Photographs by Gary Stratmann
I am delighted to welcome crime writer, Margaret Duffy, as my guest this month.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In March 2016 I interviewed Amy Durant, a successful Publishing Director, as a guest on my blog; two years later I am delighted to welcome Amy back as a co-founder of a new and exciting enterprise, Sapere Books.
Such a lot has happened in a comparatively short space of time. Not only have you started your own imprint, but have also been short-listed for major industry awards. How have these motivated you to build an even more dynamic career and when/how did the idea of ‘Sapere Books’ come into being?
I think all of three of us had been independently toying with the idea of setting up our own business, but none of us had the confidence to voice it publicly or ‘go it alone’. We all decided to move into freelance careers for different reasons after leaving our jobs in publishing, and one day – over a couple of drinks, of course! – we finally all blurted it out and realised this was something we could actually do! We all have strong skills in different areas and I think all of us are confident that we are much stronger in a partnership than we would have been on our own.
It is a lovely name, what was the inspiration behind it?
‘Sapere Aude’ was actually my school motto and roughly translated means ‘Dare to be Wise’, and ‘sapere’ on its own means ‘knowledge’, which we thought was quite appropriate for a publisher. It also links nicely to our owl logo. We wanted something a bit different that would get people talking, and it seems to have worked so far!
What do you think makes Sapere Books stand out from other publishers?
I think that – like many other small, independent publishers – we have the benefit of flexibility. We don’t have any external investors or anyone we have to report to, so we have the freedom to make all the decisions ourselves, which means we can experiment with things and change strategies at the drop of a hat. We have all worked with authors for a long time, and always felt in previous roles that authors got sidelined and somewhat neglected. Our focus is very much geared towards creating author brands and an author community, so everyone feels very much a part of the Sapere team.
What genre submissions are you seeking for Sapere Books?
At the moment we are publishing historical fiction (including crime, thriller, romance and saga); crime fiction; thrillers; romantic fiction; women’s fiction; popular history and historical biography. We are publishing both backlist, out-of-print books and brand new submissions, and we are particularly keen to hear from authors who have either already written more than one title, or plan to continue on a series from their submission.
You are one of three co-founders of Sapere Books, so I am delighted to welcome the other two: Caoimhe O’Brien and Richard Simpson.
What are your special roles within the company?
AMY: I am the Editorial Director, so all submissions come through to me, and ultimately, I decide what we publish, although this is something we all discuss together, and I often send scripts to Richard and Caoimhe for second opinions. I work one-to-one with authors once the contracts are signed, shaping their novels and getting them ready for the final copyediting and proofreading stage. I’ll then discuss publishing schedules and marketing strategies with Caoimhe to make sure all the books are released at the optimum time and work with her marketing plans.
CAOIMHE: I am the Marketing Director and I am responsible for the marketing and promoting of our books, authors and the company in general.This involves working closely with our authors on author branding, creating websites for them and coordinating social media campaigns.We have a dedicated team of reviewers and bloggers who play a huge role in a successful book launch and dealing with these eager readers is a really fun part of my job. I also spend a lot of time boosting the online profile of the company with the aim of growing our newsletter and reaching more readers.
RICHARD: I work as the Operations Director for Sapere Books, which basically means that I spend most of my time ensuring that the company’s balances are healthy and that Amy and Caoimhe have enough funds each month so that we can invest as much as possible in all of our books. We constantly reassess whether new methods and strategies that we are implementing are efficient and cost effective to ensure that we are the doing the most we can to help readers see and read our books. However, my time isn’t always spent looking over spreadsheets, as being a small company our roles frequently have to cross over meaning that I often spend some days of my week looking over manuscripts and researching new marketing strategies.
In my previous interview with Amy she explained that she grew up with a father who was a successful children’s author (Alan Durant) and therefore books had always featured in her life, fuelling her passion. Have you both had lifelong involvement with books and publishing?
CAOIMHE: I spent my childhood with my head in a book and did a degree and Masters in English at university but I didn’t consider publishing as a career choice until after my Masters. I wasn’t sure what career path to choose but when I thought about my constant interest in books throughout my life, it seemed like the only thing that made sense and I am very glad I made that decision.
RICHARD: : Although I spent the vast majority of my childhood with a nose in a book I certainly wasn’t surrounded by a bookish world. But although my parents weren’t avid readers they definitely fostered my love of history and encouraged me to read anything that I could lay my hands on. Perhaps their biggest influence on my life now was due to the fact that when I was a child they jointly began a small company, R & J Simpson Engineering, which builds and repairs historic racing cars. Seeing how a small company develops and works influenced me greatly when thinking about setting up Sapere Books with Caoimhe and Amy, and many of the lessons they learnt in the early years I’ve been very keen to implement into our company.
What do each of you look for in a book as readers?
AMY: I read widely and across most genres, so what really grabs me when reading a manuscript is the strength of the characters and whether I am compelled to keep reading. We publish ‘popular’ genre fiction, so all our fiction titles have to be plot-driven and to fit within the confines of those genres (we don’t publish anything overly literary or experimental), and we often sign up authors who are either writing a series, or have a few books, so I need to finish a book with the desire to read more by that author.
CAOIMHE: I mostly read contemporary and crime fiction with some historical fiction thrown in too. I look for plot and character driven novels. Readers enjoy lots of different genres and, as publishers, we must be able to look at a book objectively, not just as something we ourselves would want to read. But regardless of genre, the plot and characters must be strong enough to grab and hold the readers’ attention.
RICHARD: Unlike Amy and Caoimhe I spend most of my time reading nonfiction, particularly histories and biographies. Firstly what I look for in these books is that it must have a compelling subject, secondly it must be grounded in solid historical research, and thirdly, which historians who focus solely upon the research sometimes forget, it must be well-written. I’ve got a huge range of interests though and will happily read books about almost any subject from ancient Mesopotamia through to the development of Meissen pottery and beyond.
This is such an exciting venture and I am delighted to have signed up with Sapere Books.
Hi, Martin, and welcome back. It was great to meet up again and congratulations on becoming the Chair of the CWA.
Thanks, Val. It was a pleasure to spend time in your company at the CWA’s enjoyable annual conference in Edinburgh recently. You know from your own experience that the CWA is a vigorous and highly collegiate organisation. For me, it’s a huge honour to be elected Chair.
The CWA keeps growing – it now has more members than ever before in its 64 year history. Although most are British writers, we have an increasing number of members based overseas, plus corporate and associate members involved in many different ways with the business of crime writing. We also prize non-fiction crime writing – a CWA Gold Dagger is awarded each year for the best factual book as well as for the best novel.
So the CWA is a very broad church. That makes it a vibrant organisation, but it also presents challenges. How can we make sure that we deliver value to all our members? That has to be our central aim. It’s not the committee’s organisation, far less my own. It belongs to the whole of the membership. And that’s something I keep at the forefront of my mind.
At present, for instance, self-published writers are not eligible for membership. The writing business is changing rapidly, and my personal view is that our eligibility criteria will change too. But this will only happen when there’s a clear consensus in favour on the part of the membership – it’s not a decision that can or should be imposed.
Already, we do a great deal for our members. If you take a look at the membership benefits on our website, you’ll find that there are very wide-ranging, and rarely matched by comparable groups. Our regional chapters offer an eclectic mix of social and professional activities; each chapter operates with a high level of autonomy, which is the way our members like it. As well as social media platforms, we run the Crime Readers’ Association, with its monthly newsletter going to over 10,000 subscribers. The bi-monthly Case Files has a similar readership. Our members have exclusive access, therefore, to a key target audience, an audience that is expanding all the time.
But I want us to keep growing, and to offer our members even more. My belief is that the CWA’s potential is almost limitless. Crime writing is, after all, enormously popular worldwide, and few “brands” within the genre can match the prestige of the CWA, and of our internationally renowned Dagger awards.
Let me mention just a few of the areas that I’d like us to explore in the coming years – not just while I’m Chair, but on a continuing basis. Our links with libraries are very important, and mutually beneficial. The CWA Dagger in the Library is a popular award, and our National Crime Reading Month links writers, readers, and libraries each June. I’ve just appointed our first Libraries Champion, Ruth Dudley Edwards, who will develop those links further, to everyone’s benefit.
I’m equally keen to develop our links with booksellers nationwide, and with publishers large and small, as well as with like-minded people and organisations in the UK and further afield. So I’m talking to – among others – the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Crime Writers’ Association of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America to explore ways of deepening our relationships to the benefit of all concerned.
And there’s much more – too much for one blog post! But I’d like to highlight the valuable work we do for the public benefit, not least encouraging the next generation of writers via the exceptionally successful CWA Debut Dagger, and also a flash fiction competition for students at the Edinburgh conference. This is another area of our activities that I’d love to expand.
I’m also proud that our archives are a central part of the British crime writing archives now held at Gladstone’s Library. Over time, I hope this will become an internationally recognised resource for researchers and crime fans. The archives are being opened officially at a week-end event in June, Alibis in the Archive, which quickly sold out – surely a sign we are doing something right. In fact, the tremendous level of interest means that we’ve already agreed to run another Alibis next year.
Of course, there are constraints. Our resources are limited, and so – crucially – is the time of committee members who are unpaid volunteers. We can’t do everything we’d like to do, and we will never be able to please everyone – no organisation can. We need to build up our management infrastructure, and operate as professionally as possible, so that our worthy aims can be implemented efficiently and over the long term. Making sure that all this happens in a sound way cannot be achieved overnight. But the portents are good. The future of the CWA promises to be even more exciting than its prestigious past.
Read Martin’s original interview here!
Martin Edwards’ eighteen novels include the Lake District Mysteries and the Harry Devlin series, and The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. He has edited thirty crime anthologies, and won the CWA Short Story Dagger, CWA Margery Allingham Prize, and the Poirot Award. He is series consultant for the British Library’s Crime Classics, President of the Detection Club, and Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. His The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books appears in July.
The CWA Dagger logo is a registered trade mark of the CWA
I am delighted to welcome Sarah Quirke, Publishing Manager of FA Thorpe Publishing to my blog to talk about her work and interests.
Firstly, Sarah, welcome! Could you tell us about FA Thorpe Publishing?
F.A. Thorpe Publishing is the publishing division of Ulverscroft Large Print Books Ltd, which distributes large print and audio books worldwide. It was established by Frederick Thorpe in 1964, with the intention of reproducing popular books in larger type for those who struggled to read standard print. Initially, there was scepticism on the part of publishers about this unknown format. However, a chance encounter with Agatha Christie allowed Dr. Thorpe to discuss this project with her, which resulted in her wholehearted support – she expressed a desire to see all of her titles produced in large print. This was a key factor in gaining the support of other publishers and authors. A Pocket Full of Rye was one of the first titles to be published in large print format, and we have, over the years, published all of Agatha Christie’s title in large print – along with a fair few others…
Did you always want to have a career in publishing?
Although I had no doubts about what I wanted to study at university – English literature – I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do once I finished my studies. I feel extremely fortunate to have landed my job. I’ve been with the company for nearly 14 years, so I feel rather fortunate about that, too!
Have you always been an avid reader?
Always! I vividly remember reading aloud to my dad when I was about six, and him telling me to read the words ‘as though you’re speaking’, and it suddenly clicked. And then there was no stopping me…
Which authors have, or do, inspire you?
I found A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash thoroughly inspirational in terms of the writing, which was exceptional; it just poured off the page and felt beautifully effortless. In terms of story-telling, and the moral dilemma presented, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman was utterly compelling.
What is your favourite genre for your own leisure reading?
I do enjoy a well-written, ‘unreliable narrator’/twisty-turn-y tale. I think Paula Daly is fantastic, and I also like Tamar Cohen. I’m afraid I’ve yet to read The Girl on the Train, but I definitely want to do so before seeing the film.
Could you describe the imprints you represent and the word limitations on each?
Our Charnwood and Isis imprints contain mass market popular fiction and non-fiction titles, and our big name authors. The upper limit here is very much dependant on how well we can expect a particular author to sell. Our Ulverscroft imprint tends to house much shorter titles, and the upper limit here is currently around 60-65,000 words. For our Linford Romance imprint, we’d ideally want titles to be somewhere between 30-50,000 words, although we have taken shorter and longer titles than this; the same is true of our Linford Mystery and Linford Western imprints, give or take a few thousand either way.
What do you look for in a new submission?
For most titles, the first consideration is always a practical one – if it’s too long or too short, I won’t be able to consider it. The next consideration is whether or not it will be a good fit for our lists.
What should writers avoid sending you?
If you’re aiming for one of the Linford imprints, then try to make sure it’s a clear fit within the genre – so, a romance rather than a general fiction title, for example. We tend not to do sci-fi or fantasy titles, or self-published non-fiction.
You must see a vast number of submissions, so is there any advice you could give to a writer who is considering submitting a manuscript to you?
Please read and re-read what you’re submitting with as clear an eye as possible. The fewer mistakes, the easier it is for us to see the story you’re trying to tell.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your work?
It’s great when I win an auction for a title I desperately want in our lists, and it’s also very satisfying putting a list together and seeing what I know are some absolutely cracking reads in there. Being surrounded by books all day is also a definite bonus!
Would you consider writing a novella/novel yourself?
I would love to. I note down ideas a lot, although that’s about as far as I’ve ever got.
When not involved in the world of books what do you love doing to relax?
Yoga and singing – I do both with great enthusiasm and questionable results.
My thanks for your continued support for my work (39 titles to date) and for the insight into your world and that of F A Thorpe Publishing.
This month’s guest is a man who has spent his life dealing with crime and now enjoys creating his own – crime writer and artist, Michael Fowler.
Welcome to my blog, Michael.
Your police career involved a lot of undercover work. Did you sometimes feel that you were in an acting job, however one that had a realistic edge?
Acting is a very good phrase, because it was just that, especially when I was in the Drug Squad. I underwent undercover training by experienced undercover officers. The script they gave me involved learning the ‘language of the street’ together with acting ability on how to buy drugs and set up ‘deals’. My props were a changed appearance – I grew my hair long, wore an earring and changed my dress style. My stage was wherever the drug fraternity hung out. The more time I spent with them the more polished my acting ability improved.
That period of policing was up there as my best, despite being nerve-jangling at times.
I never had a desire to be an author. I always wanted to be an artist. My policing and writing career have come by default. I’ll expand on my writing career in a later question.
Were you always drawn to crime?
I’ve been an avid reader since the age of eight. In my early teens I started reading adult books of the Science Fiction and Horror genre. An uncle, who was also well read, introduced me to crime. I initially read cosy crime written by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Dashiel Hammet, and then I discovered the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain and I was hooked on police procedurals.
Your first published works were about Mexborough. Have you always had an interest in social history?
The publication of my childhood and teenage nostalgic accounts of growing up in Mexborough came by good fortune. In the late 1980’s I discovered writing groups and began composing stories. My childhood adventures in the 1960’s, within a mining community, were the first things I wrote about. The writing groups were run by the WEA and one of my tutors suggested I approach a local publisher who published this type of work. In 1994 I met the editor at Wharnecliffe Press (Pen & Sword books), pitched my accounts and walked out with my first writing contract. They published three of my books, but I never thought it would progress beyond that because policing and two growing sons took up my life at that time.
Could you tell us about your artwork and what is your favourite medium to use as an artist?
As I have already alluded to painting was my first love. My earliest artistic recollection was sitting at the table drawing with my mum, and all through schooling I pursued art as my passion. My last art teacher introduced me to oil paints and I never looked back. At the age of 16 I passed an interview to attend art college only to return home to be told by my father that he couldn’t afford to support me and so I joined the police cadets. I did paint regularly, all through my policing career – it was a great stress reliever, and I also sold my work. When I retired in 2006, I did so to paint. I rented a studio and painted daily. My work was accepted at major exhibitions at The Mall Galleries, London, and I exhibited with a number of prestigious art galleries. In 2009 I was awarded Professional Artist of the Year. Then came the fall-out from the bank crash. Three of the galleries I painted for closed down and people stopped buying artwork. I knew I had to do something other than paint every day and so I returned to writing and going back to writing groups. I focussed on writing police procedurals and in 2011 I got a publishing contract for my first crime novel. Now I’m hooked on writing. I still paint occasionally, and I tutor an art group once a work, to keep my hand in.
What has been the most important lesson you have learnt as a writer?
That like a good wine you improve over time. I am now on book number seven and I can see a vast improvement from my first book, especially the grammar. A lot of that is thanks to the publishing editor’s skills. I have learned such a lot from the edited proofs that have come back to me prior to publication.
Hunter Kerr is 95% me and 5% my alter ego, even some of the events he is involved in are based on jobs I have worked on.
Scarlett Macey is a creation. I wanted to test myself developing her and it’s been a very interesting and enjoyable experience. She gets her first outing this September in ‘Scream, You Die‘ and I’m hoping she’s well received.
What next for Michael Fowler?
My first crime novel was released three years ago. Since then I’ve added another four Hunter Kerr books and I’m amazed at how my readership has grown. It’s been a wonderful experience that I want to build on. My policing career developed my discipline and drive and it would be fair to say that I am striving to be a widely recognised crime author.
July’s special guest is award winning crime writer and consultant in a law firm, Martin Edwards. I first heard Martin give a fascinating talk at last year’s CWA conference in the Lake District and could tell that he was not only an authority on the genre, but was passionate about it.
Martin recently won the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham award at the Bristol Crimefest. Congratulations!
You are an accomplished legal consultant and crime writer. When did this love of law turn into the desire to write crime novels?
The love of crime fiction definitely came first. As a small boy, I became fascinated by the idea of telling stories. Once I discovered Agatha Christie at age nine, the die was cast, and I determined to write detective stories. However, we didn’t know anyone who wrote books, and my parents were rather concerned about my ambition of becoming a detective novelist. So they encourage me to get a ‘proper job’, and that’s where the idea of studying law at university came in. I found that I relished the academic challenges of law, and later I enjoyed the practical side of employment law. I’ve been lucky with my legal career, and it’s introduced me to fascinating people and places. But now I’m aiming at long last to focus on my first love. After thirty years as a partner in my firm, I’ve retired to become a part-time consultant. Yippee!
Would you say that your legal work, involving meeting individuals in pressing circumstances and dealing with their problems, has given you a greater empathy and insight into human relationships and conflicts, which can help with fictional character development?
Jobs, and employment issues, are all about human relationships. After a few years as a lawyer, it dawned on me that this was why employment law appealed to me in a way that subjects like conveyancing did not. Of course, the more people and human dilemmas that you encounter, the more you develop an understanding of people’s behaviour – good, as well as bad – that is definitely helpful when you write fiction. You’re not writing about the people you meet, but about the issues that people have to confront in their lives.
New editions of your Harry Devlin novels have been released. Can you share with us how this Liverpool lawyer came to be created?
My first – and never published, or even fully typed – novel was a football thriller. After that, I wanted to write a book that could be published. When I went to work in Liverpool, it seemed like a wonderful setting for a crime series. I didn’t know any cops or private eyes, so I decided that my hero would be a lawyer, like me. Not really like me, though. He would be a criminal lawyer, and have a tough life in various ways, as well as being rather braver than me. To this day, I’m very fond of Harry, and I’d like to write about him some more one day. In the meantime, I’m excited that the novels are now available again as ebooks, and two have actually been republished successfully as mass market paperbacks, as “Crime Classics”, no less…
For your next series you set the first novel ‘The Coffin Trail’ in The Lake District and introduced your readers to Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett. What was most challenging: moving from a protagonist who was a lawyer to a DCI or from a ‘Harry’ to ‘Hannah’?
I was moving from one viewpoint character to two – Hannah and Daniel Kind, the historian who gets to know her in The Coffin Trail. I always intended that the series should be about their developing relationship, but Daniel was the starting point. I saw him as the key character, but when Peter Robinson read the book, he said he thought Hannah was the one I was really focusing on, and I saw at once that he was right. By that point, I’d was writing my ninth novel and I was ready and very willing to tackle story-telling from the perspective of a female character. It was a fresh challenge, and one that excited me. It still does.
You have many projects ongoing simultaneously between your two careers as well as being a critic, an anthologist, a contributor to many non-fiction works as well as keeping your very helpful blog updated. Would you describe yourself as an exceptionally disciplined and driven writer/worker?
I admit to being driven, in that I feel very conscious that life is short and that there are a lot of things I want to achieve. To my mind, being ambitious is a good thing, as long as one tests oneself against one’s own self-imposed standards, rather than against other people, or the standards set by others. However, although to some extent I’m self-disciplined, I sometimes wish I were better organised. I do tend to set myself very demanding targets that I fail to meet with monotonous regularity. Perhaps – in a not very coherent way –that’s the method that works best for me, and even if sometimes I feel I could have achieved more, perhaps this helps to drive me on to do better in future.
In your ‘Writing tips’ you advise: ‘Plan the story before you start’. Once this has been done, would you ever amend or change a plot as you begin writing the first draft?
Yes, I’ve done this from time to time. The great thing about writing is this – you can always improve what you have written. A plan works well for me – not everyone is the same, of course. But even the best laid plans are sometimes capable of being changed for the better. So far, I’ve never changed the original solution to any of my novels, but I’ve tinkered with many other elements of my stories.
Your work as an archivist for the CWA and The Detection Club has been widely praised. Could you please tell us something about The Detection Club?
The Detection Club was founded in 1930 by that wonderful and under-rated writer (and rather strange man) Anthony Berkeley Cox, who wrote innovative whodunits as Anthony Berkeley and superb psychological crime novels as Francis Iles. It was the world’s first social network for crime writers, and attracted the likes of Christie, Sayers and Margery Allingham. The aim was for an elite of crime writers to raise the literary standards of the genre, but above all they liked drinking and chatting together. The extent to which their literary aims were achieved is debatable, but the books produced by the Club – for example, the round robin mysteries The Floating Admiral and Ask a Policeman – remain very readable to this day, and have been very successful in new editions in recent years. I’ve written intros to a couple of them, most recently The Anatomy of Murder, an intriguing book of essays about real life murders. The Club is and always has been in essence a sociable dining club. Membership is by election – there is an annual secret ballot – and the Club flourishes to this day.
As a collector of rare crime novels, is there one particular book you would like to own and, if so, what makes it so special to you?
Now you’re asking! I’d love to own a Sherlock Holmes book, signed by Conan Doyle, but alas, I’m sure that’s an impossible dream…
In ‘Dancing with the Hangman’ you explore the question of ‘justice’. In your crime novels do you enjoy being able to write the conclusion that you personally approve of, wherein your legal career the verdict is, to a degree, beyond the legal representative’s control?
Intriguing question, and I’m not quite sure about the answer. When I was fighting legal cases in the employment tribunal, I always wanted to win, but on the whole I felt that the right result was usually achieved in most cases. With fiction, I like to see some form of justice done at the end, but this doesn’t always mean the conviction of those who are technically guilty. I think it’s good if a novel reaches a conclusion that affords “satisfaction”, but the forms that satisfaction, and indeed justice, can take are many and various. Christie understood that – consider the finale to Murder on the Orient Express.
Could you share with us some of the delights included in the latest anthology that you have edited for the CWA?
Guilty Parties contains more stories than usual, and I really enjoyed reading them. It would perhaps be invidious to pick personal favourites, but my aim was to showcase the variety and depth of the crime genre, and it’s a book that I’m very pleased to be associated with.
What is next for Martin?
I’m currently working on my seventh Lake District Mystery and I have two or three short stories coming out in the near future. Recently I finished a history of detective fiction between the wars – The Golden Age of Murder – which I would love to see published in 2015, as it’s a book I’m really proud of, and I’ve put a huge amount of effort into it over a good many years. At present I’m editing two anthologies of vintage crime fiction for the British Library, a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, and a book of true crime essays for the CWA. I’m also working on a book that brings together all Dorothy L. Sayers’ reviews of detective fiction from the Thirties. All of which is quite enough to be going on with!
Thank you for taking the time to discuss your fascinating career and share some of your experiences with us.
Your love of the English language shines through the quality of your work and the complexity of the plots you weave through your books. When did your love of storytelling begin?
I was a dreadful fibber as a child, so it must have been there from the start. I led a Walter Mitty existence, top of the class, popular, brilliant at games and with a girlfriend called Dahlia, the prettiest in school. None of it was true and Dahlia didn’t even exist. From there it was a smooth progression to making up stories for what was then called composition.
You also had a keen interest in sport which led to your first breakthrough as an author. Can you describe how this came about and if it is still one of your proudest moments?
At twelve I was taken to the post-war Olympic Games in London. There’s a lot of talk about legacy from the recent Olympics and for me the 1948 Games were a rich legacy indeed. I was hopeless at sport but desperately wanted to be a part of it, so I wrote about it, doing unpaid articles for small magazines. Out of it eventually came a book on distance running and then two years later, using distance running as a background, I entered a competition for a first crime novel. Wobble to Death won me £1000 and publication in England and America. A dream start to my career.
From your initial breakthrough, how did you then go on to develop the successful series of Sergeant Cribb and Peter Diamond?
Cribb was the Victorian detective I created to clear up the mystery in that first novel and he went on to seven more, using Victorian entertainments such as boxing, the music hall, boating, spiritualism and Madame Tussaud’s as the backgrounds to whodunits. The eighth, called Waxwork, won the CWA Silver Dagger and was turned into a pilot for a TV series, made by Granada, starring Alan Dobie as Cribb. Two series followed, based on the books and original scripts written together with my wife Jax.
The more recent series features a contemporary police detective called Peter Diamond, who is with Bath CID. The first book was going to be a one-off, called The Last Detective, and he resigned from the police. But it won the Anthony for best novel at the Toronto Bouchercon and I was asked to follow it up. So I contrived a story called The Summons in which the police needed him back and were forced to ask him to return and reinvestigate an old case. He’s been going ever since. The fourteenth, called The Stone Wife, is published this spring.
In which era do you prefer setting your novels – historical or contemporary, and why?
I wouldn’t say I have a preference. I enjoy the challenges of each. The Victorian period had a rich, rather daunting tradition to work in, thinking of Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle, and the task was to avoid a pale pastiche of those great writers. The research was enjoyable, mainly using the British Library newspaper library. Today, with the internet, it would be quicker and easier. Turning to the contemporary police novel was scary, too. I wasn’t sure how I would cope with modern policing and the huge advances in forensic science, so I made Diamond a bit of a dinosaur. I get a lot of pleasure from using little known historical anecdotes in these modern books. Examples are Jane Austen’s shoplifting Aunt Jane and Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein in lodgings right next to Bath Abbey.
You have had work both televised and filmed. When this happens, do you become involved in the process and maintain control of what the producers can change?
I doubt if any producer allows the author control. They do take liberties and will tell you it’s necessary in visual terms. But I was lucky enough to attend read-throughs of the Cribb series and of Rosemary & Thyme, as the consultant. I was fortunate, too, that the adaptations of my books kept pretty faithfully to the plots – and that includes the movie Goldengirl and the TV drama Dead Gorgeous.
Do you write stand alone novels to have a break from the series, as a kind of refresher?
Yes, it’s fun to break out from time to time. I’ve written several from the point of view of the killer – and that’s very liberating. The False Inspector Dew won the Gold Dagger and has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, but the one I’m proudest of is The Reaper, a black comedy about a rector called Otis Joy, who murders the bishop in chapter one.
Every writer has their own way of working. Do you plot in detail first and then set wordage targets, or do you let the story grow as it builds on the page?
When I started I would plan meticulously and write the synopsis before beginning Chapter One. I don’t write in drafts. The pages I write each day aren’t altered, except in minor ways, so it’s a slow process. If I tell you how few words I manage in a day you won’t believe me. It has to be right before I can move on. These days I carry much more of the plot in my head, but it’s basically all there. It’s not a method I would recommend to anyone.
I first met you when you did a local library talk, which was both interesting and inspiring. Do you intend to tour again in 2014?
If I’m asked, yes. I’ve done several recent US tours, visiting cities I wouldn’t ever have known otherwise. And it’s lovely to meet readers who enjoy the books. Plus, of course, the occasional writer such as you – and that’s a bonus.
Thanks, Peter! Of all the accolades and achievements you have received in your career to date, which one(s) stand out as something very special to you?
Difficult. The CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000 was a great honour, but couldn’t quite match the thrill of that first competition win with Wobble to Death. Another unforgettable moment came when I was Chair of the CWA and presented the Diamond Dagger to one of my early inspirations, Leslie Charteris, the creator of The Saint.
The Tooth Tattoo also shows that you have a love and understanding of classical music. The humour within the book works on many levels, which balances the much darker twists of the plot. What inspired this book?
I can answer this with more certainty than any of your questions. A 2004 article in the arts section of the Guardian by David Waterman had this intriguing headline: HOW DO THE MEMBERS OF A STRING QUARTET PLAY TOGETHER AND TOUR TOGETHER YEAR IN, YEAR OUT, WITHOUT KILLING EACH OTHER? The piece stayed in my mind for eight years until I was ready for Peter Diamond to investigate. I’m glad to say The Tooth Tattoo was well received, not least by the writer of the article, who still plays with the Endellion quartet. And it’s just out as a February paperback.
What is next for Peter?
The fourteenth Diamond novel, The Stone Wife, will be in the shops in April and I’m halfway through the one I’m currently calling Diamond Fifteen. Thanks, Valerie, for this stimulating interview.
My sincerest thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
One of my highlights of 2013 was calling in at Chatsworth House. I had been to a very interesting and fun gathering of romance writers at the RNA conference in a heat wave at Sheffield University. Although Chatsworth was open they were still filming scenes for the Christmas adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley. This I found fascinating to watch and admired the patience of actors and technicians as they reset and acted each take needed, especially in costume in the unusual heat. The amount of attention to detail for each take was admirable especially as much of it is edited for the final version.
Chatsworth House is a magnificent place with a fascinating history of political cunning, fortunes won and lost and a family who strive to keep the place in all its former glory through the Chatsworth House Trust.
PD James sequel to Pride and Prejudice was a very bold and skilful adaptation of one of the most popular classic romances still appreciated today, by using her vast experience as a crime writer to change it into a darker mystery. Elizabeth and Darcy’s matured love is challenged as their connection to Wickham threatens their good name and fortune.
The year finished with a chance to watch and enjoy the finished televised drama.