What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
I am not a planner so it’s probably true to say that my plots mould characters every bit as much as the characters dictate the plots. Deadly Plot came about because I was on the allotment site during lockdown and saw two six foot long trenches being dug for composting. They looked so like graves that I couldn’t fail to make a connection. Victory gardens were a big issue in 1941 and where better to get rid of a body on a hurry than a pre-dug pit!
Deadly Plot is the fifthBunch Courtney Investigation so my central characters are very familiar. In Winter Downs (Bunch book1) there was a fair bit of jockeying for position. Bunch’s sister Daphne was the original co-investigator but then DCI Wright marched in and took a seat, and she was relegated to supporting cast. I say I’m not a planner but I do keep a spreadsheet of characters out of sheer self-defence and it grows with every book. Mainly to get the names of regular bit players right but also to make sure I don’t repeat any of them which almost happened with In Her Defence (bk 2).
My criminals and their victims generally come fresh to each plotline, though one or two villains have made multiple appearances. They are the ones that got away…
Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?
DCI Wright’s habit of rubbing the top of his head with the flat of his palm when deep in thought came with great affection from a dear friend who died shortly before I was first began writing Winter Downs, but that’s the only trait I’ve ever consciously borrowed that other people might recognise. It sometimes helps to ‘see’ the known face as I write but those faces don’t appear in print.
On therapeutic benefit? I suspect most writers of horror and crime will tell you there is a great deal to be said for killing of folks who have annoyed them in some way, using the bloodiest methods imaginable.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
I am with Ian Rankin on plotting. I start with an idea for the start and finish but the end is generally some vague spot way over there in the distance. How I get between those two points is as much a mystery to me as it is the reader. I have tried writing to plan but generally some new idea strikes or more often a new character drops into the narrative flow which is rather like throwing a large boulder into a stream. The plot changes course and ends up somewhere else entirely.
It’s not a method I’d recommend because it invariably creates plot holes and the rewriting of much that had gone before.
Have you ever killed off a character your readers loved?
I’ve killed off several in the Bunch Courtney Investigations that people liked to various degrees. There are times when losing a character to shake the story up is required. With Winter Downs I killed off Roger the labrador in my first draft. Big mistake. The beta readers rose up in horror and forced a re-write.
The moral of the story being that you can bump of humans right and left to tug at the heart strings but don’t ever murder their pets!
Would you and your main character get along?
Bunch Courtney and I would probably argue because we can both be stubborn but I think we’d agree more than we’d disagree.
If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?
Lilly Kendall appears briefly in both, Deadly Plot, the latest Bunch book, and the previous story, In Cases of Murder (bk 4), Lilly rules a criminal gang from a sleazy South London club who appeared in and was huge fun to write. Her character and setting are about as far from Bunch Courtney’s world of privilege, making a Lilly Kendall series a somewhat different prospect. If readers tell me they like her it could be worth a thought. Listed Dead (bk 3) mentions the Admiralty’s all female motorcycle courier team which also looked intriguing.
If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?
This is a tricky one. In the books I liken Bunch and Wright to Margaret Lockwood and Leslie Howard but for modern equivalents? A few years ago I would have said Kristin Scott Thomas and Jude Law, but now possibly Emily Blunt or Emilia Clarke for Bunch Courtney and Dan Stevens or Sam West as DCI Wright.
How much research did you need to do for your book?
Probably too much. I can slip down that rabbit hole so easily because it’s so fascinating. I have bookcases groaning with books on WW2 – not the political/military aspects but the day to day life. Getting the facts right is essential but info dumps say more about what the writer knows than the story itself. I hear many readers saying they skip over any fact-babble pages and that applies equally to background waffle. The trick is judging how much, or how little a writer should use. I can spend a day accumulating pages of research by their dozens and end up using half a sentence. It’s a tightrope thing.
What’s your favourite and least favourite part of publishing?
Publicity. I know I’m not alone on this one! Almost every writer I know finds the act of going out into the world and selling themselves to strangers very hard. And that’s not just Indie authors. Ever those with major publishing houses find themselves putting in many hours selling their books on social media as they do writing them. This is where readers can do their bit by leaving a review even if it’s just three or four words. Every little counts – and frees us writers up to pen the next in the series.
How do you use social media as an author?
Mostly social media as an author is no different to anyone else. We get out there to make new contacts. The only difference is that we are hoping people remember our names and the titles of our books in order to buy them. How do I use social media? I try to post regularly and on varied topics because nobody wants to see the same old posts from the same person over and over.
I try to intersperse posts about my books on my blog page with items on writing, reviews of whatever I have been reading, gardening, cooking and life in general. I left X (twitter) some time ago but you can find me on WordPress, Facebook, Insta, Amazon, Bluesky and Substack.
Deadly Plot : Bunch Courtney Investigation #5 out from 2nd Feb 2024