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Q&A with Christina McDonald - These Still Black Waters

By Elle Summers

We are excited to welcome Christina McDonald to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release These Still Black Waters released on the 1st of October 2023.

After a violent home invasion, Neve Maguire returns with her daughter to Black Lake, her childhood summer home, hoping for a fresh start. But when the body of a woman is found floating among the reeds in the lake behind her house, she fears she has made a horrible mistake.

Neve is hiding secrets, though. Detective Jess Lambert can tell. Recently back after her own personal tragedy, Jess knows what it’s like to live with skeletons in your closet, and she’s sure Neve has a few of her own.

When another woman’s body is found, Jess and Neve are forced to confront a horrible truth. Because one thing is clear: the darkness of the past is waiting. And the secrets of Black Lake are only just beginning to surface.

These Still Black Waters

Hi Christina, thank you for the opportunity to read your murder mystery These Still Black Waters. The twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish!

Hi, Elle! Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled and honoured that you loved These Still Black Waters, thank you!

This novel is not your first experience with writing murder mystery and exploring the crime genre. I would love to learn more about how you entered into this genre and what specifically drew you to write crime fiction.

This is my fourth book in the crime genre, and possibly my darkest. I’m not sure why but my books have progressively each gotten darker! My first book was The Night Olivia Fell, but before that I’d written a number of books in different genres. I didn’t do much with them. I loved creating powerful characters, but my stories weren’t strong enough. The one book I wrote that I managed to get an agent for (in women’s fiction) never sold.

When I wrote Olivia, I was really drawn to the mystery aspect of it, and I think that’s how I found my stride within that genre. I enjoy reading this genre, so it made sense that I’d like writing in that space. I think it’s the element of putting together a puzzle, taking all these clues and unravelling the truth. I come from a journalism background and putting together a story as a journalist is similar. I really enjoy that mental puzzle, as well as creating suspense and keeping people on their toes. So combining my first love of creating a powerful character with my love of unravelling a puzzle within the mystery genre, it all fit together for me, and I’ve stayed writing within that genre.

Following on from this, when you craft your work, how do you add the elements of mystery? Do you start at the reveal and work backwards and how do you decide what to tell your reader and when?

I always start with a general idea about my story, the inciting incident basically, but from there I don’t know the story until I write it. As I write, I create an outline for each chapter and when I foreshadow something, I highlight it in yellow so I make sure to deliver on that promise. If I think of the reveal before I write it, I keep a note of it to see if it fits organically later. It’s a very messy process and requires a lot of editing, but it works for me!

There are a lot of elements to adding mystery and suspense in a novel—the crime itself, red herrings, a villain—but I think two of the most powerful elements are foreshadowing and creating an atmospheric setting.

Foreshadowing is always key, but particularly important when using an unreliable protagonist, which I’ve created in Neve. I wanted to make her likeable, but unreliable, so I hinted at things in her past that were going to affect the story and foreshadowed things that would happen in the future. Dark things. An atmospheric setting creates that ominous mood, makes the reader feel uneasy, a little anxious about something, think of your protagonist slinking through the night shadows or through a dark and moody forest. That atmosphere creates uncertainty, which elevates the mystery.

I would love to learn more about the character of Jess Lambert. She is clearly a woman in distress, yet she still carries a sense of strength with her. Without giving too much away, Jess’s past experiences are pivotal to her role in this story. How did you find creating a character with so many layers of struggle and torment?

This is a fun question because Jess changed so much in edits. When I first wrote These Still Black Waters, Neve was the main protagonist and Jess was more of a secondary character. I wrote Jess in third person as a way to create tension and show more of the investigation. But when I sold the book, my editor suggested making it into a series, and having Jess be a main protagonist.

It was such a genius idea. So I went back and re-wrote Jess as a first person protagonist, exploring more of her background, her personality, how she would empathize with Neve, her trauma. I wanted to really explore those themes of grief and loss, that we are more than the worst things we’ve done, as well as show how resilient we humans are, how we put ourselves back together after the worst has happened.

Is this novel the first time you’ve incorporated ghosts into your crime fiction? How different was it for you to bridge the divide between the living and the dead and did this pose any additional challenges when working out your story line?

Yes, this is the first time I’ve written about ghosts. I had read somewhere that people experiencing intense grief do actually have grief hallucinations, and I thought, wow, that could easily get distorted with thinking you see your loved one’s ghost. So I started exploring that a bit more, how it would work within the confines of my story. I felt such a connection to that plotline that I couldn’t ignore it.

It definitely posed some challenges. Even though most people don’t believe in ghosts, as a writer I still had to make it believable within the confines of this story. I worked very hard to do that and I hope readers enjoy the way it’s handled.

Please could you tell us a little bit more about your experiences within the publishing industry and the journey of These Still Black Waters from an idea to a published book!

Oh wow, I could probably write a whole book on this alone! Lol Publishing is a hard industry for sure. A lot of it is about luck and timing. I wrote above a little about my path to writing The Night Olivia Fell. People tend to see a book come out and think it was just instant success, but there are usually 20 binned manuscripts and 200 rejections along the way.

These Still Black Waters was my eff-it book. Am I allowed to say that? Lol I was out of contract, my publisher had dropped me, my previous book hadn’t sold, I’d split with my previous agent. My confidence had bottomed out. I had nothing to lose, so I sat down to write the book that was in my heart. I wrote it the way I wanted to write it.

I’m so proud of this book because it’s what helped me realize that nobody could make me stop writing but me. It was my decision, and I decided to keep doing it. Writing it, and selling it, taught me to trust myself, and it gave me back some of my confidence.

Publishing is a privileged and difficult industry, but being a writer—and I think most creatives would agree with me here—it’s something I need to do. Something I can’t give up. It’s like an addiction, maybe. But it’s part of who I am and part of what I do, what I love doing, so I don’t want to give it up. I hope my stories connect with readers, I hope they make them feel things and think about things in new ways, and most of all, I hope they are entertained and able to escape within the pages of my books.

When can we hope to see Jess Lambert again?

The next in the series is coming out next year, August 2024. It’s called What Lies In Darkness, and in it Jess investigates the case of a teenager who regained consciousness after a car accident, only to discover her entire family has disappeared. It’s available for preorder here: 9.

Where will our readership be able to find your amazing novel?

These Still Black Waters is available from Oct 1 at most bookshops, including: Amazon | Target | Barnes & Noble | Warwick’s | Mac’s Backs |

These Still Black Waters

Christina McDonald is the USA Today and Amazon Charts bestselling author of These Still Black Waters, Do No Harm, Behind Every Lie and The Night Olivia Fell (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books), which has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio.

Her writing has been featured in The Sunday Times, Dublin,, and Expedia. Originally from Seattle, WA, she has a BA in Communications from the University of Washington and an MA in Journalism from the National University of Ireland Galway. She now lives in London, England with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Tango. She’s currently working on her next novel.

Christina enjoys reading, hiking and lifting weights at the gym. She always wanted to be a writer, and told her earliest stories to her two younger sisters, who were her first audience, cheerleaders and sounding board. She has a BA in Communications from the University of Washington, Seattle and an MA in Journalism from the National University of Ireland, Galway.


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