Meet bestselling author, journalist, interviewer, tutor, agony aunt and speaker, Jane Wenham Jones

Welcome, Jane!

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You grew up with quite a varied and strong literary heritage in your family. Were you encouraged to write and develop your own ideas from childhood, surrounded by books and such talent?

Yes, I was always encouraged to read and to write. My father wrote some textbooks (he was an English teacher), my mother writes poetry, my grandfather Frank Brookesmith had a memoir I Remember the Tall Ships published in his 80s (Foyles put on a window display!).  And his daughter, my aunt Shelagh Macdonald, won the Whitbread Prize (as it was then) for the Children’s Book of the Year back in 1977. Sadly,  she now has severe dementia and her decline was the inspiration for the mother in my last novel, Mum in the Middle. Uncles various have also been published in different ways and a couple of cousins are journalists. So writing was always seen as A Good Thing.

When did your first break as a published writer happen? Was it non-fiction or fiction first?

Short stories for women’s magazines. I started writing these when I was at home with a toddler and my brain had all but atrophied. When that toddler locked me in a cupboard and I had to talk him through phoning 999* to get me out, I realised how many stories there are all around us. And ended up publishing about a hundred of them. (For the full dramatic saga see my first non-fiction book Wannabe a Writer?)

Of all the impeccable research you have completed, is there one project or person that has intrigued, touched or surprised you more than you expected?

I often seem to include a storyline about some form of mental illness. That is in my family too.

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Picture by Encade

Many of the real issues such as dementia and cancer included are very serious and are given total understanding and respect for the impact they have on the character diagnosed and those supporting them. How do you balance this with the overall tone of your books which is humorous and optimistic?

It’s odd isn’t it, really? But humour has always been my way of getting through. There is a lot of black comedy in the worst things that happen to us, if you know where to look. And I think it is possible to still find humour and optimism in everyday life even when the chips are really down. So I suppose I don’t have any problem writing about bleak issues and amusing encounters side by side.  I recently found some parodies I wrote for my sisters after  our parents had split up in my late teens, and everyone was being even more bonkers than usual, and they made us all laugh hysterically all over again  – even though it was all quite appallingly  dysfunctional at the time.

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You capture the essence and conflicts within strong female friendship groups well. Have you been strongly influenced by female friends/peers in your own life?

Friends are everything. Both the male and female variety. But I have some wonderful women friends who have been amazingly supportive to me. Both in the publishing world – lovely pals in the RNA for example – and in my personal life.

Over the course of your novels have you noticed the social trends affecting women changing dramatically such as: the boomerang effect, empty nesters, and the sandwich effect between younger and older generations?

Absolutely! I was very aware of this when writing both Mum in the Middle and The Big Five OWomen in their forties and fifties can no longer be pigeonholed. I wrote recently that my earliest memory of my grandmother was of  a tiny, silver-haired old lady who wore a pinny, was keen on gardening and polished the teapot a lot. I calculate now that at the time, she was younger than I am! Her parents were long gone and all of her four children had their own homes. Today women of this age will still have ambitions for their careers, might have teenagers at home, or kids even younger, or be supporting adult offspring who can’t afford a place of their own. They’ll still expect to scrub up well for a hot night out, will probably go to the gym, or dance classes or be training for a marathon, and may well be online dating.  Just at the time when their elderly parents start kicking off! We are the stretched generation – in more ways than one!

I’ve also had reason  to revisit my third novel that was published in 2005 – One Glass is Never Enough. Re-reading the opening pages – which is a party scene –  for the first time in a decade, I was struck by how some of the sexual banter I had included would be considered  unacceptable in the current climate. The world has moved on a pace since I started writing – which rather dates me, doesn’t it? 🙂

Mum in the Middle

What has being a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association meant to you over the years?

A great deal. Prominent members like Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell and Judy Astley have been exceptionally kind and supportive to me and when I first pitched up to a conference knowing nobody, Catherine Jones made me laugh till  I cried.  So many, many lovely RNA members have become good friends  and are a constant source of inspiration and joy. I have especially loved acting as compere at the RNA awards for the last eight years. It is one of the  annual highspots.

What was the most important piece of advice that you were given that you would like to pass on to as yet unpublished writers?

 “Get the story down.”

But my own best piece of advice is: Marry someone rich!

Each author has their own favoured way of working. Do you have a strong work ethic: rise early, write late, or with such a hectic and varied schedule work as you move from event to event?

Oh it’s utter chaos. If I’m on a deadline, I get myself out of bed early and glue myself to the chair – out of sheer panic. But generally, on a day at home, I potter about, and tidy the airing cupboard, think I’ll make some bread, send emails and then suddenly – EEK – it’s 4pm and I’ve not even opened the manuscript. But I do do a lot of different things – so it is quite hard to stick to a rigid routine. I usually get there in the end.

How and when did you venture into interviewing and public speaking?

The speaking came about from being asked to talk to a local  “Ladies’ Dining Club” when my first novel was published.  I think they were a bit shocked – usually they had someone talking about flower-arranging or the history of the rubber stamp. But I had a really fun evening and then I got other bookings from word-of-mouth. The Rotary and Rotarians and such-like .

The interviewing started when I’d been on a panel at the Guildford Book Festival and the then director, the late Glenis Pycraft, invited me to chair a similar panel the following year. It grew from there and now I work at several different festivals each year and am a founder member of BroadstairsLit here where I live, which is huge fun.  I really love interviewing on stage. And I’ve been lucky enough to chat to a lot of top authors.

Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?

I would like to! But I’m not the best at it. I enjoy twitter (@JaneWenhamJones) but I’m a bit sporadic about it – so I’ve never really built that  up. And I’m hit and miss with facebook also – it’s all feast or famine.  I don’t fully understand how to best utilise my author page either (yes I know I should find out but it’s too easy to lose your life in this stuff.)  I’m envious of people who seem to just slide it in to their lives and have zillions hanging on their every word.  For example, I love Instagram –  which I came late to – but still haven’t properly grasped this “my story” business. I need a friendly seven-year old to instruct me…

What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?

I always think that the wonderful thing about this game is that every day there is the potential for something uplifting to happen. A foreign rights sale or a lovely review or a little surge in the amazon ratings. The are all highlights at the time.  It was exciting when Prime Time was shortlisted for the RNA awards some years ago and when Perfect Alibis was optioned by the BBC. Tho unfortunately that came to nothing in the end. Playing the chat show host for Peter James at Brighton’s Theatre Royal to an audience of over 700 was pretty fab…

What are your inspirations or ambitions now?

Oh the screen rights, my own TV show – you know the usual modest stuff… 🙂

 What project are you currently working on?

                             A 10th book and the 2020 programme for BroadstairsLit

 

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I love your hairstyle and wondered if there was a point when you decided that you were going to redefine your image, or if it was something that has just developed over time?

It started with my very first novel Raising the Roof.  I thought it would be a laugh to dye my hair the colour of the book jacket – which was turquoise and purple, as they all were then! You couldn’t get the fun colours you can now, so I had hair extensions put in, in the right shades and thus begun my love affair with multi-coloured locks. Everyone’s at it these days but I was a pioneer! People used to stop me in the street to comment on it.

What do you do to keep yourself fit away from the computer and to relax?

Yoga, walking, reading – of course. In the summer I play bad tennis if I can find anyone equally bad to join me. Two years ago I took custody of a tiny, flea-ridden, runt-of-the-litter black kitten and I have turned into a mad cat lady with bells on. Much time is spent admiring the now-huge-and-glossy creature that is Nugget (named by my son after a hop they make real ale with – spelled with two Ts – and not a deep-fried chicken snack) and attending to his every whim.  He totally rules the roost and has brought me huge pleasure. I definitely feel calmer and happier since he’s been around. Even when he wakes me at 3.am with a mouse in his jaws…

What is next for Jane Wenham-Jones?

A nice glass of Macon blanc villages I think…. possibly with some crisps….

Many thanks for taking the time to answer all of my questions and sharing some insight into your amazingly varied world.

I wish you every success in 2020 – Merry Christmas, Jane!

And to you – thanks for having me xxxx

A day in the life of Margaret James

A warm welcome back to Margaret James who is sharing a day in her busy life as an author, tutor, mentor and journalist.

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My writing days are from Monday to Friday – I try to have weekends off to do family and friends stuff – and begin at about ten in the morning. I’ve tried starting earlier, but I’m an owl rather than a lark, and find I can’t write anything before I’ve had that second coffee.

So, from ten o’clock onwards I do some online housekeeping – answering emails, writing blog posts, spending a bit of time on social media, and making notes for future articles and author profiles in Writing Magazine, the UK’s bestselling title for authors of all kinds.

I’ll have a break about eleven-thirty and take a walk around my very tiny inner city garden, snipping anything that’s grown too big for its space and checking the bird baths and feeders are full.

The afternoons and evenings are my most creative times. So then I’ll be busy writing articles, working on a novel (there is always a novel in development) and maybe writing a few short stories, too. My local writing group sets homework (I know – it’s outrageous!), giving us a one or two word theme, and asking us to produce a piece of work up to about 300 words long. I’ve written lots of pieces of flash fiction that way.

I might also do some reading for competitions. I’m involved in several and I enjoy reading the entries. I never know when something amazing is going to pop up with the next click. Some competition entrants also ask for reports on their stories, and it’s good for me to have to think hard about what they’ve written. Oops, I sometimes think, as I point out that the author has spent the first few pages describing the set-up for the story, I’ve been guilty of that. I’m part of the team that runs Creative Writing Matters, and we organise several short story competitions every year, as well as the Exeter Novel Prize.

I’m also the author of three creative writing guides with my writing partner Cathie Hartigan. We’re very proud of the success of The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook.

The late afternoons and early evenings are for winding down, perhaps meeting friends in town, maybe going to the cinema or having something to eat, and having the obligatory good natter, too. Then it’s home to open my laptop again, just to make a few notes on what I’ve done that day, and before I know it it’s two o’clock in the morning and I really, really, really need to go to bed!

My crime and mystery novel The Final Reckoning is published by Ruby Fiction and is available in ebook and audio format from all the usual platforms, including Amazon and Kobo.

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Here’s the blurb.

What if you had to return to the place that made you fall apart?

When Lindsay Ellis was a teenager, she witnessed the aftermath of the violent murder of her lover’s father. The killer was never found.

Traumatised by what she saw, Lindsay had no choice but to leave her home village of Hartley Cross and its close-knit community behind.

Now, years later, she must face up to the terrible memories that haunt her still. But will confronting the past finally allow Lindsay to heal, or will her return to Hartley Cross unearth dangerous secrets and put the people she has come to care about most at risk?

I always love to hear from readers, so please feel very welcome to contact me!

https://www.facebook.com/margaret.james.5268
https://twitter.com/majanovelist
https://margaretjamesblog.blogspot.com/

 

Meet romantic novelist Jane Cable

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Your first writing successes with The Cheesemaker’s House were very impressive. How did this help you find your way as a successful author?

The Cheesemaker’s House doing so well in a national competition gave me the confidence that I could tell a story, but also that I had a significant amount to learn. One of the judges, Sophie Hannah, took me to one side and told me that although she loved my authorial voice there was a great deal of polishing to do. I didn’t have the knowledge to polish it – I was self-taught so barely knew what she meant – so I took myself off to Winchester Writers’ Festival and began my real writing journey.

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What was the best advice you have been given by an experienced writer?

One of the tutors at Winchester that year was Margaret Graham and she has proved hugely influential. I knew nothing when I first attended her workshops – I’d never even heard of ‘show not tell’. She showed me (not told me!) what it meant and how to use it; she taught me about using all the senses, and so much more. She’s an incredible writer and a great tutor and I would urge anyone starting out to get hold of her wonderful little book, The Writer’s Springboard.

Please tell us about your exciting new release Another You.

Yes, the release of Another You has been exciting for me. With our wonderful mutual publisher, Sapere Books, it’s been given a great start in life so is selling well and getting some great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Another You final cover.jpgIt’s set in Studland Bay in Dorset around the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, and tells the story of Marie, who while struggling to escape her poisonous marriage meets a charming American soldier walking on the cliffs. But nothing is what it seems, and so begins a chain of events that will change her life forever.

How would you describe a Jane Cable novel?

Romance with a twist. My strapline is ‘the past is never dead’ and that’s a theme which runs through all my books.

How do you balance your research/writing/social media time?

Not always as well as I could! Whether I’m writing or researching depends on the stage I’m at with the manuscript, and I maybe spend too much time on social media, Twitter especially. I say maybe, because I do encourage interaction while I’m there and it’s now leading to some valuable contacts and activity, which is broadening the reach of my books.

Are you an owl or a lark?

Lark. Definitely. I get up early and start to write straight away. I’m good for nothing by late afternoon.

Do you plot your stories out first before writing the first draft?

The answer used to be ‘no’, but recently that has changed. I had an idea in my head for something slightly different, and when I approached Sapere they wanted a detailed outline and sample chapters. So I had to plan. Now I’m about to start writing the bulk of the manuscript and it’s useful to have the journey mapped out, but even when I was writing the sample chapters the characters began to do their own thing. And to be honest, I’m going to let them. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that they know best!

How influential have strong women been in your life and have they inspired your heroines?

My heroines do not always start out strong – Marie in Another You is battered and cowed by her marriage – and it’s her journey to find her strength that fascinated me. I guess I just like writing about wounded people. Life throws so many curve balls and people react to them in different ways, which is fascinating. But healing is possible – probable, even – and I like to show that in my books. It’s quite a recurring theme for me, now I come to think of it.

There are strong women in my family, and they have inspired me the most. Both my mother and my grandmother fought to make sure their children had better lives and although they were very loving women, they had rods of steel in their backs too. My mother taught me that above all I should be independent and it has proved a valuable gift.

How important has being a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association been to you?

It’s been hugely important. It’s a fantastic network and when you embrace it, it embraces you back. The support is well and truly mutual. I’ve also made some great friends by being a member, most importantly when I moved to Cornwall. We don’t have a chapter here but meet informally and it’s great fun.

Other than reading what do you do to relax away from the world of books?

I’m an outdoors person so I love to walk and of course live in a great part of the world to do it. I also love the sea, although this year I’ve had some shoulder problems so I haven’t been in it as much as I would like. I love to travel too and adore spending time planning our next trip. Or the one after. Or the one after that…

You are passionate about ‘Words for the Wounded? How did you become involved with this inspirational charity?

Margaret Graham is the moving force behind this charity and at first I wanted to pay her back for all the help and support she’d given me. When I lived in Chichester our local independent authors’ group, Chindi, organised a mini litfest over a weekend and raised almost £1,000 for them. We were so proud.

Words for the Wounded exists to raise funds to help injured service personnel, and because the founders underwrite the running costs themselves every penny raised goes for the intended purpose. I’ll be making a donation for every Amazon review of Another You.

What is next for Jane Cable?

I’ve just delivered my next manuscript to Sapere and the book should be out towards the end of the year. It’s called Winter Skies and, like Another You, it’s a contemporary romance looking back to World War Two. It’s set in the Lincolnshire heartland of Bomber Command, and is about Rachel, who is trapped in a cycle of destructive relationships. But the past has a habit of repeating itself, so maybe it can provide the impetus she needs to set her free.

Social media links:
www.janecable.com
Twitter @JaneCable
Facebook Jane Cable, Author
Goodreads 

 

Meet bestselling author Liz Fenwick

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Liz Fenwick

 

You grew up in Massachusetts, moved to the UK and now commute between London and Cornwall. Did you ever think that you would travel so broadly?

I grew up with an inbuilt wanderlust. My father had travelled a fair bit and I would spend hours looking at his slides and dreaming of a time when I too could venture forth. I hadn’t quite imagined that I would lead the travelling life I did for so long. I moved to the UK when I was 26 and that was when it truly began. I met the man who is now my husband of almost 28 years two weeks after I arrived in the UK. We married two years later and that was when moving about began in earnest. We’ve lived in Canada, Moscow, Houston, Indonesia and Dubai. While in those locations we explored as much as was feasible with three small children in tow. But of course there is still more travelling I want to do!

The variety of cross-cultural experience that this life-style has given you is amazing, but the love of Cornwall shines through each of the books you have set there. When did this love affair begin?

It began with my first trip there one hot weekend in June 1989. My boyfriend of just a few months took me to meet his parents…or so I thought. It was in fact the ‘Cornwall Test’. If I hadn’t fallen in love with Cornwall then we wouldn’t have married. I’m certain of it. But how could I not fall in love with bright blue skies punctuated with foxgloves, cliffs falling into the sea and hidden creeks caressed by low tree branches. Cornwall stole my heart and has never let go…even when the sky feels low and the mizzle is so dense I can’t see the bottom of my garden.

Could you explain how and when your first breakthrough as a published writer happened?

My first breakthrough was finding an agent. I had met Carole Blake on line first via Twitter then in person through a TweetUp. We hit it off on a social level and became friends over our love of wine, shoes and books. I was still in the process of finding my writer’s voice. Finally two years after we became friends I knew what my voice was and what I was aiming for. This coincided with me attending the first York Festival of Writing. There I was to pitch to someone else in her agency. I knew this person wasn’t the right agent for me but I also knew the book wasn’t ready…so it was more for the feedback. During our session he asked me why I hadn’t pitched to Carole…fear was the first thing in my mind. She was Carole Blake but in my heart I knew The Cornish House wasn’t what it could be. So I emailed her…knowing her colleague would feed info back to her, saying the book wasn’t ready but I was aiming for Daphne du Maurier meets Jodi Picoult or Cornwall with issues. She told me to send it to her when it was ready. That was April and in February I sent The Cornish House off to four agents, all who I had met through the Romantic Novelists’ Association. By lunch time I had my first request for a full…but I hadn’t heard from Carole. So I emailed her asking as a friend what should I do because her book From Pitch to Publication didn’t say. She emailed saying as a friend you inform the other agents. Three requested the full and by Saturday Carole had offered me representation. By St Patrick’s Day I had my first publishing deal with The Netherlands and in April I signed with Orion. That was the beginning.

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Of all the impeccable research you have completed, is there one project that has intrigued or surprised you more than you expected?

I loved researching The Returning Tide. I was terrified as growing up in the States the knowledge that people in the UK have is different and I was terrified of getting it wrong…I lost sleep over it. But I love research and my favourite part of the research for this book was interviewing four people who served during WWII. One of them lent me her diary from 1945 and I was able to see first hand how little everyone knew. This was my biggest struggle in the end. Today if a bomb falls we know minutes later. Then they knew only their part and nothing more….

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You are a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – what does the organisation mean to you?

The RNA is my tribe. I learned so much there during my pre-published days, my apprenticeship. The published novelists were and are so generous with their knowledge. I know that this cut my time waiting for publication. I also know they have my back as I have theirs.

What was the most important piece of advice that you were given that you would like to pass on to as yet unpublished writers?

Don’t rush to publication. I wish I knew who gave me the advice but I am grateful. I would add to it take that time to learn about the industry…because once you are published it all becomes harder!

Each author has their own favoured way of working – would you share yours with us?

Ideally the idea for the story will have been in my head for a year or more. It will slowly build and then I will brain storm with my editor…I love this part. If research is required I will then do the minimum – just enough to write a fast and dirty first draft. This I learned the hard way. I love research and for A Cornish Stranger I thought the historical thread of the story would be about the SOE so I read extensively. I then wrote the story…it’s not about the SOE. So I wasted key time. Now I leave XXXX directly in the text to indicate that more is needed and fly on with the story. What I have discovered is in this more targeted research I have found things that enrich and twist the story…especially since by then I know my characters. Once I have the dirty first draft the real work begins. I write many drafts…not as many as I used to but by the time I send it to my editor this first time it will normally have been through four to six drafts. The final one of these edits will be having my computer read the story to me. Believe me you can’t hide from a clunky sentence, missed word or lack of transition when there is no emotion in the reading voice.

I used to dread the editing process but now I embrace it. With my editor’s input and my own (obtained from stepping back from the book for even as short as two weeks) I can see how to make the story better, stronger and more emotionally charged. So I will normally have two to three rounds of edits with editor then there is the copy edit (hate this bit…when I’m forced to look at the small stuff) and the final proof reading edit is always a bit lost on me…I can’t see a spelling mistake for love nor money. I’m dyslexic.

You are an inspiration to many as you have dyslexia. How much of a challenge has it been to write your lovely novels and overcome the difficulties that this may have presented?

Dyslexia has presented many challenges along the road to writing my novels. Not being able to spell has created two problems one of which has become a blessing. I cannot see a spelling mistake so I need to have someone proof read and a very understanding editor. This is a nightmare. My dyslexia can be so bad sometimes that I can’t look it up in a dictionary or spell it enough for spell check to even offer a possible spelling. This is so frustrating. It has made me many times select a different word, a simpler word. And this has been the bonus. My writing is simple which has brought me many readers who struggle with reading. Unless it is a necessary technical word or the character absolutely would say the simple word the vocabulary used in the books is basic. This means the story can be read by a larger audience. I never thought that my struggles with dyslexia would help others to access stories, but it has.

I was fortunate enough to interview the amazing Carole Blake shortly before her tragically early death. How much of an influence did Carole have on your career?

She was the ideal guide through my first years as a published author. Despite my time pre-published learning as much as I could there is so much to take on board and understand. She answered every question, went to battle for me, reprimanded me if I took a wrong step and laughed with me. She taught me to enjoy every step of the journey, toast every success no matter how small and not to sell myself or my work short. With each and every book she had to sell it back to me because I hated it by the time all the editing was done! She excelled at selling.

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Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?

Yes! As I mentioned earlier it was through Twitter that Carole and I became friends. I also love interacting with readers through the various platforms. It is also where I interact with other writers…making the work process less lonely.

What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?

There are two…the first was when a reader stayed behind at a talk and told me how a story I’d written had helped her. I stood there in shock. I had never imagined reaching someone so deeply. And the second was when The Returning Tide made the short list for the Winston Graham Historical Novel Prize.

What project are you working on now?

I’m doing the preliminary research on a novel that is located on both sides of the Tamar (yes leaving Cornwall briefly) and is set in WWI and the current day. More sleepless nights hoping I don’t mess up the historical details!!

What is next for Liz Fenwick?

The Path to the Sea is out on 6 June 2019. It is a story of three generations of the Trewin women all with secrets. At Boskenna a large rambling house perched on a cliff above a Cornish beach on a hot August weekend in 2018 the past comes closer to the present. The youngest Trewin, Lottie, tries to keep her own secrets hidden as she searches for answers. But once she uncovers what happened in 1962 what is she going to do?

 

I wish you every continued success and am looking forward to reading The Path to the Sea!
www.lizfenwick.com

Liz F

Catching up with Linda Stratmann

Welcome back, Linda.
Congratulations on becoming the new Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association!
Photographs by Gary Stratmann
Linda, what is your vision for the CWA as the new Chair?
One of the greatest pleasures of being a member of the CWA has been the people I have met and the friends I have made. I joined in 2004 and have served as Membership Secretary, Dagger Liaison Officer and Vice Chair. Seeing the membership numbers grow, with new Chapters formed both at home and abroad has been a rewarding and exciting experience.
The benefits to our members as listed on our website, are substantial. We are doing so much more to interact with other organisations, supporting libraries, booksellers and publishers and have established National Crime Reading Month, and formed the Crime Readers Association, which is free to join, and provides a regular newsletter to over 10,000 subscribers and bi-monthly Case Files.
The CWA has never been in a more vibrant and healthy state than it is now. For that I must express my gratitude to all the former Chairs, whose contribution has made the Association what it is today. I must especially thank Martin Edwards, who in the last two years has striven to make us more businesslike and efficient. Martin has established a CWA archive at Gladstone’s Library, a beautiful location which holds regular events, notably the crime writing related Alibis in the Archive which has proved extremely popular.
I can assure everyone that I do not intend to be the new broom that sweeps away the past. Neither do I want to rush into new ventures before we are ready. The foundation we have now is a firm one, and I want to consolidate what we have before considering how we can move on in the ever-changing world of publishing. I do want to further develop the already formed links with the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors as well as other crime, thriller and mystery writers associations worldwide.
Above all, I see the CWA as an organisation which should serve all its members at whatever stage they are in their writing career; whether debut, mid-career or long-established. We all have something both to contribute and to gain. The CWA is the flagship organisation for crime writers, and a brand of quality. The Dagger prizes we award annually are a recognition of the best in crime writing. My hope is that the future will further strengthen that position.
I wish you and the CWA ongoing and even greater success!

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Twitter – @LindaStratmann
Linda Stratmann is the author of thirteen non-fiction books mainly about true crime, but her work also includes Chloroform, the Quest for Oblivion, a history of the use and misuse of chloroform, and three biographies, notably The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde’s Nemesis. The Secret Poisoner chronicles the efforts of science and the law to tackle poison murder in the nineteenth century. She has recently edited a new volume in the Notable British Trials Series, The Trial of the Mannings.
Linda also writes two fiction series. The Frances Doughty Mysteries set in1880s Bayswater, feature a clever and determined lady detective, whose adventures explore aspects of Victorian life such as diet, education, medicine, women’s rights, fear of premature burial and the fashion for cycling.
The second series is set in 1870s Brighton. Mina Scarletti is a deceptively diminutive lady with a twisted spine, whose boldness and confidence enable her to overcome her apparent disadvantages. Mina writes horror and ghost stories and exposes the activities of fraudulent spirit mediums who prey on the vulnerable bereaved.

 

Meet prolific crime writer Margaret Duffy

I am delighted to welcome crime writer, Margaret Duffy, as my guest this month.

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Margaret, your website mentions your Czech granddad. Was he the person who inspired your passion for creating and writing stories began?

Although my lovely Czech Grandad told me spooky stories about castles with corridors where candles suddenly blew out he died after having had several strokes when I was quite young so any connection with him must be in my genes. The Czechs apparently are known to be story-tellers. My Dad had a novel called Many Bridges published in the fifties that was based on truth, the Czech Resistance during the Second World War. My flights of fancy started with writing a play with me acting all the parts, six of them, performed in the living room in front of my parents. I really hope they weren’t too bored.

Your work has been delightfully described as ‘police procedural with a touch of romance’, do you have to keep the balance carefully, as crime is your first love – so to speak?

My characters are married which I suppose is also a bit boring. Twice actually as Ingrid (Langley) found Patrick (Gillard) so insufferable at one stage that she threw him out (of her cottage) and went on to smash his classical guitar. She can be like that sometimes. Later, when he was recovering after being horribly injured serving in Special Services and turned up on her doorstep saying he had to find a working partner for a new job in MI5 she took pity on him. But don’t worry he said, no relationship, no sex, just a socialising job, perhaps at house parties given by the rich and famous. In a word, spy-hunting. They soon threw the sex reservation bit out of the window when the old magic of their original relationship resurfaced.
DCI James Carrick of Bath CID eventually marries his one-time DS Joanna Mackenzie too and the four end up working on cases together when Patrick and Ingrid are recruited by the National Crime Agency.

To date you have had over 20 Patrick Gillards, 4 James Carrick and 3 stand alone novels published. Was it the character, setting, or crime that inspired these?

It’s these characters that inspire me all the time, I’m much more interested in how they get the better of serious criminals than the crimes themselves. And criminals are usually rather stupid.

Do you plan each novel out meticulously before writing a first draft?

No, I never know how the plot will develop or end when I start, I just write until it sort of grabs me. I don’t do drafts either, just make corrections and polish it as I go. I find it helps me to picture exactly what’s going on.

What is the most fascinating piece of research you have stumbled across when researching a novel?

The most interesting piece of research I ever did was to read a paper on the various changes that take place with regard to dead bodies when they’re immersed in water.

When did you fall in love with the beautiful city of Bath?

We lived near Bath for several years and I had a job in the City centre. I was struck how, just behind the tourist-thronged streets, beautiful buildings steeped in history and obvious wealth were slum areas, drunks and the homeless. A good place to set crime stories. It’s changed a lot for the better now though.

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You are a member of the Crime Writers’ Association – what does the organisation mean to you?

The CWA is marvellous from the point of view that it’s so rewarding and valuable to mix and talk to people of like mind.

What key advice would you share with aspiring writers?

Aspiring writers should never take no for an answer, just work hard to improve what you’re trying to achieve.

What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?

The highlight of my writing career was getting my first crime novel, A Murder of Crows, published.

What is next for Margaret?

What next? I’m working on number twenty eight, Gillard’s Sting, and also trying to interest an agent, as mine doesn’t handle it, in a sci-fi crime novel, The Killing Mind.

Many thanks for your time in answering my questions and sharing some insight into your writing world. I wish you every success with your new project and hope you let us know when it is published.

http://www.margaretduffy.co.uk/

An interview with Linda Stratmann: Vice-Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association.

 

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Welcome Linda,

Your writing career did not begin with fiction, but with non-fiction study of historical crimes. Where did this interest in researching and writing about real crime begin?

It began with my mother! She was an avid reader and a lover of history, and she was fascinated by famous trials. We used to watch true crime programmes on television – we especially liked Edgar Lustgarten – and also discussed cases reported in the newspapers.

In all the cases that you have researched did one motive stand out above all others: greed, hate, love, necessity, premeditated or spontaneous revenge?

The foundation of so many murders is financial, but it is not necessarily always greed, sometimes it is desperation. People kill for insurance money, often to extricate themselves from debt. They kill to escape a relationship because of the costs and consequences of divorce. In the nineteenth century, which is the era I write about most often, poor families poisoned their children just to get the money from burial clubs.

It is not surprising that with such a vast amount of accrued knowledge on true crime that you turned to writing fiction. What was it that enticed you to set both your Frances Doughty and Mina Scarletti series within the Victorian period?

Many years ago I wrote about a Victorian case, the trial of Adelaide Bartlett in 1886 for the murder of her husband. The case was so complex that I realised I needed to understand the Victorians in order to discover the truth behind the lies and the euphemisms; I needed to know how they thought, and how they expressed themselves, and what they believed. The more I researched the more fascinated I became with every aspect of that period. It was natural to want to recreate that time in my fiction.

Both of these women have to overcome difficulties and work to make a life for themselves that is at odds with the expectations of their gender within the period. Were they influenced or based on real characters that you had researched?

Frances is not based on anyone, however Mina Scarletti, who suffers from scoliosis was inspired by two people. Eva, who had a very severe distortion of the spine, was the aunt of a friend of mine. I never got to know her well and she died when I was a child.
Annie Jane Fanny Maclean had a curvature of her spine and walked with a limp. In 1879 a scoundrel called Lewis James Paine romanced her and induced her to transfer her property to him. He then plied her with alcohol and withheld food until she died. A court found him guilty of manslaughter and he was imprisoned for life. Annie’s fate highlighted for me the vulnerability of a disabled young woman in the Victorian marriage market. I wanted a heroine who could overcome this and be strong and independent.

How far did you delve into the world of psychics to help Mina Scarletti unmask the Victorian fraudsters?

I have about a hundred books on the subject – so far! These are both contemporary accounts and modern studies. I have read numerous online journal articles and newspapers, both nineteenth century and more recent. I have also read books by Victorian conjurors and illusionists, and attended a Victorian séance workshop. When I describe a séance in my books I always have to know before I write it how the effects were produced.

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In the light of all your research would you agree that the truth is often stranger than fiction?

That is often the case, which is why I like to append historical notes at the end of my fiction books. I have just written one for the fourth Mina book because a reference I included was so odd that I felt I needed to reassure the reader I was not making it up.

Are you a detailed plotter when you start a new project?

I always know when I start who the villain is and how and why the crime was committed. I also write what I call the ‘back story’, the details of what has happened up to the point when my book begins. So I know the start and the finish, but what happens between those points has to be natural and organic, as my heroine needs to learn the facts and solve the mystery in a convincing way. That develops as I write.

In all the cases you have studied:-
Which real criminal did you most despise and why?

There are so many! When I wrote The Secret Poisoner I was especially appalled by Richard Overfield who cruelly and cold-bloodedly murdered his baby so he wouldn’t have to support it, by giving it sulphuric acid. He was hanged in 1824.

Was there a real criminal that you admired the cunning of even if not their actual acts?

In cases of fraud there are many clever people who misuse their considerable talents for criminal purposes. Harry Benson and Willam Kurr who I wrote about in Fraudsters and Charlatans were extremely able career criminals who overreached themselves through greed.

Was there anyone you empathised with, or at least understood their motive to commit murder?

Of course I don’t approve of murder, but I did feel sorry for Eric Brown. (Essex Murders) He had suffered constant abuse and cruelty from his father for many years and seen his mother being led a life of terror and misery. He dealt his father a fast and merciful death by planting an anti tank mine under the old man’s wheelchair.

Did you come across anyone who was condemned, yet would have been acquitted as innocent if they had been tried today?

I tend to find that most failures of justice go the other way – people who are almost certainly guilty being acquitted due to insufficient evidence to convince a jury. In the case of Holloway and Haggerty, however (Middlesex Murders) two men were hanged for a murder it is almost certain they did not commit, on the false evidence of a man who was trying to get his own sentence reduced.

What has been your proudest author moment?

The publication of The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde’s Nemesis. Between forming the determination to write the biography and actually holding it in my hands was eleven years. The first eight were spent trying to find someone who believed in the project as much as I did!

How long ago were you diagnosed with hyperacusis and has it dramatically affected your daily routine?

Hyperacusis is a condition usually resulting from noise damage or physical accident, in which everyday noises, especially if high pitched are painful. The sound of laughter, squeaking brakes, babies crying, electronic beeps, clattering dishware, are all examples. I have had hyperacusis for over twenty years but it took several years to get a diagnosis because it was not well understood or known about. At the time I was working in an office and general office noises and daily travel were hard to tolerate. I can’t wear earplugs all the time as over-wearing makes my tinnitus worse. Since I retired from the day job I have worked from home and been more in control of my daily environment, so life is better. If I go out I carry hearing protection, but even with that, social gatherings are difficult and some locations, especially noisy restaurants, are impossible. I wrote about hyperacusis in one of my novels, The Children of Silence.

What do you do to relax away from the world of writing about crime?

I love cooking, and in the last few years have taken up baking sourdough bread. The scent of a crusty loaf baking in one’s oven is magical!

What is next for Linda Stratmann?

I am near to completion of the fourth Mina book, The Ghost of Hollow House, in which she is asked to investigate a haunting. I have also been commissioned to edit a new volume in the Notable British Trials series, which is a huge honour.

Thank you, Linda, for taking the time to do the interview and I wish you every success with your ongoing and future projects.

www.lindastratmann.com , Facebook and  Twitter