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

 

LS_promo (6 of 6) copy300dpi

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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 

Martin Edwards, chairman of The Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), explains what the organisation offers its members.

Martin 2017 1

‘The CWA is constantly expanding. So are the benefits we offer our members. Writing is a solitary occupation but we offer the chance to join regional chapters, attend our national conference, and receive an excellent monthly newsletter, Red Herrings – plus much more besides. Members value our various social media platforms, and the chance to promote their work to the large subscriber bases of the very popular Case Files and Crime Readers’ Association newsletter. But it’s the collegiate ethos of the CWA that remains its most valuable asset and benefit. In my 30 years of membership I’ve met many wonderful people, and made some very good friends. And their support, through good times and bad, is beyond price.

The CWA has changed a lot in the 64 years since it was founded by John Creasey. Although it is UK based the membership is international and is open to published crime writers, with provisional membership to writers who have a contract but whose book is not yet out: Full or Provisional Membership cost from £55 annually. There is also an option for associate membership for those in the publishing industry.

This does not mean that the aspiring crime writer has been forgotten.

We are keen to encourage new talent within the genre. The CWA is a professional organisation for professional writers, and others in the crime writing business, but – to take just two examples – the CWA Debut Dagger for unpublished novelists and CWA Margery Allingham Prize for new short stories both play an important part in encouraging and developing talent. We also have the CWA Criminal Critique service where, for fees beginning at £87 writers can receive professional feedback on, as yet, unpublished work.

The Crime Readers’ Association, which is free to join, was set up to make the authors, their works and events accessible to their readers. However, the new writer can pick up advice and tips, such as the Do’s and Dont’s when approaching a literary agent.’

Martin is very optimistic about the way the crime genre continues to evolve.

‘Digital publishing is changing the industry fast and nobody knows exactly what the future holds. But crime writing (fact as well as fiction) is as popular as ever. I’m a contemporary crime novelist, but I’ve been delighted by the revival of interest in classic crime fiction, and the truth is that the genre is a very broad church. So is the CWA.’

In light of all the changes that have happened in recent years within the publishing industry Martin views the future of the crime genre and the organisation in a very positive light.

‘I’m confident about the future of both crime writing and the CWA. Despite the fact that we have been around so long, today we have more members than ever before – and the number is rising all the time. That’s genuinely exciting. Writers face many challenges, not just when they are starting out, but throughout their careers, and the CWA is doing more and more to support them. I’ve also just appointed our first Libraries’ Champion and our first Booksellers’ Champion as we seek to collaborate with others for the benefit of all.’

Although the organisation is genre-specific Martin is keen to establish mutual links with other writing organisations within the industry.

‘Whilst the CWA is by definition genre-specific, I’m a firm believer in collaboration, and since becoming Chair I’ve initiated dialogue with a range of groups both here and overseas. A good example is our developing links with the Romantic Novelists’ Association, at both local and national level. Again, these relationships are mutually beneficial, and have great potential for all our members.’

Martin is a relatively new chair but he has already set many new goals to achieve during his tenure.

‘My aim is to oversee the modernisation and professionalization of the CWA, whilst remaining absolutely committed to its core traditional values of collegiality. Achieving this requires action on many levels – local, national, and international. We are modernising our infrastructure, strengthening our finances, recruiting more members here and overseas, and developing relationships with sponsors and other like-minded organisations. What we are seeing really is a quiet revolution, a radical one in some respects, but a process of making sure that the CWA and its members thrive in a challenging environment, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We don’t neglect our past – for instance, we’ve just launched the British Crime Writing Archives at the wonderful Gladstone’s Library, near Chester, with a weekend festival, Alibis in the Archives, that was such a success that we plan to repeat it next year. But we also look to the future – for instance, we’re starting to work with the ALCS, and looking at how we might contribute to the work of the All Party Parliamentary Writers’ Group. A huge amount remains to be done, but our continuing growth illustrates vividly that writers see a real need for the CWA, and are keen to be part of a forward-looking association that always strives to support and promote crime writing in general, and its members in particular, as well as encouraging new writers into the genre.’

When asked what advice Martin would give to new writers of crime he explains that he is a planner.
‘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.’

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 five 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 was published in August.

Ravenscar – The dream resort that was an investor’s nightmare.

dsc09361

Between the famous resort of Scarborough and the ancient port of Whitby lies the little known village of Ravenscar, formerly named Peak. Today this slightly remote headland location is home to a cluster of houses, the National Trust Coastal Centre and the impressive Raven Hall, built C1774, which has fine views over the sea and across the bay to Robin Hood’s Bay.

 

The Hall became the Raven Hall Hotel in 1895 and now also has a frequently windswept golf course. The impressive castellated hanging gardens even have a sheltered cubby hole in the rock, which could be used to shelter from the storms and north easterlies, or even possibly to have been used to signal out to sea.

The existence of Ravenscar is owed to The Peak Estate Company who wanted to create a holiday resort to rival its successful near neighbours. Their ambition was great. The railway line brought prospectors to this healthy resort between moor and sea. Streets named after previous invaders were planned: Roman, Angle, Saxon and Dane.

The main drawback, other than its exposed position, was that the fine sandy beaches, which can be found at Scarborough or north of Whitby, did not exist here. It is situated on a headland with a cliff face over 600 feet high. The way down to the sea level is precarious and the shore rocky. Although you can sometimes see seals, it was hardly going to attract the traveller who wanted to enjoy seaside walks or dips. Drains and water supply were installed, but of the 1200+ plots there were insufficient buyers to make the town viable and so the company ceased in 1913.

Now, the area is a real draw for walkers, ornithologists, painters, and nature lovers. You can explore the deserted workings of the alum works. It is this history that brought me to this beautiful yet wild spot. When researching for ‘To Love, Honour and Obey’ and the region for Abigail Moor I looked into the history of the Yorkshire alum industry and discovered the Peak site. Admittedly my fictional workings were north of Whitby, but the importance of the industry and the links to London was based on facts.

 


Today if you visit the National Trust Visitor Centre you can follow a looped path (2.2 km/1.35 miles) that takes you to a viewpoint across the bay, across the golf course past the fresh water pond, skirting the bluebell wood down to the alum works. Once you’ve circled the remains, double back up the other side of the bluebell woods to the brick works and back along by the railway cutting to the coastal centre.

dsc09461You can join the Cleveland Way from here, and in spring the bluebells are beautiful.

The inclines make the walk slightly more challenging, along with the strong winds that were cutting inland from the sea on the day I visited. It is a wild setting, but well worth a visit for the views alone.

 

Welcome Roger Sanderson

Roger gate
It is my pleasure to introduce Roger Sanderson as my guest author this month. Roger is a prolific romance author and assistant organiser of the fantastic RNA Conferences along with Jan Jones.

Welcome, Roger, and thank you for giving up your time to do this interview.

When and why did you break into the world of romantic fiction?

For many years I lectured in English at a Further Education College, and as everyone knows, all English teachers really want to write novels – so when I retired, I decided to give it a go. I was already writing Commando comic scripts. While waiting at the publishers one day, I picked up their matching romance line STAR, so started with that. I went on to write for Hale, then M&B and am now with Accent (as Gill Sanderson) and Desert Breeze (as Roger Sanderson).

The RNA is a very supportive organisation. When did you first discover and join it?

I was a member of a local writing circle run by the late Sheila Walsh. She was on the committee of the RNA at the time and suggested I join. I am very glad she did!

Did your previous experience of writing scripts for Commando Comics influence the way you plot and write your novels?

They both demand a tight plot and extra care dealing with characterisation because there isn’t the room to over-develop the storyline. You have to focus. Possibly the experience of writing Commando scrpits has left me with a liking for a ‘big finish’. Of course, in a Commando, the hero shoots the enemy. In a romance novel the hero kisses the heroine. An important difference.

You are a prolific writer. How many titles have you had printed by Mills & Boon?

I think I wrote 44 or 45, all of which have now been re-edited and republished by Accent Press. It’s great to know these new digital editions are reaching a second audience.

You must have researched so many medical books and procedures over the years for your medical romances that I wondered if part of you had a leaning towards actually being a doctor or physician. Or do you prefer to stay away from the actual blood?

The latter, definitely! However three of my children are in the medical profession (Mark is a consultant oncologist, Adam is a dispensing nurse and Helen was a midwife for many years) so I have a wealth of research at the end of the phone.

I know many people ask you about writing as ‘Gill Sanderson’, but as many women writers create male protagonists I find this natural and refreshing. Did you choose to adopt a female pseudonym or was it advised?

It was very strongly suggested to me that I write under a female name. At the time the perceived wisdom was that when reading romance, women preferred a female name on the cover.

You have a love of the outdoors and hiking. Do you use this time to switch off from writing or to ponder and plot?

Originally I mountineered at the weekends to counteract the pressures of the staff room. The habit of outdoor exercise never leaves you, even if these days it’s more of a long daily walk by the sea. I rarely switch off from writing. I use walking time to think about the current book and also mull over ideas for future ones.

What is the best piece of advice you could offer to an as yet unpublished writer?

One: read as much as you can. Two: aim to write at least 500 words a week. Some weeks, this might be all you manage, some weeks it might be 5000 words. The important thing is to write something.

What do you like to read to relax?

Anything! I have very wide reading tastes.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently writing a sequel to my light-hearted romance LIVERPOOL TO LAS VEGAS (Desert Breeze Publishing), which features an ex-PE teacher and a documentary film maker and is one of my US-published novels under my own name.

What is next for Roger?

I had a major heart operation last year which is taking me a lot longer than I hoped to recover from. My goal at the moment is to get back to full health and keep on writing!

Crime and Punishment – Part 2

In my exploration around Ripon’s three amazingly well preserved law and order museums I was touched at the ease at which a person’s life, regardless of their age or sex, or the seriousness of the crime, could be devastated by incarceration, transportation or death.

The Police and Prison museum was mentioned in an earlier post.

The Courtroom, however, is based upon a Victorian courtroom and has been well preserved. It presents some shocking facts about how crime was dealt with from before this period too. The ‘Quarter Sessions’ were held at: Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas and trial was by jury. Sentences passed here could send people to be punished in the market square or for more serious crimes to the County Assizes to hang.

From the seventeenth century the court could also sentence a ‘criminal’ to transportation to the colonies for up to 14 years. This could be instead of a death penalty. It was thought that criminal behaviour could spread so by removing it the problem it would literally go away by sending them to…

“His Majesties Colonies over the seas… preventing the communication of the cantagion.”

This was an extremely cruel system as many failed to return. Forgery was a capital offence, but this could be reduced to transportation. We usually link this to sending prisoners to New South Wales, Australia (1788-1868) as dramatised in the TV series Banished, but before this convicts were sent to the Americas from as early as 1610 to 1770’s.

Special gaols (jails) were built to house debtors. These were self-funding as inmates had to pay, if able, which made it difficult for them to clear the actual debts they were imprisoned for.

Suicide was judged as a crime and the bodies of such poor souls would be buried at crossroads rather than in consecrated ground.

Lesser sentences included whipping (for both sexes) pilloried or placed in stocks, was done publicly to humiliate and shame. Fines could be levied, but if the person was poor there was little point to this. When the standard of living improved then fines became more popular and they raised money to build more prisons, which were expensive to build and run.

A person could be bound over to keep the peace. It seemed normal for the harsher sentences to be levied against offenders who had already been before the court.

The last case of a man to be held in the stocks was in 1857. It was interesting to learn hat it was the Methodist and Evangelical Christians, who had previously been behind the banishment of slavery, who helped change public opinion and the law against such public cruelty as a punishment.

Vagrants and the poor had a different fate. If they stayed within the law and did not steal in order to feed their family they could end up in the harsh regime that was the workhouse. Ripon’s Workhouse certainly provides plenty of information about the long days and the harsh life of the individuals and families that were made to work there. Families were split, even mother’s from their children.

From being stripped and bathed at the entrance, to the early rise and long hours picking oakham (the threads were literally unpicked by hand (the phrase ‘money for old rope’ was born) to harder labour of breaking rocks. They did nothing to encourage people to stay willingly, but to make them work in the absence of any social welfare, they were places to avoid if possible.

Sophie's Dream Sophie’s Dream is to find an exciting life away from her strict education in a workhouse. She applies, with references, through an agency for a position as Governess in New South Wales. Along with other young women, she is chaperoned to their new life, beyond the social barriers in England. Abandoned on the quayside of Sydney, Sophie discovers the agency is a sham. Her instincts lead her to Mr Matthias Wells and a very different world opens up to her.

Sophie’s Dream is also available to buy on Smashwords!

More about crime and justice within the era:

Abigail Moor – The Cruck Inn

Abigail Moor KEC_1Abigail has to flee her home to escape from a forced marriage. This love story wrapped around an adventure takes the heroine away from the comfortable country manor house which has always been her home, onto the wilds of the North Yorkshire moors, to the beauty of the ancient city of York. From here she must seek refuge in the busy seaport of Whitby to discover who she really is.

She embraces her destiny and, accompanied by her maid, makes for The Cruck Inn, a coaching inn, on the moor road where her quest begins. Here, Abigail has her first experience of what the real world is like beyond her sheltered life Beckton Manor. The Cruck Inn was named after the design of the North Yorkshire cruck-built buildings. Spout House is an excellent example of an early inn which still exists in Bilsdale. I visited it when researching the area and was amazed at how well it was preserved. It is literally like taking a step back in time. Abigail Moor: The Darkest Dawn is available at Amazon and Smashwords.

Here are some photos I took of the amazing time capsule that is Spout House.

 

For the love of baking!

The Baker’s Apprentice is now available to download in eBook format for all eBook readers at a special price of $1.50 from Smashwords!

I love baking because it sparks memories of time spent in a warm kitchen with my mother and aunty, chatting and laughing as we enjoyed eating some of the results of our labour. From a young age I would bake the basics for the house: cakes, scones, puddings and pies. The smell of freshly made bread or scones return me to part of my childhood that will forever bring a burst of nostalgic warmth on a cold winter’s day.

A friend commented that among my titles, which focus on my North Yorkshire villages in the early nineteenth century, I had not based one around a bakery. Not everyone had their own oven, so the village bakery traditionally played an important part of village life. One comment sparked an idea and Molly Mason sprang to mind; an impetuous heroine who does not lack the courage to leave the home she dislikes, but has not the foresight to realise the hard work behind the ‘cosy’ surroundings she imagines sharing when helping her friend who runs the village bakery.

Often in life we see our own problems and look at the greener grass growing elsewhere without considering the effort that is needed to sustain the lawn.

TBA KECThe Baker’s Apprentice is set in a fictitious North Yorkshire market town that pops up in many of my titles called Gorebeck. In this story it is in a state of transition as newer Georgian terrace houses line a road replacing the older timber and cottage buildings. Some people will always welcome change seeing it as an opportunity, or others as a threat – they crave the familiar and as the old saying goes ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. It is at a crossroads for routes north to Newcastle, south to York, east to Whitby and west to Harrogate.

I will talk more about Gorebeck in future as I look at asylums, churches, market towns, inns, new and old money, mills and coaching routes in future posts.

In this story, Molly Mason carries hatred in her heart, convinced her father was murdered or driven to an early grave and seeks to escape from his wife and discover the truth. Sometimes though the truth is not what we want to hear.