The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

July 2017

4/5 stars. I enjoyed the gentle pace of this murder mystery allows the reader time to get to know the main characters and the beautiful and atmospheric Walsingham, while the mystery unfolds.

Description

The murder of women priests in Norfolk’s spooky shrine town of Walsingham draws forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway into a thrilling new adventure.

When Ruth’s friend Cathbad sees a vision of the Virgin Mary, in a white gown and blue cloak, in Walsingham’s graveyard, he takes it in his stride. Walsingham has strong connections to Mary, and Cathbad is a druid after all; visions come with the job. But when the body of a woman in a blue dressing-gown is found dead the next day in a nearby ditch, it is clear that a horrible crime has been committed, and DCI Nelson and his team are called in for what is now a murder investigation.

Ruth, a devout atheist, has managed to avoid Walsingham during her seventeen years in Norfolk. But then an old university friend asks to meet her in the village, and Ruth is amazed to discover that she is now a priest. She has been receiving vitriolic anonymous letters targeting women priests – letters containing references to local archaeology and a striking phrase about a woman ‘clad in blue, weeping for the world’.

Then another woman is murdered – a priest. As Walsingham prepares for its annual Easter re-enactment of the Crucifixion, the race is on to unmask the killer before they strike again…

My thoughts

I was lucky enough to meet Elly Griffiths earlier this year when she came to talk to a local writing group. I was struck by her honesty, humour and wit, which are all apparent in this novel. I enjoyed the gentle pace of this murder mystery allows the reader time to get to know the main characters and the beautiful and atmospheric Walsingham, while the mystery unfolds. In this case, it’s the murder of a woman in a graveyard before a religious Easter gathering. Inspector Nelson, who has problems of his own, is then drawn into another case involving abusive letters sent to a woman priest who knows Dr Ruth Galloway.

Is there a connection? Ruth Galloway believes there might be and makes enquiries of her own.

I haven’t read any of the previous books in the series, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of a skilfully crafted story, laced with humour and social comment. Walsingham and its religious history are beautifully described and evoked, adding additional depth to the story.

An enjoyable and entertaining story that reminded me of LJ Ross.

4/5 stars

 

The Darkest Lies by Barbara Copperthwaite

June 2017

4/5 stars. Filled with raw emotion, as you would expect, this is a harrowing story of lies and deceit, gradually peeled back until the truth emerges.

Description

A mother desperate for the truth. A daughter hiding a terrible secret.

Melanie Oak appeared to have the perfect life. Married to her childhood sweetheart, Jacob, the couple live with their beautiful, loving, teenage daughter, Beth, in a pretty village.

Nothing can shake her happiness – until the day that Beth goes missing and is discovered beaten almost to the point of death, her broken body lying in a freezing creek on the marshes near their home.

Consumed with grief, Melanie is determined to find her daughter’s attacker. Someone in the village must have seen something. Why won’t they talk?

As Melanie tries to piece together what happened to Beth, she discovers that her innocent teenager has been harbouring some dark secrets of her own. The truth may lie closer to home and put Melanie’s life in terrible danger…

My thoughts

Melanie’s daughter, Beth, is left for dead on the Lincolnshire marshes. What was she doing out there at night when she should have been at her best friend’s house? Who delivered the blow that left her for dead? Why doesn’t anyone seem to know anything about the events of that night? Why aren’t the police doing more to find her attacker?

While Beth lays trapped in a coma in hospital, Melanie needs to find answers to these questions and uncover the truth about what happened in the marshes.

Filled with raw emotion, as you would expect, this is a harrowing story of lies and deceit, gradually peeled back until the truth emerges. The author vividly describes the acute pain and soul searching of the parents as they grapple to come to terms with what happened. But Melanie’s need to uncover the truth, drives her to make her own enquiries.

While I empathised with Melanie’s pain, at times she seemed too self-obsessed, which made me lose sympathy with her and left me feeling the novel was a little longer than needed. I can’t say any more without spoiling what is an emotional powerhouse of a story, with deftly handled twists and turns.

A difficult subject to read, but expertly handled. Well worth reading.

4/5 stars

Echoes from Afar by Tamara McKinley

May 2017

5/5 stars. Echoes From Afar is an epic tale, told with a confidence and mastery that engaged and surprised me from the first page to the last.

Description

So this is Paris, she thought in awe. Spread out before her beneath a clear blue sky, it was like a precious gift after the smog and filth of London. No wonder it was called the city of love . . .
After a spiteful rumour ruins her career in London, Annabelle Blake must travel to Paris to start afresh. There she makes the acquaintance of Etienne and Henri – one a poet, the other a painter – both charming, talented and handsome. They spend their days flirting and drinking with the city’s artistes and Bohemians, and soon Annabelle too is swept up in the exotic and exhilarating world of 1930s Paris. But as ever more young people are drawn to the fight against Fascism in Spain, Annabelle must wake from the dream and confront the reality of war. A lifetime later, gifted artist Eugenie Ashton falls in love with Paris the moment she sets foot outside the Gare de Lyon. Like her mother Annabelle before her, the artistic delights of the city are a bright new world to her: but Eugenie will soon find that in its shadows are hidden the secrets of her family’s past.

My thoughts

This is not my usual read, but a good story is a good story, and this one swept me along with its sumptuous cover, vivid characters and stunning descriptions of life in the 1930s and 50s.

Can love endure? Can it survive the onslaught of war, lies and secrets?

Those are the questions facing Belle and Henri as their young love, ignited in Paris, is tested by the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath.

From the sublime descriptions of 1930s Paris to the heart breaking horrors of war, this is an elegantly written story, brought to life with memorable characters that sweep you along on an emotional ride filled with twists, surprises, and love that transcends tragedy.

Echoes From Afar is an epic tale, told with a confidence and mastery that engaged and surprised me from the first page to the last.

5/5 stars Highly recommended.

Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett

November 2017

Description

When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong. But Detective Kay Hunter isn’t convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.

When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay’s worst fears are realised.

With her career in jeopardy and desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay’s hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.

For the killer, the game has only just begun…

Scared to Death is the first book in a crime thriller series featuring Kay Hunter – a detective with a hidden past and an uncertain future…

If you like the Kim Stone series by Angela Marsons, Peter James’ Roy Grace series and the Erika Foster series by Robert Bryndza, discover Rachel Amphlett’s new detective novels today.

My thoughts

I’ve been aware of Rachel Amphlett and the Kay Hunter series for some time, but it’s taken a while to get around to Scared to Death. It’s always good to start with the first in a series so you can watch the characters and stories develop over time. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book.

While I have no problem with profanities and violence in stories, I often find them unnecessary and overdone in a lot of stories. Rachel Amphlett’s skill as a storyteller meant she didn’t need gratuitous violence, description or profanities to tell a riveting and realistic story, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.

Her straightforward, no nonsense style is refreshing, allowing readers to imagine the characters, if they want to. There was a strong sense of place and time, especially in the rundown industrial estates of Maidstone, and the scenes in the police station seemed highly realistic and credible to me.

The story not only kept me interested from start to finish, but I enjoyed the dashes of humour, particularly the snake her veterinary husband brought home to look after. The humour, and Kay Hunter’s compassion, proved the perfect counterpoint to the chills and terror experienced by the victims.

Both Kay and the killer were vividly brought to life, adding to the drama and suspense of the intriguing and original plot.

And behind it all, there’s this uneasy menace, lurking in the dark. I suspect this will continue into the next story.

5/5 stars. Highly recommended.

I’ve already purchased Will to Live, the second Kay Hunter story and look forward to following her fortunes and misfortunes.

Will to Live cover

Series Killers

Sometimes, I wish there were fewer books out there.

It’s not because I’m a slow reader. Far from it. I can zip through the pages like Mo Farah on his final lap of a race. It’s more a question of the amount of time available for reading. I read while I eat – breakfast and lunch each day.

If a book’s good, I can be tempted to extend lunch, but even then I only manage to read a couple of books a month, sometimes three.

Even if I extended lunch to five or seven courses, the temptation posed by the bewildering choice of authors and books would defeat me. Like many readers, I love discovering new authors, and often a series that gives me that extra magic in a story.

That extra magic

It’s usually a subject close to my heart, a plot that resonates at a deeper level, or a character that embodies similar values and beliefs to me. There’s usually a good sprinkling of humour and a distinct voice that makes the author stand out from the rest.

Must reads

I can only think of two authors whose books I have bought and read without hesitation.

Wilt Tom SharpeThe peerless Tom Sharpe had me laughing well into the night, forcing me to retreat under the covers so I didn’t wake everyone in the house. His ability to take a simple problem and escalate it to the scale of a nuclear war was unsurpassed. I wanted to write like him and make people cry with laughter.

Kinsey Millhone and I have an enduring relationship of over 30 years. It started the moment I opened A is for Alibi, the first of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. Apart from Kinsey’s feisty attitude, her sense of humour shines through as she passes judgement on all kinds of human foibles and idiosyncrasies. There’s an intriguing backstory too.

New must reads

In recent years, I’ve discovered a few more crime authors who tick the boxes.

While I enjoyed Dead Simple by Peter James, the second in the Roy Grace series, Looking Good Dead, has captured my imagination and shown the great writing that led to him being voted top crime writer recently.

Robin Roughley, who writes the DS Lasser series, grabbed my attention in The Needle House, because of the great characterisation and realism that ran through the story. The second in the series, The Way that it Falls, confirmed what a terrific storyteller Robin is.

LJ Ross wowed me with the charismatic DCI Ryan in Holy Island, set on beautiful Lindisfarne, which still tingles in my memory from a visit there nearly ten years ago. The second story, Sycamore Gap, sits on my Kindle, waiting to be read.

And most recent of all, Rachel Amphlett grabbed me with Scared to Death and DS Kay Hunter, another strong, determined believable character with a no nonsense style. I’m looking forward to reading the second book, Will to Live.

Eat more

platterBut with all those books out there, intriguing reviews from the many bloggers I follow, and authors I’ve met through social media, I‘m constantly tempted away from the series I’d like to follow.

Maybe I’ll have to read while I’m eating my tea, or take a few more snacks during the day, maybe indulge in the occasional midnight feast …

It will mean more running to burn off the calories, but that’s a story for next time.

You can read my thoughts on most of the books mentioned in this blog on my Reviews page

Do you remember your first?

Earlier this week I had to think long and hard to remember the first crime novel I read.

Scared to Death coverAuthor, Rachel Amphlett, who writes the Kay Hunter series, posed the question in her latest email newsletter. Having just finished the first in the series, Scared to Death, I could have told her the last crime novel I’d read.

Instead, I had to travel back to my childhood when I plundered the school and local libraries in search of new fictional worlds to explore. The first books I remember reading were the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, but they were adventure stories, not crime. So were the Secret Seven, also by Enid Blyton.

Then I remembered a conversation I had with the local librarian when I was about 11 or 12. Having exhausted the books I wanted to read in the children’s section, I stated to explore the much larger and more exciting adult library.

As a regular customer, the librarian knew me well and was willing to let me borrow from the adult library. However, she would make the final decision on whether the books I chose were suitable or not.

I’m sure she put many of my choices back on the shelves when I started, but I remember reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond books fairly soon after moving to the adult library. As I haven’t read them since, I don’t know how graphic or explicit they were to a young teenager, but I doubt if they count as crime novels.

The Murders on the Rue Morgue, by Edgar Allan Poe, may well have been the first crime story I read, but a quick check on Amazon suggests it’s more short story than novel. The same could be said of Sherlock Holmes, though I read all the stories in the volumes written by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The first crime novel I know I read was Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I was about 15 or 16 at the time, and beyond the censure of the librarian. The plot and ending stick in my mind because I thought they were clever and different.

Maybe that goes some way to explaining why I wanted to write something different in my crime fiction.

But Murder on the Orient Express doesn’t explain my interest in writing crime, specifically murder mysteries.

That accolade goes to Dick Francis, who I discovered in the 1990s. His no nonsense, direct style, often with a first person narrator, introduced me to thrillers. While I avoided his books about horse racing, the rest of his thrillers proved irresistible.

Simon Kernick then came along with his thriller, Relentless. It started at 70mph and got faster, leaving me breathless by the end. What a ride that was. And after devouring the rest of his thrillers and crime novels, I wanted to emulate him and Dick Francis.

My first attempts at writing Kent Fisher were pure Dick Francis. This is the opening paragraph to the first Kent Fisher novel I wrote, entitled Too Many Secrets.

My impulse to visit the Kubla Khan Hotel cost me my job, my marriage, and took me within inches of my life.  But I couldn’t ignore the body in the swimming pool.

But as I soon discovered, I was no Dick Francis.

Enter Sue Grafton and her Kinsey Millhone alphabet series. Her A, B and C novels were offered in a hardback volume that I bought for £1 as an introductory offer to a mail order book club. A is for Alibi had an intriguing ring about it and I soon warmed to the feisty, opinionated Californian detective, the first person narration, and gentle tone that often masked some fairly gritty themes and action.

That’s what I wanted to write – a murder mystery series with a strong, witty and opinionated central character.

It took me a while to develop the character and voice that gave rise to No Accident, but nowhere near as long as my journey from Murder on the Orient Express to the Dick Francis thrillers that made me want to write crime.

You can find out more about the Kent Fisher mysteries on my website and Amazon.

 

It’s a dog’s life

It’s late April at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. The sun’s beating down on a line of restless children, patiently waiting to meet their heroes. But there’s an adult sandwiched between Scooby Doo and Shaggy, laughing and joking with them, posing for a photograph.

Yep, that was me.

Scooby Doo Shaggy and Robert Crouch

I’ve loved Scooby Doo since he first appeared on British TV in the early 1970s. I was only 11 or 12 at the time, but I loved the adorable Great Dane that unmasked villains and never missed an opportunity for a Scooby snack.

Assisted by Shaggy, Daphne, Velma and Fred, Scooby Doo and the gang reminded me of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, updated and transposed to the USA.

The Famous Five stories were the first time I’d encountered a dog in fiction. Like many children, and adults, I’d sobbed a few tears watching Lassie struggle home, but I’d never read about a dog in a book before, certainly not one that was also a character.

Scooby DooMy love of Scooby Doo stayed with me over the years, prompting work colleagues to occasionally buy me mementos, like a Scooby Doo mug, which is filled with tea in front of me as I write this blog. I’ve also had various soft toys, pens, and a colouring book.

The Scooby with the nodding head travelled on the dashboard of my car for around four years early in the millennium, coming out on the district with me. When I had to change car, the sloping dashboard meant Scooby retired to the house, where he’s remained ever since.

Scooby even got a mention during a management training day I attended. When the tutor asked us to name our heroes and what made them special to us, I had no names to offer.

To me, heroes are the people who selflessly dedicate themselves to help the disadvantaged, out of the glare of publicity, and usually without financial reward or recognition. These are people like young carers who look after disabled parents, people who tirelessly raise funds for charities, those soup kitchens in the bitter cold of winter, or nurse injured animals through the night.

When the tutor insisted there must be someone who inspired me, I thought of Scooby Doo. ‘He’s unique, inventive, entertaining and he makes me laugh,’ I explained, characteristics I aspire to.

Harvey, our West Highland White Terrier, shares Scooby’s love of food. We met Harvey as a 10 week puppy on a farm near Arlington, about 10 miles inland from the South Coast. He was twice the size of his brother and two sisters.

We soon found out why when we got him home. He ate so fast he seemed to finish within seconds of us setting down his bowl. We’re sure he wolfed down his own food and then raided the other pups’ bowls.

harvey and trainer

Back at the farm, mother led her pups out of the barn and left along a path into the garden. Not Harvey. He turned right, exploring under a car, happy to do his own thing, ignoring the owner’s calls to join the others.

Now eleven, he’s still unique, inventive and entertaining. I’ve lost count of the times he’s made me laugh with his antics, especially his love of sleeping on top of the sofa.

harvey sleeping

I had to give him a part in the Kent Fisher mysteries, naming him Columbo after my other fictional favourite.

Columbo started as a rescue dog in No Accident the first Kent Fisher mystery. In the second, No Bodies, he plays a big part in defeating the killer. He’s an attentive listener, which means he’s the only one Kent confides in. They’re best mates, of course, but Columbo always goes where the treats are.

And his namesake, Lieutenant Columbo, had a laconic, but adorable, Bassett hound as his companion.

Why not comment below to tell me about your favourite fictional dog?


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Talking Crows

One of the more humiliating experiences of my childhood was reading aloud in class.

I’ve nothing against Shakespeare or Henry IV Part One, but at 15 I didn’t understand it. It was difficult enough, getting my head, let alone my tongue, around his rich prose, without the teacher bursting into fits of laughter.

‘Didn’t you get the joke, Crouch?’ He stared at me as if I was an imbecile. ‘Falstaff is the comic relief, the joker, and you’ve ruined most of his punchlines.’

I don’t remember any jokes. But then I didn’t get Shakespeare at the time, but that’s another story.

Since those long lost days of school, I haven’t read a story aloud in front of an audience.

Swearing an oath photoI’m not including my appearances in the witness box at the Magistrates Court when I had to swear that my evidence would be the truth etc. I should add before you wonder what offences I might have committed, that this was in connection with my enforcement work as an environmental health officer.

And I should also discount the Christmas cracker jokes I read out each year as I don’t class them as prose.

So, when I was asked to read at Eastbourne Book Festival last Saturday, memories of Henry IV Part 1 flashed through my mind.

No Accident coverFortunately, I was allowed to read from one of my novels. As I’m writing a murder mystery series, I chose to read the opening from Chapter One of my first novel, No Accident.  I wanted to show my audience how an environmental health officer could investigate murder.

Like most things in life, preparation is the key. So, a couple of days before, armed with a cup of tea, and my reading glasses, I settle into my chair and began to read. Within seconds, I stopped, realising I could have written a better first sentence. A few seconds later, I’d rewritten the first paragraph in my head.

Aware that I might end up rewriting large parts of the chapter, I ignored the revisions in my head and focused on the original script. With a steady pace and clear voice, I read aloud, warming to the task with each page turned.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled over my words.

When I wrote the ‘coarse cries of crows’, I thought it was a neat piece of alliteration. Not once did I realise what a tongue twister it could be.

I also found the occasional line that would improve the rhythm and flow if removed.  But they were nothing compared to the two long sentences that would have tested the stamina of a marathon runner.

harvey sleepingAt one point, Harvey, my West Highland White Terrier, came to listen. I don’t know whether he thought I might reward his interest with a treat, but within minutes he returned to his favourite position on the sofa and went back to sleep.

Not that he can complain.

I rarely read my work aloud, though I’m beginning to think it has some merit. On occasions, I will read dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds realistic. And I’m sure some writers like to shout that reading aloud is the best way to edit. They may well be right, of course.

After Harvey turned his back, I stopped reading and Googled breathing apparatus in case I needed help with the long sentences.

On the day, I took my copy of No Accident, my reading glasses, and headed for the reading room, hoping someone would want to listen to me. To my relief – sorry, delight – several people were already waiting.

I didn’t stumble over any words or crows. I managed to finish the long sentences without going purple and fainting. And no one interrupted me by laughing. Pity, because there were some funny one-liners in that opening.

Flushed with success, I’m now tempted to audition for voiceovers or programme announcement, citing Shakespeare in my CV. I could audition for audio book readings, cutting my teeth on my own novels. Trouble is, I’d probably have to revise some of those sentences.

No Bodies coverSo, I’ll settle for the occasional reading at a talk or event, as long as they don’t involve crows or marathons.

Reading aloud can bring your story to life and hopefully interest people in your writing. Maybe next time I’ll read from the second novel, No Bodies, which from memory doesn’t reference any crows.

There could be a ponderous procession of platitudes though.

But that’s another story …


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Being different is always the same.

 

When you go your own way there’s always a danger that no one will follow.

Fortunately, the Blog Tour for No Bodies, which finished last week, showed a lot of support and desire for something new and fresh. The positive feedback and reviews convinced me the risk was worth taking.

Yet when I started out, I had no idea of the challenges that come with doing something different. I focused on an idea, trying to refine the excitement and enthusiasm into something tangible. But it kept growing and evolving, developing a life of its own.

And that’s when I hit the first of many brick walls.

Crime fiction is packed to the rafters with police procedurals, serial killer thrillers, private detectives and psychological suspense stories. Is there any room for more of the same? Would something new be worth trying?

Inspector MorseBased on my love of Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, Columbo and Kinsey Millhone, I was looking at a traditional whodunit with a densely plotted, complex story that would keep readers guessing to the last page.

It would need a flawed central character that battled demons as well as the establishment and the baddies, and an intriguing backstory to add colour, depth and additional conflicts and challenges.

Most of all, it had to stand out from the other crime fiction out there.

But what did I know about the way the police worked or the procedures they followed? Could I describe an incident room, create realistic dialogue, incorporating the jargon they used? How did a patrol car handle? What about the hierarchies, the forms and paperwork?

As an environmental health officer (EHO), I’ve used the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), interviewed suspects under caution, taken witness statements and put together prosecutions. But these involved workplace accidents, food hygiene breaches and pollution complaints. Not murder.

It was clear I couldn’t write a police procedural to save my life.

But could an EHO investigate and solve a murder?

The idea took root. Two main challenges occupied my thoughts like squatters –

  1. How could I get an EHO to solve a murder that would be investigated by the police?
  2. What sort of character would the EHO have to be to solve a murder?

The answer to the first question was simple – don’t have a murder.

Okay, it flew in the face of most crime fiction, but I was looking for something new and fresh, unique maybe. If there’s no murder, there’s no police investigation. Another brick wall negotiated.

The second question vexed me for years. The character had to mix it with the bad guys, so I made him ex-army, even though I knew less about soldiers than police officer. He had to be a maverick, because that’s what readers like. He also had to be flawed, which proved to be an almost impossible challenge.

The world was full of crime fighters with lousy or broken marriages, problems with alcohol, and vices like gambling, drinking and smoking. Crime fighters were often bad tempered, demanding and difficult to work with, forever fighting personal battles. They ate badly, worked long and difficult hours, and inevitably bent the rules to solve the case.

My early attempts produced gung-ho characters, who took no nonsense from people or managers in pursuit of their principles.

Rambo would never walk into a restaurant kitchen, pull on a white coat and ask to see the temperature records for the fridges.

That introduced the third challenge – credibility. I couldn’t have an EHO breaking the rules, antagonising managers, colleagues and the public without some recourse. When would he find the time in his busy schedule to track down and interview witnesses or suspects? How would he record these activities on his time sheets? What would he tell his boss when she asked why he spent the whole of last Friday in a quarry?

But when I returned to the concept of having no murder, the answer was clear. What if my EHO investigated a fatal workplace accident, only to discover it’s a murder?

No AccidentNo Accident cover became the first Kent Fisher mystery, published in 2016 after many revisions and rewrites.

Along the way, Kent gained a friend who was an ex Scenes of Crime Officer, based on someone I get to know quite well. As Kent would bend rules and take liberties, I had to protect him from disciplinary action. Giving him a father, who was the local MP and a Cabinet Minister, meant managers and councillors were too scared of his father to take action against Kent.

WNo Bodies coverith nothing to stop him, Kent Fisher solved his first murder. His heroics meant he was available to solve more. This time an old friend of the family wants Kent to find his missing wife. Though the police believe she ran off with a dodgy caterer, Kent takes on the case in No Bodies.

No murder again. And caterers are bread and butter to EHOs, making it easy for Kent to investigate and follow the trail.

But it was far from an easy journey. Being different is always the same. People are cautious and reluctant to take you on. It’s difficult to assess demand and impact. But neither of these challenges is as difficult as finding a publisher that’s willing to consider something different.

But that’s another story.


If you’d like to find out more about the the Kent Fisher novels, please check out my Amazon Author page

A busy, busy writer

I’m deligBaskervilleshted to interview Colin Garrow on my blog. Thanks to his irreverent sense of humour and great writing, he’s become one of my favourite authors.

This weekend, he’s releasing the excellent Curse of the Baskervilles, the third book in the Watson Letters series. You’ll find it on Amazon, along with my 5 star review.

 

Please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

Colin pic for web 300I started writing when I left school, but for a long time found it difficult to write well. In fact, it wasn’t until I embarked on a degree in Drama as a mature student that I began to understand why some things worked and others didn’t. At uni I wrote plays (some of which were eventually performed), but it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that I settled down to write my first novel.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?I didn’t really want to be an author to begin with, though it’s always been at the back of my mind. When I was 16, I wanted to play in a heavy metal band and go on tour. My guitar skills were pretty good, but I was very shy, so that particular career path never really got off the ground. Nowadays I’m more into folky-type music and am quite relaxed about singing and playing, but I think that’s more to do with the fact that I’m past the stage of caring what people think.

Describe the first piece you wrote and what it meant to you?

The first thing I remember writing (after deciding I wanted to be ‘a writer’), was a radio play called ‘Down Where the Moon is Lonely’. It was meant to be a sort of spoof of ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas. I convinced myself it was a fantastically clever play and fiddled around with it for a few years , tyring to get it right. Eventually I sent it to the BBC, who recognised it for what it was – a pile of crap – but I’d had problems with endings for quite a while, so I was glad to have written something I’d actually been able to finish, even if no-one wanted to read it.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

I love creating stories and characters, but mostly I enjoy entertaining people and, with any luck, making them laugh.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

The length of time it takes to become rich and famous 🙂

I see from your Amazon biography, you’ve had quite a variety of interesting jobs. Any particular favourites you’d like to tell me about?

I studied Drama at university and subsequently did a lot of freelance work, including storytelling, mask making, and running writing and drama workshops. I loved the variety, though there was never enough work to keep me busy full time, so I’d have to take on less enchanting jobs (like working in a fish-processing factory, or handing out leaflets), to make ends meet.

How much did your work inspire your writing and the subjects you write about?

Hardly at all, though a few years ago I co-wrote a stage play called ‘No Phones on Planet Pluto’, a piece about mental illness. The play consisted of a series of monologues, including one I wrote based on my own experiences of depression. I also performed in the play and found the whole thing quite cathartic.

You also publish a variety of books from children’s to humour to detective mystery. Perhaps you could tell me about this.

DirtyMainly, I write about murders, mysteries and adventures, starting with children’s novels (because the ideas I had at the time seemed suited to that age group). It was only after I’d begun writing short stories aimed at literary magazines and an older readership that I got interested in writing for adults. (Although the stage plays I’d written previously where mostly for adult audiences.) My first novel for adults, ‘Death on a Dirty Afternoon‘, was inspired by a short story I’d written called ‘How Green Was My Lovely Big Sleep’ – a spoof Raymond Chandler tale.

DevilgateI’ve now written six novels for children, including my first venture into the horror genre. I had the idea of writing a series that would rival RL Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ series (yeah, right!), setting it in one town and featuring many of the same characters. The first one in the series is called, ‘The Demon of Devilgate Drive‘ and was inspired by the Suzi Quatro song of (almost) the same name. I even called one of the characters Suzi Q as a sort of homage to the leatherclad rocker.

Tell me about the inspiration and motivation to write ‘The Watson Letters’. Were you worried you might upset fans of Sherlock Holmes?

The Watson Letters started between myself and a friend as a series of emails taking the Mickey out of literary characters, the main focus being Holmes and Watson. Then I built a website about the Conan Doyle books and the Watson Letters Blog became part of that. Eventually my friend didn’t want to do it any more and that’s when I started to think about developing the stories, instead of the disorganized mess they’d become.

WickerThe first book (The Watson Letters Volume 1: Something Wicker This Way Comes), was an experiment to see if I could take the essence of the Blog and make it into a readable book. Book 2 was more structured, though the stories were (and still are), published on the Blog first, then edited into book form.

I don’t really worry about offending Sherlock Holmes fans, since there are already loads of people on the Conan Doyle bandwagon. And there’s plenty of variety to choose from if my innuendo/fart gag scenarios don’t appeal – my particular favourites on the more serious side are ‘House of Silk’ and ‘Moriarty’ by Anthony Horowitz.

Which type of book do you most like to write and why?

My favourite type of books are the ones I can finish. At the moment, I have one unfinished novel which has been doing my head in for quite some time. It may be that my method of not planning my books is partly to blame, but I could never write a novel where I already knew the ending – the reason for writing is to find out what happens and quite often it’s a surprise to me as much as  anyone else.

Who inspires you? Why?

I’m inspired by good writing, so I strive to be as good as the writers I admire: Stephen King, Peter Carey, Margaret Atwood, Sharon Bolton, Tim Winton, Mo Hayder, Raymond Chandler, George Orwell, Christopher Brookmyre, Louise Welsh  and of course Ian Banks.

If you could invite four guests (fictional or real, alive or dead) for dinner, who would you choose and why?

Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, because they’re all absolutely fabulous, and the lovely Victoria Wood, because she was the funniest comedy writer ever.

Please tell me about your latest project.

I keep telling myself to stick to one book at a time, but at the moment, I’m working on the next Terry Bell Mystery, ‘A Long Cool Glass of Murder’, the second of my middle grade horror books, ‘The Curse of Calico Jack’, and the third Christie McKinnon adventure, currently titled ‘The Phantom of Fiddler’s Lane’. And of course, I’m also posting on The Watson Letters Blog which will eventually become book four in that series.


Thank you for your candid insights, Colin, and for taking a break from your busy schedule to answer a few questions. Good luck with The Curse of the Baskervilles and I look forward to the next Terry Bell mystery.

If you want to find out more about Colin and his books, please visit his website at https://colingarrow.org/ or his Amazon Author Page.