Almost Love

A happy afternoon in Hunstanton, with friends old and new…

With Sue Renwick and the Mayor of King's Lynn and West Norfolk

With Sue Renwick and the Mayor of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk

On the platform

On the platform

Fellow speaker, the ever-lively Elly Griffiths

Fellow speaker, the ever-lively Elly Griffiths

Yesterday was a real red-letter day for me. I had been invited to give one of two after-lunch talks at Soroptimist International King’s Lynn annual fund-raising lunch, which was held at the Best Western Le Strange Arms Hotel at Old Hunstanton. I was invited to speak by Sue Renwick, this year’s King’s Lynn Soroptimist President, and her colleague, June Muir. I discovered that my name had been suggested by two of my old school friends, Lyn Lord and Mandy North. Both have been enthusiastic promoters of my books and Mandy has attended both of the signing sessions held at Bookmark in Spalding. I was chosen because my books are set in Spalding – not too far away from King’s Lynn (in fact, my brother was born in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital there) – and the group particularly likes to listen to authors whose books have a local flavour.
This literary lunch was the fourth one held by the King’s Lynn Soroptimists. The speaker at last year’s event was Stella Rimington (who has a house in Norfolk), so I felt honoured indeed! The audience consisted of ninety-nine lunchers, mostly Soroptimists, with a sprinkling of husbands. The Worshipful the Mayor of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, Councillor Mrs Elizabeth Watson, was there, and I much enjoyed talking to her. I was privileged to be seated next to Sue Renwick’s husband and had a fascinating conversation with him about migrant workers in Norfolk (a topic in which I’m currently immersed as I write my third DI Yates novel). The local press was in attendance: I shall post links to their photographs when I have them.
I had heard of the Soroptimists before, but I didn’t know much about them until I received the invitation, when I made it my business to find out a little more. The first group was set up in the USA, quickly followed by others in the UK. The organisation is now worldwide. Its website explains its mission: We are committed to a world where women and girls together achieve their individual and collective potential, realise aspirations and have an equal voice in creating strong, peaceful communities worldwide. The fund-raising events support particular causes. The money raised from yesterday’s lunch will contribute to respite holidays for Norfolk’s young carers: heartbreakingly, there are children as young as seven looking after infirm or disabled parents.
My fellow-speaker was Elly Griffiths, whom I had already met earlier this year at a very successful literary festival event held at Watton Library. Elly spoke first. I know her to be a witty and eloquent speaker (and therefore a tough act to follow!). She told the audience how she came to create her academic archaeologist, Ruth Galloway, and read an excerpt from the next Ruth Galloway novel. She said that the inspiration for these books had come from her husband, who exchanged a high-profile, lucrative career as a city ‘suit’ to become an archaeologist. The Galloway novels are set in Norfolk because Elly’s aunt lives there and Elly spent holidays there as a child; she also pointed out that Norfolk is full of bones!
My brief asked me how I came to develop the characters in the DI Yates novels. I’ve reproduced some of what I said here in the hope that it may interest readers of this blog, as several of you have asked me similar questions.
When I was thinking about where to set the novels, I revisited the Spalding of my childhood (and incidentally some of my most memorable holidays as a girl were spent in Hunstanton). DI Yates’ Spalding is therefore a ‘perfect’ place in the sense that it exists only in my memory and imagination. Among the many riches that Spalding and the Fens offer to me as a writer is their wonderful place-names – Pode Hole, Quadring Eaudyke, Gosberton Risegate, Pinchbeck: I know that many readers are intrigued by the promise of romance and mystery implicit in the names of these villages.
None of the characters is entirely based on people I know or have known, though they have been influenced by traits I saw in certain individuals or by real events and customs. For example, my great uncle kept a general shop in in Spalding, in Westlode Street. It was the family business for many years: he’d inherited it from his father. My grandmother – my father’s mother – acted as his housekeeper. More or less accurately, this is the shop in which Doris Atkins is murdered in In the Family. Her daughter-in-law, Dorothy Atkins, also known as Tirzah, is convicted of the crime. But Doris Atkins is not a portrayal of my grandmother, nor is Dorothy a portrayal of my mother. Uncle Colin, the hunchback who keeps the shop, is a little more closely based on my own great-uncle, but only in the physical sense: my great-uncle did indeed suffer from curvature of the spine. He did make forays on a grocer’s bicycle to collect cigarettes and bananas to sell in the shop. He did wear a long shopman’s coat and a trilby. But Colin’s character is not his character. (Just as well, considering what Colin gets up to in the novel!)
Moving on to Almost Love, I talked about Alex Tarrant and her role in the novel. Alex is the secretary of the Archaeological Society, a prestigious institution very loosely modelled on Spalding Gentlemen’s Society. Some of my readers have told me that they feel that the Archaeological Society is almost like another character in this novel. The story begins with the unexplained disappearance of a famous archaeologist. Several murders take place during the course of the novel and, although she isn’t involved in them directly, Alex is inadvertently the person who provides the links between the various perpetrators; this is in part because she embarks upon an ill-considered affair. I was interested in exploring the disintegration of character of Edmund Baker, the County Heritage Officer and the instigator of this illicit alliance, as he undoubtedly suffers the guilt of betraying his wife.
I also spoke about my grandmothers and the extraordinary houses they lived in. I’ve already mentioned the shop at Westlode Street where my father’s mother lived. My mother’s mother was employed in domestic service from the age of fourteen to seventy-four, at first (a bit like Hardy’s Tess!) as a poultry maid. Her second employer sent her to Bart’s Hospital to train as a nursery nurse and from this she worked her way up to become housekeeper to Samuel Frear, last of the great Lincolnshire sheep farmers. She was widowed young, so my mother grew up at The Yews, the Frear family home at Surfleet. Just after I was born, my grandmother, now aged sixty, moved to Sutterton, to become companion to a very old lady who lived at a substantial house called The Laurels. She had been the wife of a gentleman farmer who was twenty years her senior, so he must have been born in the mid-nineteenth century.
Like Westlode Street, The Laurels was packed with quaint furnishings, but the most astounding thing about it (though as a child I just accepted it as normal) was that the walls were decorated with many sepia photographs of the old lady’s husband when he’d been on safari in Africa as a young man. These photographs must have been taken in the 1870s or 1880s and in many of them he was accompanied by several black women wearing very little except strings of beads. The book I’m working on now is set in this house. When I began writing it, I had also just discovered that a very famous person was living in the area at the same time, which helped me to construct the plot. It’s about a murder that happens in the present, but is strongly influenced by what happened in the house in the past.
I think that both our talks were well-received: many of the Soroptimists came and spoke to us with great warmth and enthusiasm afterwards, and they were extremely generous in their purchases of our books. We were each presented with a pen in a beautifully crafted wooden box that Sue Renwick had made herself – an unexpected and delightful kindness.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank most sincerely all of those present for a wonderful day. I shall certainly take a very close interest in all that they do from now on and hope perhaps to be able to help them, both as a writer and a professional woman, in the future. I hope too that they will come to visit here and perhaps comment, too.

Barry Forshaw, @CrimeTimeUK, interviews Christina James

CrimeTime
9781907773464frcvr.indd
Today, I’m honoured to be given space on Barry Forshaw’s CrimeTime site.  He has interviewed me about myself and Almost Love.  Very many thanks, Barry!  🙂
Follow CrimeTime on Twitter

Visit the CrimeTime site!

The ‘grande dame’ of English bookshops!

Blackwells Broad StreetBlackwell
Last Friday, I experienced the rare treat of visiting Blackwell’s Broad Street, the Blackwell bookshop chain’s flagship shop in Oxford. It is a bookshop that I know quite well, though it is two or three years since I was last there. It is one of a handful of large world class bookshops in this country – as readers of this blog will know, my own particular favourite is Waterstones Gower Street, but that is partly because it holds strong personal associations for me and is therefore much more of an old friend than Broad Street. Gower Street is like a rather quirky intellectual woman of a certain age, always coming up with racy surprises of which you might not have thought her capable. She’s one of the liberated ‘new women’ of the early twentieth century, as her Arts and Crafts clothing and the pedigree of her creator, Una Dillon, both demonstrate. Broad Street, on the other hand, is the grande dame of British bookshops. She is an eminent Victorian, offspring of the sternly teetotal Benjamin Henry Blackwell, whose fine bookselling tradition was carried on by his son, also Benjamin, and very famous grandson Basil (‘The Gaffer’) who presided over this shop and its sister stores for more than sixty years.
It was not the first of Oxford’s bookshops that I visited on Friday, but, once through its surprisingly modest front door (it could be the entrance to any moderately well-to-do person’s house), I wondered why I had bothered with the others. Here were riches indeed! And cared for by very professional staff who seemed never to intrude on browsers except at that vital moment – which they must have sensed by some kind of invisible booksellers’ radar – when I was stumped and needed help.
I didn’t actually find the exact book that I wanted – I’m not sure that this book even exists, as I was searching by topic rather than title, but I spent an enchanted two hours in the shop nevertheless. I came away with three purchases, but could have splashed out on many more. I was also delighted to see four copies of Almost Love and two of In the Family on the shelves of the crime fiction section. I happen to know from my previous life that the crime fiction buyer in this shop is probably the best in the country, so I am doubly appreciative that he has chosen to stock my books.
Blackwell’s Broad Street also has a great coffee bar in which people may really be seen looking at and talking about the books they have just bought (instead of just reading the paper or examining their shopping); it has also several brilliant, if eclectically-arranged, second-hand sections. If you know Oxford, I am sure that you will have visited this bookshop. If you don’t know it and should ever find yourself in the city, I recommend that you include Broad Street in your itinerary!

The bounty of a summer’s day…

Clematis étoile violette

Clematis étoile violette


Today has been one of those perfect late summer days that you look on and savour when it’s the bleak middle of winter. The sun has been shining, but a gentle breeze has prevented the heat from becoming oppressive. When we took the dog for a walk this morning, the wheat was almost ripe and straight, unspoiled by the rainstorms of a couple of weeks ago; the barley stubble was pure gold. By lunchtime, I’d written my quota of words for the novel I’m working on. The garden is a pleasure to be in: it hasn’t yet matured into its blowsy, trollopy autumn look and the late summer flowers are still blooming. The clematis étoile violette is at its spectacular best.
Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly


Honey bee foraging

Honey bee foraging


The flowers of our golden marjoram and oregano are attracting our honey-bees and the many kinds of bumble-bee that seem to be flourishing this year (I like the red-bottomed ones!) and there are more butterflies than I’ve ever before seen here – the peacock butterflies have been especially prolific and one popped in to be photographed before we helped it back to the yellow buddleia.
Cox's orange pippin

Cox’s orange pippin


There will be a good apple crop later, as the ripening Cox’s orange pippin shows. And there is crab for dinner tonight!
Aside from the beauties of nature, the day got off to a wonderful start, with two very generous reviews of Almost Love, by Elaine Aldred and Trish Nicholson, to join Valerie Poore’s excellent one; all are on the DI Yates page of this website! May I wish you, all three, a summery bounty – you spent a great deal of time and care over these, as well as over the reading of the novel – and may I also extend warm greetings to all who visit and comment here.
A wonderful day. And a shameless excuse to share some photographs.

I finally get around to reading an author I should have read before…

Ann Cleeves (novels)
I’d heard a lot about Ann Cleeves; I had followed her on Twitter, to a kind reciprocation; the reading groups that I joined at Wakefield One had heaped glowing praise upon her work. Yet I had never read her – it was therefore high time that I rectified matters.

I bought two of her books from Rickaro: The Crow Trap, which is set in the Pennines, and Red Bones, one of her Shetland Isles stories (I know that these have been televised, but I haven’t seen any of the programmes). I chose novels set in two different locations, because, as I’ve said before, topography is important to me. I know that Ann Cleeves has a reputation for creating fine atmospheric settings – as one of the reading group members said, Shetland ‘almost becomes a person’ in the books set there – and I wanted to see how she achieved it.

I’m not, however, going to write here about her use of setting, because, although I endorse everything that has been said about it by others, I have nothing new to add. What I’d like to focus on especially, therefore, is her skill at character portrayal, particularly of women. I find her female characters fascinating, not only because of the way she draws them, but because she captures with subtle and skilful nuances some of the ways by which women are still exploited by men – though she is by no means a militant feminist and the male characters in her novels suffer from certain injustices, too. Some of her women characters find their own ways of fighting back: Anne Preece in The Crow Trap tries to make use of both her husband and Godfrey Waugh to provide her with the lifestyle that she craves, although both in their turn exploit her as part of the chess-like game of shifting relationships that forms a fine sub-plot to this novel; and Jimmy Perez, the policeman hero of Red Bones, is continually kept guessing about the depth of feeling that his vivacious, unconventional girlfriend Fran entertains for him.

I enjoyed both of these novels immensely. Ann Cleeves writes quite unlike any other crime novelist whose work I know. If I had to choose between them, I’d say that The Crow Trap has the edge on Red Bones, mainly because, although both are set in remote areas, the Shetland novel offers less scope for variety in characterisation. Both are rural variants of the country house murder convention, each with its own subtle twists that bring new life to this sub-genre. However, Red Bones has a strong archaeological theme, which was of special interest to me because when I read it I had just completed Almost Love, which is in part about the disappearance of a famous female archaeologist and set against the activities of the members of a famous archaeological society.

I see that Ann Cleeves is a prolific writer who has written many books. I can therefore look forward to many more hours of happy reading in her company.

My new acquaintance…

RSC Library
In yesterday’s post, I wrote about my visits to Burlington House and said that I’d met an interesting new acquaintance. Her name is Andrea and she has recently been appointed to the newly-created position at the Royal Society of Chemistry of Diversity Manager. (Her work will be vital in not only attracting minorities of all kinds to the study of chemistry, but also in helping to develop their careers later on.) Prior to that, she was a forensic scientist for thirteen years, until the government closed down its forensic science unit.
My ears pricked up when I heard this. I was also fascinated to learn that Andrea was brought up in a village close to mine. More than once I’ve made DI Tim Yates say that he doesn’t believe in coincidences, but truth is obviously stranger than fiction, as this is the second big coincidence that’s happened to me in less than a week (the first was meeting Carol Shennan, with whom I was at school in Spalding decades ago, in Bookmark).
Andrea has kindly agreed to be interviewed for the blog in a few weeks’ time. She’s also sent me an article that she wrote about being a forensic scientist for Chemistry, the RSC’s magazine. I won’t spoil my future post after I’ve interviewed her by quoting too much from it now, but here is a taster:
I became a forensic scientist long before shows like CSI and its spin-offs resulted in the general public having a distorted view of how forensic science is used by police forces to investigate crime. Forget Armani suits; most of the time we were dealing with skanky knickers, jumpers crawling with bugs, and clothes so sodden with blood that they had gone mouldy in the packaging.
A DNA profile in minutes – no chance! Our quickest test took around 12 hours and there were times that we had to wait well over a week. CSI also doesn’t show the endless samples of ‘touch DNA’ that fail to give a DNA profile at all, or ones that give a profile so complex it is uninterpretable. Nor do they feature the heart-wrenching cases that demonstrate the depravity that exists in our society: cases involving babies, the elderly or vulnerable; people who are murdered simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Riveting, isn’t it? I look forward very much to talking to Andrea again soon.

Happy coincidences and old friends at Bookmark, Spalding…

Fine car; finer bookshop

Fine car; finer bookshop

Bookmark 8
Bookmark 12
Bookmark 11
Bookmark 10
Bookmark 9
Bookmark 7
Bookmark5
Bookmark 4
Bookmark 1

Bookmark's creative owner, Christine Hanson

Bookmark’s creative owner, Christine Hanson

Yesterday was one of those perfect days that become legendary in memory. I had travelled to Spalding, having been invited to give a signing session at Bookmark, a very distinguished bookshop which I also visited and wrote about just before Christmas last year.

There was a carnival atmosphere in the town. Christine Hanson, Bookmark’s owner, was feeling particularly happy, because hers and other businesses in Spalding had banded together to offer fun activities to passers-by in one of the yards in the Hole-in-the-Wall passageway. Christine said that it marked a significant step forward in the town’s initiative not only to save the high street but also to ensure that it thrives. She flitted back and forth between the shop and the Hole-in-the-Wall all afternoon and, despite being so busy, still provided my husband and me with her customary wonderful hospitality.

My signing session began with a remarkable and totally unexpected coincidence. Two ladies who had been paying for books at the till came over to speak to me. Noticing their accents, I asked if they were American. One of them said that she’d been born in Spalding, but had lived in America for twenty-five years. She now teaches environmental science at the University of California. Judging her to be about my age, I asked if I knew her. She said that her name was Carol Shennan. I knew the name immediately; she had lived about five doors away from me in Chestnut Avenue when we were both growing up. She said that her mother, who is eighty-nine, still lives in Spalding, and that she was just there for the week to visit her. It was an unbelievable stroke of luck that we should meet in Bookmark. Carol bought In the Family, and I look forward very much to receiving a future contribution to this blog from her when she’s read it.

Several babies came into the shop. I was introduced to Oliver, who arrived with his grandmother and aunt, who each kindly bought both books, and Harry, who came with his grandparents. His grandfather (I’m sorry that I can’t remember his name: his wife’s name is Carole) is a keen local historian and said that he doubted that my novels would cover villages as remote as Sutterton, which is where he was born and still lives. By another strange quirk of coincidence, I was able to tell him that my third novel, which I’ve just started writing, is set in Sutterton. I hope that Harry’s grandparents also will contribute to the blog when they’ve read the copy of In the Family that they bought.

My very dear old friend Mandy came in and bought an armful of books to give other friends as presents, just as she did at Christmas. At the end of the afternoon, she returned to guide us to her house, where we spent an idyllic evening eating supper and drinking wine in her garden with her husband Marc and her friends Anthony and Marcus. We ate new potatoes, broad beans and strawberries from her allotment and talked about books, teaching and cooking (Marcus is a chef). Afterwards, we drove home through the twilight. The fields of South Lincolnshire were looking at their best: the corn was just turning, and in one place acres of linseed coloured the landscape blue-mauve. The skies were as big and beautiful as always.

An idyllic day, as I said. I’d especially like to thank Sam at Bookmark for arranging the signing session, and Christine, Sally and Shelby for looking after me so well and for providing a great welcome: I heartily recommend the café at Bookmark, if you’re ever in the area. Many thanks also to the many people who stopped to speak to me – the conversations were fascinating – and for buying the books. And thank you, Mandy and Marc, for being amazing hosts and for introducing us to Anthony and Marcus, who provided me with their suggestion for DI Yates 4!

Crime Fiction Month and National Group Reading Day in Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Wakefield 1

Wakefield Library audience listening to a reading from 'In the Family'

Wakefield Library audience listening to
a reading from ‘In the Family’

I was very privileged yesterday to have been invited to the event arranged by Wakefield Library Service as a joint celebration of National Reading Group Day and Crime Fiction Month.  It was organised by Alison Cassels, Library Officer for Reading at Wakefield, and lasted almost the whole day.  It was held at Wakefield One, the wonderful new library and museum complex which was opened last November by Jarvis Cocker.  The day’s activities were built around the interests of Wakefield Libraries’ eighteen reading groups.  When they are in everyday mode, the reading groups choose books that they wish to read from a selection provided; the library service then buys sets of these and distributes them.  In itself, this must constitute an impressive feat of complex organisation and canny budget allocation.

About twenty members from various Wakefield reading groups attended.  The morning began with refreshments, during which participants were given the opportunity to examine the next round of suggested titles and make their choices.  We then split into three groups.  Three books were being discussed, Peter May’s The Blackhouse, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and my own In the Family.  The facilitators were Alison Cassels’ colleague, Lynn, Julie Walker, Operations and Development Manager for Kirklees Library Service, and myself.

It turned out that so many of the participants had read all three novels that I and my fellow facilitators led consecutive sessions with all three groups.  At the end of the morning, Julie chaired a wrap-up session about crime fiction more generally and we discussed our favourite books in the genre.  We then broke for lunch.  In the afternoon, more people joined the groups to listen to my reading of two short excerpts from In the Family and Almost Love, as part of a session during which we discussed how I write and how I originally managed to get published; the audience put to me more questions (some of them very searching indeed) about my novels.  At the close, Richard Knowles of Rickaro Books, in Horbury, sold copies of both books.

I don’t recall having enjoyed an event – whether or not it featured other authors or myself and my own writing – more than I enjoyed yesterday’s.  I say this, not from reasons of vanity, but because I have never before had the opportunity to get as close to readers and what they really think.  The eloquence and perceptiveness of the reading group members, and the fact that they had spent so much time on really engaging with In the Family, was truly humbling.  I took much pleasure in listening to Pauline when she explained why she enjoyed the passages of dialogue – particularly that which takes place during Hedley Atkins’ and Peter Prance’s train journey to Scotland – and how much she identified with Hedley’s frustration when he missed the train to Liverpool, in spite of his sinister intent; and to Jane, for taking the trouble to create a family tree for the Atkins family.  Other reading group members quizzed me for more information about Salt Publishing, about the history of Lincolnshire, about how DI Tim Yates will develop in subsequent books and – in true, straightforwardly friendly, Yorkshire fashion – about what I could say to persuade them to buy Almost Love!  I said that it does develop Tim’s character further, as they’d hoped, and that it contains quite a lot of history and more of the dialogue that they’d obviously enjoyed.

If any of yesterday’s participants are reading this, I’d like you to know that I think you are amazing.  I was grateful beyond words for your generosity in investing so much time, both in the event itself and in reading the books, as well as, of course, for your buying them.  I do hope that I shall have the opportunity to meet you again.

I’d like to conclude with a special thank-you to Alison, who provided me with excellent hospitality. Wakefield Library Service is an old friend, with which I first became acquainted in the late 1970s.  It has always enjoyed a fine reputation as a distinguished and innovative library authority.  From the start, therefore, I knew that yesterday would succeed, but the magic of the day, created by a combination of impeccable organisation by Alison, Lynn and their colleagues and the wonderful enthusiasm of all the participants involved, both from the reading groups and other members of the public, made it truly unforgettable.

Congratulations, Wakefield!

Pauline and I continue our discussion after the event

Pauline and I continue our discussion after the event

Let’s sing about the unsung volunteer staff at Bawtry Community Library…

Part of the lovely audience at Bawtry Community Library

Part of the lovely audience at Bawtry Community Library

I gave my first talk in a library yesterday, at Bawtry Community Library, near Doncaster. It had been requested by Claire Holcroft and George Spencer, of Doncaster Library Service, and immaculately organised by Lesley Gilfedder at the library itself. Despite the rain and the fact that it coincided with the local school play, about twenty people attended. It was a lively and appreciative audience; most of its members had read more crime novels than I have, even though I’m a self-confessed addict, and several of them had detailed personal knowledge of the part of Lincolnshire which I write about. I felt that I learnt at least as much from them as they from me.

I gave two short readings, one from In the Family and one from Almost Love. I was asked about the characters and, especially, about why I’d chosen to make a dysfunctional family the focus of In the Family. We talked a lot about the atmospheric qualities of the Fens and about past writers who have described them, especially Charles Dickens and Dorothy L. Sayers. We discussed plots and plot construction, how to make them work, whether it’s possible to change the plot mid-novel and how to avoid inconsistencies. Several of the audience kindly bought copies of the books.

I took some cakes (I’ve decided to make this one of my trademarks!) and, when the organised part of the evening was over, no-one was in a hurry to leave. Lesley, ever efficient, made tea and coffee and we all stayed to talk.

Of course, I know about public library cutbacks, but I had no idea how swingeing they have been in some authorities or how magnificently local communities have responded in order to save their libraries. Bawtry is a lovely library: it has a cared-for look; there are bright paintings on the walls; the stock is impeccably arranged and there is a large children’s area where the floor has been carpeted in multi-coloured tiles to aid the playing of games and telling of stories. It keeps full opening hours and, as last night, is also sometimes open late. All of this is achieved by volunteers. It has about ninety of them, typically working three-hour shifts. As well as manning the library, they clean it and care for the grounds. They’ve been operating this arrangement for eighteen months and, so far, not one volunteer has dropped out. I understand that most of the other libraries that come under the aegis of the Doncaster local authority are also run in this way, though not all manage to keep such long opening hours as Bawtry.

I am amazed and full of admiration, tinged also with a little bit of shame. The public library charter entitles people to the right to borrow books from a local library, yet the people of Bawtry would not be able to do this if so many of them were not prepared to give up their own time to make it work. It is both a huge local achievement and a national scandal that this state of affairs should exist.

I’d therefore like this post to stand as a tribute to the wonderful people from Bawtry whom I met yesterday and to all their friends and colleagues who continue to make the library the vibrant hub of their community. Thank you. And especial thanks to Lesley, for all your unobtrusive hard work behind the scenes.

Elaine Aldred and Christina James at Bawtry Community Library

Elaine Aldred and Christina James at Bawtry Community Library

The flavour of Salt crime fiction…

A lovely audience!Laura Ellen Joyce reading from 'The Museum of Atheism'Matthew Pritchard reading from 'Scarecrow'Salt Crime 6Salt Crime 9Salt Crime 2Salt Crime 3Salt Crime 5Salt Crime 11Salt Crime 12Salt Crime 8Salt Crime 1Salt Crime 10Salt Crime 4Salt Publishing crime writers Mattthew Pritchard, Christina James, Laura Ellen JoyceSalt Crime 13Salt Crime 14

Christina James reading from 'Almost Love'
The Salt crime writing event that took place at Waterstones Gower Street yesterday was a very festive occasion. Sam Rahman, the Events Manager at the shop, her colleagues and a large and appreciative audience combined to make it a great success.

Laura Ellen Joyce, Matthew Pritchard and I each gave readings from our books. Laura read from The Museum of Atheism, which (jointly with In the Family) launched the Salt crime list last November. I read from Almost Love and Matthew from Scarecrow, which Salt will publish in September. Afterwards, I chaired a discussion with Laura and Matthew about their writing. The audience joined in, offering many lively and perceptive comments.

Both Matthew and Laura agreed that a sense of place was important to their writing. Laura chose to set her book in small-town America in the dead of winter – there is no daylight in the novel – to epitomise the corruption that it portrays. Matthew writes powerfully about Andalucia, which he knows well, having lived and worked there for twelve years. Laura agreed with the suggestion that she describes a rudderless society in which no character is able to provide a moral yardstick or compass. Matthew said that the corruption captured in his work derives more directly from his knowledge of shady Spanish officialdom. Danny Sanchez, the protagonist of Scarecrow, is a journalist who bravely tries to expose the fraudulence and self-interest upon which he sees that Spanish politics is based.

Laura had deliberately left vague the identity of the killer in her book, because, in a sense, she was indicating that society as a whole was to blame. Matthew had had the intention right from the start to write about a serial killer, but the character of the killer took shape in his mind gradually as he worked on the book and continued to read about real-life murders. An account of how the head of one of Fred and Rosemary West’s victims had been swathed in gaffer tape had left a particularly lasting impression on his imagination.

There was much laughter from the audience at Matthew’s anecdote about how, when the shop below his flat caught fire recently, the police broke into the flat and discovered his large collection of books about serial killers and Nazism scattered over the floor. There was even more laughter when I persistently made the mistake of calling him ‘Danny’, after his hero, rather than Matthew! (Apparently, it is a mistake that his agent makes, too!)

Laura confirmed that she will continue to write crime because she has a profound interest in why people commit evil or anti-social acts. She’s also interested in pushing out the boundaries of fiction. When, in response to a question from one of the audience about what I thought the ‘next big thing’ in crime writing would be, I said that I’ve seen several books lately that mix genres and I’m not sure that it works, Laura said that this idea appealed to her and that she would like to experiment with it. I do think that it would take a very good writer to pull it off, but Laura is so accomplished that she is one of the few people I know who might succeed at it.

I was asked why most crime novels are about murder, rather than other types of crime, such as theft or fraud. I said that there are some novels based on theft – there is quite a strong sub-genre relating to crimes associated with works of fine art, for example – but it is difficult to write about crimes other than murder unless you are a police procedural author. This sub-genre has never appealed to me; I’m more interested in the psychological aspect of crime-writing.

We were all asked whether we’d come to writing ‘lately’, or whether we’ve always been writers. We agreed that we’ve all been writing ever since we can remember. Asked also whether we had to let a novel ‘fade’ from our imaginations after we’d finished it before we could embark upon another, we each offered different responses: Matthew writes all the time and is usually working on several books at once – he knocks out 2,000 words a day, even if sometimes he knows it is rubbish and he will have to discard some of it; Laura writes regularly, but in different genres – she writes short stories between novels and also said that she was very organised when writing The Museum of Atheism which, with a detailed outline on a spreadsheet, she wrote in twenty-four days, a chapter a day, all in November, following the NaNoWriMo concept; I usually take a brief break after completing a novel, but I’ve started on the next DI Yates book now. I feel that being an author is a bit like being a member of the fashion industry: your mind is already on the next season’s work while your readers are still consuming this season’s product.

We all paid tribute to Salt Publishing, which we agreed is an uncompromising publisher setting high standards. We were also united in saying that we aren’t interested in the ‘blood-and-guts’ style of crime writing.

On behalf of the three of us, I’d like to thank Sam and the staff at Gower Street for their wonderful hospitality. I’d especially like to thank all of you who attended for being such a generous and receptive audience, for making such constructive contributions to the discussion and, of course, for buying or ordering our books! It was good to meet some new friends – some of whom I’ve only previously ‘met’ through Twitter. Finally, a big thank-you to numerous well-wishers who were unable to come (some of you based in countries very far away), but who sent kind and encouraging messages and helped to advertise the occasion. We hope to meet you all one day at future events.

All in all, it was a very memorable evening indeed!

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border

oliverstansfieldpoetry

A collection of free verse poetry.

Easy Michigan

Moving back home

Narrowboat Mum

Fun, Frugal and Floating somewhere in the country!

Maria Haskins

Writer & Translator

Luciana Cavallaro

Award-Winning Author

Jenny Burnley's Blog

Author of the Sophie Radcliffe Series

Murielle's Angel

A novel set on the Camino de Santiago

Marvellous Memoirs: Reviews and links

For my main blog about my barge, books and travels, go to http://rivergirlrotterdam.blogspot.com

jennylloydwriter

Jenny Lloyd, Welsh author of the Megan Jones trilogy; social history, genealogy, Welsh social history, travel tales from Wales.

songoftheseagod

I'm Chris Hill - author of novels Song of the Sea God and The Pick-Up Artist

littlelise's journey

Sharing experiences of writing

unpublishedwriterblog

Just another WordPress.com site

Les Reveries de Rowena

Now I see the storm clouds in your waking eyes: the thunder , the wonder, and the young surprise - Langston Hughes

Diary of a Wimpy Writer

The story of a writer who didn't like to disturb.

Rebecca Bradley

Murder Down To A Tea

helencareybooks

A site for readers and writers

%d bloggers like this: