed by the support I've received from people like Ken Bruen and Lee Child. This is a business filled with incredibly generous as well as talented people.

And I have to say that my husband, Andy is the person who should take the most credit in all this. It's something of an understatement to say I lean towards a pessimistic outlook, and he's the one who reads everything I write, who keeps me level, and restores my flagging faith in the latest book.

Q: What new projects do you have in the pipeline?

A: I've already delivered next year's Charlie Fox book, Third Strike, which has Charlie forced to protect her unwilling parents on the run across the US. I now have a some breathing space to write something a little different. I'm currently working on what I hope will be the first in a new series, more of a police procedural with a bit of a twist, set in the wilds of the English Lake District. It's third person with multiple viewpoints, which is quite a change for me and is proving very interesting indeed!

For more information on Zoë, visit:

www.zoesharp.com

 UK EDITIONS

Killer Instinct
Killer Instinct

Riot Act
Riot Act

Hard Knocks
Hard Knocks

First Drop UK
First Drop

Road Kill
Road Kill
 

 book/s in review

 

Second Shot

St Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books, Sept. 2007, 288 pp.

Second Shot UKReview by Nancy Gratton, Heirloom Bookstore, LLC:

You can't accuse Zoë Sharp of easing you gently into her tales. In Second Shot, you begin with a near-death experience, described in excruciatingly clear, clinical detail, from the perspective of the hovering-on-life's-edge protagonist, Charlie Fox. Charlie (never Charlotte) is the central character of Sharp's series of crime novels based on the life and times of British a "close protection" agent (that's "bodyguard" to us Americans). And Charlie is one of those rare creatures in crime literature - a true original. Former military, washed out of the British Special Forces (but not for lack of skills), Charlie is a trained killer with few comfortable niches awaiting her, now that she's back in the civilian world. Until, that is, her former commanding officer (and current lover) Sean Meyer recruits her into the security firm he runs, now that he's also back "on the outside."

Crime fiction's female protagonists tend to fall into three basic types. First, there's the rather soft, sensitive type that can't leave a mystery unsolved, with varying degrees of fluffiness incorporated into their characters). These range from the engaging Miss Marple to the Nancy-Drew-grows-up types. The second variation is the more-or-less emotionally stunted, cerebral type, perhaps best personified by Patricia Cornwell's Kate Scarpetta - a sort of "just the facts" personality that says something about a woman working in a man's world. Finally, there's the overgrown sidekick type. These are women who get drawn into sleuthing because hubby or boyfriend does it for a living. In America, one of the best of these is Faye Kellerman's Rina Lazarus.

Technically, Charlie falls into this last group. She's her own woman, to be sure, but she wouldn't be working in the bodyguard business if it weren't for the man in her life. But at this point, Sharp's treatment of Charlie Fox diverges sharply from anything else on the bookshelves out there. Charlie's always been an outsider. Raised in comfortable circumstances, the progeny of parents who have both achieved success in their more conventional professional lives (mom in law, dad in medicine), Charlie has always been drawn to a wilder world. She's turned her back on the proper life that her mother so desperately wishes for her - the pretty frocks, the properly filled-out social calendar - in favor of fast motorcycles, martial arts, and a deep longing for something, anything, to break the silence of the world of properly-bred English ladies.

Those yearnings eventually led her to enlist in the military, to which she turned in part to appall her parents and in part in a desperate search for a place where she belonged. She thought she found a home there, where she could put her inherent violence and physical skills to a socially acceptable use. Of course, as the Brits would say, that all went pear-shaped soon enough, and Charlie found herself out on her ear. Soon enough, she found herself back in the general population, trained mostly just to kill, and without a clue as to what to do with herself until her old commanding officer, Sean Meyer, recruits her into security work.

I'm taking the time to backfill some of Charlie's bio, mostly because it's crucial to getting close to the deeper parts of her character, to what makes her tick, and because the American reader only gets hints of the darker issues that underlie her feelings and choices. It's not that Sharp hasn't done a great job of laying all this out for us - she's done that compellingly - it's just that she does it in the five books that preceded this one, and only one of them (First Drop) is available in the U.S.

So, yes, Charlie comes into the business through a male contact, but she's never just an appendage or a mere reflection of her male counterpart's concerns. Charlie's got her own conflicts and Charlie's got her own issues - maybe a few more than is strictly necessary to keep the suspense humming, but since Sharp treats her as an essentially intelligent, and thus evolve-able, character, that's probably all to the good. Because within the framework of her crime-solving, Charlie's also confronting her own demons and disabilities. Refreshingly, for crime fiction, this is a character who actually grows up a little, with every experience. She's no fool, our Charlie. She's got enough self-awareness to recognize her failings when they bite her in the butt. Sometimes, on some issues, it takes more than a few bites before she takes action, but at least she's brave enough to do the one thing that most crime-fiction characters are never allowed to do: she grows up, grows stronger, grows smarter, moves on. A neat trick, that, and one for which author Zoe Sharp deserves great praise. It is ever so much safer to take a popular character and freeze her in amber, for fear of alienating original fans.

Reviewers are luckier than most. We don't just get to read the book currently slated for release - we often get to read all (or most, at least) of the books that came before. Usually that's only a temporary advantage, because everybody else can go to their neighborhood bookstore or log on to an internet bookseller and order the previous releases, once they find a writer they like. In this case, however, that's just not possible, at least at present. Charlie has already had all sorts of adventures, long before reaching American shores. Sharp's first Charlie Fox outing was published in the UK back at the dawn of this new century, with Killer Instinct, and it wasn't until the fourth Charlie Fox book, First Drop, that Sharp's novels were picked up by an American publisher, St. Martin's Press. Right now, the publisher has announced no plans to bring over the earlier, UK-focused volumes. That's a real shame, because in Charlie Fox we have an original protagonist's voice, and an extraordinarily well-developed character, but readers on this side of the Atlantic don't have a chance to reach back and discover, through the early books, how she came to be who she is. One can only hope St. Martins will rethink its decision, and bring all of the Charlie Fox back numbers out in U.S. volumes.


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US EDITIONS

First Drop US Hard Cover
First Drop

First Drop US Paperback
First Drop PB

Second Shot US
Second Shot

 previous features

   author's favorite picks on:

 

Ken Bruen
Donna Andrews
Brian Wiprud

Reed Farrel Coleman
Jane Cleland

  • Music: I listen to so much music while I'm writing - for me it's one of the most important tools for creating atmosphere. Jann Arden, Sarah McLachlan, Alison Krauss, Linkin Park, Evanescence, Snow Patrol, Counting Crows, Staind, the Veronicas - anything with interesting lyrics as well as music that moves you.
  • Film: If you want an intelligent actioner, I still think 'Ronin' is top of the tree for me. The car chases are superb, the acting - Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce - is top class, and the director's commentary on the DVD from John Frankenheimer is the best I've ever listened to. For a more twisted plot, probably 'The Usual Suspects'. The way it all comes together at the end is just inspired. And, on a more quirky front, I recently got to watch 'Hookwinked', which is a computer-animated retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story, and was an absolute hoot from start to finish.
  • Blog/Website: I don't want to offend anyone in the book world - and there are so many excellent websites out there - so I'm going to plump for metcheck. Sounds weird to have a weather site as your favourite, but I do so many location shoots in my day-job that I need to know if it's likely to be pouring down or not. The site was started by a bunch of guys who wanted to know what the conditions were like so they could go snowboarding and it's proved one of the most accurate sites I've used, with a very laid-back chatty style. Besides, I'm fascinated by weather - it's one of my ultimate ambitions to go tornado-chasing. So, that and probably IMDB the movie database site.
  • Books/Graphic Novels: I'm reading a lot of non-fiction at the moment, including Crime Scene To Court by the Royal Society of Chemistry, and Crime Scene Investigation Methods and Procedures by Ian K Pepper. I've also just received the uncorrected galleys of the new Busted Flush anthology, A Hell Of A Woman, edited by Megan Abbott, which I was supposed to be proofreading, but I kept getting sidetracked by all the other wonderful stories in there
  • Restaurant: Having spent a little time in Japan, we really got a taste for the food. I could live on miso soup and edename beans. But, surprisingly enough, one of the best Japanese meals I've had recently was at a little restaurant called Kabuki in Kissimmee, Florida.
  • In-Car Navigation: I'm not a big gadget fan, but we've finally succumbed to a new cellphone that has navigation and e-mail built into it. Although we do a lot of travelling around in the UK, we have plenty of streetmaps of the main towns we visit. These have the advantage of showing us places we might be able to use as photo locations, so we've always resisted in-car navigation. But, as we're about to do the latest US tour for Second Shot and First Drop, we decided we really ought to get something that takes the panic out of trying to find your way to a bookstore, library, or someone's house, not only in a strange town, but also in another country! Some friends demo'd their system last time we were out and we thought it was just great, so we've gone for something similar. Let's hope it works as planned ...
  • Reece's Pieces: I try and avoid chocolate because I've realised over the years that it makes me very bad tempered - or, rather, my poor long-suffering Other Half has realised this for me. But I still hanker for it every now and again and so I was delighted to discover Reece's Pieces, which are like chocolate M&Ms, but filled with peanut butter instead. Only trouble is, you can't buy them in the UK. Last Christmas, our friend, Chicago-based mystery author Libby Fischer Hellmann, very generously sent me a box full of Reece's Pieces, and by careful rationing I made them last until June. So, I'm looking forward to restocking during this next trip to the States.
 


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