Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A special guest

One of the great things about my writing  career is the number of interesting and delightful peope I've met as a result of going to conferences, fesrtivals, or teaching,  

As many of you know, I teach every year at Caerleon Writers' Holiday in July and this is where I met the lovely Janet Laurence who writes crime fiction.    We've also met up at also at Fishguard Writing Weekends  where once she even joined my course and became a student for the weekend.


Janet has written crime for years - and always with an interesting twist - a cook  or  a long ago artist as an investigator.  Now she has  a brand new  - and intriguing  - book  out this week. It's a historical  crime called   Deadly Inheritance  and to celebrate the publication date of this book, Janet kindly agreed to do a small interview with me to tell you more about herself and her writing.

She's also offering a give away of a signed copy of her brand new book  - all you have to do is to talk about your favourite  crime novel character in the comments section and your name will go into the prize draw.    The contest for the prize draw will stay open till Friday when Janet will pick a winner.

Welcome Janet!



Can you tell us a bit about yourself – when did you start writing and what made you choose crime as your genre?
I began writing as a child. I could think of nothing more fun than making up stories. As I grew older, I started on novels.  But I never seemed to get beyond chapter three, before I had a better idea for a story. After failing too many times, I decided to master the short story before writing a full length novel. Bad decision! I am not a natural short story writer. I think most writers have a natural length that they enjoy working with. Also, the short story is a very demanding and difficult form. Mastering it? How ridiculous is that? Meanwhile I had a job writing press releases and then I landed a cookery column in the Daily Telegraph. I’d been running  courses in a too-large house we’d bought in Somerset and writing about food seemed a natural development. When Conrad Black bought the Telegraph, there was an almost clean sweep of the feature writers and I lost my column.


This, I thought, was the time to give my fiction ambitions a kick start so I enrolled on a creative writing course. I arrived intending to be a romantic novelist, I finished it with the first page and several passages for my first crime novel, A DEEPE COFFYN. In it I tied together my love of detective fiction with my foodie knowledge and created a cook as my protagonist. 



Who are your favourite authors to read – in the crime genre and in other genres you enjoy?


My mother was a great reader of crime fiction and used to get me to choose books for her from our local library. I read and loved the Golden Age authors: Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh  and Margery Allingham, who could all ally devilishly clever plots with characters I really cared about in stories I devoured and went back to time and again. Then there was Raymond Chandler for the magic of his language and the power of his characters (his plots didn’t always make a great deal of sense). I read today’s crime writers widely, often as a judge for one of the Dagger Awards. It would be invidious to pick out individual writers but the ones I enjoy the most are those whose books have all the assets of good novels but with the added attraction of a well crafted crime plot, red herrings, clues and all. I have to confess I didn’t enjoy Agatha Christie until I’d become a crime writer myself, then I started to appreciate her incredible cunning with red herrings and ability to bury clues.  
I also, of course, read outside the crime genre.

Growing up I loved Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell, particularly for their insights into human nature and their irony; Trollope for his sheer story telling; Evelyn Waugh for his biting wit; Wodehouse for his much gentler humour and way with words (I heard David Cannadine on the radio not so long ago describing how Wodehouse and Chandler - who both went to Dulwich College public school -  share the same wordsmith ability. He ended his talk with a sample paragraph and challenged the audience to guess which author had written it. Quite impossible unless you could remember which book it came from) .


I also loved romance and historical novels. Georgette Heyer has been a constant favourite, I reread most of her historicals every few years or so, though I have never been able to connect with her crime novels.  Elizabeth Gouge was another favourite and Margaret Irwin. It would be lovely to see their books resurrected – perhaps as e-books. Elizabeth Gouge knows how to inject enchantment and Margaret Irwin to bring the past alive. There are  many more authors who have brought me so much pleasure. I don’t suppose Iris Murdoch would have been pleased to have her novels classed as romance, but I enjoyed the emotional journeys of her characters. And I learned so much about emotion as a driving force in one’s writing from you, Kate. 

What I need from a novel, any novel, is a good story and characters who grab me emotionally.


My reading is always diverse and voracious. I love settling down with a book that hooks me, be it romance, crime, chic-lit, or any other genre or sub-genre. The essentials are  genuine characters I can believe in, a good plot and a satisfying ending. I just wish I knew why it is so difficult to write such books! You have that gift, Kate,  and I learned so much from your wonderful course. I still want to be a romantic novelist. I love Mills & Boon books and the first novel I ever finished was to have been the start of my M & B career. It was also the end of it! But you have inspired me to continue with the romantic novel I started for your Fishguard course. For the moment it’s had to go on the back burner while I write the second in my new historical mystery series but it’s not forgotten.

You are the author of the Darina Lisle series of books – can you tell us a bit about your cookery writer sleuth. How did you come up with the idea? And will there be any more Darina Lisle books?

I’ve already mentioned the creative writing course I attended where I came up with the idea of a cookery sleuth, thus marrying my love of crime novels with my interest in food. I saw the books as a series from the start, each one to be set in a different area of the food world. That first book in the Darina Lisle series was set in the annual conference of the Society of Historical Gastronomes (and I still don’t understand why there isn’t such an association). Other have been set in a  restaurant, a health farm, a  specialist food company, a television food programme plus others. The last book was set on a cruise going up the Norwegian coast and ended with Darina pregnant. That baby would be ten years old by now! Will there be any more? I’m working at getting the back list into e-book format. Maybe if they sell, I’ll think about another one. I am still very fond of Darina and her policeman husband.
Your other series features the Italian  artist Canaletto – what made you choose him to feature in a set of mystery stories?

I wanted to write an historical mystery. The middle of the eighteenth century attracted me, it was so vital, with London emerging into the capitalist age.  At first I thought Boswell might be a suitable protagonist. As a lawyer from Scotland, he belonged to the middle classes but had the entr√©e to aristocratic circles and was perfectly happy to mix with low life. But I reread his LONDON JOURNAL, and realised he had laid himself bare there, leaving me with nothing to add. Then my husband and I went to an exhibition in Birmingham on Canaletto and his influence on English painters. As we went into the lecture hall for a talk, there, on a large screen, was Canaletto’s painting of London seen through an arch of scaffolding,  Westminster Bridge was in the process of being built. Hanging down from the scaffolding was a bucket. As the lecture progressed, I realised I had found my protagonist, a perfect observer of all levels of society and someone who was almost a blank canvas. And whilst I listened, I couldn’t help wondering what was in that bucket! So I wrote CANALETTO AND THE CASE OF WESTMINSTER BRIDGE, which was followed by two more.



We first met at Caerleon Writers’ Holiday, where you have run courses on Writing Crime Fiction – and again at Fishguard Writing Weekends – what do you think is the value of events like these (apart from the opportunity to drink wine and talk!)? I suppose I’m really asking can creative writing actually be taught.



I’ve already admitted that my first published novel was conceived at a creative writing course. And at Fishguard Weekend I attended your marvellous course on romantic writing, so obviously I think they can have a great deal to offer. However, I think attendees have to have a certain talent to start with.  I think creative writing courses can hone technique, open doors into previously unexplored ways of telling stories, offer guidance on particular genres, and make writers realise they have undeveloped gifts.


Finally, can you tell us more about your new historical crime novel DEADLY INHERITANCE. I’d love to know more about your heroine Ursula Grandison – and do you plan to create a whole new series of mysteries with her at their centre?

My first agent, now retired and a very good friend, read DEADLY INHERITANCE as soon as I had finished it and said, ‘It’s Midsomer Murders comes to Downton Abbey’!  And it’s true that the background is very similar: 1903 with an American heiress married to an English Earl, a stately home and family difficulties. After that, the similarities are not many. My protagonist, Ursula Grandison is American but she is not the Countess. She arrives at Mountstanton as companion to Belle Seldon, the Countess’s young sister. Fabulously wealthy Chauncey Seldon has hired Ursula to discover what has happened to his daughter’s dowry and the exact state of her marriage.  But Ursula discovers the body of a nursemaid and finds herself investigating what lead to her death – which isn’t the last in the book!  

I loved writing the story and do hope readers will enjoy discovering the secrets that lie beneath Mountstanton’s aristocratic surface. And, yes, I do intend there shall be an Ursula Grandison series. I’m currently writing the second novel featuring both her and the London detective who eventually joins her at Mountstanton. But the action in  A FATAL FREEDOM moves to the metropolis.


I’d love to give a copy of DEADLY INHERITANCE to the blogger who gives the most interesting answer to a very simple question: Who is your favourite crime novel protagonist and why?  


I don’t have a website yet – watch this space – but www.fantasticfiction.co.uk  has details on me. Follow the link and enter Janet Laurence in the space for author’s name.
And thank you for asking me to join you in your blog today.

13 comments:

marybelle said...

I adore Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Miss Marple just quietly, with clarity of thought & perception, untangles the threads. The humor is a bonus.

PrincessFiona01 said...

I am a lover of the Golden Age Mystery writers and read and read again Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and so on. I'm also partial to the Mystery Romances of Ellis Peters with her Cadfael series. But when it comes to the protagonist I like the best it becomes a more serious matter. All those charming Golden Age detectives like Lord Peter, Campion and Alleyn. Love them to bits. Fascinated by Miss Marple and Miss Silver and Gladys Mitchell's Mrs Bradley. But for purity of purpose, the one person who could never be swayed by anything but the truth, I would have to say Poirot. His simple statement "I do not approve of murder" may seem trite but it covers a philosophy that is proven in book after book that murder not only destroys the victim but the soul of the murderer. (I'm sure JK Rowling would agree)

Julie B. said...

I've recently fallen in love with Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mysteries. Phryne is a glamorous lady detective in 1920s Melbourne who always looks impeccable, has a retinue of faithful servants and a handsome lover on her arm.

I've loved Miss Marple, Poirot, Campion and Wimsey for years and years. Other favourites are Hazel Holt's Mrs Malory mysteries, Simon Brett's Mrs Pargeter and Carole and Jude from the Fethering books and Carola Dunn's wonderful Daisy Dalrymple.

Janet's books look lovely. I must add them to my auto-buy list!

Kate Walker said...

Hi everyone

Janet is having a bit of bother coming to chat with you so I've sent her instructions how to comment and hope she'll be with you soon! Even if I have to post her comments for her!

Liz Fielding said...

Loved the Darina books, Janet! Would be great to have them on my Kindle.

Anonymous said...

Love all your comments - and thanks, Kate, for the instructions on how to access them - and for offering to post my comments BUT as you see, I've managed it! Never say I'm technically illiterate (even though I am). I do so agree with everything said about golden age authors - and their detectives. Julie, I don't know the Phrynne Fisher mysteries - I must make their acquaintance, they sound great. So - Poirot's Purity of Purpose gets Princess Fiona's vote! Let's see if someone can trump that! I hope, Liz, it won't be too long before the Darina books can be Kindled (can one say that?).

Next week I'm running a workshop at CrimeFest in Bristol, I love doing that, there are such talented authors out there, meeting my publisher, taking part in a panel, and interviewing two Nordic Noir (very noir) authors - Roslund & Hellstrom, which should be fascinating. Life is never dreary! Happy reading - love to you all, Janet

Romance Reader said...

I love reading Alfred Hitchcock mysteries, does that count?

Congratulations on your series Janet, they sound thrilling!

Riya

Anonymous said...

Riya - I love Alfred Hitchcock's films but I didn't realise he was available in book form as well.Are these books of the films or did he have a go at novels as well as films? I'm feeling really ignorant! Please let me know more.
Janet

Romance Reader said...

Hi Janet!

As Kate may tell you I'm a teenager, and I used to read teen series before starting romance novels.

I used to read Alfred Hitcock's The Three Investigators

I would hunt all the books in these series to read. There were more than 200 in this series alone.

Riya

Anonymous said...

Riya, That's fascinating! Who were the three investigators? How did they operate? I must try and get hold of some of this series. 200 is a bit of a tall order but I'll hunt for one or two. I'd love to see what they were all about,
Thanks
Janet

Nas said...

Hello Janet!

Try the link Riya left by clicking on The Three Investigators.

'mystery/adventure stories feature three boys--Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and

Bob Andrews--who establish a detective firm with the motto "We Investigate

Anything!" Perfect for summer reading, these suspenseful action stories will

appeal to both boys and girls.'

We have about 50 of these on our bookshelf at home.

Added to these series there was the Carolyn Keene series of Nancy Drew, which we also have at home.

(Riya is my daughter and she shares my love of reading.)

Mama Duck said...

Janet might enjoy the links from these guys.
http://www.culinaryhistoriansboston.com/

Anonymous said...

Mama Duck, Hey, quack - no, you'll have enough of those! Thanks for your contribution. Nacy Drew, eh? That's a classic.

Had a very successful signing of my book yesterday, sold lots of copies.I was so thrilled! Now Kate and I will have to get together to see which lucky blogger I send a free copy to. Thanks so much to all of you for contributing. What fun it's all been!
Love to you all,
Janet

 

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