Paul Gitsham Interview: “My earliest scribblings were science fiction based, but often with elements of crime mixed in”

Paul Gitsham Headshot - Hi-Res

Paul Gitsham is the author of the DCI Warren Jones series, as well as a teacher, Trekkie and fan of true crime documentaries- the perfect person for an interview with the Dorset Book Detective! He shares insights into his work and how he’s created such an iconic police procedural series.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing crime fiction?

I was always a book lover, filling my library card each week. I also loved writing stories and always wanted to be an author, but for most of my life it was little more than a hobby. My other passion is science, and after gaining a PhD in molecular biology, I spent some years doing research as a biologist, before finally retraining as a science teacher. But in all that time, I kept on reading and always had something I was tinkering with.

The first DCI Warren Jones novel, The Last Straw, is about the murder of a reviled university professor, and so my background in academia became really useful.

How does your experience as a teacher influence your writing?

The most obvious example is the novella, A Deadly Lesson. The story centres on the murder of a deputy head teacher in her office late one night. Being so familiar with the way modern schools work not only allowed me to write an accurate story, it also suggested ideas and plot twists that I could incorporate into the story.

Like anyone who works in a profession, I cringe sometimes when I see teaching portrayed either in books or on TV. Schools are dynamic, changing places and education evolves constantly. It’s really obvious when a writer is a non-teacher and hasn’t set foot in a school since they were pupils!

The other way in which being a teacher influences my writing is that Warren’s wife, Susan, is a biology teacher and I do bring that into their home life.

What drew you towards writing crime fiction novels?

My earliest scribblings were science fiction based, but often with elements of crime mixed in. When I finally realised that the murder subplot of a Sci Fi novel I was working on was becoming the dominant thread of that story, I finally realised that somebody was trying to tell me something!

By this time, my taste in books had largely gone full-circle; the first books I read as a child were Enid Blyton, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew etc. I then read a lot of science fiction before drifting back to the crime genre. By the time I sat down to write The Last Straw, I was almost exclusively reading crime and thriller.

Please tell me about the DCI Warren Jones series and why you believe that they’re so popular?

The DCI Warren Jones series are modern police procedurals, set in a fictional Hertfordshire town. Starting with The Last Straw, they now number six novels and 4 novellas, with this year’s A Price to Pay, the most recent.

I really love a good, twisty plot with some red herrings. Something that many of my readers comment on is how normal Warren is. I realised very early on, that I didn’t want to write a broken, alcoholic divorcee – not because I don’t like those characters – but because I didn’t feel I could necessarily add something substantial to the host of brilliantly written characters that already exist. So instead, Warren is happily married without any substance-abuse problems or dark, depressive tendencies.

Many readers have found it a refreshing change! That’s not to say I don’t put him through the wringer, and he has experienced more than his fair share of tragedy, but he still passes the ‘Friday night pint test’ – i.e. would I like to go for a pint with him on a Friday evening? And yes, I think I would!

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

My partner and I are big true-crime fans; we watch a lot of dodgy documentaries on Freeview! Interestingly, it’s not the story that inspires me -after all, that tale has been told. It’s the tiny little detail that sends my imagination flying off at a strange tangent. I keep a file of ideas on my phone, usually little more than a single sentence, and I am forever adding to them. But nine times out of ten, anyone reading what I jotted down during the programme would probably struggle to make the connection between the idea and what was on screen!

In terms of writer’s block, because I write out of sequence and fit it all together at the end, it’s rarely a big problem. If a section isn’t behaving itself, I put it one side and write something different.

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

This is where I have to leave the crime genre and proudly display my geek credentials: I am a HUGE fan of Star Trek and the novels based on the series. I own hundreds and have read even more. Back in the late nineties, two Trek authors – Judith and Garth Reeves-Stevens – teamed up with William Shatner and wrote a series of fantastic novels continuing the story of Captain Kirk after he supposedly died in Star Trek: Generations. They finished after three trilogies and I doubt there will be anymore. I have read them all at least half-a-dozen times. It would be a dream to continue that series, but collaborating with the Reeves-Stevens (ideally with Bill Shatner involved, obviously). If you are reading this Pocket Books, please don’t be shy about emailing …

What do you like to read and how does this influence your own writing?

Aside from the aforementioned Star Trek novels that I still love to pick up now and again, I have been reading a lot during lockdown. Will Dean’s Tuva series are an inspiration when it comes to describing environment – I read Red Snow during a mini-heat wave but had to stop myself from turning the radiators on as I was transported to Sweden.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series is a masterclass in character growth. Harry is an unmovable constant – yet he never stops changing. It’s a wonderful paradox and I love being immersed in that series. If I could make a returning reader of my Warren Jones series feel just a taste of the warm, comfortable feeling I get when I pick up the latest Bosch, then I will have succeeded beyond my dreams.

Do you have any projects or new books coming up that you are particularly excited about?

The eBook of A Price to Pay came out in June and I’ve been exchanging notes with my audiobook narrator ready for the audio and paperback release on August 6th. By far the bulk of my sales are Kindle, but there is still something special about having the paperback sitting on my shelf, and hearing Malk reading out my words.

I am also into the final stages of next summer’s book, snappily titled DCI Warren Jones Book 7, Title TBC.

I have a ton of editing and rewriting to do, but two days ago, I wrote the scene where Warren finally charges the killer with the murder. It is a wonderful feeling.

Are you planning on using the current crisis in any of your future works, and how do you think it will affect the world in which your characters live?

In terms of the DCI Warren Jones series, I am in the fortunate position that the series’ chronology runs a few years behind the real world. I have another couple of books to go before I have to start thinking about what the hell I’m going to do about 2020 – a year that if you had pitched it to an editor as dystopian fiction 12 months ago would have been rejected as too dark and unrealistic.

The big changes will be to the standalone that I have been writing in my ‘spare’ time. I wrote a large chunk of it over summer 2019, before putting it to one side to start the next Warren Jones. I had been planning on finishing the first draft this summer before starting Warren Jones 8. However, half the book is set in July 2020. Changing the date it is set in will need significant work but won’t be impossible, however things are so uncertain at the moment that it feels risky to assume that everything will be back to normal next summer and just change all the dates to 2021 – I really don’t want to have to do it again!

So, I have decided to push on and write the next couple of Warren Jones before coming back to the standalone when I have the benefit of hindsight. I have written enough that it will definitely be finished one day, but I’m not sure exactly when!

What new books or debut authors are you looking forward to reading and finding out more about in the future?

Last weekend was the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone Locked Up online festival in aid of the Trussell Trust. My partner and I spent a LOT of money at Waterstones the day after it concluded. I’ve bought/pre-ordered a couple of old favourites: Steve Cavanagh’s next Eddie Flynn – Fifty-Fifty will be devoured at an indecent pace. As will Alex North’s latest, The Shadow Friend. Last year’s The Whisper Man was brilliant.

We have all of Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra’s signed and face-out on the bookshelf, so we are intrigued to read Midnight at Malabar House, the first in his new series. And finally, from the New Blood debuts panel, Nadine Matheson’s The Jigsaw Man sounds like it’s just up my street. It’s not due out until next spring, so I will see if I can persuade someone to send me an arc!

Huge thanks to Paul for answering my questions- it’s been a blast!

 

 

 

 

Jim Eldridge Interview: “I left school at 16 and worked at a variety of jobs, but I always wanted to write”

Jim Eldridge

Having just finished Murder At The Fitzwilliam, I’m very pleased to share my interview with the author, Jim Eldridge.

Please tell me about your books. What do you think makes them so popular with readers?

I’ve been very fortunate that the readers who discover my books seem to respond well to them, first during the time I was writing children’s books, and latterly when I’ve been writing historical crime fiction. This new direction in my career as a writer took place in 2016 with the publication of Assassins, a crime novel set in 1921 featuring Chief Inspector Stark and his assistant, DS Danvers, published by Severn House.

I had been a scriptwriter for TV and radio for 40 years since 1970 until 2010, and then primarily writing children’s books, with over 90 published. The book was well received and led to a sequel Shadows of the Dead. Shortly after this my new literary agent (my previous agent only dealt with children’s books) introduced me to Susie Dunlop, publishing director at Allison & Busby, and from this came my Museum Mysteries series, which I’ll expand on in my answer to Question 4.

Again, fortunately, these have been well received by readers, and I believe that’s because the readers like and have sympathy for the lead characters, Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton, as they did for DCI Stark and Sgt Danvers in the two Stark novels. During my 40 years as a scriptwriter I learnt that what audience, and readers, want is a good story with sympathetic lead characters, and interesting other characters, and they like to follow those lead characters through a series and see how they and their situations develop.

You write across a range of genres and for a variety of readers: how do you adjust your writing style?

Yes, I have written across a wide range of genres, both as an author and a scriptwriter. For me, whether I’m writing for adults or children of any age (I’ve written for picture books aimed at 3-year olds, as well as television series for young children and sitcoms for adults) the key is much as I set out in my answer to the previous question: what audience, and readers, want is a good story with sympathetic lead characters, and interesting other characters. This applies whether the lead character is human, animal, an extra-terrestrial alien, or even a plant. Will the readers like that character?

The only real adjustment is in the language used: for very young readers the words have to be very simple so they can understand the story; with the level of language increasing as readers get older. Even this is aimed at an “average” reader for this age range, because I’ve known 8-year olds reading books written for adults, and 14-year olds struggling with simple texts. Often this is because they are dyslexic, and I have written some books for the specialist publisher, Barrington Stoke, aimed at the dyslexic teens. My background as a teacher helped. From the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, in addition to scriptwriting, I was a teacher, working mainly in schools in disadvantaged areas in the Luton area. I came to specialise in working with children with literacy problems, and was proud of the fact that every child who left my sessions left able to read.

What is your background in writing and how did you get into writing professionally?

I left school at 16 and worked at a variety of jobs, but I always wanted to write. During the late 1960s I was a performance poet, including an appearance as guest poet on John Peel’s Radio 2 late night show. In 1970 I got commissioned to write a thriller novel, basically pulp-fiction.

It was called Down Payment on Death and appeared in 1971. In that same year I pitched an idea for a radio sitcom to the BBC about a small rural railway station. They liked it and a pilot was made, starring Arthur Lowe as the stationmaster, with a support cast of Kenneth Connor, Liz Fraser and Ian Lavender. It was called Parsley Sidings. The audience liked the pilot show, and I was commissioned to write a series, and then a second series. In all, I wrote 21 episodes.

The main factor for me was that I was paid a lot more for my work as a scriptwriter than I was for the thriller novel; so although I wanted to continue writing crime fiction (my favourite genre), the bigger money was more attractive, especially with a family to support. And so I became a scriptwriter, first writing sitcoms and sketch shows for BBC radio, and then for television for BBC and ITV.

By 1983 working in comedy had begun to pall, the atmosphere in comedy is often stressful with lots of egos trying to dominate, so I changed to writing for children’s television. This was hugely enjoyable. For the next 24 years I wrote for various children’s TV series, including creating series of my own (Uncle Jack, Time Riders, Monster TV, and Powers were just some) and BBC radio comedy-drama (my Radio 4 series King Street Junior ran for 100 episodes over 20 years from 1985-2005). In all, during my time as a scriptwriter I had 250 TV scripts and 250 radio scripts broadcast. I wrote not only for BBC and ITV but also for American TV (e.g. Disney). But by 2010 things at both BBC and ITV were changing, including all my producers taking retirement. It was time for a change.

What’s the inspiration behind your murder at the museum series? How did you create Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton? 

As I mentioned earlier, I’d left scriptwriting behind and continued writing books for children (which I’d been doing at the same time as scriptwriting since 1990), but deep down I wanted to get back to where it had all began for me in 1970, crime fiction for adults.

In particular, historical crime fiction, which had become my favourite genre. I had acquired a new agent, and – as previously mentioned – she arranged for me to meet Susie Dunlop, publishing director at Allison & Busby to talk ideas. Susie was the one who raised the topic of a series of historical crime novels investigating murders in famous museums. We both agreed that late Victorian times would be best because that had been a time of great social change and scientific discoveries. Susie wondered if we could base it around Frederick Abberline, the famous Victorian detective who led the investigations into Jack the Ripper. I liked that idea very much, but my concern was that if our lead character was a real person it could limit us to where Abberline had actually been at different times. I’ve always felt that if a real person is used in a fictional story, it should fit with what that person was actually doing, and where, at that historical time. After discussion, we agreed a compromise: that our detective would be a fictional member of Abberline’s squad. And so Daniel Wilson, private detective, ex-Scotland Yard, was born.

But every lead detective needs a partner, someone to discuss cases with. Who would be Daniel’s partner?

During my time as a scriptwriter I often worked on scripts where a relationship of clashing opposites was at the heart of things: two people with opposing ideas, or life experiences that meant they were at odds with one another, but eventually (and reluctantly) they realised they were tied to one another. I’d always enjoyed writing this, and realised that audiences like it, too, as they waited for this ‘odd couple’ to face up to what everyone else could see – that they were made for each other.

We had in Daniel someone who’d risen through the ranks to become an Inspector at Scotland Yard. He came from the poorest of backgrounds (just how poor we only discover in the new book, Murder At The Natural History Museum. He still lives in Camden Town in London, what was then an notorious slum area. So his partner needed to be the opposite of all of this. A woman of the same age, educated, upper middle-class, socially aware, highly intelligent, well known in her own right. And so became: Abigail Fenton from Cambridge; studied at Girton College, and gained fame as an archaeologist, especially with her work on the Pyramids in Egypt. Forthright, determined, and not afraid to upset people.

For those who want to know how things developed between them, please do check out the first in the series: Murder At The Fitzwilliam.

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When choosing books to read, what style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

 I often find myself returning to books I have read and enjoyed before: namely: P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster; Simenon’s Maigret stories; Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes; and Edward Marston’s Railway Detective novels. I also love Raymond Chandler, and George Orwell’s work, including Animal Farm, 1984, and his essays.

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

This is a difficult one because some writers can be very prickly to work with. For example, I admire George Orwell, but by all accounts he could be quite difficult. When I was scriptwriting I often collaborated with other writers; scriptwriting is one of the most collaborative forms there is – which is why the list of writers credited at the start or end of a TV show or film is often quite lengthy.

One of my most enjoyable collaborations was co-writing with the wonderful and brilliant Malorie Blackman on all three series of her ITV children’s sitcom Whizziwig, developed from her book of the same name. But some were not as emotionally enjoyable. On reflection, I think I would choose P G Wodehouse.

By all accounts he was happy to collaborate when writing all those Broadway musical comedies he worked on, and I would have learned so much from him.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My next book will be Murder At The Natural Mystery History Museum, the fifth in my Museum Murders series, which will be coming out in hardback in August. And then, early next year, Murder At The Ritz Hotel, the first in a new series set during World War 2 and featuring DCI Edgar Coburg, a veteran of World War 1 is out. I am very excited by both of them.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward coming up?

I always look forward to any new book by Edward Marston in his Railway Detective and Home Front historical crime series; and Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, set during WW2. As someone born towards the end of WW2 and who grew up in the 1940s, this period resounds within me.

Anything you’d like to add?

Just thank you, Hannah, for letting me share this with you and your readers.

Thanks to Jim for answering my questions; you’ve given some really insightful responses!

 

Emma Grant Interview: “My whole everyday life influences my writing”

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This week I’m speaking to Emma Grant, a hypnotherapist and coach who writes self-help books, to find out more about her work and how she aims to help people with it. 

What is your career background and how did you get in to writing?

I’ve always naturally loved writing from a very young age, poems used to wake me to be written in the middle of the night as a child and even as a teenager I would write plays and short stories for my best friend. As I got older and settled down with a family and started running my Childcare and Hypnotherapy/Coaching businesses, there was no time to write. Then when I hit my thirties the muse came looking for me and gave me daily inspiration that turned into my latest two parenting self-help books.

Tell me all about your writing and how you came to create self-help books. What’s your motivation and why do you think your books can benefit readers?

In my role as a Hypnotherapist / Coach and Counsellor, I could only help clients one on one and over the last 16 years in my child care business, I could see parents struggling with the same issues over and over, so writing a parenting self-help book, seemed the most obvious choice to reach and help as many people as I could and share my experiences, knowledge and therapy skills.

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

At the moment I’m reading 3 books at the same time, one is fiction but focuses on a character that, as a therapist, I so badly want to help and is a character I’ve come across with the same issues in my hypnotherapy business. The 2nd book is a memoir and I swear the author could be writing my exact life story and the 3rd is a kind of spiritual, self- help, non- fiction, business PR and media book. My preferred choice and type of books I like to read, are non -fiction books that teach me something I don’t know, I just love learning! I always think they help me become a better writer of non- fiction, self -help because I always think – how can I convey what I know to my reader, who doesn’t know what I know, in an easy, simple to read and understand way, so they put the book down feeling reassured, uplifted, motivated and inspired in some way.

Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)?

My whole everyday life influences my writing; no person or experience is ever wasted on me. (Maybe I shouldn’t have said that? I’ll have no friends or clients now, through fear of becoming an example in one of my future books!)

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

There’s no question about this, I’d love to collaborate with my friend Jana because she covers both of those examples in your question (living and dead) and she has unique abilities that the world needs to know more about, in order to enjoy everyday life more in the present moment.

What’s next for your writing? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

My current WIP, my 3rd book is a weight loss, self-love, self-help book. Its grounded in my nutritional therapist knowledge, so its practical with good weight loss advice, yet, it also embraces my therapeutic approach with a spiritual twist. I’m loving writing this book so much and its definitely changing me in profound ways.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Mary Swann-Bell, author of Post its and Polaroid’s, Snippets And Snapshots Of An Otherthought Life is a beautiful, honest writer. Katherine Turner author of Finding Annie is another raw and talented writer and Sarah Lloyd makes the practicalities of PR seem more fulfilling and authentic in her new book Connecting The Dots- Making Magic With The Media- Uplevel Your Brand On Your Terms. All three women are new authors that I’m sure will have many great books to come.

Anything you’d like to add?

What readers need right now is positive, uplifting books to comfort, reassure and help heal the world. I feel so blessed to be a writer, right now, that can help contribute to that. Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed. My books are available world wide from all good book stockist and you can find my parenting blogs here.

Thanks to Emma for answering my questions, it’s been great!

Bill Todd Interview: “As a kid, I made up adventure stories in my head”

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Author Bill Todd, who created the Danny Lancaster series, talks me through his work and why it’s so popular with readers.  

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards crime fiction?

As a kid, I made up adventure stories in my head, in bed, in the dark, picking up where I’d left off when the light went out the next night. If real life is not fully grabbing my attention I’ve always had a tendency to return to an escapist story in my imagination.

I was drawn to crime fiction by the huge opportunities it offers to explore any field of human activity. Create a believable character and the world is his or her oyster.

Tell me about how your background in journalism and travel writing. How does this influence your writing?

Being a journalist, you have an inquiring ‘what if…?’ mind which is a big help writing non-fiction and fiction.

Most of my working life has been spent on local and national newspapers. Nationals have the big headlines to tell the big stories but my heart has always been in locals. It’s more intimate and a good local paper is a real public service, probing, informing, entertaining.

They are suffering badly these days as a result of social media and now coronavirus. But it’s amazing how many problems suffered by a lonely pensioner for months or years can suddenly be fixed when the local rag wants a quote from the source of the difficulty.

The job puts you in lots of fascinating places – criminal, political, celebrity – and you meet all sorts of people. All of this, every little detail, is fertile ground for fiction.

My books are based in Brighton but scenes are set in all sorts of places and many of my travel destinations have featured. These include Namibia in West Africa. I love a desert and the Namib is awesome.

What aspect of your books do you feel attracts your readers and makes your work so hard to put down?

If knowing what attracted readers was an exact formula everyone would do it. It’s the alchemist’s great secret.

My Danny Lancaster crime thrillers have a loyal following but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t welcome more.

Danny fans seem to like his character and outlook on life although he does manage to infuriate them at times. Readers also respond well to the characters around him such as artist Wanda Lovejoy and Detective Inspector Pauline Meyers.

The relationships and settings are recognisable and accessible and readers seem to enjoy being drawn in.

So far I’ve written seven Danny Lancaster books, including one of short stories. I’ve also written three short military history books based on family papers – my father’s diary in France 1944, a great uncle’s war in Palestine in 1917, and the story of a young woman on course to be the RAF’s first woman pilot who was killed in an air crash.

Where do you find the inspiration for your work? Are there any specific exercises or tricks you use to get your creative juices flowing?

Most often I’ll be wandering along, mentally miles away, when an idea comes out of nowhere and hits me. It’s almost like a physical blow.

I develop the idea as far as I can, then push it away and try to ignore it. I never start writing until the compulsion is overwhelming. Then, if the idea seems sound, a first draft comes pouring out.

I used to spend long periods in my home office, the record is 17 hours. Now, pre-lockdown, I favour cafes or pubs using my mobile phone and a neat little foldable bluetooth keyboard.

After many years working shifts in noisy offices I’m able to screen out any surrounding noise.

What books do you enjoy reading yourself and how do these books influence your work?

I enjoy many varied crime writers. I started with the likes of Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins and, of course, Conan Doyle. It’s hard work following authors I enjoy while discovering new ones.

There’s a long list that features Simon Kernick, Peter James, Vaseem Khan, Stuart MacBride and Peter Robinson. Not forgetting the many talented indies such as Andy Barrett whose gritty crime books are based on his work as a real life CSI.

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

Shakespeare would be wonderful to work with. His dialogue is razor sharp and he wrote some cracking crime stories.

If I had the skill I’d step into the shoes of Philip Kerr. Sadly, he died in 2018 and I really miss his wonderful Bernie Gunther books.

Beyond that, I’m probably too much the solitary observer to collaborate effectively.

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?

I’ve been working on a number of projects including a new Danny Lancaster plus a standalone crime thriller. I’ve made a bit of a mistake here because it’s like trying to ride two horses at once. Very soon I’ll have to pick one and gallop it to the finish line.

During my travel writing I kept a personal diary. After visiting 50+ destinations it runs to more than 500,000 words. A lot of that is what I had for breakfast and laundry arrangements but I’d like to edit it down to the interesting experiences and encounters. I also have a handwritten children’s story written and illustrated by my grandfather in the 1960s for my brother and I. It’s about two caveboys and I’d like to do something with that.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

I like to keep my options open as widely as possible. I like to be surprised and am always prepared to shoot off at a tangent if something promising bobs up.

One thing I have to do is avoid JK Rowling’s Cormoran Strike books. My main character, Danny Lancaster, is also a disabled ex-soldier. Danny appeared in print before Strike but I don’t want to risk any subliminal cross-contamination. That said, Danny’s fans have very firm views on Lancaster versus Strike.

Anything you’d like to add?

I would urge readers to discover some of the hugely talented indie authors out there. Many of their books are as good, or better, than the big bucks famous names, and often much cheaper, even free.

I’d also urge readers to review, review, review – even if it’s just a few words. Authors are really encouraged by reviews and a brief comment on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, is a real boost. Also, support on social media is vital oxygen for one-man-band indie writers with no in-house PR machine.

And finally… thank you, Hannah, for inviting me to feature on your blog and thanks to your readers for their time – Bill Todd.

Thanks to Bill for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re interested in learning more about Bill and his books, then you can find out more here.

Fiona Taylor Interview: “Women, especially working-class woman, are often absent from history”

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Today it’s my pleasure to introduce Fiona Taylor, who writes about and loves Dorset, the best county in the whole wide world! Read on to find out more about her book, which offers an insight into the torment of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Tell me how you came to define your writing style.

I have not consciously come up with a writing style. For me my writing style has come from past experiences that have been internalised, it’s how you think and feel. In The Sheltering Tree I have based the book on Elizabeth Standfield, a daughter of one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It takes place in Dorset in 1834 and the story follows the coming age tale of Elizabeth. One of the reoccurring themes is how the landscape plays an important part in her life. I feel deeply connected to the natural environment and I have been influenced by writers such Laurie Lee, Harper Lee and Laura Ingalls Wilder who discuss the natural world in their novels.

What is your background and how did you get into writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I grew up in a rural village in Surrey and spent most of my adolescence planning my escape to a large city, which eventually resulted me leaving for London at eighteen. After leaving university I worked for several years in the public sector working in housing. I then decided to take a career break and travelled for a few years working on route to Australia. When I came back to England, I started working for a trade publication as an Editorial Assistant. After the birth of my children I moved to sunny Weymouth where I stopped working for a while but missed writing so much, I started writing a walking blog. In 2018 I published a local history book. The Sheltering Tree is my first fiction book.

Even though I couldn’t wait to leave where I grew up, I have found that much of my writing has been drawn on the nostalgia of my early years living in a rural village. Some of my characters in The Sheltering Tree, such as George Loveless, share characteristics of some of the older villagers that I knew as a child. Aunt Maggie is based on my own grandmother, who had a reputation for always staying cheerful despite having to feed a large family with little money.

Talk to me about The Sheltering Tree. What can fans expect from your novel?

The Sheltering Tree is based on the true story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It follows Elizabeth, a 15-year-old girl, whose father is transported to Australia in 1834 for starting a trade union. Elizabeth is left to help bring up the younger siblings as her mother struggles to cope. It is a story of struggle to survive and the fight for justice. It is aimed at young adults. The Tolpuddle martyrs is an important part of British history but has always been told from the male point of view. Women, especially working-class woman, are often absent from history so I wanted to show the hardships that they and their children had to endure so that the struggle for trade unions could be successful. I have chosen to write it from Elizabeth’s point of view as I thought it would be more interesting for young adults and the issues raised are still relevant today.

Where do you find inspiration? Are there any particular place or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I am lucky enough to live by the Jurassic Coast and I choose to spend a lot of time walking my black Labradoodle, Mutley, along this coastline in all weathers. I find walking is a type of thinking and allows me to imagine where my characters are going next. I find I develop the story more when I’m out and about rather than when I’m sitting hunched over my keyboard.

When I hit writers block, I tend to go out for a coffee and escape by watching the world pass by. I’ve always been told that I have a fertile imagination and I only have to hear a snippet of someone’s conversation to lead me to imagine their lives, which will often get my brain ticking and acts as a stimulus to get back to writing.

How being based in Dorset – AKA the greatest place on earth- enriched your writing and your life?

The Sheltering Tree would not have been written if I had not moved to Dorset. I have a brief recollection of the Tolpuddle Martyrs from a history lesson, but it was not until I went to the Tolpuddle Martyrs Music festival in 2018 that I found out more and decided it was time to write my version.

Dorset is full of tangible memorials to the county’s historical and mythological past such Iron Age hillforts, the long barrows, Maiden Castle, Cerne Giant and much more. This history influences much of my writing. I enjoy going for long walks in different parts of Dorset and I find it the perfect way to connect with the past and a sense of continuity with past generations. Dorset is often overlooked as holiday makers head for Devon and Cornwall, but with my hand on my heart, I think Dorset is the most beautiful county. I agree with you – it is the greatest place on earth. I challenge anyone to find a better view than that of when you stand on the hills above Abbotsbury and look over the Fleet towards the sea – pure bliss. Incidentally, it remains the only county in England without a single mile of motorway.

I would find it challenging to write about a landscape that I did not know and understand. Since moving here, I have become much more concerned with the environment and how humans are so reliant on it. As agricultural labourers the Tolpuddle Martyrs would have been well aware of this. Our dependence on the order of the natural world has become more apparent in recent weeks since the onset of Covid19. I am hoping that with the restrictions in place we use this opportunity to make real changes that will benefit our future and our natural environment. On a lighter note, since the Cover 19 restrictions I have attempted to learn the ten most common birdsong, but I think I must be tone deaf as I am finding it almost impossible to distinguish between a Black Bird and a Robin.

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

Living in Dorset it would have to be the counties most famous literary figure, Thomas Hardy. Many of the major themes in his work, the characters and the landscapes they inhabit, are drawn from the Dorset countryside. I first became aware of Thomas Hardy when I studied Far from the Maddening Crowd for my A level English and it has remained my favourite Hardy book. He describes beautifully the contrast of the scenic but harsh realities of Dorset farming life. As this is a theme that is covered in The Sheltering Tree, I would have been keen to collaborate with Thomas Hardy on this issue.

Do you have any other projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I have started to research a fiction book set on the Isle of Portland. Once again, the novel would be set against the backdrop of the natural environment. The Isle of Portland is the southernmost point of Dorset and is connected to the mainland by Chesil Bank. It has an almost lunar like landscape with large quarries and treeless horizons, which I can’t wait to write about. 

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I am excitedly waiting for Raynor Winn’s The Wild Silence due in September 2020. This is the follow-up to The Salt Path which is the story of Raynor and her husband’s journey along the South West coast path, as they come to terms with loss. It was beautifully written and strangely uplifting despite its content.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

One of my underlying messages of The Sheltering Tree is to show that everyone has the right to stand up and to challenge when there is something they do not agree with. Protest is a cry for help and everyone with a voice has the right to use it. Historically, the Tolpuddle Martyrs are just one example where collective action has worked to change society for the better. I hope The Sheltering Tree will inspire young adults to realise that they too can stand up for a better future.

Massive thanks to Fiona, it was great to talk to a fellow Dorset lover!

Ian Lomond Interview: “I chose to be in control of my own release and path as an author”

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This week I get to introduce you to a new name in crime fiction: Ian Lomond, who is self-publishing his debut novel Death Investor.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

My writing style is human centred and dialogue driven – you can hear the characters and see their movements through their dialogue and interactions with each other. In crime, there is always more behind the words than the meanings themselves. A “no comment” can mean so much, or “I don’t remember” is frustratingly ambiguous!

Crime fiction let’s me share my favourite locations, build special characters, and invite you to my favourite bars and restaurants, with action and investigations leading you through the front door. I think it’s a wonderful format to share a city, and it’s people. For me, crime fiction let’s me extend what I think is possible – could someone do that, can technology aid that crime, would greed lead someone that far?

What is your background and how did you get in to writing? How do you experiences when writing fiction?

My career is in managing people and technology, and I’ve done this in many industries, including a decade in the law and justice sector. These experiences, combined with a role that allows me to constantly learn about new organisations and meet new people, provides a platter of ideas and stories to draw from, extrapolate and exaggerate. Through this, I did a lot of dry business writing, reports, submissions and so forth. So, I use this experience, practice and discipline when writing fiction.

Please tell me about your book. How did you come to write it and who is it aimed at?

Death Investor is a crime mystery novel that follows two detectives in tracking down the killer of Peter Maher, a software developer murdered after sharing his new technology idea.

The detectives are Rebecca Reid and Mark Kidman. Rebecca is younger, and whilst recognised for her experience, lacks the confidence of the older Kidman. Together, they navigate the streets and clues that lead them to a successful property developer with a criminal past and political connections, and a rough, old time street criminal, who now owns a pub.

The pair uncovers the software the victim developed could track someone without their consent, using their phone’s Bluetooth and WIFI connections, and linking that to credit card purchases. In fact, several governments are rolling out very similar mobile apps right now to trace and track COVID19 cases. This story reflects on the power of digital surveillance software, and the lengths that people might go to keep their location and history to themselves.

Through other characters, I can share an insight into a few of Sydney iconic suburbs and locations – Kings Cross and its dark and dubious history, the Sydney Harbour, The Bay Run, Lane Cove and even the delicious delicacies at Newtown and Merryland’s.

It was important to have a female protagonist in this series from the outset. Detective Rebecca Reid grows in stature and confidence through the story, and there are plans for this to continue over the next two stories in the series.

You’re publishing your novel yourself: tell me about this process?

I chose to be in control of my own release and path as an author and have published independently. This does mean that your team is just as important, and finding editors, beta readers, cover designers and a support crew you gel with is critical to achieve publication, and retain some sanity in the process!

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

This is a great question! I really admire Ian Rankin and his Rebus series, so it would be tempting to say him. However, I would have to say Stephen King, for a few reasons.

One, his no nonsense approach to writing is as relevant now as it was when he release On Writing two decades ago. His no victims spared, no holds barred deliver on what it takes to be a better writer then you are now is fantastic and inspiring.

My style often shares the nuances of the surroundings – it’s those details that I recall often with an emotional connection, and I try to bring that across in my work. However, striking the balance between detail and action is a work in progress – something I think King could definitely influence me on.

Thirdly, he has the master touch of building characters, making them angelic, making them dark, making you love or hate them. I can’t help but think I would enjoy and learn so much in company.

Finally, he has a corgi nicknamed “The Thing of Evil”! I love dogs, and meeting The Thing of Evil would be surreal.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

The sequel to Death Investor is in draft mode. The title is Pipeline of Death, and it centres on the murder of a CEO of a gas pipeline company. There are many interests at play in such a company – money, power, environmental. The possibilities on how I could shape this story to share Sydney CBD, and the wilderness of The Blue Mountains has me excited. Detective Rebecca Reid is dealing with a troubled teenager daughter, whilst trying to focus on the investigation, and Detective Kidman relies on his instincts, but perhaps too much.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

Chris Hammers Silver is on my to be read list – it was released in 2019, and his second novel, after Scrublands. His sense of place and descriptions of locations are wonderful. I have also beta read a few fantastic stories, and I keeping an eye on their authors – I am hoping to see and support their releases this year!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I would like to share that as debut novelist, the step to hit publish, and share your work is exhilarating and scary and wonderful all at the same time, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to reflect on that journey here in the interview.

Huge thanks to Ian for answering my questions; I love to work with up-and-coming authors. You can find out more about Ian and his work here.

AJ Stiles Interview: “A lot of my writing comes from observation”

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Check out my interview with AJ Stiles about his debut novel, The Dancing Turtle, which is inspired by his love of travel.

Tell me about your book. How you came to define your writing style?

My book is set primary in Brazil during a scorching summer heat wave. The main character is Marcus, who is sailing around Brazil on his yacht. As the story unfolds we discover dark secrets, which haunt him and his family and, in meeting a local fisherman, Miguel, he starts a journey of healing in which Miguel saves his life, both literally and metaphorically. My style developed naturally, but I have always loved books with a strong emphasis on the sensory environment. I like to feel like I am there.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

My background is in education but I have always enjoyed writing, ever since I was at school. I started writing formally one summer, when on holiday. I didn’t have a book with me to read, so I decided to start writing one myself!

Talk to me about your passion for nature and the environment. How does this shape your writing?

The environment is one of the biggest passions in my life and I enjoy living in the countryside – it’s where I get a lot of my inspiration. This is very much reflected in the Dancing Turtle, which has a strong environmental protection message.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

When I am stuck for ideas when writing, even though I want to press on with the book, I find that I need to sit back and read. I also find the environment that I am in has a big impact on my writing. Large parts of The Dancing Turtle were written in Spain, by the poolside, during one summer. But a lot of my writing comes from observation, whilst traveling or just out walking at home. I find the ocean gives me space to think which is why I always jot ideas down on my phone when they come to me.

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

My hero has always been Harper Lee. I found it fascinating how she only wrote one book which had critical acclaim in her life, and also how much discussion her book led to at the time in transforming the way people think. I admired her work’s perspective, from a child’s point of view. They are usually the best judges of the world.

What books do you like to read and how do they shape your own work?

I love to read a variety of books, but particularly enjoy books dealing with other cultures and histories. I’ve just read Between Enzo and the Universe by Chase Connor, which I really loved. My next two books to read are On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m excited about my next novel which will be quite different in tone- it will be darker more claustrophobic and this time set in farthest reaches of Norway, a world away from the white beaches of Brazil. There will be similarities though – I love writing about other cultures and the Inuit culture is something that has fascinated me for a long time. The book will also have plenty of mystery and twists and again, will deal with the main character’s inner anguish.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Although I read commercial books, I am also keen to support Indie books and I have read some brilliant stories to be told through discovering a gem of a book on Twitter. I would urge readers to support this industry, as there is some fantastic work out there, that otherwise might not be seen.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I tried to make my book as universal as possible and for that reason, The Dancing Turtle crosses many genres of writing, from historical to romance, from travelogue to mystery. I have been so supported by many of the LGBTQ community for the romance that blossoms in the book. But I think the book will appeal to anyone who likes to read a book that will make them think and reflect on the world afterwards, and their role within it.

Thanks for taking the time, it’s been great to hear from you. You can read more about AJ and his work here.

Larry Yoke Interview: “Most of what I write comes directly from the land of my imagination”

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The Dorset Book Detective, through sheer laziness, has always been a proponent of creating ‘socially distanced’ interviews. I email the questions over and receive the answers back.

Now, this technique is en vogue, but I want everyone to know that I pioneered it!

To show you how well it works, I’ve got another great interview for you here today, this time from Poet and Author Larry Yoke, who answers my questions with his own unique brand of panache.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

Not sure of my style as yet, perhaps I never will actually succumb to a certain one. I like to vary my writing genres and methods. When we think we’ve done it all, we’re DONE! I do read other authors better than me to glean from the best out there so I keep learning, growing, honing my skills, and S T R E T C H I N G as a writer. This process has no “ending”.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I started writing poetry by writing a poem for a little lady when I was nine. I felt it, wrote it and she loved it! I still use that “feeling” measuring device today in my poetry, short stories and multi genre books. If I feel the story is good, real, enjoyable and interesting, I sit down to write it out. I am a creature with emotional passion and use it to my advantage. The poetry lent well to writing lyrics put to music, and then came along short stories I shared with family and friends, then put some of those stories into a sequential series and out came my first book Second Chances.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I take any inspiration directly to my keyboard. I jot down ideas, paragraphs and once in a blue moon I’ll attempt to create an outline. Most of what I write comes directly from the land of my imagination. I may find something of interest in the news or a story I heard at a party and my imagination takes over. I simply cannot help myself and MUST write it down or it’ll haunt me until I do release it onto the page!

What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I love historical fiction. The genre gives detail of historical facts, people places and a certain time, but still has a touch of artistic freedom to enhance the story line or characters.

My favourite authors in this genre are Hemmingway and Wilbur Smith. Hemmingway taught us so much about writing drama, mood setting, and creating deep character studies. Wilbur Smith is a master at storytelling mixing actual accounts and people with fictional attributes. He is a worldwide award-winning author who is widely read and extremely successful.

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

I think that collaborating with Shakespeare would be the ideal writer to join our writing techniques. He intermixed drama with humour to create his fabulous characters and audacious storyline’s that inform and entertain while making us all laugh.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I have two projects coming up I’m really excited about. The first one is a book of poetry titled Word Paintings showcasing half of my original works and half belonging to Charlotte Louise Nystrom. She’s quite the poetess and I am honoured to be collaborating with her. Out later in 2020.

The second project is a crime drama titled Insentient featuring my favourite female detective Gloria Ramos. One very unusual thing about this book will be its cover. The cover is an exact copy of a famous painting from International Abstract artist Sheeba Khan that’s hanging in the National Museum of Art in South Korean. We’re friends and she lent it to me to use. In fact her husband is the one who designed and put the cover together.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

I have several books on my TBR list—so much to read, so little time! I’ve started on my first novella titled Music Across the Waters. I had a short story, same title, picked up and featured by a magazine called Me First Magazine who publish only stories told in the first person point of view and decided to expand it to a dramatic characterization and suspenseful novella.

Anything you’d like to add?

I often coach new writers since I’ve been around the block and have unfortunately, learned the hard way. This is my favourite bit of advice: Writing and editing can be a daunting task. Patience is everything when writing. If you love what you do, the time and effort are secondary. Keep writing! Love the race to the finish line then celebrate the victory! You’ve accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime!

Thanks for answering my questions, it’s been great hearing from you! You can find out more about Larry here.

 

 

 

Keeley Webb Interview: “A lot of my ideas have come from dreams”

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Today I speak to suspense writer Keeley Webb about her work and how she came to create such gripping narratives.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime and suspense writing?

I’ve always had a fascination with criminal psychology. I watch a lot of crime documentaries and tend to be drawn to thriller novels. I wanted to write about things I’d be interested in reading myself.

What is your background and how did you become a published author? 

My background is varied. I’ve had some interesting jobs and worked with some real characters! From selling adjustable beds and chairs at 17-years-old, to assessing eligibility for WWII medals to the next of kin of deceased soldiers; whilst working for the MOD. I also used to sell boiler and cooker spares at a plumber’s merchants.

I gave up work at 26 years old to have a family. I’m now lucky enough to be Mum to two lovely children, and a crazy Staffordshire bull terrier.

In 2017, after seven months in hospital following a stroke my maternal grandmother passed away. During this time, I’d used writing as an outlet for my grief. At the same time, a close friend published her first book and encouraged me to have a go.

My first book, Death Made Me, although hard to put in just one genre, was published in June 2017 under paranormal suspense.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

A lot of my ideas have come from dreams, and of course real life inspires characters, an overheard conversation or something on the television can spark a train of thought.

I write when the mood takes me, I could never work to a schedule and force myself to write. I usually have a vague idea and then the story flows as I start to type. If I’m struggling with it, I close the laptop and walk away. Or, I start on another book!

 

It was during a break from writing the sequel to Death Made Me that Whispers in the Wine Cellar was born.

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

Oh, so many amazing authors to choose from, but I think for me it would be Karin Slaughter. Her books are amazing, and I’m a real fan. I’m nowhere near her league though so, I can’t see it ever happening.

What do you like to read yourself and how does this shape your own writing?

I’m always drawn to crime stories first, but if a blurb catches my attention, I’ll read it. I think the more I read the more it makes me want to write, regardless of content. Every time I read a book the magic of someone else’s imagination, and ability to take me into another world with their words is inspiring.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m still working on the sequel to Death Made Me. I have a lot of readers waiting on that. I can only apologise for my brain; it’s easily distracted and there’s at least another 3-5 novels cooking away in there. I’m hoping to finish the sequel this year and at least one other book.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I’m not waiting on anything. I have a very packed kindle library of amazing books just waiting to be read.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just to say that authors love reviews. If you love a book please leave a review, tweet about it, let people know. It’s the best way to thank the author. With so many good books out there it’s hard to be seen at times. And I’d like to thank you for your time and effort. Great questions, thanks so much.

Thanks to Keeley for answering my questions, it’s been great!