Meet the Newcastle Author with Debut Crime Fiction Novel You'll Want to Read
Newcastle writer Rose Wilding has released one of the most hotly-anticipated debuts of 2023. Speak of the Devil had Living North hooked, and now we want to introduce you to a rising star in crime fiction
It’s New Year’s Eve in Newcastle 1999. Seven women stand in shock as a man’s severed head sits on the floor in the middle of a hotel room. Each of the women (the wife, the teenager, the ex, the journalist, the colleague, the friend, and the woman who raised him) could be the prime suspect, but they all swear they didn’t do it. In order to protect each other, they need to figure out who is responsible before the police do – but time’s ticking. With themes of love and loyalty, Speak of the Devil explores the roles in which some women are cast in the lives of men, and the fallout when they refuse to stay silent.
A talented writer, Rose puts her recent success down to her teachers. ‘I’d write sad poetry about how unfair it was that my mam asked me to hoover the stairs, for example,’ Rose jokes. ‘But my GCSE English teacher would always tell me I was a really good writer. When I studied my first degree in Sunderland, I won a creative writing prize, but after graduating I didn’t write for a really long time.’
While Rose was working in a café, that same teacher popped in for a coffee and asked if she was still writing, and that encouraged her to pick up a pen. ‘I studied an MA in creative writing in Manchester, where author Jeanette Winterson taught, but I wasn’t particularly vibing with anything I was writing. I was just plodding through.’ But one day a course mate submitted a piece of work which contained some seriously disturbing themes, including condoning violence against women, which angered Rose to the extent that she picked up a pen.
‘I was so incandescent that I went home and wrote what ended up being the first chapter of Speak of The Devil,’ she says. She had no intention of writing a book, only wanting to fight against this kind of writing. She took her chapter back to class the following week, and says the course mate took her response very seriously. ‘Jeanette Winterson said “you have to write this!” I didn’t think I had the attention span to write a book but she said “it’ll be on TV if you do write it”. So I did.’
A few agents showed an interest but it was Jeanette who introduced Rose to her agent, who signed a deal with her after reading just three chapters (on a big promise that Rose would complete the book). ‘That was really nice of her,’ Rose says. ‘She sent the finished book out on a Thursday afternoon and it sold by lunchtime the next day because the woman who then became my editor had stayed up all night reading it while she was on holiday and had put in a pre-empt the next morning. I felt faint and had to call in sick at work because I was terrified – but it was amazing! Now I’m a full time writer which is my dream – living on a sheep farm in Cheshire staring out into the fields and writing books about murder.’
Seven complex and very different characters make up this twisty tale and we’re keen to find out more about the inspirations behind them. ‘All the way through I was determined that there had to be seven women but it took me a while to figure out who they all were,’ Rose reveals. ‘None of them are necessarily based on real people. Sarah was the first one who really came to me. I wanted an outspoken, angry woman who would easily be the first suspect. Olive came about as the opposite of Sarah but she definitely grew into someone a lot more complex than that. People have asked how I’ve managed to get into these women’s heads when I don’t live their lives, but I guess I just take notice of other people and their actions.
‘Nova was a very late addition. When I first started writing, I didn’t really have an interest in who had done it, I just wanted to focus on the stories of all of these women. The seven came from the idea of seven deadly sins. One of them has been undermined at work, one has been raped, one has been cheated on – each woman embodies a sin. I’d written 20,000 words of what I thought would be the book but Jeanette explained how I needed to restructure it and why I needed a detective, so Nova is supposed to be an embodiment of the spirit of Newcastle. She’s called Nova after Novocastrian (a word for a Newcastle native) and she’s got a tattoo of magpies. I wanted her to be the person who is friendly and interested but also not scared to look at things from an unorthodox angle. I was really pleased with her character in the end.’
We’d argue, however, that the main character is the book’s setting – the streets of Newcastle. ‘I love the North East. I think it’s such a brilliant and beautiful place and it has so much of its own character,’ says Rose. ‘I knew with these seven women that some of them would need to coincidentally know each other and Newcastle is such a good place for that. Plus, Newcastle is so often overlooked. In my head when I was writing it was always Newcastle but I was never really naming anywhere to begin with. Jeannette said if I was going to set it here, then I needed to give the setting its own character. I didn’t know how to do that but it all came together, and when my editor first read it she said “it’s a love letter to Newcastle”, and I was so glad it had worked.’
Speak of the Devil has already been reviewed by popular authors Trevor Wood, Louise Hare and Kate Rhodes and on 22nd June Rose will be in conversation with Ann Cleeves at The Biscuit Factory in her home city to celebrate the launch of the book. ‘It’s very exciting because it’s Ann Cleeves! My mam was very excited because she is a big Vera fan,’ Rose laughs. ‘When I told her she started crying. The event is going to be a Q&A and I’ll sign books afterwards then we’ll head the bar to drink wine and have a great time.’
Rose has been offered a two-book deal, and she’s already begun writing the second, which is also set in the North East. ‘But I didn’t want to get stuck in an Agatha Christie-type “lots of characters” niche,’ she explains. ‘There’s still been a murder but it’s a story about obsession between two women. I’ve also started planning out book three which is going to be about mothers, daughters and sisters and the complex relationships between them.’
Anyone who reads Speak of The Devil will agree it would make for a great screenplay but Rose says there’s no rush for that. ‘A lot of people have said the book is very visual and that would be great for TV,’ she adds. ‘I did turn down a TV offer a little while ago because the company just wasn’t the right fit for me. They made a lot of comedy TV programmes. Ideally I’d like Sharon Horgan to pick it up and create a similar story to Bad Sisters but set in Newcastle. I’m hoping that at some point in the future it does happen but I’m pretty chilled because everyone’s journey to TV is very different. Mick Herron’s books were optioned around eight years ago but Slow Horses only aired on Apple TV last year, so I think I don’t need to worry about this happening right now.’
Speak of the Devil will be published by Baskerville in hardback on 22nd June. Copies will be available in all good bookshops. Tickets for Rose Wilding in Conversation with Ann Cleeves at The Biscuit Factory are available on eventbrite.co.uk.
The best book you’ve ever read.
Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater.
A North East author who inspires you.
I just read Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts and absolutely loved it. She’s my favourite North East author.
Your favourite place to walk in North East.
An item you couldn’t live without.
A TV series you recommend.
Advice you’d give your younger self.
Just sit down and write the book.