John Harvey Murray Interview: “I have always had an enquiring mind”

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Accountant, Blogger and Crime Writer John Harvey Murray talks me through his work and the writers he admires the most.

Tell me about how the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for crime fiction in particular?

I have always had an enquiring mind. Also, crime fiction has to have a structure. The murder. The investigation. The solution. Some other fiction writers can ramble a bit. I think I would, if I did not have that structure to help me. Within that, there is plenty of scope for variety and innovation.

Currently I am working on a story about an accountant who is looking into some financial goings-on and that leads on into investigating a murder. I hope this will be the beginning of a series, Accounting for Murder. This first one should be out by Easter. Money is often the motive for all sorts of crimes and an accountant’s skills are often very similar to a detective’s.

I am trying to make him a fairly ordinary man whom readers will be able to relate to. It is set in Cardiff, a place where I lived for several years. Like me, he is an Englishman who loves Wales and the Welsh. We both love animals too. I chose to make my hero an accountant because I would be writing about something I know and because I think it is time for another amateur detective. There seem to be so many police detectives around.

What was the first crime fiction novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

Probably an early Dick Francis one. I love horses, although I do not follow racing. I have now read most of his works. I like the combination of mystery and thriller as well as the background detail.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I worked as an accountant in local government for most of my career. Before you all go to sleep, let me say that although everyone thinks accountancy is boring, most people like talking about money, and it was a good preparation for writing crime fiction.

For years, I did a lot of auditing, investigating wrongdoing as well as sorting out mistakes, which made a change from making them. I also spent most of my later career dealing with insurances. That involved looking into claims against the Council, most of which were dubious. If they had all been genuine, you should have seen someone fall on the pavement every time you looked out of the window.

Throughout my career I have always done a lot of writing: reports, memos, letters. We accountants do use words as well as numbers. For the last few years, I have been self-employed, meeting a lot of people in business, which has taught me a lot.

It was to help grow my business that I started a blog and then wrote a few non-fiction books. I enjoyed that a lot and discovered self-publishing. Some people enjoyed my writing. That made me think writing fiction might be possible.

What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I am sure everything you read affects your writing in some way. The writers who have influenced me the most include Val McDermid, who explains a lot about the psychology of murder, but I have enjoyed some of her earlier works which were more basic whodunits.

Ruth Rendell, especially in her Reg Wexford stories, makes her hero credible and normal. Not all detectives have to have damaged personalities and dysfunctional relationships. I also love some of Wexford’s passing observations about life and how things have changed.

In addition, Reginald Hill, apart from writing great stories, has a marvellous way with words. He writes most eruditely, but his characters speak in earthy Yorkshire or Cumbrian. There is humour in the way he expresses himself, without detracting from the seriousness of the story. He also evokes the feeling of the places where his stories are set.

Speaking of words, PG Wodehouse could really use them and could create lots of plot strands, which he would bring together brilliantly in the end. A must-read for any writer.

Most recently, I have been enjoying some of the works of Peter James. His knowledge of police procedures and of the location, Brighton, is great. His hero is another normal person, although one with an issue in his private life.

Finally, all crime writers owe a huge debt to Arthur Conan Doyle. Everything can be traced back to him.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Any of the above. However, I would be too in awe of them to collaborate much. Perhaps writers are better on their own anyway. You need to be yourself. Great writing is seldom achieved by committees. Meeting any of them would be a privilege.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I hope Accounting for Murder will become a series. I have several ideas for more stories involving the same hero and his family.

I am likely to produce another non-fiction book next year, either about business or something to do with faith. Perhaps Things the Devil Doesn’t Want You to Know or A Sceptical Look at Atheism.

Do you have anything to add?

My faith affects all my writing, and probably most things I do, but I try not to ram it down your throat. It is part of who I am.

If anyone has not got enough of me, there’s more at www.johnharveymurray.co.uk and for my professional life, see www.jhmriskmanagementservices.co.uk

Thanks ever so much John, it has been a real pleasure to talk to you.

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