When I was asked why I write about Charlie Fox, why I enjoy it, and what lies behind the latest book in the series, FOX HUNTER, it didn’t take much time to come up with the overriding answer.
I write what I like to read.
It sounds selfish when I put it like that, but I think most authors write for their own enjoyment first, and the enjoyment of others second. After all, if you don’t get some kind of a kick out of opening up last night’s file and reading those words you scribbled down so furiously, trying to do justice to the images swirling around inside your head, why do it at all? There are certainly easier and less painful ways to make a living.
I used to love reading thrillers years ago, but couldn’t help noticing that most of the female characters spent half the book swooning into the hero’s arms, being carried off by the baddies thus necessitating rescue, screaming at inopportune moments, tending the wounded, or cooking.
Even at that early age, I knew I wanted to read about the kinds of role-model women who didn’t need a man to complete them and were more than capable of doing their own rescuing, thank-you-very-much. And when I couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for, I decided my only option was to write my own.
Right from the start, I didn’t want Charlie Fox to be some kind of caricature superwoman. I tried to make her believable and human, with all the flaws that entails. But, she also has the ability to kill when the circumstances dictate, which is still not a readily acceptable trait in female characters. Those who do so are often portrayed as ice-cold assassins, deranged serial killers, or a thinly disguised ‘guy in nylons’.
Instead, I saw Charlie as having a very distinct line in the sand, which you crossed at your peril. She will go a long way to avoid conflict, but once something kicks off, you can bet she’ll be the one to finish it—hard and fast. I’d already learned a good many self-defence techniques, cherry-picking among different disciplines, when my day-job as a photojournalist led to death-threats, and I used this knowledge to provide Charlie with a background teaching those same tricks of survival to others.
And why had she learned them in the first place? It had to come as a result of bitter experience. At the time, the scandal of trainees being brutally hazed at the Deep Cut army camp was hitting the headlines. It provided the perfect reason for someone like Charlie, who seemed to be the ideal candidate for the military, to be hiding out in a northern English city and passing on those skills to other women.
I added to that mix parents who seemed incapable of showing affection to their only child—a nervy mother and a clinical father—and who had not approved of their daughter’s choice of profession to start with, never mind when it all went to hell around her.
The vicious attack she suffered back when she was in the army colours Charlie’s thoughts and actions to a large extent in the early books. Although the effects do lessen over time, they are never entirely forgotten. Neither does she allow them to define her—it is just something that happened to her, not all of who she is. And I started the first book in the series, KILLER INSTINCT, at the point when Charlie turns the corner, stops running, and begins to discover just how strong her life experience has made her.
But for this latest instalment, FOX HUNTER, I knew I was going to have to return to the original crime and lay out not only what had really happened to Charlie, but also who really was responsible, and why. I tried to do this in a way that did not wallow in the details. I don’t enjoy reading gore-porn and certainly had no desire to write it.
I try in all the books to take Charlie on a personal journey as well as that connected to the main story thread. For that part, I took as my starting point a news report about modern terrorist funding, details of the private military contractor (PMC) circuit, and information about honour killings.
Added to that was my knowledge of the bits of the Middle East I’d visited, and also the landscapes of Saddleworth Moor in the UK and Borovets in Bulgaria, with its overland route from the Black Sea via Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania. All fascinating areas with their own character to try to get across in the course of the story, but without turning it into a travelogue.
As always, it’s a fine balance, but nobody ever said things would be easy …
Zoë Sharp wrote the first in her crime thriller series featuring former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox, after receiving death-threats in the course of her work as a photojournalist. She has given occasional workshops on self-defence, and how to improvise weapons out of ordinary household items, but is otherwise remarkably normal in most respects. FOX HUNTER is book twelve in the award-winning Charlie Fox series. www.ZoeSharp.com
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