In 1997, I was publishing articles in national and local magazines and went on to write a regular column on computers and technology for Writers’ Monthly magazine. While I enjoyed these achievements, I really wanted to write a novel – but not just any novel. No, I wanted to write something different.
I began to think about it until three key points began to distil –
- Write for a market – article writing taught me how market research could improve my chances of getting my work published.
- Write about what you love – my love of crime fiction and drama made this a no-brainer
- Write about what you know – this old chestnut is probably in every book about writing, but it makes perfect sense.
Almost all my articles ticked these three boxes, so why shouldn’t a novel?
The crime market was huge. Gritty, urban police procedurals battled with serial killers, forensic pathologists, elderly ladies solving murders among the gentry, inspectors and their sidekicks, and private detectives.
Then there was America …
I worked in a rural district that ran north from the South Downs to the Ashdown Forest. Around two-thirds of the district was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Pretty villages with thatched cottages and timber framed buildings filled the district and some families could trace their ancestors back to Saxon times.
This was the perfect setting and backdrop for my crime novel.
I’d worked with the police on several occasions and got to know a Scenes of Crime Officer with a terrific sense of humour. But I couldn’t write an authentic police procedural – not unless I spent days and weeks going out with officers on a real investigation.
That meant I had to create a private detective. The omens were good. Literature and TV had given us some of the best detectives imaginable. But to work, my detective had to solve crimes that didn’t involve an active police investigation. Sue Grafton’s, Kinsey Millhone, came to the rescue. She investigated all kinds of cases with occasional reference to the police. In the main, though, she worked alone and often ended up with a murder or two.
I had my novel. Set in the cosy backwaters of East Sussex, my detective would investigate crimes that didn’t involve the police, but could end up as murder. But my detective still eluded me. I knew nothing about being a private detective, and I wasn’t aware of any in my part of the world.
Then I had a moment of inspiration – why not have an Environmental Health Officer investigating murder?
Why not? As an Environmental Health Officer, I’d investigated several work accidents where people had died. I interviewed witnesses, those suspected of committing an offence (under caution), and I gathered evidence and put together prosecution cases, taking them to court. I had the skills and enquiring mind to solve crimes. And I’d always wanted to solve a murder, thanks to many episodes of Lieutenant Columbo.
All I needed was a name, a character, a setting – and a murder, of course.