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Interview with Judith O’Reilly…..

Killing State author Judith

For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?

I’m a former journalist with the Sunday Times, Newsnight and Channel 4 News. I started off writing nonfiction – Wife in the North and A Year of Doing Good. Wife in the North was based on a viral blog about moving from London to Northumberland, while for A Year of Doing Good, I did a good deed a day for a year. They were both published by Penguin.

I originally brought Killing State out myself a year ago and I was very fortunate in getting in great blurbs from some very generous big name writers, it also picked up reviews in national newspapers and sold into WHSmith travel outlets in train stations and airports. Off the back of that success, I got an offer of a two book deal with Head of Zeus. The hardback of Killing State is out any day (jumps up and down in excitement) and book 2, Curse the Day, at the end of the year.

Killing State is action adventure with a political twist and launches a new hero called Michael North onto the scene. North is working for an extra governmental agency and is very good at killing bad guys. But when he is ordered to kill a female MP, he realises he can’t do it and that the only way to keep her alive is to help her find her best mate who has disappeared.

Where did/do you get your ideas from?

I was a former lobby correspondent and political producer so the political context to the book comes naturally to me. Lord knows it’s an interesting time politically, and the book knocks things forward a year or so to a time when we’ve left the European Union and Trump’s America has pulled out of Nato – we’ve privatised the Army as a way of keeping up our defence spending.

Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?

Someone said to me once that what writers don’t realise is that all your characters emerge you’re your own psyche – good and bad. If I look at my main characters, the hero is highly intuitive (courtesy of the bullet he took to his brain when he was a serving soldier). Well, we all like to think we are intuitive, don’t we? The main female character, the MP called Honor Jones, would go to the brink and beyond for her best mate and I have to say friendship is incredibly important to me. And the hero’s sidekick Fang is a stroppy teenage genius. I certainly wasn’t a genius but I went from being labelled precocious to pretentious when I was a kid basically because I read a lot of books, so I think I have a good handle on how she feels about stuff. Plus I have three teenagers of my own so I have any amount of research close to hand to help when I need to channel Fang’s obstreperousness and bad-ass attitude.

How do you pick your characters’ names?

Michael is probably a Catholic thing to do with the archangel Michael who is often depicted suited and booted as a warrior with a sword.

Honor (my female lead) is a good person and as difficult as she feels she has to be. You have to be careful with being too obvious with names because you want to cue up the reader subconsciously rather than with a huge neon lit arrow.

I’ve riffed on a couple of family names and I’m guessing that is because I’m used to and like the sound of them. I didn’t really think about it, but apparently members of my family were a bit surprised when they read the book.

Generally, names come quite easily. You play around with them, roll them around in your head a bit, ask yourself whether it feels right. The only habit I need to be careful about is sometimes you end up choosing a few names for different characters which all start with the same letter.

Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?

Work on the craft of writing all the time. Don’t ever be satisfied with what you write. Always try to be better. Work hard at it and then work harder. Accept the fact your caffeine levels are going to be way too high.

Who are your top 5 favourite authors?

Aaaargh, there are so many but if you nailed me to a wall.

Lee Child

Robert Harris

Margaret Attwood

James Patterson

John Le Carre.

Mick Herron.

Raymond Chandler

Philip Kerr

Martina Cole

Anthony Trollope

Dan Brown.

Did you say 5? I’m very bad at counting. Seriously, I think I’m dyscalculic.

If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?

Really good question. It would be James Patterson and it would be how do you keep people turning the pages. I try to be aware of something they call ‘micro-tension’ – upping the ante, instilling conflict in emotions and ideas. It’s supposed to make you keep reading. That is what I am after. That ‘can’t put this down’ effect. I’m not writing literary fiction. I’m telling a story and I want you right there with me till I’ve told it.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Huge, enormous, weren’t we all? Twelve library books on the family’s tickets. Not to mention school library books. Easily a book a day. I was an only child. Books were everything. I’m terribly short sighted as a result, but a price worth paying. (The fact my kids don’t read like I do makes me want to weep. I mean, they play sport! Where did that come from? Not form 5ft 2inch, stumpy, bespectacled me let me tell you. I used to run away from the netball at school. I was so bad I was ordered off the hockey pitch the only time they let me play.)

When did you start to write?

As a kid, I had short stories published in the local evening paper and a story published in a kid’s anthology.

If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?

Well I know it would ruin a brilliant and tragic love story but I do think Cathy and Heathcliff should have got together.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

The Handmaid’s Tale. I studied in Canada for six months and discovered Margaret Attwood and read it years ago. Mindblowing.

If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?

I’ve already written two in a way. Both my nonfiction were effectively memoirs so Wife in the North and A Year of Doing Good (just the year you understand. I figure the rest of my life I can live it how I please.)

If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?

I would take Philip Marlowe for coffee. I’d be willing to overlook the fact he called me a dame and probably arrived hung over. He’d have to arrive first so I could make an entrance because that’s what dames do. I’d take him to a café called Flat Whites in Durham which has excellent coffee and oodles of atmosphere.

What are you working on right now?

Just in the last throes of editing Book 2. I’ve written it, just about to submit it, then the editor will get back with her suggestions. I’ll make the revisions then move on to research for Book 3. I’m ticking over ideas wise for Book 3 as we speak.

Tell us about your last release?

The synopsis reads like this:

Michael North, assassin and spy-for-hire, is very good at killing bad guys. But now his shadowy bosses at the dark heart of the British government have ordered him to kill an innocent woman – and North can’t bring himself to do it.

The woman is Honor Jones MP, a rising star in Westminster politics. She has started asking dangerous questions about the powerful men running her country. The trouble is, Honor doesn’t know when to stop. And, now that he’s met her, neither does North. 

There is lots of zeitgeisty jeopardy in it and bad guys and guns and nailbiting tension (I hope) and there’s also some really great women characters with strong dynamic relationships. Women who don’t take any rubbish from anyone, who seize control of their lives and refuse to let go.

Do you have a new release due?

Book 2 Curse the Day I haven’t really talked about anywhere yet but since you ask…

North (and his stroppy teenage sidekick Fangfang) is dragged into another adventure, this time, working alongside Mi5. He’s tasked to discover who is behind the leak at an important UK tech company and to keep the company’s founder safe – a woman who’s just been attacked in her own home. What could possibly go wrong? That would be everything.

(I’ve been told it’s a bit Killing Eve and a bit Lisbeth Salander from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books)

What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?

I am desperately dull these days. I have had big launch parties in the past but this time I am planning pizza with the kids. I’m part of a book group and I’d like to have a celebratory coffee with some of them if they can find the time. Maybe I’ll take the day off? I work seven days a week (not all day but every day). That seems a bit shocking now I’ve written it on the page. Does the world stop turning if you take a day off? Shall I find out?

How can readers keep in touch with you?

Please. I love that.

Tweet me @judithoreilly

Email me through my website

Sign up to the newsletter.

Or just email me at

Some writers say writing is solitary and that’s a good thing. I can find it lonely, so if u read the book and u want to comment, reach out.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

Yes, if anyone is reading this and they want to write a book. Don’t quit the day job or you put way too much pressure on yourself.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Judith 🙂

Thanks for the interest. Judith x

Killing State cover




Michael North, assassin and spy-for-hire, is very good at killing bad guys. But what happens when his shadowy bosses at the dark heart of the post-Brexit British government, order him to kill an innocent woman and North can’t bring himself to do it?


The woman is a rising political star, Honor Jones, MP.  She has started asking dangerous questions about the powerful men running her country. The trouble is, Honour doesn’t know when to stop. And, now that he’s met her, neither does North…



Judith O’Reilly is the author of Wife in the North, a top-three Sunday Times bestseller and BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. Judith is a former political producer with BBC 2’s Newsnight and ITN’s Channel 4 News, and, when she isn’t writing novels, she writes for The Sunday Times.  Judith lives in Durham.

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