I’ve always been fascinated by crime – I read a lot of true crime – and I’ve always wondered what leads a person to commit a crime, and how the people around them are affected by it. Murder is obviously the most serious crime because there’s no chance of restitution (you can't bring the victim back to life). What leads a person to commit murder, and how society can be put right again after a murder, is perennially fascinating. The great thing about crime fiction is that there is always a resolution at the end - the culprit is brought to justice and society is able to heal.
I’ve written murder mysteries before and decided to try writing a straight crime novel. As an anthropologist I’ve often worked ‘undercover’ (i.e. the people I was studying didn’t know I was there to study them), and I translated that experience to my protagonist, Eden Grey. I was browsing through a book of poisons one day (as you do!) and came across paternoster pea and how it was used in trial by ordeal in the middle ages, and I started to wonder ‘What if it was used in a sinister initiation ceremony?’ I’d heard of the Hellfire Club, did research into it, Georgian brothels, and the history of Cheltenham, and the Georgian and contemporary plot lines emerged and melded together.
I read widely: crime, literary fiction, biographies, true crime, history, short stories and the classics. I was brought up in a house filled with books, and no book was regarded as unsuitable for children. My parents had the attitude, ‘If you can read it, you can read it.’ I was taken to the library every week to choose new books to read, and was allowed to select whatever I wanted, so I tried all sorts of different books and authors.
My custard book – i.e. the book I turn to if I’m poorly and need a comforting read, is the Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell. It’s a children’s book about the highly talented and dysfunctional Bagthorpe family, and their ‘ordinary’ son, Jack. It’s hilarious – it always cheers me up.
In crime fiction, I like Alison Bruce, Kate Ellis and Nicola Upson. My favourite fictional character, though, is Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair. She’s devious, determined and ruthless, yet somehow we cheer her on every step of her scheming way.
I love writing historical fiction, and in Paternoster it was easier to write than the contemporary parts of the book. The character of Rachel Lovett just marched onto the page for me – all I had to do was try to keep up with her. I’ve always loved history, and I read a lot of history books – I think it seeps into my brain and is stored there without my being conscious of it, because when I was writing I seemed to know things that I hadn’t yet researched. When I came to check my facts, it turned out that what I’d made up was right.
The problem with including inaccuracies is that an eagle-eyed reader will spot them and tell you you’ve got it wrong! There’s a lot of information out there about how crimes are committed and solved – on the internet, in books, on TV, and if you attend court you’ll hear it all as evidence – so any criminals already have access to that sort of information. Do potential criminals read crime fiction as ‘how to’ manuals?
Reading a lot of crime fiction, I’ve become very aware of the clichés and tried to avoid them in Paternoster. I like crime where we see the detective/sleuth as a whole person with a real life, not just someone in the office or hunting down criminals, and so I gave Eden Grey a boyfriend, friends, hobbies and a life outside her role as private investigator. How important is location (Cheltenham) in your book?
Cheltenham is a beautiful place with buildings that span over 500 years of history, so there’s plenty to explore and research. I liked contrasting the elegant exterior of Regency Cheltenham with a murky underworld. I didn’t want the setting to make the book a ‘cosy crime’ – I wanted a gritty crime in a place that’s known for gentility and refinement.
Certainly there are times when I feel more inspired than others, and times when I write myself into a corner and am not sure how to get out of it. If this happens, I go for a walk, do some gardening, or sew some patchwork, and my brain usually comes up with a solution.
I coach writers and many of my clients come to me because they’re suffering some form of writer’s block. I encourage them to write every day, and to make writing fun by using colours and shapes. I’ve put lots of writing tips and advice on dealing with writer’s block on my coaching/ mentoring website at: www.banishwritersblock.com
No, never, though sometimes people think they can see themselves in a character I’ve created. Like most writers, I often base stories on something I’ve observed or overheard, and plunder family stories shamelessly to turn into fiction.
I’ve been using Twitter, Facebook and blogs to let people know about Paternoster and about events I’m doing as an author. I’ve also been taking lots of photos of Cheltenham, and intend to post them on Pinterest. I don’t think you can cover every social media platform as there are so many, so I’ve chosen a handful that work for me and that hopefully give enough variety to be noticed by different groups of readers.
I’m currently writing the second book in the series, and this time Eden is investigating some poison pen letters sent to a TV producer who’s making a documentary in Cheltenham. When she finds his murdered body, she decides to hunt down the killer. She soon discovers her dead client is a man with an assumed identity who was trying to conceal a murky past. Meanwhile, her enemy John Hammond is still determined to get revenge on her.
Kim Fleet is the author of Paternoster, a timeslip novel set in modern day and regency Cheltenham