Why do you write crime fiction?

The simple answer is I love reading crime fiction and watching crime dramas on the TV.

I also love humour, such as Tom Sharpe, but my bookshelves and Kindle are filled with crime novels, mainly Sue Grafton, Peter James, LJ Ross, Rachel Amphlett, Michael Wood and Ellie Griffiths.

I also have a copy of To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, but that’s the best book ever written as far as I’m concerned.

Puzzles have always fascinated me. I love cryptic crosswords because you have to think laterally. I love word games and riddles. Solving puzzles is the challenge – the mental agility needed, often combined with logic and deduction. I also remain fascinated by anything that’s unknown or in doubt. This allows me to speculate and wonder, enjoy conspiracy theories, make up my own answers and generally look at the world in a different way.

Scooby DooThen there’s an amazing variety in crime fiction and drama. I grew up watching Columbo, Scooby Doo, The Rockford Files, The Sweeney and many more. I read the Famous Five, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, Arthur Conan Doyle. Later, I fell in love with series like Miss Marple and Inspector Morse.

But no one had ever written about an environmental health officer solving murders. I loved my work and knew it would add an extra dimension to my stories. The irreverent humour comes naturally with the writing and the character of Kent Fisher.

It took many years, and several incarnations before Kent Fisher became real and realistic enough to carry a story. I had to learn my craft and draw on the techniques I studied from authors like Agatha Christie.

But I never doubted that I wanted to write crime novels.

How much planning goes into the Kent Fisher Mysteries?

The simple answer is it depends.

No Remorse, the latest novel, started with an opening line and a luxury residential home as a setting. I knew there would be a trail to follow into Anthony Trimble’s past, but little idea what Kent would uncover. Not much planning.

By contrast, I had at least two Lever Arch files of handwritten notes and a lot on computer for No Accident. This was partly because I wrote the story after No Bodies, which then became the second novel. I needed to dovetail No Accident into the second story, which required a lot of plotting and planning.

You may also have read that in No Accident, Kent couldn’t find the clues to solve the murder, it was so cleverly plotted. I made three attempts to overcome this problem, writing reams of notes, considering different ideas until I lost the will to live. It was only after Penmore Press offered me a contract to publish No Accident that I found the answer.

Similarly, No Bodies was planned in some detail. With two main plots and a number of subplots to deliver, the story could have come off the rails. And, having now written No Accident, a lot of issues in the back story had changed. For instance, in the original No Bodies, Kent was in love with Gemma’s mother, Sarah, the local vet. The tension was Gemma’s antagonism to this and threats to tell her mother what she and Kent had got up to.

Once I dropped this subplot, large parts of the novel needed changing. Every little change had a bigger impact and in the end, I pretty much rewrote the whole of No Bodies to fit in with the legacy left by No Accident. Rather ironic, as it turned out.

No Remorse had no such issues to deal with, which is probably why I didn’t plan it. But, I couldn’t ignore the backstory as I soon came to realise. And it’s the backstory which has occupied most of my thoughts as I prepare to write No More Lies. So, quite a few pages of notes and ideas to consider.

I’ll address the backstory issues as I write the next novel. I’ve found that I often abandon any plans I make, usually because something better comes to mind while I write. And the characters in the story have a habit of doing what they want, which means they have become living, breathing people.

And, as anyone who knows me will tell you, no one knows what I’ll do, including me. That’s what makes writing the Kent Fisher novels so much fun. I hope it shows when you read the stories.

What made you choose an environmental health officer to solve murders?

I’ve been an environmental health officer (EHO)all my working life. As an enforcement officer, who worked with the police at times, I felt EHOs had the skills to solve a murder. But I soon realised there was plenty to do if he was going to be a credible character.

Let’s face it, EHOs don’t solve murders. But that was the easy part, come to think of it. Imagine if you wanted to do some sleuthing…

How would you find the time if you worked full-time? With the best will in the world, you can’t do everything at the weekend or in the evening. How would your employers feel if you used their systems and databases to help with your investigations? How would you feel, using confidential information for your own purposes?
What happens if you’re discovered, moonlighting in work’s time? What would ratepayers think of your behaviour?

And finally, what happens if you get into bother while sleuthing?

Peter JamesWhile this is fiction, I’m with Peter James – it needs to be accurate to be credible.

It became clear at the outset that Kent Fisher needed to be in a privileged position, where his employers couldn’t touch him, or were afraid to do so. I chose to make his father, William Kenneth Fisher, the local MP and a member of the Cabinet. The local councillors are afraid to antagonise him, which gives Kent enough leeway to sleuth and get into trouble. Curiously, I made this decision somewhat spontaneously when I wrote the first Fisher’s Fables blog, called Radio Star.

What I didn’t realise until I started writing, was how adept EHOs are at getting information. They have fantastic networks nationally and locally, and get on well with local businesses and the community in general. People like them and want to help, which makes Kent’s job easier. He also has access to databases and national organisations, and links to the police and all manner of local services.

And, in case anyone wonders if he’s up to the job, Kent has a history of being a hunt saboteur and chaining himself to trees to prevent developers destroying the environment. In other words, he takes action and can look after himself, even if he often comes off worst.