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/

New book launch!

To Love, Honour and Obey

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To Love Honour And Obey

1805

Six years ago, Willoughby Rossington’s father was murdered while searching for the kingpin of a smuggling and spy ring. Taken under the wing of his uncle, who is running a counter-intelligence operation against Napoleon’s spies, Willoughby is assigned to take up his father’s last mission—and, hopefully, in the process find who killed his father and bring them to justice.

He encounters a young woman, Beth, who works at the local inn. Her spark and resilience against her master’s attempts to break her will strike a chord in him and he, albeit reluctantly, takes her with him when he leaves town.

As they begin to talk, he finds out that her master is more involved in the ring that could have been thought. She overheard things and knows things about the seedy side of villages that could be helpful to him and his mission.

Though Beth hasn’t had the opportunity for education, she’s smart and quite cunning while still maintaining a child-like wonder. Even as Willoughby makes plans to set her up with a family in order to protect her from the perils of his mission, he finds himself a bit melancholy at the thought of losing her company.

Beth is having none of it. She knows she can be of help to Willoughby and isn’t going to be left behind now that she’s found someone nice. Part on purpose, partly because of fate, their two lives become intertwined as they race against the villains that plot to destroy them both.

Will they uncover the truth behind the smuggling ring and find who is responsible for Willoughby’s father’s death?

 

Crime and Punishment – Dead to Sin

The early nineteenth century in England was a harsh time of poverty for many. When soldiers and sailors were no longer needed to fight the wars that had dogged England from the end of the previous century, many men returned victorious having fought for their King (or Prince Regent) and country only to face unemployment. With little or no social support they often turned to crime to feed themselves and their families. With the increase in crimes, came new laws and harsher sentences.
Ripon Museum
I recently stopped by one of North Yorkshire’s finest museums in the little city of Ripon. Ripon is an unspoilt cathedral city that has maintained its characteristics of a delightful market town with plenty of historical places of interest to visit. It is also an excellent base for venturing into the Yorkshire Dales or the North Yorkshire Moors!

Ripon Museum comprises of three museums, all to do with the city’s historic law and order buildings that have been lovingly maintained. The photos below were taken in the Prison & Police Museum in St Marygate. It was a prison from 1686-1879 and a police station from 1880-1959.

When I first visited the prison I was writing Dead to Sin. Although the existing building was Victorian, the cells hold exhibits which relate to its earlier history and the development of crime and punishment, cruel and harsh as it was. Nowadays, the museum is clean, whitewashed and immaculately presented. Obviously in the time of Nicholas Penn it would be far from this.

The first chapter of Dead to Sin begins with Nicholas Penn bracing himself as he enters this dark, fettered world.


Nicholas Penn took one last deep breath of fresh air outside the high stone walls of the Gorebeck lock up. He glanced back at the cobbled square of the market town; wagons rattled, farmers haggled, women bartered, children’s laughter melted into the animals’ pitiful cries, the noise of which was in turn drowned out by the banter of the bidders. All was chaotic, all stank, yet there was colour and life here amongst the continuous whirl of people trading their wares.

             A heavy lock was turned in the barrier in front of him. Nicholas breathed deeply, his broad chest glad of what fresh air there was as his mind dreaded the prospect of seeing what he would find within the cold walls – and who. The reinforced wooden door creaked and groaned as the warder pulled it open, grating the edge against the stone.

             He pulled the high collar of his coat close, covering the ends of his shoulder length locks. ‘Trapped sunshine’ his mother had poetically described his wayward curls when he was a cosseted child. Now straighter, they had matured and grown like Nicholas himself. No sunshine would filter through behind this door. The rain started to pour down. Nicholas was silently led inside along a narrow stone corridor; he was taken further into the building’s bowels, down a spiral metal staircase to an airless chasm where six bolted black doors lined the dimly lit passage. Disembodied coughs could be heard even through the iron-wood barriers, which incarcerated their prey. Nicholas intuitively pulled out his kerchief and held it over his mouth. Gaol fever was to be avoided by the wise man who had the option to, but the inmates of this place had little chance to do that. The warder turned another key in the door lock at the end of the narrow corridor.

             “Ten minutes!” he growled back at Nicholas. The man had a curvature of the spine and did not look up at Nicholas’s straight frame. Instead, he shuffled back.

             Nicholas grunted what could have been his agreement or a simple acknowledgement. The turnkey gestured for Nicholas to enter.

             With some reluctance, Nicholas stepped into the small dank cell, ducking slightly so that his round hat did not contact the top of the door’s stone frame. What light and fresh air there was from the open grate that served as a window, was lost to the rain water, which now poured in, bringing with it the filth washed down from the market street above. The cell’s air stank of damp and excrement. Nicholas stood equidistant from the slime covered walls, not wanting his new riding coat to touch anything in the place.

             The cell was putrid. Under his highly polished boots was a stone-flagged floor strewn with soiled hay. Nicholas fought back memories, bleak, barefooted memories, as he glared at the figure in front of him. Like the cell, the man locked within it was unwashed, unshaven and unkempt. His appearance was in stark contrast to the man’s usually immaculate presence. The figure was seated on a small stool, wrapped in a flea-infested woollen blanket, leaning against the edge of the moist wall. Even in such discomfiture he seemed to be calm in manner, resigned perhaps to his fate. Nicholas wondered if this was true. To most people in his circumstance it would have been the case, or a near breakdown of spirits, but not Wilson. Nicholas knew the man too well. He was as hard as the stone walls which held him, to the depth of the heart that beat strong within his chest.

             Ebony eyes looked up at him as the door lock was slammed shut behind Nicholas who was trying hard not to show his inner fear, or his loathing of small airless spaces as much as his abhorrence for the pathetic looking creature in front of him.

             “You came, Nick!” the voice announced, louder than Nicholas had expected it to. That tone was almost as if he was annoyed at his late appearance. This was not the whispered breathy word of a dispirited soul. The confidence, the strength and the defiance were still there in his comments even if he looked to be in a physically weakened state.

Love a mystery?

If you want to take a few hours out to relax and lose yourself in a mystery, then why not meet Nicholas Penn in Dead to Sin – A Penn Mystery Book 1?


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Dead to Sin

Nicholas Penn is summoned to Gorebeck Gaol to visit a man accused of murder. Having been found holding the body of the last victim in his arms, his plight seems sealed. Nicholas is torn between a sense of duty and his feelings of hurt and disgust when being in the presence of the accused. The tables turn abruptly, and Nicholas becomes the incarcerated. Duped and incensed, he swears to find the man, Wilson, before another victim dies.

An Interview with Peter Lovesey

DSC_2534Thank 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.

Stone Wife (2)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 TattooThe 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. 

Discovering Ellie

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Early nineteenth century North Yorkshire, England.

Ellie has recurring nightmares, always waking to a life devoid of love, but still she dreams. Living in the old hall with her Aunt Gertrude and cousins Cybil and Jane, the scandal of her mother’s elopement with a Frenchman cast a long shadow over her life. Until Mr William Cookson arrives to shine new light onto her past opening the way to an exciting future…

Phoebe’s Challenge

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Early nineteenth century North Yorkshire, England.

Phoebe and her brother, Thomas, have to flee the evil regime of overseer Benjamin Bladderwell because an accident results in them being labelled machine breakers. Hunted with nowhere to run, the mysterious wagon driver, Matthew, his them and saves their lives. They soon discover that he is a man of many guises who Phoebe instinctively trusts, but Thomas does not. Their future depends upon this stranger, on their own they will be captured or starve. Phoebe must trust or challenge Matthew unaware that he is also tied to their past.