Murder mystery writer Paula Williams shares some insights into her work and the influences behind it.
Tell me about the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for crime fiction in particular?
At the moment I’m writing a series of murder mysteries, set in a small Somerset village called Much Winchmoor. The village is fictional but bears an uncanny resemblance to the one I live in, although as far as I know, there are no murderers among my friends and neighbours.
I do, indeed, have a passion for crime fiction. It’s my favourite genre and they do say you should write the kind of story you like to read, don’t they? I don’t like too much graphic violence and am not comfortable being inside a serial killer’s head. So my books are in the ‘cosy’ category, although that makes them sound a bit pink and fluffy which they are not.
My heroine, Kat, is young and sassy. She’s one of the ‘boomerang’ generation, forced by financial problems to return to the village in which she grew up – and feeling as out of place there as ‘a canary at a cat show’ (her words, not mine!). She would leave tomorrow but for two things. Firstly, she can’t afford it. Secondly, her on/off romance with her childhood friend, Will, a farmer whose family have been in Much Winchmoor since the days when Judge Jeffreys scoured the West Country looking for rebels to hang, draw and quarter after the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685. Will is as much a part of Much Winchmoor as the village duck pond and this is part of Kat’s dilemma. Should she give up on her dream of a proper career in the media… or give up on the man who, she sometimes thinks, is the love of her life? My Much Winchmoor series can be summed up as murder mysteries, sparkling with humour and sprinkled with romance.
What was the first crime fiction novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?
My mother introduced me to Agatha Christie when I was about 12 and I have loved her books ever since. I then went on to discover Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers and all the writers of that golden age of crime fiction. I’ve been reading and enjoying a wide variety of crime fiction ever since.
It was the proudest moment of my life when I was accepted as a full member of the Crime Writers’ Association! Imagine me, in the same company as the likes of Ian Rankin, Peter James et al! I still have to pinch myself – although I remind myself that while they are top of the Premiership, I am probably lurking around the bottom of Third Division South.
Please tell me about your background. How did you get into writing and publishing your work?
I have always written but I began selling my work about 12 years ago when I started writing short stories for women’s magazines. I really enjoyed writing the ‘twist in the tail’ stories, where the writer deliberately misleads the reader and they sold so well that I realised that the same misdirection technique could be used to write crime stories. So I started writing longer stories and serials and soon found I enjoyed writing crime fiction as much as I enjoyed reading it. During that time I sold over 400 stories and serials in the UK and overseas.
But the world of women’s magazines has changed hugely in the last decade. When I started writing for them, there were 14 different magazines in the UK that published fiction. Now, it’s a mere handful, and so I started thinking about branching out into full-length novels. I’d already sold several ‘pocket’ novels, which are now in Large Print so it was just a small step from that to writing a full-length novel.
After a bit of Internet research I found my present publisher, Crooked Cat Books, who were accepting unsolicited submissions at the time. They published the first in the Much Winchmoor Series, Murder Served Cold in October 2018 and the second, Rough and Deadly, is coming out in April 2019. I am currently writing the third, with the provisional title of Burying Bad News. And have plans for more.
I also write a column in the UK magazine Writers’ Forum. Called Ideas Store, it focuses on where writers get their ideas. I have been writing this column for over eleven years now and still enjoy asking the question that every writer is said to dread. ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ So far, no one has refused to answer it.
Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?
The Much Winchmoor series are written in the first person. This does not make it easy as it means that every scene I write has to be from Kat’s viewpoint, which can be a bit restricting. But when I started writing Murder Served Cold, I just couldn’t ‘get’ the tone of it to start with. It just didn’t feel right. So I switched from third person to first and as soon as I did, Kat began talking to me (and at me) and hasn’t stopped since.
She has such a strong voice and her snippy comments are so much an integral part of her personality that I’m afraid I’m stuck with it. Although I do have a few scenes from the murderer’s viewpoint sometimes – and yes, I know I said I didn’t enjoy being in a murderer’s head but they are very brief scenes! And they really help to ratchet up the tension.
Setting also plays a huge part in my Much Winchmoor stories. Kat is living in this pretty, chocolate box village that has more holiday homes than affordable housing. It looks, and sounds, lovely but the reality of living in a small rural community is far from idyllic, particularly for young people.
What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?
Where do I start? I have always read very widely and one of the things I’ve enjoyed since becoming a Crooked Cat author is reading books by my fellow ‘Cats’. I am now a huge fan of Alice Castle, Joan Livingston, Val Penny, Catherine Fearns to name just a few.
I also enjoy Michael Wood’s Matilda Darke series, Angela Marsons’ Kim Stone series (although I have to skip through some of the scary bits!) and anything written by Ann Cleeves. Then there’s Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway and Damien Boyd’s Nick Dixon series which are all set in my lovely corner of Somerset.
I also love MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series and was very flattered when one lovely Amazon reviewer said that Agatha Raisin fans would enjoy my books. I really, really hope she’s right. I’m not sure if these authors influence my writing. Except to make me want to work hard at my craft so that one day I might become as good as they are.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
Goodness, this is a tricky one! I would learn such a lot from Agatha Christie about plotting but I think I’d be so overwhelmed by her that I’m afraid wouldn’t contribute much to the process.
Then I thought about my twelve year old granddaughter who has the most fantastic imagination. The story lines she comes up with are way better than any of mine. She is also a very accomplished (and dedicated) ice skater and is up several mornings a week to be on the ice before 6am! I would love to use her knowledge to set a story in the incredibly competitive world of figure skating. Maybe I will one day – if she doesn’t beat me to it first.
Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?
At the moment I am working on the third book in my Much Winchmoor series. Looking ahead a bit further, I would love to write a new series set in West Dorset. I grew up on the Dorset/Somerset border and West Bay was just a cycle ride away (I was a lot fitter in those days ) while, for many years, my dad had a boat which he kept at Lyme Regis – one of my favourite places in the world.
We came within a whisker of selling our present home and moving to West Dorset a few years ago but had to give up on that particular dream. Writing a book (or, better still, a series of books) based in the area would be the next best thing to actually living there.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
I wait eagerly for each new Elly Griffiths and Angela Marsons. They both have really strong yet vulnerable women at the heart of their stories and I love seeing how they develop as the series progress. I would love to think that one day someone would be saying the same about my Kat. Who knows?
Do you have anything to add?
Just a very big thank you for such an interesting set of questions. I have really enjoyed working my way through them. I blog about my writing (and, sometimes, my beautiful rescue dog, a handsome Dalmatian called Duke) and often feature other authors at paulawilliamswriter.wordpress.com
Murder Served Cold is available to buy at mybook.to/murderservedcold. Rough and Deadly will be available to pre-order shortly and will be published on April 30th.
Thanks ever so much Paula for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been a real pleasure.