Two years ago, on 20th June 2016, my first novel, No Accident, was published.
Was it a dream come true?
Of course it was, but I have to admit to some disappointment when Graham Norton didn’t ring and invite me onto his show. I had all the funny stories lined up from my days as an environmental health officer (or EHO if you prefer TLAs – three letter acronyms).
“You drove around the South Downs, thinking of ways to murder people while you checked their kitchens for hygiene?” he would ask incredulously. “Didn’t it put you off your food?”
“No Graham, I never eat at any place I inspect.”
Pauses for comic laughter and blushes as JK Rowling complements me on my wit.
But the phone call never came. Hordes of fans didn’t beat down my door. The postman gave it a good rattle when he delivered my five complimentary paperbacks, courtesy of my publisher. No one recognised me in the street because none of the bookshops even knew my book existed.
Most of the population fell into the same category. The people who knew – friends, family and colleagues were probably bored of me mentioning the book or they were reading it.
Slowly, as the months passed, I realised the blue plaque on the wall of my house would have to wait a few more years. If I was going to get my book on Richard and Judy and become a household name, I had to get noticed. I had to market myself and my book to the masses.
First mistake! I needed to find people who liked reading about an environmental health officer who solved complex murders that paid homage to the traditional murder mysteries of authors like Agatha Christie.
Yes, I could see it was going to be a difficult sell. Most crime stories involved police officers or private detectives. Who’d ever heard of an EHO solving a murder?
But why not? If an elderly lady from St Mary Mead could do it …
So I send EHO, Kent Fisher, to investigate a fatal work accident and he uncovers a murder. Simple enough. But he also uncovers a shedload of family secrets and troubles along the way. That’s what happens in books, isn’t it?
Only Kent rolls with the punches, relying on his finely tuned sense of humour to see him through.
He becomes a local hero and gains his first commission to find a missing wife in the second novel, No Bodies, published in 2017. Once again, environmental health plays a key part as said missing wife ran off with a dodgy caterer.
Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it?
In No Remorse, published in May 2018, Kent takes his West Highland white terrier, Columbo, (no points for guessing my favourite TV detective), to entertain the residents of a well-to-do care home. One of the residents, who has dementia, is convinced they’re trying to kill him.
When he dies a few weeks later, does Kent think it’s murder? Of course not – until he’s handed a cryptic code that the old man left for him. And Kent’s on the trail again.
You might wonder how an EHO can solve murders. You might not think that running an animal sanctuary and trying to protect the environment are that heroic or worthy. And with all the personal baggage he carries, you might wonder why he doesn’t collapse under the weight of it.
That’s fine. If you prefer your heroes to be cynical coppers who drink and smoke too much, have broken marriages, and spend lots of time in their cars eating junk food between apprehending villains, there are some brilliant stories out there.
I know, I’m an avid reader as well as a writer. Dip into my Kindle and you’ll find Peter James, LJ Ross, Rachel Amphlett, Robin Roughley, Elly Griffiths, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle and many more crime writers.
They’ve all inspired me in some small way to write the kind of book I like to read, filled with twisting plots, irreverent humour and engaging characters who have real lives and issues to deal with.
I’m lucky to have a small, but growing number of readers who like the stories. Some of them write reviews that lift my day and keep me writing. Others send me messages by email or social media to say how much they enjoyed the novels. Some discuss the books with me, which is always an honour.
I love it when bloggers and reviewers hate a character – or love them. Some think Kent Fisher would make a great TV drama. Others think he should pack in environmental health and become a private detective.
Okay, Graham Norton’s not one of them, and he hasn’t signed up for my monthly newsletter either, despite the offer of a free book as a thank you.
I feel honoured and humbled that people have bought my books and enjoyed them. That’s all I ever wanted really – to entertain people with complex murder mysteries that would hopefully baffle them until the final reveal when they would sigh and say, ‘Of course.’
It would be great to shift millions of books like Peter James so I could make a living from writing. Maybe one day I will. Maybe I’ll emerge from Crouch Corner for lunch, take a peek at my phone and discover I’m an overnight sensation after all these years.
Or I’ll return to my desk and continue with the first draft of No Stone, the fourth Kent Fisher mystery. After all, there’s a small, but growing group of people who are waiting for the next book in the series. And I care about those people, who invest their money and time in me.
More than I care about sharing a sofa with JK Rowling, Elton John, Victoria Coren-Mitchell and Bob Mortimer, soaking up the laughter and applause as another funny story about noisy neighbours in bikinis rolls off the tongue.
But if I work hard and keep trying … you never know.