It is my great pleasure to feature crime writer, journalist and creative writing tutor John Dean to my blog this week.
I read and enjoyed his novel, Dead Hill, the first in a series featuring DCI Jack Harris and when I read an interview with John about how he came upon the idea for the book (which is the start of a series) I knew I had to feature him in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum.
Welcome to my blog, John. So, first, for my Idea Store column, I’ve got to ask the question that all writers are said to be pretty fed up with answering (but I keep asking anyway – and in the 12 years I’ve been doing so, no one has said no – yet!)
Where did you get the idea for your novel, Dead Hill, from?
Let me take you back to a hillside in the North Pennines in an attempt to show you what I mean. I was on a family holiday and we were staying in a village on the Durham/Cumbrian border. There was a play area in the middle of the village and every evening my two children would go for a swing and I would wander out to keep an eye on them – they had gone past the ‘Dad, give me a push’ stage but had not quite reached the stage where they could be left alone.
In such circumstances a person has a lot of time to think and as they swung, so I found myself staring at the hillside opposite. And as with all writers, ideas started to swirl around in my mind.
Something about the hill’s slopes and its late evening shadows, the way the buzzards hunted across the ridge, the sound of the sheep bleating and the distant barking of a farm dog, worked their magic on me and by the end of the week, an idea was born, eventually turning into Dead Hill (The Book Folks), the first in the DCI Jack Harris series.
My experience as a journalist meant that I knew a lot about wildlife crime and the more I looked at the buzzards on the hillside, the more the place and the idea came together as a good theme for the book. But place came first.
Character arrived third when striding into my mind came Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harris, a disillusioned officer working in the rural area in which he grew up, dragged back by the pull of the hills despite his attempts to stay away.
Mix in a bit of gangland intrigue, a few friends with secrets to protect, the DCI’s re-awakening as a detective and the ever-changing northern landscape and Dead Hill assumed a life of its own.
I really enjoyed the evocative pictures of the hills. It gave the book a great atmosphere. So, tell me a little about your books. Your genre is crime fiction, obviously. Do you write a series or standalone?
I write a couple of series, the DCI John Blizzard and DCI Jack Harris series, both published by The Book Folks
And what about your writing in general. What inspires you most?
As a writer, I am always inspired by a sense of place. Whether it be a gloomy city or a stunning hillside, a glass-strewn council estate or a majestic waterfall, something about my surroundings repeatedly triggers ideas.
I always contend that, despite the many elements of fiction, it comes down to a triangle, three things that come together to make the story work right from the off – plot, people and place. Get them right and pace, economy of words, themes, emotions, the lot, fall into line.
Different writers would put a different thing at the top of the triangle, identifying it as most important. I know writers who would say it all starts with the story, a strong idea which drives the narrative and everything else follows. They get the idea then search round for somewhere to set it.
Others would put characters at the top. I have worked with many writers who contend that their stories begin with a person, a character from whom everything flows, whose experiences and views shape the narrative.
Me? I start with the place, always the place.
Tell us a little about your writing journey so far.
I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was a small child. It was my big dream. Little did I know that it would take forty years to come to fruition and have my first novel published! As for my first published piece, it was a piece of journalism written as a fourteen year old and appeared in my local evening newspaper and told the story of spooky goings on at a local railway museum.
And your future plans?
To keep writing as long as I have stories to tell!
Great answer! I can relate to that. So, how about three things that we might not know about you?
I am the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Libraries Champion in Scotland. I am one of three CWA Champions appointed in 2018, the others being Cilla Masters based in England, and Jan Newton in Wales. Key elements of the role include linking libraries who want crime writers as speakers or to feature in events with authors in their area and encouraging libraries and their users to become part of the Crime Readers’ Association (https://thecra.co.uk/) Another key part of the role is to speak up (in a non-political way) in support of libraries threatened with cutbacks and closure, something I do on a regular basis.
I run creative writing courses from my home between Castle Douglas and Kirkudbright in Dumfries and Galloway. In 2020, I will run courses based around sense of place and the mechanics of storytelling, from the 19th Century house set in rolling countryside on the weekends of July 4/5 and August 22/23, 2020. The workshop will be suitable for writers of all prose genres and will be ideal for either individuals, including those planning to holiday in the area, or writing groups. The cost is £95 per person, including catering, and you can find out more by emailing Inscribe Media Limited, of which I am a director, on email@example.com The course is non-residential but advice can be offered on local B and Bs/hotels.
I was a newspaper crime reporter for many years and am a veteran of many major crime and murder investigations
You can purchase my books on Amazon in Kindle paperback and audiobook formats. The latest one is Flicker in the Night at
John Dean is a journalist who worked on regional newspapers for 17 years before going freelance in 1997. He has written for regional and national newspapers and for many magazines on subjects as diverse as crime, wildlife and business. He also runs creative writing courses. John lives in South West Scotland.
I am delighted to welcome the multi-talented (and multi-published) Olga Swan to my blog this week.
Olga was featured in the November issue of Writers’ Forum, where, for the last twelve years I’ve had a column called Idea Store. In it, I ask writers the question they’re all said to dread: Where do you get your ideas from?
I love writing my column each month but nothing ever stays the same, least of all in the ever changing world of publishing, and my one page column has now been slimmed down to half a page, which means half the word count. I’m not complaining, as it means I still get to write my column, even if it is a new slimmed down version. Ever since I started writing for Writers’ Forum I have expected the editor to say “Time for a change. You’ve had a good run – and thanks, but no thanks” and every year, when the production schedule pings into my inbox I heave a sigh of relief as I hope it means I’m ‘safe’ for another year. (It doesn’t, of course, but that’s the way I think).
The first writer to feature on my new slimmed down page (I wish I could say that I have slimmed down to match!) is Olga Swan, who prepared her piece back when I still had a whole page for my column. So, her appearance in the November issue was little more than a name check, I’m afraid. (And no, I did not do the editing and yes, I have apologised to her.)
So this is now your chance to read her interview with me in all its fullness. It’s a fascinating and touching one and I hope you enjoy it.
Welcome to my blog, Olga. So, let’s get the big question out of the way first
Where do you get your ideas from?
To date I have written 10 books and my third non-fiction book, An Englishwoman in America, was released in both ebook and paperback on 11 June 2019. My writing career as a whole stems from the fact that I lost my parents and both siblings fifty years ago and, since then, I’ve been desperate to continue our (unusual) family name by writing under the nom de plume of Olga Swan (an anagram of my late brother’s name.)
An Englishwoman in America is a humorous look at how the British and the Americans view each other. The cover image gives a snapshot of what lies within. My inspiration for writing it dates back to when I was growing up in the 50s. I couldn’t understand why four of us (my mother, 2 brothers and myself) were all shy and introverted, yet my father was loud, extrovert and so large as life in everything he did. Eventually I understood. He’d lived a considerable time in America. Should I then follow his lead and move to America? Would that make me more outgoing? The book required lots of research:from immigration tomes to other works in the genre to personal holiday diaries and precious travel memoirs from my father to internet sources.
When people ask me about my typical writing day, I reply that I don’t really have one. I tend to do everything on the hoof. As soon as inspiration hits, I head out to our tiny conservatory, which has plenty of light- particularly from above which helps my SAD- wait an interminably long time for my laptop to get going and then start typing. My problem has always been that I write too quickly and too much, meaning there are lots of deletions to be made later! When deciding on the names for characters, it’s different for non-fiction, where so many names and places have to be correct to be a true account. When I finished writing An Englishwoman in America, I just changed the names of family members so they wouldn’t be cross with me!
As far as plotting is concerned, for An Englishwoman in America, I found it helped enormously to include a Contents page, with chapter headings and chronological years listed. In this way, I was forced to keep to the itemised structure. However, as far as the main ‘factional’ narrative was concerned, I just let it develop as I wrote. I do find, though, that having written both fiction and non-fiction, that I use different parts of my brain: the back of my head for the former, but the front for the more observational needs of non-fiction writing.
In general, the best part of the writing process is being accepted by a publisher and seeing the first sales graph rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The worst? Not being accepted by leading literary agents not because of the quality or otherwise of your submitted work, but because you don’t already fit today’s need for ‘celebrity’ status.
Now that An Englishwoman in America is out there and published, my feelings are immense. I hope that, at last, I have made my late family proud of me.
I’m sure they are! Your body of work is a great achievement and a wonderful tribute to them.So, tell us a little about your books, please.
First, many thanks Paula for welcoming me onto your esteemed blog.
An Englishwoman in America is non-fiction, but as with my two previous non-fiction books (Pensioners In Paradis and From Paradis to Perdition), it’s written in a readable, factional style. It comprises a combination of information about America, its people, origins and how their culture evolved and morphed from the mainly English styles that crossed the Atlantic in the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. It contains much humour as I contrast just how differently the British and Americans do and say things.
Hopefully it will be the forerunner of a series of An Englishwoman in…..
The Book’s blurb
From 1950s Britain to Donald Trump’s America, no-one is left unscathed. How are Britain and America divided over subjects such as language, culture, humour, health, sport, government, gun laws, religion, patriotism, and even sex? Find out in Olga Swan’s scintillating – but essentially humorous – account of why her love for America was first kindled, followed by her views on the way of life in diverse places such as New York, Florida, New England, Arizona or California. Lastly, Olga has added a hilarious guide, where her pin-point wit nails just how the Americans and the British do things very differently. Hold onto your hats!
What inspires you most? Characters? Settings? Books you have read?
When writing non-fiction I’m inspired by such writers as Simon Sebag Montefiore, with his wealth of knowledge and factual research. For non- fiction I always enjoyed books by such writers as Leon Uris with his ability to transport the reader to different times and exotic places.
How did you writing journey start?
The first novel I wrote was Lamplight (authl.it/4q0), an historical piece set in 1912 Birmingham, spanning 1920s New York through to 1938 Nazi Germany. My late brother Alan typed my first hand-written draft onto his portable typewriter.
That sounds fascinating – and a lovely link with your brother. What are your future plans?
It’s difficult to pinpoint how my career will progress exactly as I write in so many different genres, including a series for 9 – 15s, but I expect my next book will be the successor to An Englishwoman in America.
And finally, how about telling us something we might not know about you?
My writing career started far too late! I was born in the baby-boomer period which followed WWII, enduring rationing and a life without TV, telephone, car or even the NHS when I was born. But better late than never!
Thanks for a lovely interview, Olga. That was really great. And now for those all important links
Social Media Links, website etc.
I write a political and cultural affairs blog every Sunday, which attracts readers from all over the world: olgaswan.blogspot.com
Before I was married I used to work in Bristol city centre and would catch the bus (it was, if I remember, the #18 for Clifton) to and from work.And the buses were, at times, erratic.No electronic thingy in the bus shelter showing when the next one was due.You just waited and waited – and then three would come along all at once.
All that is a very long winded way of saying that I haven’t posted to my blog for several weeks and now I’m posting twice in one week.I could tell you it’s because I’ve been poorly, but you don’t want to know that and I’ve waffled on quite enough.
So the reason for this, the second post of the week is the fact that issue 216 of Writers’ Forum is out this week and in my Ideas Store column, I said (among other things)….”and you can read the whole story on my blog.”But, of course, it wasn’t there.
So apologies if you went to my blog hoping to find it.But it’s here now.(Although chances are, you have voted with your feet and decided not to bother, in which case I am talking to myself again.)
In my column I was writing about notebooks and how I’ve kept one, on and off, for the last 15 years.My first notebook was an old A4 hardback that I’d liberated from the day job but once I’d filled that, (it took my four years) I started using Moleskine notebooks because I was earning some money from my writing by then and could afford the luxury.
When I was writing short stories, I needed a steady influx of ideas to keep the stories coming.(Wendy Clarke, who also started her writing career as a short story writer, touches on this in my interview with her).
Very often, I would use a prompt, many of which came from Judy Reeves’ A Writers Book of Days.I hope you can see from the illustration how well used my copy is.One of these days I am going to add up all the stories that I’ve sold as a result of this book!
But the story I feature in this month’s Ideas Store, The Kindness of Strangers, does not come from a prompt but from my Fiction Square.In Judy’s book, there is a prompt for every day of the year and I’d already used that day’s prompt in a previous year and had sold a story as a result of it.So I didn’t want to use that again as I couldn’t get the original story out of my mind.Instead, I used the Fiction Square from my column.
If you’re not familiar with the magazine, there is a 5 x 6 grid printed each month, showing 6 characters, traits, conflicts, locations and objects.The idea is you roll a dice to find all the ingredients of your next story. On this particular day my dice rolls came up with:
Character 1. a sullen child
Character 2. an heroic climber
Location: charity shop
Object: a book.
I began writing in my notebook: Ok, I see a boy. Sullen, defensive.He’s shoplifting.Been dared to do so by so-called mates.But, like everything else he tries, he’s not very good at it. He’s Billie-No-Mates.
Caught in the act by the climber, Rob.(Something more valuable than a book) Rob is broken.On crutches? Certainly doesn’t climb any more.Why?An accident.What’s he doing in a charity shop?Helping someone – his mother? No, he’s a customer. He’s a hero because he got a party of children to safety.Doesn’t feel like it because one of them died.
Since the accident, he’s been numb.Blames himself even though the enquiry exonerated him. Praised him for his courage. He’s walked away from everyone who cares about him. Drifting from one dead end job to another. One dead end town to the next.Sleeping rough. Shopping in charity shops for warm clothes.
My notes went on for another two pages and at the end of it I had almost outlineda complete story. I’d like to tell you it always worked like that but, sadly, that is not the case.In fact, at one time I thought it had the makings of a serial.Which it may well do one day.Who knows?
So, as promised, here is the final version of that story, which was published in the UK magazine, My Weekly and has had subsequent overseas sales as well.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
As shoplifters went, the kid wasn’t even very good. Drawing attention to himself with each furtive glance. The idiot might as well be wearing a striped jumper, black mask and carrying a bag marked ‘swag’ over his shoulder.
Mac took a jumper off the hanger. It was a horrible mustard yellow, hand knitted thing, which was probably why it ended up in a charity shop. Not that he gave a toss what it looked like. The people he mixed with didn’t set too much store on sartorial elegance any more than he did. It was warm. It was cheap. Job done.
He turned to take it to the till. The kid was still by the CDs. Probably just browsing after all. Whatever. None of his business.
The kid’s head suddenly shot up as three lads of about the same age as him came up to the window. One signalled him to hurry up. Mac watched as the boy slipped the CD into his pocket and hurried out to his giggling mates. He saw him show them what he’d got, heard the shrieks of derisive laughter. He saw, too, the kid’s head go down, shoulders hunched, as he shoved the CD back in his pocket.
Mac shrugged. No need to get involved. He’d be moving on tomorrow. To another dead end job in another dead end town. But at least this time accommodation of a sort went with the job. That would be good. The nights were getting too cold to spend many more on the streets and the pain in his leg was getting worse, the colder it got. Sleeping rough was not one of his better ideas.
The girl at the till looked ridiculously young to be alone in charge of a shop. No wonder the kids were stealing off her. Mind you, if she kept the more valuable items, like that little egg cup he was pretty sure was silver,nearer the till, that would be a start.
“I’m so glad someone’s bought this,” she smiled as she folded the jumper. “My gran knitted it for my brother and he refuses to wear it.”
“Lucky for him he can afford to be choosy,” Mac growled – and instantly regretted it. It came across as whingey, and self pitying and he was neither.
“Oh Lord, I’m so sorry.” A flush stained the girl’s pale cheeks. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“You didn’t,” he said tersely. Why didn’t she just bag the thing and let him go? He didn’t come in here to get her life history. Didn’t want to know about knitting grannies. Certainly didn’t want to think about his own, who didn’t knit. But worried. Even though he was thirty two next birthday, she still worried about him. Probably a little less now he’d given up climbing.
“I don’t usually work in the shop,” the girl was saying. “I’m happier looking after the animals. But the rescue centre needs the money desperately and when we had the chance of this empty shop for a few months, we jumped at it. But I’m not very good at it, as you can probably tell. Take these biscuits, for example. There were eight of them but now there are only six and I know I haven’t sold any. Look, I’m going to have a cup of tea and a biscuit while they’re still here. Would you like one? I made them, so it’s ok.”
“No thanks.” Mac grabbed the bag and headed for the door. What? Did she think he was a bloody charity case? Or, maybe she thought he was the one who’d been nicking her precious biscuits? He might look a down and out. He might shop in charity shops. But that didn’t mean –
He stopped. He was angry. Hell, yes, he was angry. It was the first time he’d felt anything, except an icy numbness, since The Accident. Correction. Since the day after, when Mrs Pearce had screamed at him, called him a murderer. Said she hoped the knowledge that he’d killed her daughter would haunt him for the rest of his life. Well, she wasn’t wrong there.
He’d coped by training himself to feel nothing. No pleasure. No joy at the sight of a sunrise, no warmth in the company of friends, nor even the comfort of a soft bed. It was, he reckoned, a price worth paying. To be where no one knew him. Or tried to make him feel better by saying the accident wasn’t his fault. That he’d done all he could.
When he knew, just as Mrs Pearce did, that he hadn’t.
Why then, had he got so angry, because a young woman with a big soft eyes and a sweet smile had offered him kindness? Was it because she’d seen him as an object of pity? Someone who couldn’t even afford the price of a cup of tea and a biscuit? Who relied on the kindness of strangers?
Much better save her pity for the downtrodden donkeys and abandoned dogs.
As he reached the door, he was surprised to see the young shoplifter approaching and stood back to let him in. Then, on an impulse, he turned and followed him back into the shop. Outside, the others were urging the kid on. Obviously, the CD was not to their taste and they’d sent him back for bigger fry.
The kid reached into his pocket, took out the CD and put it back on the shelf. Mac watched as he edged up to the shelf where the silver egg cup was. Saw the furtive look as he picked it up, the relief when he saw the girl was busy on the other side of the shop.
Without realising he was going to do it, Mac walked across, put his hand over the boy’s stick thin wrist. Waited until the hand opened and the boy let the egg cup go. He looked up at Mac, his eyes wide with fear.
“Look, I’m sorry, mate,” Mac said loudly. “It’s no good asking me about volunteering. You should ask the lady over there. It’s her shop. I’m sure she can do with some extra help. Isn’t that right?” he said as the smiley girl came across to them. “Who knows? She may even offer you a cup of tea and a biscuit while she tells you all about the rescue centre.”
She looked surprised. Saw, too, the egg cup, upside down on the shelf. He could see she understood what had happened here. Would she call the Police? Up to her. It was stupid of him to have got involved anyway. It was just there was something about the kid. He’d seen it many times before.
Back in the day, before The Accident, he’d worked with kids just like him. Not bad kids, most of them. They came to the Outdoor Pursuits Centre where he’d worked, full of bluster and bravado when they first got there. Scared witless at their first sight of a mountain close up. Trying desperately not to show it. Hell, but he used to get such a kick out of the ones who ‘got it’, the ones who scraped their knuckles, cramped their legs muscles, forced themselves so far out of their comfort zones they’d never be the same again. The ones who stood with him on the top of the mountain, their eyes full of awe, their faces full of wonder.
This boy wasn’t a bad kid. Just had some bad mates. Not that Mac gave a toss what happened to him, of course.
“Here,” the girl gave the boy a beaming smile and handed him a leaflet. “It’s really good of you to enquire about volunteering. We run the rescue centre on a shoestring, you know, and need all the help we can get. Why don’t you read that and, if you’re still interested, come up to the centre, meet the animals and we’ll talk about it?”
The boy mumbled something barely audible and scuttled out of the shop.
“Thank you, Mac” the girl said quietly. “You handled that really well.”
He spun round, his mouth dry. “You know me?” he whispered, rubbing his hand through his straggling beard, his long lank hair.
“I do now. You are Rob McKinley, aren’t you? I wasn’t sure when you first came in. But my brother – the one who hasn’t the wit to recognise a good jumper when he sees one – he has a poster of you on his wall. Climbing’s his passion. You’re one of his heroes.”
Hero? He was no bloody hero. He was the guy who hadn’t been able to stop a young girl fooling around on a mountain. Hadn’t insisted she stayed with the group and not forge on ahead. Hadn’t been able to get down to her quick enough. Hadn’t been able to stop his own out of control tumble down the treacherous scree covered slope as he tried to reach her, his leg snapping like a twig during the fall. Hadn’t been able to move her, nor force her to hang on to life as they’d waited for the rescue party.
Had cradled her lifeless body, long after she’d gone.
“I was so sorry to hear about your accident,” the girl said softly. “Sorry, too, about the girl. It wasn’t −”
Mac’s hands were shaking as he wrenched open the shop door. Time to move on. Fast. Before she had chance to tell him that the accident wasn’t his fault, that he was – what had they said at the enquiry that had exonerated him? – a hero.
So he did what all ‘heroes’ do when they come up against something they can’t handle. He ran – as fast as his wreck of a leg would carry him.
“Thank you,” Mac said as the man dropped money into the bowl. He felt a cold nose touch the back of his hand and reached to fondle the dog’s head. Archie was never far from his side.
“Well, how are we doing?” Beth asked.
“The money’s rolling in,” Mac said. “It’s typical of Tom to turn his leaving do into a fund raising bash, isn’t it?”
“He’s a great kid, isn’t he? And he’s going to be a great vet, too.”
“He’s got a long, hard slog ahead, though. Getting into vet school’s one thing. Staying there’s another.”
“He’ll be fine, Mac. Don’t be such a pessimist.”
He pulled her towards him and kissed the top of her head. “You always see the best in everyone. And I love you for it.”
He loved her for a whole load of other things as well and there wasn’t a day went by that he wasn’t thankful for the way she’d run after him that day. Taken him back to the shop, made him sit and listen and eat those damn awful biscuits she’d made.
“Of course I see the best in people,” she said. “And you don’t, I suppose? That day in the shop, you could have had Tom arrested for shoplifting.”
“And so could you. You knew as well as I did he wasn’t in the shop to volunteer.”
“Yet look where volunteering’s taken him,” she said. “I knew, from the first moment he turned up at the rescue centre that he was as nuts about animals as I am.”
“Nuts being the right word.” Mac ducked quickly. Beth could pack a hefty punch, a result, she claimed, of standing up for herself against her bully of a brother.The same guy who was now Mac’s best friend, climbing partner and soon to be best man at their wedding.
“Well, get on with it,” Beth said. “There’s a load of people heading this way who haven’t bought raffle tickets yet. You’re slipping.”
Mac smiled as he watched her hurry away to talk yet more people into sponsoring donkeys or adopting ducks.
Beth could never resist a stray. She treated the frightened, the abused and abandoned with the same quiet patience she’d dealt with him. Gently, but firmly, she’d chased away his demons and dragged him back to life.
A life which, amazingly, she wanted to share. Along with four donkeys, a foul mouthed parrot and goodness knows how many dogs, cats, chickens and ducks.
I’m thrilled to welcome to my blog this week the hugely talented novelist, Wendy Clarke.Like me, Wendy started her writing career writing short stories for women’s magazines and I’ve followed her transition from short story writer to novelist with admiration.
Wendy’s debut novel, What She Saw, was published earlier this year by Bookouture and this was swiftly followed by We Were Sisters which was published in August.She is currently working on her third novel.
Hi Wendy and thank you for agreeing to answer my questions.I’ll start with the one every writer is said to dread.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Having had over three hundred stories published in women’s magazines, the question ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ is one I’m asked a lot. I usually say that my ideas come from everywhere: something I’ve overheard, a headline in a newspaper, a memory or maybe it’s an idea that’s just blossomed in my head while walking the dog.
That was in the days before I wrote novels. Before I needed a story plot that would entertain a reader for eighty thousand words and could be interwoven with subplots. It also had to be an idea strong enough to support a cast of several characters rather than the two or three needed for my short stories. Strangely, the idea for my debut psychological thriller, What She Saw, didn’t come to me in any of the ways I’ve mentioned above. It was the setting that came first rather than the plot, and this is how it happened.
My husband and I love walking and we love beautiful scenery, which is what first attracted us to the Lake District – especially the area around Ambleside which has become a favourite. It was while staying in a small miner’s cottage in the village of Chapel Stile and looking out at the fells from the living room window, that I had my lightbulb moment. As I watched the clouds move across the peaks, darkening the once-green slopes, it came to me that this was the perfect scenery for building suspense. The agent I had at the time had suggested I write a psychological thriller and slowly the ideas started to come. Who might be looking out at those everchanging fells? Were they worried… or maybe afraid? What if it was a mother and daughter who stood at a window in a miner’s cottage just this like one and what if they both had secrets?
As I thought about some of the places we’d visited – the pub at the end of a long walk near an old clapper bridge, the cairn where we’d sat and watched the sun go down, the disused slate quarry with its pool of dark water – more bits of the puzzle began to fall into place. Even the little village supermarket has its mention in the novel. It’s the place where my protagonist, Leona, first thinks she sees Ria – the woman who once ruined her life. It’s where she realises this beautiful place where she’s always felt safe, might not be after all.
My second psychological thriller, We Were Sisters, was published in August. This time the idea came to me while walking in a meadow at the base of the downs behind the village where I live. It reminded me of a children’s book I’d read as a child called Marianne Dreams, about a girl who was confined to bed with an illness. Out of boredom, she would draw pictures with a pencil belonging to her grandmother, then at night would dream about the lonely house she’d drawn… the one that stood in the middle of an expanse of waving grass. It might have been a children’s book, but it was the first to give me goose bumps.
As the wind started to blow, whipping the seed heads against my legs, I knew the meadow of rippling grass I was walking through could play a part in my next thriller. And when my path through the meadow led me to a disused rifle range, its brick walls covered in graffiti, that possibility became a certainty.
So, this is my advice. If you’re stuck for ideas, get your coat on, take a walk and have your senses on high alert. It worked for me!
The Books’ Blurbs
What She Saw (a standalone psychological thriller)
How far would you go to keep your daughter safe?
Everyone knows Leona would do anything for her daughter, Beth: she moved to Church Langdon to send Beth to the best school, built a business to support them and found the perfect little cottage to call home. They hike together, shop together, share their hopes and fears. It’s the relationship every mother dreams of.
But Leona never talks about why they moved to the Lake District.
She’s never told Beth anything about her father.
She says Beth should never speak to strangers. She says Beth doesn’t need friends.
She’s only trying to protect her daughter.
When Leona answers the phone one morning, her heart stops as she hears a voice from her past.
She’s given her daughter everything, but now she must tell her the truth. And once it’s out, can she keep her little girl safe?
We Were Sisters. (a standalone psychological thriller)
I turn to where I left my baby in his pushchair and pull up short. With a racing heart, I look around wildly, fear gripping my stomach. I only looked away for a moment. The pushchair and my baby are gone.
Kelly is taking her twin daughters to their first day of school, ushering them into the classroom, her heart breaking to think they might not need her anymore, when she turns around and sees her newborn baby is gone.
As a desperate search ensues, baby Noah is quickly found – parked in front of a different classroom. But when Kelly reaches forward to comfort him, she finds something tucked in the side of his blanket. A locket that belonged to her sister Freya. A locket Kelly hasn’t seen since the day Freya died.
And then Kelly’s perfectly-ordered life begins to unravel…
Thank you, Wendy.I can’t wait to read We Were Sisters.I absolutely loved What She Saw.It was set in a part of the Lake District I know and love, so that was an additional bonus.My next question was going to be ‘what inspires you most?Characters? Settings? Books you’ve read?’ But I guess you’re already answered that!
Definitely the setting – the characters and plot ideas come after.
So, how did your writing journey start?Have you always written?What was your first published piece?
I’d love to say I’m one of those writers who was born with a pen in their hand, but it wouldn’t be true. In fact, I took up writing quite late in life. Despite loving creative writing at school, it had never occurred to me that I might one day make it my career.
It was eight years ago, just after the February half term holidays, when my life changed. I remember it as though it was yesterday. I had just been told that the small primary school in Hove, where I taught English, was closing and all the staff were to be made redundant. I felt numb but it didn’t really sink in until the following Monday when, instead of going into class to teach, I remained at home contemplating an uncertain future.
As luck would have it, my brother had just completed an online creative writing course which he thought I might enjoy. With nothing better to do, I took his advice and enrolled. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it so much, and when it ended, I felt bereft. That was when I knew I’d caught the writing bug.
It was my course tutor who suggested I try writing stories for one of the women’s magazines. Missing the challenge of writing, I decided to give it a go. At first, I had the expected rejections, but I didn’t let it put me off. I carried on writing and submitting and my patience paid off when, three months later, I had a letter from the People’s Friend saying they liked one of my stories. Hurray!
And what are you future plans?
A few years ago, my writing changed direction again. With the magazine market for short stories shrinking, I turned my thoughts to writing a novel. My first attempt was a romantic mystery which bagged me an agent, but what they really wanted me to write was a suspense.
Did I think I could do it? My degree was in psychology and I’d always had an interest in how the human mind can affect behaviour, so I decided it might be interesting to explore a darker side to my writing.
A year later, I’d written What She Saw, a psychological thriller set in the Lake District. It didn’t work out with the agent, but last year I was thrilled when my novel won first prize in a competition and was picked up by digital publisher Bookouture. My second thriller, We Were Sisters was published in August and I’m about to start writing my third.
Tell me some things we might not know about you.
1. I try to embrace the days when I find I can’t write
There could be all manner of reasons why this could be: I’m feeling under the weather, it’s sunny and I want to be in the garden, I’ve promised to go to the garden centre with my mum, I’m stuck on the particular piece I’m working on… or I just simply don’t feel like it. In the early days, I used to feel really guilty if I wasn’t spending my free time writing and would make myself sit at my computer. I am much kinder to myself now. Unless I have a deadline, if the words won’t flow and there’s something I’d rather be doing, then I do it. I can guarantee my writing will be all the better for it.
2. I am a good loser and a bad winner
As a child, I was always a good person with whom to play games. Unlike other children, if I lost, I would never sulk, and I’d be the first to congratulate the winner. It didn’t change when I became an adult. When writing for magazines, it was par for the course to have stories rejected but when this happened, I’d get over it and write and submit something else. It was the same when I moved on to writing novels and started submitting to agents. When an email arrived with those hated words, I’m sorry but we didn’t feel passionately enough… I’d take it on the chin and make sure I had somewhere else to send it. But, unfortunately, being a good loser comes at a price… I am a terrible winner. If I have good news, I’m compelled to share it with someone straight away – I just can’t help myself! I post it on social media and tell all my friends. When I’ve had a story published in a magazine, I’ve even been known to tell the newsagent as I’m paying for it. Yes, I really am that annoying!
3. I’m constantly surprised and delighted by life
That’s because I have this thing where I’m convinced life puts an assault course of hazards in my way before I can reach any goal. I constantly overthink things and am always working out worst case scenarios. For example, if I’m planning a trip to London, my thought process will go like this: What if I miss the train? What if there’s a rail strike? What if I can’t get a seat? What if my ticket won’t let me through the barrier? What if I get lost? I tell you, it’s exhausting! The upside of having these anxieties is that when things are easier or better than I imagine (as they invariably are) and I find that nothing is as bad as my imagination paints it to be, I am constantly delighted by life.
Wow! Wendy, you are an inspiration.And your books (like your short stories) are fabulous.No wonder they are flying off the shelves as we speak.
I wish you the very best of luck with them.You deserve it.
Wendy Clarke started her career writing short fiction and serials for national women’s magazines. After having over three hundred short stories published, she progressed to writing novels. With a degree in psychology, and intrigued with how the human mind can affect behaviour, it was inevitable that she would eventually want to explore her darker side.
What She Saw is her debut psychological thriller, published by Bookouture. Her second, We Were Sisters, came out in August 2019.
In her previous life, Wendy has published three collections of short stories and has been a short story judge for the Chiltern Writers Group, Nottingham Writers Group and The Society of Women Writers and journalists.
Wendy lives with her husband and step-dog in Sussex and when not writing is usually dancing, singing or watching any programme that involves food!
Today I am delighted to welcome Katharine Johnson to my blog.Katharine is a very talented writer and I recently read and enjoyed her novel, The Silence.Although I have asked Katharine on my blog to talk about her latest novel, The Suspects.
Hi, Katharine.And welcome to my blog.Let’s kick off with that question all writers are said to dread (and which appeared in my Ideas Store column in Issue 214 (August 2019) of Writers’ Forum magazine.
Where did you get the idea for your psychological thriller, The Suspects from?
The idea was probably born many years ago during my own house shares as a student and graduate in the 1980s and 1990s – although my experiences were much less exciting and terrible than those of my characters.
But I suppose one of the reasons I chose a house share situation was because I’ve been thinking about them again recently as one of my daughters is about to graduate and the other one’s about to start university in Bristol so they’ll be looking at shared accommodation. (Although with hindsight it might not have been the best time for me to be thinking too much about this!)
I wanted to capture that optimism and anticipation you feel when you move in with a group of people, but also play on that frisson of doubt about how well you’ll get on together and how well you really know each other. It’s one thing to worry about the people next door but when you’re under the same roof there’s no escape.
I liked the idea of a house share because it provides a claustrophobic environment in which the characters find themselves dependent on each other for their survival but are increasingly fearful of the enemy within.
As the saying goes, you don’t truly know someone until you live with them.
My five characters have very different tastes, habits and political beliefs. Throw into the mix a shared mortgage, falling house prices and rocketing repayments at the height of Thatcher’s Britain and you have a potentially explosive situation.
But things get so much worse when they discover a body after one of their parties – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. Because they each have reasons from their past not to trust the police they make a decision which will force them into a series of secrets and lies – but can they trust each other?
There are light-hearted moments as the tensions build between the characters and I had fun researching this bit – I’m grateful to everyone who shared their housemate-from-hell story with me! But there is also a gathering angst and paranoia as they question each other’s ability to keep a secret, and discover some shocking truths.
As with my other novels (The Silence, The Secret and Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings), my main characters aren’t bad people but they make a bad choice. I like to put ordinary people in extraordinary situations and see how they cope.
I chose to tell the story in the confessional first person narrative from a single viewpoint as I hoped it would make it feel more immediate. My worry was that I’d never be able to convince the reader but I’ve been thrilled with reviews such as “It’s actually worryingly easy to forgive them their mistakes”,“I could completely understand how they talked themselves into doing something so reprehensible”, “I felt like I was not only reading the story but living it as well” and “My heart was racing at times as I shared their guilt.”
Would you have made the same decisions my characters did? Hopefully not, but if you read the book I hope you can understand why they made the decision they did, and most of all I hope you enjoy reading it.
That’s fascinating, Katharine.Thank you so much.So now, let’s moveon to your writing in general.What inspires you most? Is it characters? Settings? Or maybe even books you’ve read?
All of those. I think initially I get excited about a situation. Then I think about the characters as they will determine how the story unfolds.
And how did your writing journey start? Have you always written?
I’ve always enjoyed making up stories and wrote my first book aged nine on my plastic typewriter. It was a collection of stories about a naughty chimp (still unpublished!). My grandmother encouraged me to write when she was babysitting – probably as a way to keep me quiet.
What was your first published piece?
My first published piece would be a story for my local paper in Bristol. I think it was about a couple that lived on a traffic island because they refused to move out of their home when a road was built.
My first fiction piece was many years later for Take A Break Fiction Feast about a very badly behaved bridegroom’s mother at a wedding and her daughter-in-law’s revenge.
You had a very wise grandmother!And your Take a Break story sounds fun.So tell us about your future plans, please.
I’m working on another, more conventional and very contemporary psychological thriller. I’m also very excited about a co-writing project with another author about a well-known artist.
And I have several bits of novels and a whodunnit series I’d love to make progress with if I can find the time.
That sounds fascinating.I’m looking forward to your next thriller and intrigued by your co-writing project.It sounds as if you, like me, are desperately waiting for someone to invent the thirty hour day!
In the meantime, how about sharing three things about you that we might not know?
As a teenager I (very briefly) joined a religious sect.
The first time I tried an avocado I was so horrified by the taste I fainted but it’s now one of my favourite foods (something I tell my children to encourage them to try new foods!)
I’m ambidextrous (but my handwriting’s terrible in either hand)
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone fainting at the taste of an avocado before!That was a great interview.Thank you for a great interview and the best of luck with your latest book.I have just moved it nearer to the top of my tottering To Be Read pile and am really looking forward to reading it..
Please read on for the blurbs from Katharine’s books, the all important buy links and her social media links.
Two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences.
Against a backdrop of fear, poverty and confusion during the Second World War, friendship is tested, and loyalties are divided until a chance encounter changes everything.
Their lives diverge when beautiful, daring Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida, the most prestigious house in their Tuscan mountain village, while plain, studious Irena trains to be a teacher.
But neither marriage nor life at Villa Leonida are as Martina imagined. And as other people’s lives take on a new purpose, Irena finds herself left behind.
Decades later, a tragedy at the villa coincides with the discovery of an abandoned baby, whose identity threatens to re-open old wounds among the next generation.
Bristol, 1988. Five young graduates on the threshold of their careers buy a house together in order to get a foot on the property ladder before prices rocket out of their reach. But it soon becomes the house share from hell.
After their New Year’s Eve party, they discover a body – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. As each of them has a good reason from their past not to trust the police, they come up with a solution – one which forces them into a life of secrets and lies. But can they trust each other?
Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could destroy everything.
When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she is forced to confront the memories she has suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992. A summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity.
In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.
Nothing much has gone right for Jack since he graduated last year. His career has failed to take off, his fiancée has ditched him for someone with better prospects and now he’s received an invitation to their wedding. He dreads going to the wedding alone, surrounded by his high-achieving friends, so when he meets a beautiful girl who offers to accompany him he jumps at the chance.
But by accepting her invitation he finds himself drawn into a world of intrigue and murder.
Katharine Johnson is the author of four novels. She grew up in Bristol and currently lives in Berkshire. She’s been a magazine editor and has written for lots of magazines, mostly in the home and lifestyle sector, as well as short stories and a history book. When not writing you’ll usually find her reading, drinking coffee, exploring cities, playing netball, guiding people around a stately home (not her own!) or out walking with her writing buddy, Monty the spaniel.
This week I am delighted to welcome crime writer Catherine Fearns to my blog.Catherine is the author of an intriguing series of thrillers.I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the first two so was delighted to hear that she’s writing the third.
Hi Catherine and welcome to my blog.First off, tell us a little about your books.
I write crime thrillers with a supernatural element. Set in contemporary Liverpool, they are inspired by the Victorian gothic, and by the occult detective stories of the early twentieth century. Readers can follow the story as a straight police procedural, or they can wonder whether there might have been other forces at work. I wanted to develop this idea of the unknowable, of the hidden world beyond our own, and I wanted to watch Detective Inspector Darren Swift’s gradual journey from cynicism towards an acceptance of the supernatural.
Reprobation is inspired by the concept of predestination; the theological doctrine that God decided at the beginning of time who would go to heaven (the elect), or hell (the reprobate). It’s a concept that has always fascinated me. One day I was walking on Crosby Beach, where everybody in Liverpool does their best thinking, and I suddenly had the idea for a story based around this theme. I stayed up all night writing, and by the next morning I had several thousand words and a cast of characters in my head. A crime thriller gradually developed around them.
Consuming Fire is the sequel to Reprobation, and was published in February 2019. It is also inspired by spiritual themes, although it has a very different feel. When I moved to Switzerland two years ago, I discovered the mysterious phenomenon of coupe-feu. There are traditional healers, known as guérisseurs, who use a combination of pagan ritual and Catholic prayer to cure a range of conditions. Coupe-feu cures burns. It’s still common in Switzerland, and is even done over the telephone. So I rather blasphemously turned this around and wondered what happen if instead of praying to angels to cure burns, you prayed to demons to cause fire? And you did it over the phone? Around the same time I discovered an eighteenth century German epic poem by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, which has an obscure subplot in which the fire demon Adramelech plots to become more powerful than both God and Satan. So I thought you could create an evil cult out of these two ideas, a cult that may or may not be responsible for a series of crimes.
Consuming Fire also employs the gothic technique of the ‘found text’; the main narrative is interspersed with extracts from a mysterious seventeenth century grimoire that may or may not be real.
That’s brilliant. (Great covers, too!) So, how would you describe your genre?
Crime thrillers. Although my books could also be considered within the Supernatural Suspense or even Horror genres. Reprobation can certainly be read as a standalone, but Consuming Fire is a sequel, and I am currently writing the third in the series.
Are you one of the elect?
Dr. Helen Hope is a lecturer in eschatology – the study of death, judgement, and the destiny of humankind. She is also a Calvinist nun, her life devoted to atoning for a secret crime.
When a body is found crucified on a Liverpool beach, she forms an unlikely alliance with suspect Mikko Kristensen, lead guitarist in death metal band Total Depravity. Together, they go on the trail of a rogue geneticist who they believe holds the key – not just to the murder, but to something much darker.
Also on the trail is cynical Scouse detective Darren Swift. In his first murder case, he must confront his own lack of faith as a series of horrific crimes drag the city of two cathedrals to the gates of hell.
Science meets religious belief in this gripping murder mystery.
Liverpool is in the grip of an intense heatwave, and strange things are happening.
A woman dies in an apparent case of Spontaneous Human Combustion; a truck explodes on the dock road; the charred corpses of pets litter the city; forest fires ravage the pinewoods…and there are birds everywhere, silent flocks drawing in ominously.
Detective Inspector Darren Swift thinks there are connections, and his investigation delves into the worlds of football, nightclubs and organised crime. But is he imagining things?
Dr. Helen Hope doesn’t think so. And she believes the key lies in a mysterious seventeenth-century occult book which has gone missing from Liverpool Library.
In the blistering sequel to Reprobation, DI Swift is forced to confront some inconvenient ghosts from his past, as a terrifying shadow lies over his city’s future….
Both are cracking good reads. What inspires you most when you sit down to write?Is it characters? Settings? Books you’ve read?Or none of the above?
Theme came first; in fact, I didn’t start out writing a crime thriller at all. I started writing about predestination, because I wanted to understand it. I wasn’t sure if it would be a blog post, a piece of historical research, or even a song! But very quickly a story began to construct itself, and the characters took on lives of their own. Before I knew it I was writing a crime thriller. Setting is important; the books are very much tied to their location of Liverpool, and in that sense I have been inspired by crime fiction that has a strong sense of place; for example Dennis Lehane (Boston), Ian Rankin (Edinburgh). Now that I’m on to writing my third book, the characters are well-established and I would say they are taking the lead. DI Darren Swift, Helen Hope and Mikko Kristensen are on their character arcs and I can’t wait to see what happens to them!
I love the characters and am really looking forward to meeting up with them again.
So, tell us a bit about your writing journey.
Over the years I always loved the writing aspects most about the various jobs I was doing. I worked in banking and had several papers published in very dry financial journals. But I didn’t even imagine being a creative writer until very recently. I was a stay-at-home mum volunteering as a breastfeeding counsellor with a health charity, and I was asked to write a review of some breastfeeding apps for their in-house magazine. It was a very short project but I enjoyed the writing process so much that I think I got the bug. Shortly after that I began writing a blog, more as a diary than anything else, and I found the process very cathartic. The blog led to me getting work as a music journalist, and I was so enthused that within a year I had published nearly fifty articles. Writing for magazines and websites gave me the discipline of being professionally edited and I began seriously learning the craft. I joined a writers’ group and tried some short stories and flash fiction. I had to work hard to stamp out the clipped, legal tone in which I had been trained to write professionally, and it was a joy to return to a more natural, literary style. I would say that my writing is still quite concise though. My books are relatively short; I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as florid!
Reprobation was not my first attempt at a novel; a 60,000-word manuscript for The Veilmaker lies hidden password-protected beneath a series of subfolders on my laptop. I cringe to think that I actually submitted it to a few agents, and it has now been abandoned! But this was the novel in which I taught myself how to write a novel.
We’ve all got those hidden away first attempts, haven’t we?But, as you say, it’s the best way to learn your craft.Tell us a little about your future plans.
I’m really excited about the third book in this series, entitled Sound, which is currently being edited and will be released this September. It’s very much a sequel to Consuming Fire, and the three books form a trilogy. After that, if people are still enjoying my series I’d love to carry on and see where it leads. There is a lot of potential I think.
But I also have a couple of ideas floating around for historical novels. My degree was in History, and I loved the historical research I had to do for Consuming Fire, including the process of writing the seventeenth century pastiche elements.
I will also carry on with my freelance music journalism; it barely pays but it’s a great excuse to go to the heavy metal concerts that I love.
That’s great.I have to admit, heavy metal music is a closed book to me but I absolutely loved that aspect of your books.And as for the gorgeous Mikko…..
Now, how about sharing with us three things that we might not know about you?
1. I almost became a concert pianist. As a teenager I performed in big competitions and had an audition for a conservatoire. But I decided to do an academic degree instead. For a while I played for weddings, restaurants, theatres and so on, but I eventually stopped completely. And it’s probably my biggest regret. I always feel a bit sad when I sit at a piano now. I’m sure that’s why I write about music. And why I force my kids to have piano lessons!
2. I play guitar and sing backing vocals in a heavy metal band. I absolutely love it, but I’m not very good at the guitar, I don’t really know how to sing, and I’m by far the oldest in the band. Our drummer is 14, to give you an idea. It’s like that movie School Of Rock, and I am definitely the embarrassing Jack Black character.
3. Reprobation was written entirely at night. My youngest daughter didn’t start school until this year, and I have three other children, so my days were full. Plus I was too embarrassed to tell my husband I was writing a novel, so I didn’t write in the evenings. I would wait until everyone was asleep and then sneak out of bed. Now I have weekdays to myself when the kids are at school, and I’d like to tell you that Consuming Fire was written at a romantic desk or in a lakeside café, but I have to admit that my favourite place to write is my local McDonalds.
McDonalds, eh? Now, that’s something I have yet to try!Thank you so much, Catherine for such a fascinating interview.
And now, for those all important social media links
Catherine Fearns is from Liverpool, UK. As a music journalist she writes for Pure Grain Audio, Broken Amp and Noisey. Her short fiction and non-fiction pieces have been published in Here Comes Everyone, Toasted Cheese, Offshoots & Metal Music Studies. She holds a degree in History from Oxford University, a Masters from the London School of Economics, and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association. She lives in Geneva with her husband and four children.
When I started this blog it was with the intention of posting every couple of weeks or so and chart my journey from publication of my first novel, Murder Served Cold, and beyond as well as featuring other authors.And I did manage 24 blog posts since I started the blog in April 2018, so it was all going ok.At the time of my last blog post Murder Served Cold had beenpublished and I was (sort of) looking forward to the launch of the second.
But then…. stuff intervened.Family stuff.Work stuff.But mostly ‘why did I ever think I could make it as a writer?’ stuff.
The second book in my Much Winchmoor Murder Mystery series, Rough and Deadly, wasn’t exactly launched with champagne breaking over the bows andbrass bands playing as it raced down the slipway and hit the water with the force of a tidal wave.Instead there was barely a ripple as it slipped quietly in and skulked around in the shallows.And it was all my own fault.It had some lovely reviews and my grateful thanks to all those lovely people who took the trouble to leave a review.
But now I need to sit myself down, reread those reviews carefully in the hope that this will give me the confidence I need to get back in the boat* and start paddling like mad. No brass bands maybe, but perhaps a little toot on a penny whistle. (*I was going to say ‘get back on the bike’ there but the pedant in me wouldn’t permit such a mixed metaphor).
I love writing.And I particularly love writing my Much Winchmoor series and working on the third one is the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition.But, oh, the marketing. The self promotion.The need to be constantly running on the treadmill that is social media just to stay still.It paralyses me.
When I meet people who have read my books, one of two things happen.Either they say they enjoyed it in which case I feel acutely embarrassed and try to shrug it off and change the subject or they don’t mention it at all and then I assume that they absolutely hated it but are too kind to say so.
So what has all this whingey whiney stuff got to do with not blogging for four months? As excuses go, it’s a pretty lame one. “I found out that while I can write ok, I am absolutely rubbish at promoting and marketing. ” But as I said, the never ending to-do list that is my marketing plan paralyses me.Overwhelms me.Sends me off in a frenzy of house cleaning. filling in my tax return, or looking at pictures of Dalmatians (all better behaved than mine) on Pinterest.
But, no more.Today I am making a start by catching up on my blog posting because I have a very special guest to welcome.One who not only writes brilliant books but is equally brilliant at promoting them.
So, enough about me and on to what brought you to this page in the first place.
Where does crime writer, Alice Castle, get her ideas from?
Hi Alice and welcome to my blog. And to the question that every writer is said to dread. Where do you get the idea for your books from? And how did you settle on the lovely Beth Haldane?
I’ve been reading whodunits since the age of 12 but it took me about forty years to start writing my own. My first novel was chicklit and I worked on the sequel for ages, getting nowhere, wanting to kill my heroine, before I thought, ‘wait a minute… that’s an idea.’ Then, as a massive Miss Marple fan, I looked around for my own St Mary Mead to set the stories in. I’d just moved out of Dulwich and missed it very much and that affectionate nostalgia, added to some useful distance, made it seem the perfect spot. I was keen to write a series so I thought hard about a sleuth who would be quirky and slightly annoying, so people would think they could do better than her, but who would still remain engaging enough to have people on her side. I wasn’t at all interested in creating another of those omniscient male detectives who looks down on the female victim laid out on a mortuary slab and swears to wreak vengeance on ‘the man who did this.’ Those books can be great but that wasn’t what I wanted to write. Then, once I’d thought of the title of the first book, Death in Dulwich, I was off.
Setting is so important, isn’t it? Even though the only time I’ve ever been to Dulwich I was stuck in an horrendous traffic jam, reading your books has made me want to visit the area again and check out all those lovely coffee shops! So, what made you decide to set the stories there?
I’ve always lived in south east London and I love my slice of the city. We’re twenty minutes by train from London Bridge yet there’s enough green spaces and birdsong to feel as countryfied as I want to get. South London is quite run down and has its share of urban woes so, sadly, it’s fertile territory for a crime writer.
Is there anything from your life before you became a writer that you feel has been of use to you as a crime writer?
I was a feature writer on the Daily Express but occasionally covered big news stories – as a journalist you’re exposed to a lot of facts which are too grisly to make it into the papers. You also need a glancing knowledge of the law and of policing to cover a lot of stories so it’s pretty much a crash course in crime writing – except you’re supposed to avoid fiction
The first in the series was Death in Dulwich published in 2017 and now you’re about publish the sixth in the series, The Body in Belair Park on June 25th.How do you see it continuing?Or would you like to write something else?
I love the London Murder Mysteries series and already have a seventh book planned. I’ll continue for as long as anyone will read the stories and publish the books. I do have other projects on the go – I’ve written a psychological thriller and I’m going to try my hand at script writing. It’s good to have changes of pace and direction to keep things fresh.
I’m delighted there’s going to be more in the series and have already pre-ordered The Body in Belair Park which I’m really looking forward to.
So, what inspires you most when you’re creating a new story?Characters?Settings? Books you have read?
I think I’d have to say my heroine, Beth, is my biggest inspiration. I like to see what she’ll do next when she’s up against it – it’s never anything I would do myself.
And how did you writing journey start?Have you always written?What was your first published piece.
I’ve always written. A kind teacher said something nice to me about a snippet of writing when I was about 5 and that was enough to make me feel it was something I could do. I’m very grateful to that teacher. I used to make miniature magazines for my dolls – I still have a copy of Good Mousekeeping I made when I was about 9. My first published piece was an article in The Sunday Telegraph when I was 20 and at university. Then life, children and a career intervened for a bit and my chicklit novel Hot Chocolate finally came out when I was 46. Death in Dulwich was published in 2017.
Thank you so much for a lovely interview, Alice, and for all the reading pleasure your books have given me. Also, for inspiring me to stop whinging and get on with things.
Alice’s Author Bio and social media links
Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European hit and sold out in two weeks.
Death in Dulwich was published in September 2017 and has been a number one best-seller in the UK, US, France, Spain and Germany. A sequel, The Girl in the Gallery was published in December 2017 to critical acclaim and also hit the number one spot. Calamity in Camberwell, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series, was published in August 2018, with Homicide in Herne Hill following in October 2018. Revenge on the Rye came out in December 2018. Alice’s sixth London Murder Mystery adventure, The Body in Belair Park is published on June 25th. Once again, it will feature Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.
Beth Haldane, SE21’s answer to Miss Marple, thinks she is going for a carefree stroll on Peckham Rye with her best friend, Katie, and her annoying new puppy, Teddy. But before Beth knows it, she is embroiled in her most perplexing mystery yet.
Strange events from her family’s past, present-day skulduggery in the art world, and the pressures of moving school in south London threaten to overwhelm Beth. Will she be able to piece together the puzzle before her son’s crucial interview at Wyatt’s? Or will Beth’s insatiable curiosity finally drag down all her dreams for the future?
Join Beth, her irascible on-off boyfriend, Detective Inspector Harry York of the Metropolitan Police, and the dog walkers of Peckham Rye in a tale of murder, mayhem – and bloody revenge.