The Crime Readers' Association

How I Started Writing by Leigh Russell

9th May 2014

I started writing relatively late in life, and it has literally changed my  life. I’m not talking about the outward trappings of being a bestselling author: earning my living from writing fiction, travelling all around the UK and overseas to speak at literary festivals and teach creative writing, attending award ceremonies. All of this is fun, but the most significant change is the one that has taken place inside my head. Many people ‘reinvent’ themselves when they are middle-aged. It’s an exciting and liberating  process.


F Scott FitzGerald said, ‘You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.’ That was certainly my experience. There was never any Grand Plan to become an author. I simply had an idea one day, started to write about it, and became hooked. It surprises me now that I didn’t discover my passion for writing earlier. Nowadays I can’t manage a day without writing.


That first moment of inspiration occurred to me while I was walking in my local park. It started, as all my books do, with a ‘What if… ‘ question. Somehow, the stray idea wouldn’t go away. When I returned home, I started writing it down. The more I wrote, the more powerfully the story took hold of me. Every day I wrote obsessively, long hand, and then typed up what I had written, while working full-time during the day. At two thousand words a day it was a crazy regime, but I couldn’t stop. It took six weeks for the story to write itself out. Only at this point did it occur to me that I had written a book!


Having written around 90,000 words and drawn my story to a conclusion, I decided to submit my manuscript to a publisher who specialises in crime. The ‘What if… ?’ question that had started me writing had changed to ‘Why not…?’ I printed out my manuscript on A4 paper, as we did in those days, put it into a large brown envelope and sent it off, with no expectation of hearing back. You can imagine my shock when, just two weeks later, my husband took a phone message from a publisher. You will probably laugh when I confess that I still have the note he wrote telling me that a publisher ‘likes your book’ and ‘wants to meet’. I carry it around in my purse, this one scrap of paper that represents a life-changing event. Two weeks later I found myself in a meeting with the wonderful lady who remains my editor at No Exit Press to this day.




That first manuscript went on to become the first in a series that has appeared on numerous bestseller lists, hitting #1 on both kindle and itunes, shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award, a finalist (so far) in The People’s Book Prize, a Best Fiction Book of the Year in the Miami Examiner, Best Crime Fiction Book of the Year in UK’s Crime Time, and more. All of that spun out from a single idea that struck me when I was walking in the park one day.


So I hope aspiring writers out there will be encouraged by my experience. You never know when a single idea might strike you, out of the blue, in an instant. And you cannot predict where that idea can take you. Mine has placed me on bestseller lists and is taking me to France, Greece, and the US, and who knows where else? Because you just never know… ‘What if…. ?’


Discover more about Leigh Russell as well as links to her books on her CRA profile



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