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Zoë wrote her first (unpublished) novel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 -
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
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
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
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
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:
St Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne
Books, Sept. 2007, 288 pp.
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
- Music: I listen to so much music while I'm writing - for
me it's one of the most important tools for creating atmosphere.
Veronicas - anything with interesting lyrics as well as music
that moves you.
- Film: If you want an intelligent actioner, I still think
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,
Scene To Court by the Royal Society of Chemistry, and
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