The Truth is Out
Do you know what it’s like when an idea grabs you and won’t let go?
No, me neither.
Occasionally, an idea grabs me. But instead of filling my waking thoughts, it sits in my subconscious, slowly developing and gathering momentum. Then, when the time is right, out it pops.
Thanks to my childhood, I became a practical child, helping to make sure what little money we had was spent wisely. I ignored the temptation of luxuries, school trips and holidays, convincing myself they were reckless and overrated. When I needed a bike to do a paper round, I built one from old parts and spares.
But my imagination wasn’t cautious or practical. It roamed free, having the adventures and thrills I could never enjoy or afford.
Reading set my imagination free, especially the Famous Five and Narnia books. At secondary school, I discovered I had a love and talent for writing stories. Being an author appealed to my imagination. My sensible head told me to take care. With no experience and no one to point out the pitfalls, I was forced to tread carefully.
In many respects, that’s what I’ve done most of my life – played safe.
Kent Fisher, the investigator in my crime novels, is an environmental health officer like me. Okay, I never solved any murders during my professional career, but it didn’t stop me wanting to. And when this nagging desire burst from my subconscious one day, it led to a new kind of sleuth.
Seven books later, the desire to write something different became irresistible.
It started with a concern that I couldn’t keep coming up with ideas for new Kent Fisher novels. Readers piled on the pressure by telling me each novel was better than the previous one.
Sooner or later, I’d have to plateau or write a dud.
Then Sheryl Holmes stepped into the middle of this doubt and prevarication.
She started her fictional life as Sheryl, housekeeper to a failed crime writer, who became involved with Paige Turner, the glamorous wife of a publisher he was trying to impress.
A Real Paige Turner was my contribution to an anthology of short crime fiction stories, produced to raise money for charity. When the call went out for submissions, I wasn’t interested. Over thirty years had elapsed since I’d written a short story.
But I have this strange quirk – the moment something is too easy to decline, I want to do it.
I laboured for several weeks to write and polish this short story. Somewhere in the final revision, I realised the name Sheryl wasn’t far removed from Sherlock. Sheryl Holmes was born. My crime writer was given the middle name of Watson, and the seeds were sown.
Over a year later, feeling intimidated by the prospect of writing Kent Fisher #8, which was going to stretch me in new directions, the idea for Home Truths burst from my subconscious.
At best, it was a yearning to write something new. At worst, it was an excuse not to write the next Kent Fisher. In truth, it was probably a bit of both.
It took a while for the premise of the book to take shape. Like Kent Fisher, I was going to use an ordinary person, or persons, to solve murder. Ordinary people don’t wake up in the morning, peer into the wardrobe and think, ‘Is that skirt too short for solving a murder?’
I needed something compelling to draw my Watson and Holmes into an investigation.
It had to be something personal – which is what Home Truths suggests.
It wasn’t long before my imagination reminded me of an incident in our first house back in 1983. There I was, at the top of a stepladder, peering into the loft space. Satisfied the pipes were properly lagged, I was about to descend when I noticed a small attaché case between the joists. I teased it out and took it downstairs to show my wife.
Inside, we found a typewritten manuscript. I can’t recall the title, but it was referred to as an autobiographical novel. That meant personal – something a previous owner had left behind.
Naturally, I closed the case, got onto the estate agent who sold the property and asked if he could get in touch with the previous owners as I had something of theirs to return.
No, of course I didn’t. I read the first page.
No, I read the first few lines. They were enough to convince me I wasn’t about to read a literary masterpiece. The next paragraph confirmed my doubts. But I’ve never forgotten the opening lines, which described the woman of the author’s dreams.
She was standing at the sink, caught in the glow of the morning sun. I walked up behind her, slipped my arms around her and cupped her breasts. They were quite small, but as I’ve always said, more than a handful is a waste.
You now have a rough idea of how Home Truths starts. The difference is, in my novel, the story is written by James Watson’s mother.
And she’s not referring to his father.
You can find out more about the Kent Fisher and Watson Holmes on my website.
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