AL: Tell us about your younger years and did you enjoy writing then?
I remember receiving a small notebook as a present from my mother when I was in primary school. I wrote my own stories in it – and illustrated them. I wrote a story about a beautiful white horse and I recall my older brother laughing at my pictures of this magnificent horse. Enough said – I gave up on the illustrating, but I kept writing. I had a little writing success in high school, placing second one year in the Queensland Headmistresses Association writing competition, and winning it the following year. Unfortunately, all I have left is a small article in the local paper of my success, but no actual copies of the stories have survived. I kept writing during university – probably a procrastination device as much as any powerful need to write, but I do have many half-finished manuscripts on paper, on old-fashioned disks and in my head. My next public success came when I had two novels (Such Good Mates and Impact), two short chapters ‘easy-reader’ books (A Few Minutes, and Being Theo) and one non-fiction work for the Young Adult market published.
AL: How do you spend your non-book writing days?
At the moment a great deal of my time is taken up with learning Te Reo Māori and I am not writing as much as I would like to. However, I do spend a great deal of time thinking about the sequel to my adult crime novel, plus one or two other stories bubbling away. When I’m not thinking about writing, or trying to keep up in my te reo immersion class, I enjoy long walks, preferably ones that include a coffee stop, going to the movies and reading other author’s crime stories.
AL: What made you start this book? What is the synopsis of the story?
Once my own children had left home, I felt I no longer had the ‘ear’ of teenage- speak, so I decided my next challenge was writing an adult novel. In between family life and full-time working in a secondary school, I plugged away at this novel. Having eh manuscript short-listed in the inaugural Michael Gifkin Prize for an Unpublished novel was a great incentive to keep going.
I read a lot of crime, so I thought I would attempt that genre, and set the story in Auckland, using places I was familiar with, to cut down on the need to research.
The main character in Caught Between, a young New Zealand woman alienated from both her mother’s culture (Māori) and her father’s (Chinese) came to me one day and so, Tova Tan was ‘born’. She becomes involved in a murder when her landlady is found dead. Very quickly, Tova realises she is a suspect, as are her father and half-brother. Tova uncovers secrets within her family; her half-brother’s proximity to some unsavoury people and why the police believe her father is not the honest businessman he professes to be. One police officer, Finn McIntosh, appears to believe in her innocence but she is suspicious of his intentions. Events escalate until Tova finds herself in a life and death situation where she must draw on all her courage to save, not only herself but other innocent lives.
AL: Who are your readers, and what are they looking for?
Crime and mystery stories are very popular – perhaps because most of us live relatively quiet, law-abiding lives and we get our excitement by living vicariously through the dangers others face. Caught Between is set in Auckland, the main character is an unassuming young woman who surprises herself with her courage and tenacity and I think many readers are interested to read how an ordinary person, faced with extraordinary circumstances can draw on all their strength and wits to survive. And, of course, there is the enjoyment of seeing if the reader can solve the ‘who done it’ aspect before the truth is revealed.
I imagine many readers of crime novels like what I like to read – and so I write that: strong characters, some human background story, a hint of romance ( nothing too hard-boiled), a logically developed, strong plot, enough twists and turns to keep me guessing and several cliff-hangers to encourage me to read on.
AL: What makes your stories unique?
When it is broken down, all crime stories follow the same path; someone is killed, several people are suspected, and does good win out over evil? What makes each story different are the characters and their motivations. I’d like to think that my characters become ‘real’ to the reader, and they invest in their success or failure, depending on how they feel about them.
AL: Any specials for our readers?
Answer this simple question to go into the draw to win your own signed copy of Caught Between; Caught Between by Jeannie McLean (enter on our social media pages)
Caught Between by Jeannie McLean, ( short-listed for the inaugural Michael Gifkin price, long-listee, Ngaio Marsh Awards 2021) is available for purchase