The origin of the series

My journey as a crime writer – Part 1

It started with a simple idea – could one person make a difference?

It could easily have been a woman, but I felt more comfortable writing about a male protagonist, especially one who was going to embody my values and experiences. I envisaged someone with a strong sense of fair play and justice, someone who would take action to deliver it.

But not a police officer. I’ve worked with the police, but I’ve no real idea what it’s like to be a murder detective or part of a Major Crimes Team. Besides, there were too many police procedurals in the bookshops and on TV. Even more now crime fiction is the most read genre.

Sue GraftonNot a private eye either. Though a huge fan of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, who inspired much of what I was to create, there were also plenty of PIs on the bookshelves and TV.

I wanted an ordinary person to solve murders – someone different, distinctive and original.

The idea posed quite a few challenges, namely credibility.

Ordinary people don’t solve murders, do they?

You wouldn’t wake up one morning and decide to solve a murder. You can’t go down to the police station and offer to investigate some of their unsolved crimes to help them out.

And where would you start? How would you collect evidence? What about personal safety?

Okay, Agatha Christie and writers of cosy mysteries have had ordinary people solving murders for years, but I wasn’t interested in quaint village murders, solved by a local resident who judged competitions at the flower show. I wanted something that resonated with the real world, something contemporary, but still a traditional whodunit.

The choices were simple.

  • My protagonist could have a personal connection to the victim, such as a lover or close relative. This works fine for the first book, but it would become repetitive and unbelievable after a few of books. It wouldn’t take long before my protagonist had no close family or friends. I’d also need a list of killers with a grudge against him and his family.
  • The police arrest the wrong person. This seems to be a favourite among crime writers and TV dramas like Murder She Wrote. Again, it doesn’t take long to become repetitive. And I’ve never liked the idea of showing the police to be inept. They have a difficult enough job already without me adding to their problems.
  • The protagonist stumbles across something that puts him in danger. This is more thriller territory than murder mystery and I can’t compete with the likes of Dick Francis and Simon Kernick.

Besides, the thought of shoe-horning my protagonist into solving murders didn’t appeal. I wanted my ordinary person to evolve as a sleuth, not set out to be one. This seemed more natural and credible – more plausible in today’s cynical world.

In the end, it all came down to the character of the protagonist.

I needed someone with strong principles and a sense of duty. This person couldn’t simply stand by and allow an injustice to happen. He was no knight in shining armour, but someone who felt he could make a difference, albeit a small one. This was a man who had a history of standing up for the underdog, battling for justice and fair play.

He would also need the means and time to investigate, to take action. Either he was rich and retired or he had to fit murder investigation around his day job and life outside work.

Slowly, my protagonist began to take shape in my mind.

He was the kind of person I would have liked to have been.

This realisation clinched the deal.

I was an environmental health officer – a law enforcer, protecting the public, improving health and the environment. I worked with the police, which meant I had contacts that could help me, like a Scenes of Crime Officer, for example. I had the skills to undertake complex investigations, interview suspects and build a case to prosecute offenders.

I occasionally investigated deaths – people who were killed in workplace accidents. This was part of my role in health and safety at work, protecting employees and ensuring workplaces were safe.

All I had to do was disguise a murder as a fatal work accident and my protagonist would be drawn into his first case.

There was still plenty of work to do, several false starts to overcome, and my ability to bring such a character and story to life.

Those are issues for future blogs.


In the meantime, if you’re interested in a complex murder mystery that pays homage to the classic whodunit, the Kent Fisher murder mysteries maybe for you. You can find out more on my website, where you can also sign up to my email newsletter.

Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts by Colin Garrow

1st April 2020.   5 stars.

I’ve long been a fan of Colin Garrow’s writing. His sharp observational narrative, pithy humour and knack of creating memorable characters and imaginative plots have created some original and exciting crime fiction.

Body Parts may just be his best writing to date.

It features singer Rosie Robson, who returns to her native Newcastle from London for her mother’s funeral. When she agrees to perform with her old band, she’s no idea she’s about to be plunged into a series of vicious murders when she finds the body of another singer.

Set in the 1950s, the time and setting are full of atmosphere and Geordie banter, revealing the author’s love of this city and the music of the time. The lively and twisting plot reveals Rosie to be a feisty, determined character who’s more than a match for the local police inspector and the men who run the clubs and music scene.

Her refusal to step back leads her into more danger. As she cleverly weaves her way towards identifying the killer, she puts her own life in danger, leading to an an exciting and satisfying climax with a neat twist.

If you enjoy character driven crime fiction with soul, I would recommend this story. I’m already looking forward to the promised sequel and more adventures with Rosie.

Description

Newcastle, 1955. A death in the family brings nightclub singer Rosie Robson home to Newcastle, but her planned return to London hits a snag after she agrees to perform with her old band. Learning the group’s previous singer left after an argument, Rosie begins to wonder if there might be a sinister reason behind the young woman’s disappearance. Uncovering the first in a series of grisly murders, Rosie decides to investigate, but in doing so, finds her own name has been added to the killer’s list…

Body Parts by Colin Garrow

Bed of Bones by Cheryl Bradshaw

30th March 2020.   5 stars.

Anyone who follows my reviews will know I’m a big fan of this series, featuring private detective Sloane Monroe. Bed of Bones is the fifth book in the series and has Sloane working with other enforcement agencies to track down a serial killer.

It starts with a nail bomb in a cinema where a film is about to be shown, fictionalising a tragic incident in the town’s past. The woman who made the film is missing. Soon other women connected with the film go missing and the race is on to find out why before he strikes again.

Like all good protagonists, Sloane has her own personal issues to deal with, namely Giovanni, her on off boyfriend who was injured in the blast. This puts her in the thick of things once more as she tries to work out the connections with the past to track down the present day killer. Then there’s Cade, a sheriff with more than a passing interest in Sloane’s well-being to add further complications.

It all adds up to a smooth and exciting read, filled with sharp observations, wry humour and a determined detective who’s as smart as she is sassy. Sloane’s direct approach often puts her at risk as she slowly unpicks the mystery, leading to a thrilling and tragic climax.

While this story, like all the others, can be read as a standalone, you’ll enjoy it far more if you read the series from the beginning, starting with Black Diamond Death. (Check out my review of this story here.) Sloane has her problems, as you’ll discover, but this only deepens the character and adds another interesting layer to the backstory.

If like me, you prefer private detective stories to police procedurals, I would recommend this book and the series.

Description

Sometimes even the deepest, darkest secrets find their way to the surface.

Thirteen-year-old Willie Compton and his younger brother Leonard stumble upon a mine shaft while hiking the hills of Park City, Utah. A Slinky Leonard’s been flipping back and forth between his hands slips through his fingers. Leonard bolts forward and reaches out to grab it, but he slips, then he falls into the shaft.

Bed of Bones tells a tale of murder, shining a big, bold light on Park City’s tragic past. A past that’s about to revisit the present.

Bed of Bones by Cheryl Bradshaw

An interview with author Paula Williams

I’m delighted to welcome crime novelist Paula Williams to Robservations. The third novel in her Much Winchmoor series, Burying Bad News, is published on 17th March 2020.

Having enjoyed the first book in the series, Murder Served Cold, I thought it would be interesting and fun to learn more about Paula and her writing.

Paula, please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

I began my writing career writing short stories and serials for women’s magazines, which I still do sometimes, although it’s now a sadly shrinking market.  So I started thinking of a change of direction and decided to dip my toe in the murky waters of my first love, crime fiction.

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be taken on by Crooked Cat Books and have recently moved across to their Darkstroke imprint, which focusses on crime and all things dark.  Darkstroke is about to publish Burying Bad News, the third in my Much Winchmoor Mysteries.

I live in Somerset with my husband and a gorgeous rescue dog, a Dalmatian called Duke.  My books are mostly set in Somerset and very much inspired by my friends, neighbours and fellow regulars in my local – although none of them, as far as I know, have murderous tendencies.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

I wanted to be an author for ever!  I started writing stories as soon as I could hold a pencil.  Although my mother used to say that I was making up stories long before then, but they were of the ‘It wasn’t me, Mum, it was him’ variety.

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

I can remember writing an essay in school when I was about 12.  The topic was to discuss whether it was better to be the eldest or the youngest in the family.  I had very strong views about this, as I come from a large family and am firmly in the middle.  I got an A for my essay and Mrs Phillips (see, I can still remember her name) read it out to the class and called it an ‘excellent’ piece of writing.  I can still feel the glow of pride that gave me and it made me realise that writing isn’t really work when you’re writing something you feel strongly about.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

Oh my goodness, just about everything.  It still gives me a buzz to hear myself described as such.  It is the best job in the world.   I really love the actual process of writing, especially in the beginning when I’m still sorting things out and the possibilities are endless.  I love creating a world that I can control.  But most of all, I think, I love it when people take the trouble to read my books.  It’s quite humbling that someone will give up a bit of their precious time to sit down and read ‘the book what I wrote!’  And if they leave a review, well, that’s the icing on my happy cake.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

I know I’m not going to be alone in this when I say the thing I like the least is marketing.  Like many writers, I am an introvert and at my happiest when I’m on my own at my desk, talking away to the characters in my head… or, as if often the case, listening to them.

Putting myself ‘out there’ on social media is, quite simply, terrifying.  But it’s part of the job so I get on with it and spend a lot of my time studying how the successful authors (like you, Robert) do it.

(I don’t know about successful, Paula, but thank you.)

What type of characters do you love and hate to write? Why?

I love to write about feisty old ladies!  My mother in law was one and although she’s no longer with us, she certainly lives on within the pages of my books.  They are such fun to write.  I don’t have any characters that I hate to write.  I enjoy writing them all, especially the villains.

On your Amazon author page you talk about your first success being with short stories. Can you tell us a little more about what you wrote and how it led to writing novels?

The first short story I had published was an only slightly fictionalised account of a pageant I wrote when I was about eight and forced my younger brothers to appear in.  It was staged on our front lawn, to celebrate St George’s Day and everything that could do wrong did go wrong.  It must have been hilarious for the adults who’d been press-ganged into watching although I don’t remember anyone laughing.  So I read this how-to-write book that talked about writing about what you know and wrote about the pageant.  And, to my amazement, Woman’s Weekly bought it straight away.  When it was published, I bought each of my brothers a bottle of champagne and a copy of Woman’s Weekly.  They claim they’re still traumatised by the pageant and haven’t yet forgiven me.

I got into writing novels because I found I enjoyed writing crime as much as I enjoyed reading it.  In fact, the first in my Much Winchmoor series, Murder Served Cold, started life as a two part, 8,000 word serial for Woman’s Weekly and I enjoyed the characters so much, I couldn’t let them go. (Or, should that be, they wouldn’t let me go?)

In your blog you ask authors where they get their ideas. Where do you get your ideas?

I have lived most of my life in small communities, apart from a few years when I lived in Bristol.  I grew up on a farm in South Somerset and couldn’t wait to get away from the place – which I did when I was 18.  I married a Bristolian and thought I was set to live in Bristol for the rest of my life.  (I’d become a ‘proper townie’ by then).  But five years after we married, he was transferred to Somerset and I ended up living in the same sort of small community I’d been so eager to leave a few years earlier.

That was two children, four dogs and almost a whole lifetime ago now and I’m still here!  The difference is that now I love it and wouldn’t live anywhere else.  My family, friends and neighbours, even the lady in the queue next to me in the supermarket, are a constant source of inspiration to me.  Where would I be without them?

What inspired you to write the Much Winchmoor stories?

I was in my local pub one day and was, as is often the case, more interested in the conversations of others than listening to my husband and his friends bemoaning the sorry state of English rugby/cricket/weather or whatever their current moan was, when a voice rang out across the bar. “Well, everyone knows that Marjorie Hampton (not her real name) killed the Farm Shop”.  And that got me thinking.  (A) I knew the lady in question and she would never kill anyone or anything, least of all the local farm shop (Tesco’s managed to do that all on their own) and (B) why was that particular man so angry about it.  And then I started trying to answer that question.  The result was the 2 part serial I was talking about earlier.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read one before?

Hmm, that’s a tricky one.  I suppose the genre is cosy/cozy crime but, I like to think, with a difference.  It’s more like what would happen if Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum was transported to rural Somerset.  Kat, my main character, is feisty, with an answer for everything.  She’s also been likened to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Mahone and M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin.  So she’s in pretty good company.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your books?

I think the best compliment of all is that someone has taken the trouble to read one of them and I am grateful to each and everyone of my readers, particularly those who are kind enough to leave a review.  I treasure every single one.

But one of my most treasured compliments came from a story I wrote for Woman’s Weekly.  It was about a widow, struggling to come to terms with her husband’s sudden death,  who was persuaded to keep a journal to write down her feelings.  She did so quite reluctantly but gradually came to discover just how very therapeutic writing can be. (And there’s a lovely rescue dog in the story as well).  The magazine forwarded a letter they’d received from a reader, saying that she too had been recently widowed and that after reading my story, had tried keeping a journal.  And it had worked!  She found (as all writers know) that writing can be the best therapy.  That just blew me away!

In fact, while I’m thinking about it, I am going to put that story on my blog,  It can be found here.

Do you have any favourite authors? What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?

I’m going to start with Agatha Christie because my mother introduced her to me when I was 12 and I’ve loved her writing ever since.  I also love Charlotte Bronte and reread Jane Eyre every few years.

I’m very lucky to be published by Crooked Cat/Darkstroke and have found some brilliant new to me authors there.  Another great way I’ve come across new to me authors is by joining the UK Crime Book Club on Facebook, which is where I came across you, Robert, as well as many other great crime writers.  It’s a brilliant group with a good mix of writers and readers of crime fiction.

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

I’d invite Alan Coren (because he was so clever and witty and I miss him, even now, after all this time); Inspector Morse (because I really enjoyed both the books and the TV series and I have never watched or read the last one where he dies! Also because I share his love of choral music and crosswords although I’m not nearly as good at them as he was) ;  Mrs Phillips, my English teacher from school to whom I owe so much.  I’d love to have met her as an adult – although I’m not sure what she would make of my books!  And finally, I’d love my mother to be there.  She died many years ago but instilled in me a love of reading that has never left me.  I would dearly love to see her face when I place one of my books in her hand.  I think she’d have been proud – although she’d probably tell me that Agatha Christie would have tidied things up better – and, of course, she’d be right!

Please tell me about your latest project/plans for the future.

I’ve just finished an 8-part serial for the People’s Friend magazine and am now working through the edits for my third Much Winchmoor book, Burying Bad News, which is to be published on March 17th.  I’m really looking forward to getting the edits out of the way, as the fourth book in the series in clamouring to be heard.  It’s a bit crowded inside my head at the moment.

Thank you for the glimpse into your world, Paula. It’s always a delight to talk to authors who love what they do as much as you. Your enjoyment and sense of fun shine through in your writing.

Good luck with Burying Bad News.

Social Media Links

Blog – paulawilliamswriter.wordpress.com

Facebook author page – https://www.facebook.com/paula.williams.author.

Twitter –  @paulawilliams44.

Website –  paulawilliamswriter.co.uk

Instagram – paulawilliams_author

Amazon links to the Much Winchmoor Mysteries

https://mybook.to/murderservedcold

Murder Served Cold

https://mybook.to/roughanddeadly

Rough and deadly

https://mybook.to/buryingbadnews

One severed head, two warring neighbours – and a cold-blooded killer stalks Much Winchmoor. There’s the murder made to look like a tragic accident, and a missing husband. Could he be victim number two?

The tiny Somerset village is fast gaining a reputation as the murder capital of the West Country, and once again, reporter/barmaid/dog walker Kat Latcham finds herself reluctantly dragged into the investigation.

Things are looking bad for Ed Fuller, the husband of one of Kat’s oldest friends. Kat’s convinced he’s innocent – but she’s been wrong before.

Has Kat come across her biggest challenge yet?

Fans of Janet Evanovich could well enjoy this “funky, modern day nosey detective” transported to the English countryside. The third Much Winchmoor mystery is, as always, spiked with humour and sprinkled with a touch of romance.

Cast, in Order of Disappearance by Simon Brett

2nd March 2020.  3 stars.

Having already read the first book in Simon Brett’s Fetherington series, I was looking forward to some stylish writing and his trademark observational and social comments. These were delivered by fading actor, Charles Paris, a thespian who’s drawn into a murder investigation when a friend and occasional lover finds herself in hot water.

The characters are sharply drawn and evoked, offering an insight into the world of theatre in 1973, when power cuts and the three-day week were wreaking havoc with people’s lives. The story moves along at a gentle pace until the fairly innocuous starts to become a murky and complicated mystery involving impresario Marius Steen. It leads to an exciting climax and an almost Poirot-like unravelling of the motives and actions that led to the murder.

While I enjoy Simon Brett’s style of writing and narrative, I struggled to connect or empathise with Charles Paris, who seemed shallow and self-absorbed. Many of the other key players weren’t much better. Maybe this is a reflection of the theatrical world when actors fade, but it meant the story didn’t make an impact on me like some of the author’s other books have.

There’s still much to admire in the writing, plot and acerbic humour. Charles Paris may well grow on me as the series progresses through its 20 books. Fans of his writing may well encourage me reserve judgement until I’ve read the next in the series, which I may well do.

Description

Who killed Marcus Steen, the theatrical tycoon with a fortune to leave to his young mistress Jacqui? And who killed Bill Sweet, the shady blackmailer with a supply of compromising photographs? Charles Paris, a middle-aged actor addicted to booze and women, decides to investigate by assuming a variety of roles, among them that of the mythical Detective Sergeant McWhirter. But, as Paris is about to discover only too painfully, impersonating a police officer is never a good idea.

Cast in order of disappearance by Simon Brett

Interview on Fictionophile

My thanks to Lynne LeGrow for some interesting and entertaining questions.

‘There’s nothing better than knowing others enjoy the story you wrote. That’s why I write.’

Read the full interview here.

 

No Mercy – Interview on Books Teacup and Reviews

My thanks to Yesha for some intriguing and enjoyable questions.

‘The challenge is invariably the same with all my books – keeping it fresh and credible, which isn’t easy when your main character isn’t a police officer or private detective.’

Read the full interview of Books Teacup and Reviews.

 

The challenge of writing a series

‘The Kent Fisher murder mysteries are a long way from the cop with a trauma, which seems to be one of the current trends in crime fiction. They’re traditional murder mysteries, driven by both character and plot to entertain readers.’

If you want to find out more about why I write the Kent Fisher mysteries, you can read the guest post at Between the Lines

My thanks to Cathy at Between the Lines for letting me spread the word.

 

Tollingdon and the South Downs

When I created Kent Fisher, he lived at his animal sanctuary near to the fictional town of Tollingdon, north of Eastbourne. He worked for a fictional district council called, Downland, which covered a large part of the South Downs in East Sussex.

Downland manor, which is Kent’s home, was also fictional and set at the foot of the South Downs near to the real village of Folkington, close to the A27 to Brighton.

By creating a fictional town, I had the freedom to make it anything I wanted. My inspiration came from the town of Battle, situated on the site where Harold fought William the Conqueror in 1066.

By using Battle I could get the feel of the buildings and streets that would make up Tollingdon.

I also took inspiration from buildings in Rye, a little further down the coast.

Kent’s animal sanctuary is nestled at the bottom of the South Downs. He likes to go running over the hills, which give him some spectacular views across the green, rolling hills.

At dusk the view towards the coast from the hills above East Dean is breathtaking.

While the action in No Accident takes place in Tombstone Adventure Park about 12 miles north of Tollingdon, he always returns home to his animal sanctuary at Downland Manor.