If you’ve never heard of her or read any of her great books take it from me you’re in for a treat.
Put it another way – Melanie, or Mel or M.A. Comley (she goes under all three) is quite simply a tour de force, one of those new breed of crime authors who should be on everyone’s must-read list. Her energy and output is staggering, including four top-of-the-range novels featuring her creation, Detective Lorne Simpkins.
She took a short break from the fifth in the series to provide me with a glimpse of her life.
Mel quit a 70-hour per week job as a Co-op Supermarket manager to move to Normandy ten years ago to pursue her writing passion. Since then she has upped her production levels to about 100 hours a week by writing every day without fail, whilst doubling up as her own agent and promoter.
It was that kind of dedication that drove her through her first big milestone of 50,000 book sales, but it has not been a bed of roses. Mel is unafraid to throw aside pretensions to speak about the road she has travelled.
“I had a tough childhood. My Father walked out on Mum when I was four. At times we couldn’t afford to eat, it’s a good job I loved baked beans! Eventually, to make ends meet we moved in with my Grandmother and Grandfather. They were real sweeties and looked after me and my brother while Mum worked full-time as a chef, but sometimes the generation gap was very tricky to handle.
“I’ve had a number of jobs, everything from being an interior designer, to a barmaid, and a store manager. I even started my own lucrative business at one time. But nothing could take the place of wanting to write. I love it. I’ve definitely found my vocation in life.”
“I tend to fly by the seat of my pants whilst writing. And after living with an alcoholic for years I tend to steer clear of alcohol. I’m coffee-total.”
When Mel arrived in Normandy she had to face the uncertainties and insecurities that all writers go through. Could she turn her dreams into realities? Could she step up to the plate and get published? With typical Comley determination she had already worked out a plan.
“I’ve always been an Indie author. I did have a few UK agents interested but they wanted me to make a lot of changes to my manuscript. Being an Indie provided me with the freedom to write and guide my characters in the way I want, often with surprising outcomes.
“As soon as I started to make inroads in ebook sales I had several agents chasing me to sign contracts with them. I decided to go with top New York agent Richard Curtis, but the publishing business is in turmoil and he’s had difficulty tempting publishers.”
There’s no hint of regret in her words. Having just recently crashed through a new barrier of 150,000 sales it’s not hard to see why she’s content to keep doing what has worked so well to date. After all, as she herself says, all the royalties are all hers.
There was one burning question I had to ask….how did Mel come up with the idea for the Lorne Simpkins novels? Unless I missed something from her bio, she doesn’t have any police procedural background so how does she write with such authority in the crime genre?
“I’m an avid thriller reader and was inspired to create Lorne by James Patterson. I loved his Alex Cross books and decided I wanted to create the female Brit equivalent. However, the first character I created was The Unicorn. Lorne followed close on his tail as usual.
“I wanted to join the police force when I was younger, had the application form filled out and everything, but life, or should I say promotion, got in the way. I’ve always watched forensic-type shows and I’m constantly making notes throughout them. I own quite a few forensic books too and of course, the internet has all the information you need to write factual thrillers.
“I did have one gentleman comment that Cruel Justice was very close to how the Met works today. I also had a negative review from someone who said that DIs ONLY sit behind desks in today’s police force, which is utter tosh. Amazon actually deleted that review.”
Here’s another question: What advice, if any, would you pass onto new writers?
“I write daily, seven days a week. If I miss a day I find myself procrastinating too much and have trouble getting back in the driving seat again. After all, the brain is a muscle that needs regular exercise. My biggest challenge has been finding a decent editor. I’m on my third one now.
“I was so thrilled at how Foul Justice turned out that I put her in charge of re-editing the other books in the series. Yes, the process was costly, but I’d urge everyone to make sure their work is the best it can possibly be before they upload it as an ebook. Once you’ve lost a reader, you can’t get them back.”
So, what keeps Mel Comley grounded?
“I’m a very organised person. If you’re chaotic I don’t think you can sort through a plot successfully. I have my Mum here and my Aunt lives about forty minutes away. She comes to visit every week and her puppy drives my two old dogs around the twist.
“I’m a keen painter, DIYer and gardener when I have the time. At the moment, I’m decorating our new house plus trying to create new flower beds in our huge garden.
“I adore living in France, not that I get to see much of it. I would never return to the UK. I live right out in the countryside and gain inspiration from my surroundings. I tend to work upstairs in my bedroom-cum-office, although I have to say the cows can be extremely noisy and distracting at times.”
And finally, a note from me……
I read my first Mel Comley thriller a little over a year ago. I couldn’t put it down, nor could I settle until I made my way through the full series. She has become my favourite female author, as much for the pace and tension injected into her stories as for the clever and compelling way in which she fashions her characters as real people easily identifiable for the reader. I’m now patiently waiting for Mel’s next offering.
Take my recommendation to explore the works of Mel Comley. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Here are several links to steer you to the right place: