A cosy chat about crime

Earlier this year, I took part in an author panel with fellow crime writers T A Williams and Debbie Young to talk about writing cosy crime.

Here are some of my answers to the questions we discussed.

What inspired you to become a cosy crime writer?

I wanted to write historical fiction and murder mysteries because these are the books I love reading, but I didn’t think of them in terms of cosy crime.

I can see how the Iris Woodmore Mysteries fall into that genre as they feature a cast of recurring characters who evolve as the series progresses.

I like reading character-led books and seeing how characters evolve over time - and I've found in my writing I tend to focus on the people and mystery - rather than the gruesome details of the murder - so I can see how this might be considered cosy.

Saying that, there are gritty elements to my books, but the grit is more in the social detail than in the descriptions of the murders. There are references to rape, illegal abortions and domestic violence in the Iris Woodmore Mysteries - writing about crime allows you to explore social issues.

I think cosy crime does cover many uncomfortable topics – it just doesn’t always focus on the blood and gore.

Ultimately, I want my books to entertain, and for me, that means interesting characters (that I hope readers will relate to), twisty-turny plots - and the fun of trying to guess who the murderer is.

Who’s your favourite cosy crime author?

I enjoy reading Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey from that Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

Josephine Tey was very good at taking a domestic setting and showing the everyday life in a village or house – and then having a disruptive stranger enter the scene to shatter the peace – and exploring how the characters react to events.

I enjoyed the Nell Bray series by Gillian Linscott. I think most of them are out of print now. Nell Bray was a suffragette, and following her life, the reader learns a lot about that time as well as enjoying a good mystery.

Who’s been your favourite character to write so far?

My favourite character, apart from Iris, is Percy Baverstock. He was only supposed to play a small part in Death at Crookham Hall, but he’s such an easygoing character he became very appealing to write.

He works at the Natural History Museum, and he’s a member of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves. Iris's investigation takes her to a talk at the Natural History Museum, and that’s where she meets Percy for the first time.

Percy’s a young man who lost great friends during the Great War, and he sees it as his duty to live life to the full on their behalf. He loves going dancing, especially to all the modern dance clubs playing jazz music that are springing up in London in the 1920s. His dancing style is exuberant – and he has a habit of speaking before thinking and putting his foot in it - but he carries on regardless without embarrassment!

He’s a mercurial character. One minute, he can be flippant and a bit daft, and the next, he’s thoughtful and serious. He's a contradictory character - a city boy who loves the hustle and bustle of London and going to dance clubs, but he also loves nature and the countryside.

Iris quickly realises he’s not to be underestimated. At first, she thinks he’s just good fun and good company. She comes to understand there’s more to him than that. He’s intelligent and always on hand to help her when she gets herself into trouble - and he becomes a loyal friend.

Tell us how you choose the settings for your books

The Iris Woodmore novels are mostly set where I live in northeast Hampshire. The fictional town of Walden is based on Fleet, and Waldenmere Lake is based on Fleet Pond, which despite its name, is the largest freshwater lake in Hampshire.

The setting always plays an important role, and in Murder at Waldenmere Lake, it forms part of the plot as a battle is taking place for ownership of the lake.

In A Killing at Smugglers Cove, Iris travels to Devon for her father's wedding. The book is set in Dawlish and Exeter in South Devon - places that are very familiar to me as my father's side of the family is from that part of the world.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Many ideas for storylines have come from my historical research. In Death at Crookham Hall, two women compete to become the third woman elected to Parliament. And that would have been the case in 1920.

I thought it would be interesting to have two women competing against each other in a by-election for the first time in history. Iris is friends with Mrs Siddons, and her allegiance is with her. She’s shocked when she hears another woman is standing against her. It rather spoils her dream of a female victory over the all-male opposition.

The storyline involving Crookham Hall stems from the fact that in the 1920s, stately homes were being sold all over the country as aristocracy and landowners could no longer afford the upkeep.

I love creating fictional settings or characters that enable me to weave snippets of history into the plot.

If you were a detective, do you think you'd solve the crime?

Writing crime novels has probably made me more observant. The murder itself is easy to write, but what’s not so easy is to work out how your sleuth is going to solve the murder.

As a writer, you’ve got to lay a trail of clues for your sleuth to follow - it could be an overheard snatch of conversation or a physical item left behind at the scene.

Creating these complex scenarios, and thinking about what will give the murderer away, makes you focus on the tiny details. 

The Iris Woodmore Mysteries are available in hardback, paperback, ebook and audiobook from Amazon and bookstores.