Meet Deborah Masson author of Hold Your Tongue

Deborah Masson won the Scottish Crime Debut of the Year Award 2020 for her novel Hold Your Tongue, which introduced the character DI Eve Hunter. The ebook is available from Amazon and the paperback from Thriller Women's list on, which is an affiliate link. 

Book cover of Hold Your Tongue by Deborah Masson

TW: Who are your crime writing heroes and what were your favourite novels growing up?

DM: There are so many fabulous crime writers out there who I admire, but I guess the writer who got me in to reading police procedurals was Mark Billingham. I picked up the first in his DI Tom Thorne series, Sleepyhead, in my twenties and loved it so much that I went on to devour every book that was available in the series from there.

As a child, I didn’t read crime as such but the novels that stick out in my memory definitely showed a love of the darker side of life. Two of those books being Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence, which was a post-nuclear holocaust novel which really affected me at the time, and then Tales for the Midnight Hour which was a collection of short horror stories by J. B. Stamper and scared the hell out of me.

TW: Hold Your Tongue reminded us a little of the 1995 movie Seven, and not just in the sense that the atmosphere is dark and that it paints a bleak picture of its setting. When you started writing the novel, were you always intending for it to have that dark, gritty quality?

DM: What a compliment, thank you! I love that film. I don’t think I ever set out for it to be dark and gritty as such, but perhaps after years of reading crime fiction and watching thrillers etc., it’s what comes naturally to me when I open the laptop and start typing. Dark and gritty is definitely something I enjoy writing and I think those things lend themselves very well to the genre.

TW: Tell us a bit about how you created your lead characters, DI Eve Hunter and her team.

DM: Believe it or not, DI Eve Hunter actually started off as a male – DI Danny Portman! I had enrolled in a Professional Writing Academy six-week course entitled ‘Introduction to Writing Crime’ and, during those six weeks, we were tasked with creating a detective, writing a breakfast scene with that character and then detailing a murder before showing the detective interviewing the suspect. Those early assignments led to me developing my ideas (via two Faber online courses) and eventually to the first draft of Hold Your Tongue. It was only after I secured an agent that I decided I wanted to instead write a strong female lead – and from there Eve Hunter was born.

The team came easily after that. I knew I wanted someone who would have Eve’s back at all times – and that someone became Cooper. I also wanted conflict with an old colleague but also to introduce a new colleague with an axe to grind which would really cause friction for poor Eve, and so Ferguson and Mearns appeared on the page from there.

TW: How much research did you have to do for this novel?

DM: I hold my hand up and say not much. I drew from books I had read and series/films I had watched when it came to police work (occasionally checking things online), With regards to location, it helped that the book’s set in Aberdeen, where I’ve lived all my life. The only real research I did was when I called a University of Aberdeen Doctor to find out what would happen if your tongue was cut out – whether you’d choke to death or bleed to death etc. It was a very interesting phone call and not without reassurances from me that the call really was purely for research purposes!

TW: Did you always want to write police procedurals, over, say, a psychological thriller?

DM: No. Police procedurals scared the life out of me as I knew readers of those were dedicated and a clever crew who wouldn’t suffer mistakes easily. But, I took the leap and trusted in the people who did read it along the way – my tutor, fellow students and eventually my agent and editor. From their feedback, I figured I hadn’t got it too wrong.

I am however interested in exploring my writing and seeing what I am capable of, so I’m toying with the idea of a standalone thriller.

TW: When do you write, and how long did the first draft of Hold Your Tongue take you?

DM: I write when the kids are in school. Any other time would be a miracle!

The first draft of Hold Your Tongue was a long, leisurely affair. I wrote it with the help of courses and not consistently as such, plus throughout a relationship break-up, a house and town move, and my mum being diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was purely due to the support of my tutor, Tom Bromley, that I made it to the end of a draft. All in all, it was about three to four years. A long time.

The second book was around six to eight months and the third, which I am about to start with the help of NaNoWriMo (first time!), is due end of March so it will be nothing short of a miracle…

TW: What are your bad habits in your writing?

DM: Getting distracted by stuff I convince myself is needing done urgently in the house – like dusting a top shelf that you can’t even see. Sometimes anything to avoid planting my backside in the chair. That’s when I hit a coffee shop or a park and make myself write whatever I’m avoiding – usually a tough scene or something I’m stuck on.

TW: Are you a plotter or a panther? Do you find the plotting process challenging and what is your process for mapping out a story?

DM: I definitely fall on the panster side, although I recently read an article about ‘plantsers’ which is a mix of the two and I think this describes me to a tee.  I like to have a beginning to get the book up off the ground and then an ending so that I know where I’m headed. Everything else in-between is left for me to stumble upon as I go.  I find it keeps me interested and sometimes surprises me. If I was to plan any more than that I think I’d be bored of the story and feel it had already been told, before I’d even finished telling it.

TW: Tell us how you got your agent and publishing deal.

DM: I was one of the lucky ones. I mustered the courage to send to four agents initially and within days I got an email from my wonderful agent, Oli Munson at AM Heath, asking for the full MS. It wasn’t long after that before he offered me representation.

From there it was a bit of a whirlwind. It was first sent out to a ‘scout’ for overseas and very quickly Random House Germany offered. The UK side took a bit longer. It was sent to a first batch of UK publishers and, just as I thought no-one was going to bite and we were gearing up for submitting to a second batch, the lovely Tash Barsby of Transworld stepped in and made an offer for a two-book deal. I may have been dancing that day – maybe even that week.

TW: In your view, what is the most important piece of advice you could pass to someone aspiring to write a police procedural?

DM: I don’t see myself as any expert in writing a police procedural but, as a writer, my one piece of advice would be to believe you can do it. And to do that you have to turn up to the desk. You have to make your writing time as important as anything else in your day or week. Just as essential as an appointment you’d keep for work, the kids, the dentist, doctor – whatever. No excuses.

TW: How has the book been received in your hometown of Aberdeen and what was the local reaction to you winning the ‘Bloody Scotland’ Debut award?

DM: It’s been hard to tell but what I have seen and heard has been great! Friends and family have been hugely supportive, as have my local Waterstones and supermarkets. I’ve also been lucky to have a local entrepreneurial company show interest in my writing and award and so they have gone on to interview me etc. Plus, I’ve had a few wee mentions in the local press but I’m keen to develop that support further in future.

TW: Tell us a bit about Out for Blood, your next DI Hunter novel. Was it a case of a ‘difficult second book’?

DM: I was terrified of writing a second book. Hold your Tongue was my first ever attempt at writing a novel so I worried I wouldn’t have it in me to write another one but thankfully I proved myself wrong. I did feel a little pressure (and still will, I guess, when it comes to publication!) but I had to shelf that fear and just get on with writing it or it never would’ve seen the light of day.

Out for Blood sees DI Eve Hunter and the team back together, this time exploring a ‘hidden Aberdeen’ where human trafficking and prostitution are rife. The team find themselves in a tug-of-war between privilege and poverty; between the elite and those on the fringes of society.

Quick fire questions:

TW: If I wasn’t an author I would be…
DM: …slightly insane by now without the escape!

TW: My desert island book choice would be…
DM: This is a toughie. Probably a collection of short crime stories from the greats of the genre so I can get lost in the magic they bring to the different ways of storytelling.  Bloody Scotland did a great collection a few years back from twelve well-known authors, including Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Gordon Brown and Lin Anderson so that would be a good choice.

TW: The novel I’d like to see adapted for the screen is ...DM: Well, I have had reviewers say that Hold Your Tongue would be great on the telly so I guess I’ll be cheeky and say I’d like to see that too!

TW: A novel I have read more than once is…
DM: So many! Too many to mention and re-read for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s because I purely love the story but for others it may be because I feel there is much to learn from a particular book as a writer. And, of course, my own two books to date as it feels you read each one about a hundred times and more throughout the editing process…

TW: If Hold Your Tongue had a soundtrack, the top song would be…
DM: Ooh, this would have to be a creepy version of a certain kids rhyme. I’ll say no more.

Thanks Deborah!

More about Hold Your Tongue 

In the run up to Christmas, a serial killer stalks the streets of Aberdeen ...

A brutal murder.

A young woman's body is discovered with horrifying injuries, a recent newspaper cutting pinned to her clothing.

A detective with everything to prove.

This is her only chance to redeem herself.

A serial killer with nothing to lose. 

He's waited years, and his reign of terror has only just begun ...

Keep in touch with Deborah
  • Twitter: @deborah_masson


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