Alysons reviews macrh 2019
Winter Downs by Jan Edwards 5*
This is the first Bunch Courtney story and Jan Edwards transports us back to a completely different era from today where the slower pace of life in both the Sussex countryside and the 1940s are reflected in the style of writing. Rose (Bunch) Courtney and her widowed sister Daphne (Dodo) Tinsley are landed gentry, having a lifestyle that includes maids, cooks and all manner of staff. Their father is a diplomat posted with their mother to Singapore, leaving Bunch to manage the estate and also organise the local Women’s Land Army. Britain is at war, rationing is starting to take place and there is much scope for black marketers. Not to mention the fact that their stately home has been lent out to foreign army personnel leaving Bunch to move in with her grandmother. Amid the dense winter snowfalls Bunch and Dodo make the gruesome discovery of the corpse of an old friend Jonathan Frampton in the woods. After the initial shock, it is not surprising that Bunch wants to get stuck into investigating the death of her close friend and former lover, particularly when all the authorities insist that it is suicide and not anything more sinister. Bunch herself is convinced that it is murder and eventually Detective Chief Inspector William Wright allows her until the snow melts to make her own enquiries. No one could have guessed how dangerous that would prove to be. That is, until a second murder occurs.
Bunch is very much a girl after my own heart. She is tall, brunette, horsey and very practical (in fact, the complete opposite of her sister who is in mourning after losing her husband of a few short months to the war). Obviously the war and its effect on everyone and everything features very heavily in the book, and it is abundantly clear how much painstaking research the author has done into all aspects of the story and time period. There are lots of secrets to be unravelled, clues to find and suspects to rule out, and red herrings litter Bunch’s investigation, even with some (at first) reluctant help from the DCI . All the characters were well described and rounded, and the whole setting was very credible and came alive in the pages. It was good to get a feel of what life was like at the time for the various different classes of folk involved in the story. Altogether it was a most enjoyable murder mystery, gentle but still with its fair share of blood and nasty criminals. Recommended and I am glad to hear book two is on its way!
A long post containing blogs and Interviews for Winter Downs
Debbie Bennett June 2017 – Writer Jan Edwards launchesWinter Downs, the first book in the Bunch Courtney Investigates series. I tracked down Jan in her writing cave in the wilds of the West Midlands and persuaded her to answer some really, really important questions:
Where would you hide the bodies?
Under someone else’s patio? In a volcano? Dissolve it in acid? This is a tricky question!
I guess the best way would be to destroy it as comprehensively as possible and dispose of the rest as far away as possible from the murder site – preferably in a different country.
To be more serious, modern forensics make things pretty tough if the body is found. The tiniest spot of bodily fluid or matter is potentially identifiable and CCTV and tracking on smartphones makes it hard to go anywhere unnoticed.
Winter Downs does not have those problems to the same extent. Reliable scientific/lab work in the 1940s, beyond fingerprinting and detection of poisons etc, was basic. In a time when few people had telephones, let alone tablets and smartphones, the emphasis was always weighted toward eye witnesses.
Crime: Poirot or Girl on a Train?
There are only so many new stories and you can argue that every story has been done before. And yes, I do see that attraction of Girl on a Train. It’s a good read, but for me there were so many tropes shared with Rear Window, and or course Agatha Christie’s 4.40 From Paddington, that it didn’t feel it was fresh enough to become a firm favourite with me. So it’s Poirot every time. The classic whodunnit is always tough to beat.
Do you have music playing when you write and if so what are your tracks of choice?
Not always but yes, I do often have something in the background. Usually something instrumental, or instrument heavy, otherwise I get caught up in the lyrics and lose track of what I am writing. Driving rock for the action pieces or psychedelia or folky based music for the more cerebral or quieter parts. I did get some 1940s CDs for Winter Downsto immerse myself in the period
I have a fairly eclectic taste in music generally, so choosing a few tracks would always be hard. But if I am following on from Q2 then I have a selection of albums – yes, I am that old fashioned – that I play when writing because they are often instrumental or are so familiar that I don’t need to listen to the lyrics. Muse (good driving rock for writing action); Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth – for the same reasons as Muse; Liquid Sound Company – psychedelic rock that allows me to drift Garden; Tea Party; Kirsty McColl, Steeleye Span; Fairport Convention; Jethro Tull; Robert Plant; Shooglenifty… there are many more. I don’t much like crooners or the pseudo soul that passes for R&B these days which means pretty much anything that might win X Factor is out for me That and boy bands!
Romance: Pride and Prejudice or Fifty Shades?
Pride and Prejudice on every level that counts. I need say no more.
What one genre/plot cliché would you get rid of?
Genre: Zombies, if they can be seen as a genre? Because a/ real zombies are not re-animated corpses and b/ zombies that eat brains are rather limited in scope.
Cliche: ‘damaged’ cops (especially on TV). It’s come to a point where every cop is not just a maverick but a borderline basket case. They’d be on permanent sick leave in the real world!
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
Porn? Sports? Hunting Aardvarks in Antarctica? I don’t think I could do Mills & Boon style romances any justice purely because that style of novel just isn’t my thing. I can see how it is a very hard thing to do well; i.e. without coming over as really cheesy. The same would apply to my writing a Western or a shoes’n’shopping novel. All genres have their invisible cloaks of verisimilitude and any readers of those books will always spot a faker.
But genres are not the same as subjects; of which few are totally off limits. Taboos can be dealt with if you approach them in the right way and do enough research so that what you saying is both correct and credible. There are a few subjects I would probably shy away from purely on the grounds that I don’t feel qualified to write about them with any authority
What was the first (*genre ) story you read and what kind of impact did it make on you?
That is almost impossible to answer. Taken at face value Noddy, whose best friend is a gnome would count as fantasy…
Looking at more adult fiction? Back in the late 60s fiction tended to leap from children’s to adult with little YA or Teen fiction in between so I read a lot of the westerns bought by my (elder) brothers, discovering Michael Moorcock’s Count Brass and Corum books, which sent me down the fantasy route. They were so very different from anything else I had ever read. The specific genre they came under at the time was Science Fantasy, which is not a term you hear any more.
Other books that made an impact at the time were Tolkien’s LOTR and Carrol’s Alice, which are both technically fantasy, though Alice would probably be called Urban Fantasy had it been written now as the contemporary fiction it was in 1865. These books were all required reading for the budding hippy circa 1968!
That said I also read huge amounts of classic crime and devoured all the usual suspects; Poirot, Wimsey, Marple and the rest of the band. But I have also read a lot of 19thc and early 20thC fiction. Austen’sPride and Prejudice being a firm favourite, as is Du Maurier’s Rebecca, all of which has put me in good stead for writing Winter Downs, set in 1940!
On a snowy winter morning Bunch Courtney rides out into the local woods and finds a dead body. Everything points to suicide, but the dead man is Johnny Frampton, a close friend ,and knowing what she does about him, Bunch is convinced that what she is looking at is a murder scene.
This is the opening premise of Winter Downs, a tightly plotted novel set in war time Britain. The 1940 are vividly brought to life and the main character, Bunch, is set to be one of my all time favourite heroines.
I love a strong woman protagonist, but have to admit to a horror of those feisty females in historical novels who transgress every social convention and behave like no woman of their era would have done. Bunch, however, is nothing like them. She is a product of her time and her social class and all the more interesting for that.
“Winter Downs” is a great read and I am looking forward to the next Bunch Courtney mystery.
Following my review I’ve asked the author, Jan Edwards about her take on female protagonists.
Having been asked about my main character of Winter Downs being a strong female character, and specifically where she came from as a fictional trope.. Exactly who was the inspiration for Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney?
In my mind Bunch came fully formed. Reviewers of my short fiction collections have commented on my strong female protagonists as a theme running through my work. So given that strong women are a given perhaps its more a question of who my inspirations are in general.
Nancy Blackett; Captain of the Amazon in Arthur Ransome’s famous Swallows and Amazons series was my first and abiding heroine. Unlike most females in children’s fiction of that era Nancy never played second fiddle to anyone, and specifically to her male counterpart, John Walker.
Strong fictional females influences, specifically from past eras, have to include Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse. Austen’s women were always as strong as they were capable of being living as they did within the strictures of Georgian society.
Anything by Daphne Du Maurier is an inspiration in itself, and Rebecca, the quintessential bad girl, was as strong as they come.
Mrs Bradley and Harriet Vane were inspirational female detectives of Golden Age crime. Written as contemporary crime it is easy to see how they fit into their world and in writing Winter Downs it was something I tried to bear in mind. So many ‘historical’ crimes don’t allow for the social restrictions of the time and one of the things I have tried to portray is how Bunch succeeds against that backdrop.
Winter Downs is all about Bunch. Yes it is driven by setting and history and war is what allowed Bunch to become herself. Many women like her saw their mother and aunts taking similar rolls in the Great War. Despite all that was done to return to the strictures of pre Great War society the ripples begun by the Suffrage movement gathered pace through the twenties and thirties.
With a generation of young men taken out of society young women had no chance of taking up their expected place as wives and mothers. So they learned to drive, to fly planes, to take up careers – all things that would have been unheard for all but a very privileged few before 1914.
And emancipation was not confined to the upper and middle classes. In Winter Downswe have a reprise of the rise in female power through the work place. Land Army girls from all walks of life working in traditionally male jobs to keep factories and farms running.
That is the setting and the issues that shape my main protagonist but Winter Downs is not by any means a lecture on the rise of feminism. It is a crime novel first and foremost.
Bunch’s main aim is not to prove her self-worth but to provide vital evidence that her oldest friend had not taken his own life. The setting made for an exciting backdrop and provided just the right set of circumstances to enable her to get involved without the usual restrictions or social niceties.
In the early drafts Bunch’s sister had a far greater role, but once DCI Wright walked into the pages that all changed. Once she had a foil rather than a sidekick and the story took off once she had someone that she could not dominate the way she could her baby sister. The added problems of her family home requisitioned and her parents called away made investigations are as important in shaping Bunch’s character.
Researching Winter Downs was a huge undertaking. All aspects of life on the rural home front had to be picked over. there is a lot written about the towns but far less about the doings of shepherds and poachers. Hours of reading and note taking were involved but that is something I love to get involved in. Running down that one line of fact is hugely satisfying. I hope people enjoy reading Winter Downs as much as I did writing it.
Winter Downs grew out of a deep affection for the South Downs, and of Sussex in particular. My parents were from Wales and Northumberland but Sussex was the area that I grew up in, on the cusp between the Sussex Weald and the Downs themselves. Perhaps the very fact that I was something of an outsider in a close knit community allowed me to view the place and the people with a dispassionate eye; even though I may not have realised it at the time.
In sketching out a setting for Bunch Courtney to dive into with her amateur sleuthing I deliberately failed to name any specific village. In a city such as London or Manchester a writer can get away with any fiction they choose because no matter how accurately the streets are drawn there will always be a level of anonymity. This is something far harder to do with a small hamlet. Claim that the Squire of “Upper Bottomley” was a total blaggard and the descendants of the genuine squire tend to get upset. I do pinpoint a few local towns to lend a sense of place.
My father’s sister lived and worked on a farm on Devil’s Dyke, just above Brighton, and I was deeply interested from a very young age by the folklore attached to that particular spot. There are places along the Weald and Downs that have tales of ancient belief firmly attached. The tree rings of both Chanctonbury and Sissbury hills for example, or St Leonards Forest where the last dragon in England was officially reported to have been killed as recently as 1614. Sussex is rich in dragon lore and even has its very own variety of water dragon called Knuckers.
There are almost as many recent myths and legends lurking in the vicinity. Many are attached to the most beautiful of counties. Dark legends such as John George Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer; Christiana Edmunds, the Chocolate Cream Poisoner or the as yet unsolved Brighton Trunk murders. And of course the fishing villages of the Sussex coast have been as rife with smugglers as any Cornish cove.
I was (and still am) an avid listener, and when the adults talked, regaling each other with details of local gossip, I listened. Some of the talk was dark and much was not, but all made for excellent background material that I can always draw on for local colour. Stories such as the vicious bull who wore an iron mask to prevent him charging anything that moved using his senses of scent and sound to follow my aunt across a field. Or the darker report of the local lad who almost blew his hands off making home made bombs to go fishing in the River Arun.
Added to these old tales of course was the spectre of the WW2. With occupied France jus a matter of fifty or so miles across the English Channel tales of that era were often to be heard at social gatherings and those, along with the remnants of pill boxes and bunkers as well as hastily built air strips. The War Department began requisitioning large country houses in 1939. Some as schools and others as rehabilitation centres or just plain military billets. Not all of them survived that allied occupation. Shillinglee Park in Sussex was famously burned to the ground by Canadian soldiers living there – allegedly after a riotous party if local rumour was to be believed twenty years after the event. Shillinglee was rebuilt, but a similar the ruins of Appeldurcombe on the Isle of Wight, which suffered a similar fate can still be seen.
All of these things had an impact on me and when writing Winter Downs I brought together the notions of requisitioned houses and a country waiting and watching for the enemy to strike from across the water, and adding the joys of heavy snow to hamper movements and smother potential evidence, went a long way to weaving an everyday tale of murderous Sussex folk!
Sarah Ash June 2017 Horror to Crime: Genre Switching for Winter Downs
When Sarah asked me to talk about my move from the horror and fantasy genre to crime, I have to be honest and say it was not a conscious decision. Most of my publication credits have been in what would be called sf, horror and fantasy but that was not a deliberate career decision. I have always read widely across the spectrum from Jane Austen to Zane Grey, and written two main stream novels (one under a pen name). I suspect my obsession with folklore skewed my short fiction in the general direction of what is often called Weird Fiction, and then only because mainstream narratives seldom allow for anything that smacks of the supernatural.
Horror and crime weave in and out of each other like strands on a wicker basket and the differences are often only in degrees of blood and guts. I usually reach a substantial body count but I have never leaned toward the overtly visceral in horror or crime. I am more interested in the ripples that acts of violence create across the lake, or, in the case of Winter Downs, the village pond.
Like many children I had a predilection for Enid Blyton mysteries, but was equally drawn to the metafiction of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons where the Walkers and Blacketts spun fictional mysteries in an everyday world. As a budding writer it was a concept I could readily identify with. During one summer holiday (aged 8?) I spoke in the third person as a character in my own book as a direct result of that. Nancy Blackett remains my first and most loved fictional heroine. She is the strong female protagonist – the role model – that many children’s books lack even now. At nine years old I wanted to very much to be Captain Nancy.
I read anything and everything I could lay hands on right as a child, including the Cornflakes packet (mother did not allow books at the breakfast table). Niacin, Thiamine and Riboflavin is a poetic sequence that haunts me to this day! I suffered a fair amount of illnesses as a child and reading was my escape, and with only elder brothers to borrow from my reading matter was never going to be all Unicorns and Flower Fairies. I read the Lion and The Eagle comics avidly with a special affection for Dan Dare and was hooked on the weird and wonderful from an early age.
My short fiction has a strong folklore theme because folklore has always been a mild (?) obsession. So why did I stray from my supernatural leanings to write Winter Downs –a WW2 crime novel? First of all, as I said before, I am not sure there is much of a divide between horror and crime, and secondly, it was not so much a step as sub-conscious shuffle.
I fell into Sherlock Holmes initially, through a commissioned mash-up novel. That project subsequently foundered and is still sitting on my hard drive. But having developed a taste for the Great Detective, I chanced my arm with a submission for the Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty. High on success I wrote a few more Sherlock-themed stories for the MX publishing’s series of anthologies, which are sold in aid of the Stepping Stones School charity in Conan Doyle’s former home, Undershaw.
To write Holmesian fiction for the MX anthologies requires a strict observance of the canon. Nothing occurs that Doyle might not have penned himself; which requires meticulous plotting and cartloads of research. And maybe here is the thing… I love research!
When writing horror and fantasy I have always been a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of a girl. So long as a writer sticks within the rules of their own world, they can pretty much take a story as far and as high as the imagination can reach. If you lay out your world and stay within those parameters then using any fantastical or supernatural trope is possible and even plausible.
The world of whodunnit crimes works by a far stricter set of rules. It is rooted firmly in the real world. Clues need to be laid in a breadcrumb trail to that dramatic denouement. The need to tease the reader whilst giving them every chance to solve the riddles ahead of the final page without using whacking great signposts is the challenge. I have always loved reading golden age and noir crime. The likes of Poirot or Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane or Mrs Bradley. So when it came to writing a crime novel of my own, it seemed natural to delve into history for my own heroine.
Why Sussex? Because despite leaving the county a long time ago, it is my default setting, and the quantities of WW2 pill boxes littering the Sussex Weald and Downs that I played in as a child provided plenty of inspiration. So when it came to writing Winter Downs setting and period just came to me as a package. The huge amounts of researching of the time as well as the place has been an added bonus!
Winter Downs and its central characters Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney and Chief Inspector Wright inhabit a straight forward whodunnit crime. I already have two more novels mapped out and two more in gestation, so you can see that writing in a different genre is not a problem.
The only obstacles arose when the time came to loose it onto the world at large. Publishing and publicity circles that I had moved in needed to be enlarged to take in crime, and though some of those contacts are the same, new reviewers and bloggers in the crime fiction circles had to be sought and approached. I am very much the new girl on that block and networking amongst new people is a process that doesn’t come easily to me.
So in answer to Sarah’s question, yes, I have crossed the genre divide into crime fiction, but I shall always have a toehold in the supernatural and the fantastic. I have a commissioned project yet to be announced that combines 1930s crime with the supernatural, and I am part of a direct-to-DVD Dr Who project for Reel Time Pictures via Telos Press. Plus other small projects in planning. You can take the girl out of horror but…
What’s a typical writing day for you look like? Describe your perfect writing environment.
I don’t have a typical writing day, though I’d probably get a lot more done if I did! My best writing time is the wee small hours between 11pm and 2 am. It’s a habit I developed when my kids were small and it was the only time of day when there was a modicum of quiet. Oddly I can write using the laptop in front of the TV or play music when I write to create white noise. I am too easily distracted; usually in researching tiny details that I can’t write past. I have to know if X brand of toothpaste was available in 1940. Or what the applicator in a 1930s handbag powder compact was made from. These things intrigue me and I’m a mine of totally useless information.
- How did you get started writing? Was it something that you’ve always loved?
I began writing my own stories when I was till at infant school. I suspect that was down to living in a very rural area that lacked a library to pillage and because I was sick a lot so writing relieved the boredom of long spells in bed. I once spend several weeks (aged around eight years old) being a character in a book I was trying to write and referring to myself in third person. My father had explained why some books were first and some third person – yes I was that child with the constant ‘why’ on my tongue – and as the whole concept fascinated me I had to try it out for myself. The family were highly amused and it took me years to live it down!
- Who are your favourite writers/inspirations?
Always a tricky question because I read anything and everything until I was well into my teens. Only then did I start to gravitate more toward crime/horror/fantasy, and that due mainly to my abiding passion for folklore and myths. I grew up on a diet of Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome and abridged classics.
I came across Michael Moorcock’s science fantasy in 1969 and was blown away! It was such a new concept to me at the time. Other authors? Jane Austen, Daphne Du Maurier, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers et al. I love Peter James’s fiction and a zillion other modern crime writers but I have also always read classic crime by the bucket load, which has influenced the whole process of dreaming up and writing Winter Downs, which is set in 1940.
- Anything you can tell us about upcoming projects?
Winter Downs is the latest project and is the first in a planned series of crime novels. To quote the rear cover, “In January of 1940 a small rural community on the Sussex Downs, already preparing for invasion from across the Channel, finds itself deep in the grip of a snowy landscape, with an ice-cold killer on the loose.”
I’ve had a number of Sherlock Holmes short stories published – I was also part of the script writing team for a Dr Who DVD that includes White Witch of Devil’s End –
- Normally how do you develop plots/characters? Brief us on your process.
I have always been an advocate of the Stephen King school of writing in that I don’t plot too closely. That way I am as surprised as the reader when things happen. Crime, especially whodunnits, are a little different because the clues have to be there for a reader to pick up on. I still write from the gut but make sure that those clues are all there in the rewrites.
Likewise characters can develop by osmosis. In Winter Downs, for example, the main characters were meant to be Bunch and her sister Daphne (Dodo). But when Chief Inspector Wright walked on stage he just failed to leave and Dodo got shoved into the background just a little. Wright was just the perfect foil for Bunch and I really had no option but to give him some room.
- On average, how long does it take you to write a book?
It’s that proverbial piece of string! First draft for Winter Downs took just a few months. The far harder and longer part came with the editing.
- What’s the best compliment that you’ve received about your work?
A recent review for my Leinster Gardens ghost story collection said: “I thought Nanna Barrows (was) my favourite, until I read R for Roberta, then I changed my mind again when I read Redhill Residential, then The Clinic, then Wade’s Run…” It was humbling to have a reviewer be unable to pick a favourite.
But it was the late and very great Tanith Lee that made me blush. She was kind enough to read my short story collection Fables and Fabrications and called it a …fascinating and engrossing read that is subtle and elegantly elusive. High praise from the Queen of dark fantasy!
- If writing wasn’t your career what would you be doing?
Who knows? I’ve already tried my hand at so many things. I was a Master Locksmith for 20 years but also been a bookseller, microfiche photographer, stable girl, sold motorcycles, grown house plants, worked as a lab technician and been a librarian. Currently in addition to being a writer I am a practising Reiki Master.
- Favourite character from one of your own novels?
I have a noir cosmic horror character Cpt Georgi, very much in the Agent Carter mould, that I write about in short fiction now and then. When it comes to my Holmes stories I always have a soft spot for Watson. I am exasperated by some of the TV and Film versions where Watson is portrayed as a buffoon. In the books he was far from being that. Yes Holmes may appear quicker on the uptake when it comes to analysing the evidence but he is a genius and faster than everyone (with the possible exception of Mycroft).
But Bunch Courtney is my favourite. She is often frustrated by the restrictions placed in woman of that era and fully intends to take advantage of the opportunities that the circumstance has to offer. She is in control of her own destiny throughout Winter Downs and I am looking forward to following in her wake in the next two novels already in planning and beyond.
Swirl and Thread july 2017 Jan very kindly answered all my, as usual, quite inquisitive questions, with some very interesting answers, so I do hope you all enjoy…
Hi Jan and welcome to Swirl and Thread. I am delighted to be on tour with you today as we discuss your new novel, Winter Downs, as well as finding out a little more about what makes you tick.
Before we get into the writing aspect of your life, may I enquire about your involvement in Reiki. I was intrigued to read that you are a Master Teacher as well as been a Meditational Healer? Could you please tell us a little about this?
Reiki and Meditational Healing is something that chose me rather than the other way around. Meditation is something I have indulged in for many years but I needed help with pain management that did not involved drugs, which sent me to sleep half the day. Various therapies proved to help a great deal and going from ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ was a logical progression.
I also have some experience in herbalism but would not practice it without going for the medical degree. As the saying goes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. It is far too easy to mistakenly poison someone – though that knowledge can come in handy as a writer of crime and horror.
Born in Sussex, you are I see, like myself, of Celtic origin. Whereabouts is your family from originally?
Mother was Welsh. Her family came from Flintshire, though she herself was born and raised in the Glamorgan. Pop is descended from the Reiver clan of Grahams. He was born in Haltwhistle, hard up in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall.
I was born in Sussex and spent most of my younger years there, not far from Billingshurst. My aunt and uncle worked at Saddlescombe Farm (which includes Devils Dyke). When I wrote Winter Downs it is that terrain that I had in mind. Saddlscombe is now a National Trust property. My Aunt lived in the RH of the cottages in the background of this photo.
A master locksmith, a motorcycle seller with many other strings to your ‘working’ bow, when did writing become your true passion and how did the decision come about to invest so much time in it?
I honestly can’t recall not writing fiction. We lived in a very rural area. Even the nearest mobile library stop was three miles away. I had a lot of convalescence time and once I’d read the books on my shelves a zillion times writing my own was the natural step to take.
Why do I invest so much time in it still?
Writers I talk to seem to give the same reason. Some equate it with the imperative of an ancient fireside bard and others with a need to share the movie show running through their brain, but either way it’s that absolute compulsion to commit those stories to paper (or screen).
Winter Downs is a WW2 crime drama. What is it about and where did the inspiration for the novel come from?
Winter Downs had many and various roots and I could never pinpoint one of the as the finite inspiration. I have always loved reading crime fiction but writing for Sherlock Holmes anthologies was, undoubtedly, my gateway into becoming a hardened crime writer.
The many relics of WW2 invasion defences littering the South Downs, along with a predilection for Golden Age crime, influenced the setting.
The promoting of a novel must be quite an exhausting prospect. What exactly is involved?
Its terrifying! Writing a book is a doddle against the agonies of promotionals.
I have been writing for a very long time and most of my published work, and my writing network, has been in fantasy and horror.
Sherlock Holmes is often a part of that world, as is crime so obviously there is some cross-over between the bloggers and reviewers of horror and crime, but that only goes so far. It soon became clear to me that for Winter Downs I was almost starting from scratch and it has been what folks call a ‘steep’ learning curve. I find it hard to approach people I know for favours. Approaching strangers has been nerve wracking. Fortunately the vary majority of people in the crime arena are very welcoming and inclusive.
I await the reviews with finger nails gnawed up to the elbows.
You write across such a spectrum – crime, horror, pulp, weird fiction, main stream and urban fantasy. How do you manage to juggle so many different genres?
Ooh – that is a tough one. I read extensively across the genres so writing across them was something I did by default.
As a bookseller in the 1960/70s I can only recall SF/Horror having a section of its own. By the 1990s even contemporary fiction was subdivided: classics; erotica; LBGT; womens’; romance; cult; literary. There are other but you get the picture. I can see why this is, but when readers zoom in on their ‘section’ – in bricks and mortar or online outlets – that intriguing title or stunning cover in a separated shelf will never cross their line of vision, and the chance of their reading outside their usual comfort zone is diminished. Some bookshops are returning to all-embracing fiction shelves. It will be interesting to see how that works out.
Crossing genres did not enter my head when I wrote Winter Downs. I suspect it would have been far easier to have a single genre when it came to the promotionals – but where would the fun be in that?
I’ve never interviewed a ghost writer before!! What exactly is involved from your perspective and is it a difficult thing to do?
Contracted privacy clauses. The main rule about ghost writing club is not to talk about ghost writing club. (But I will say that in many ways it’s tougher than writing my own.)
Jan I see you are also very involved in workshops and editing services for writers in association with The Alchemy Press. Is this an area you enjoy and how can people contact you to avail of these services?
Workshops are a lot of fun, and I do enjoy providing writers with tips and inspiration. I also love editing, which is far harder in many ways but enables me to work far more closely with some fabulous writers, and that is never a bad thing.
Alchemy editorial service can be found at https://alchemypress.wordpress.com/ We can take on manuscripts for content and/or line edits in most genres.
6 x 6……what is this concept and how are you involved with it?
My good friend Misha Herwin and I approached various local libraries to books reading events for our own work and found that – due to the cuts in funding and the shortened opening hours – events for single author events were getting harder to stage. And whilst poets had many opportunities with open mike events there were few in the Stoke-on-Trent area for the writers of prose. City Central Library were happy to allow us a trial period of four evenings to redress that and 6X6 was born.
As the name suggests our evenings (which are free!) allow each of 6 writers a maximum of 6 minutes or reading to the gathered audience. We are now in a our second year and always open to hearing from Midlands writers wanting to showcase their work.
The most commonly asked questions any author can usually be simplified as why, where and who – so here goes: What is Winter Downs about? In January of 1940 a small rural community on the Sussex Downs, already preparing for invasion from across the Channel, finds itself deep in the grip of a snowy landscape, with an ice-cold killer on the loose. Bunch Courtney stumbles upon the body of Jonathan Frampton in a woodland clearing. Is this a case of suicide, or is it murder? Bunch is determined to discover the truth but can she persuade the dour Chief Inspector Wright to take her seriously?
Where is simple. Sussex was the county in which I was born. A farm on the edge of the Sussex Downs and to my mind it is simply the most beautiful place on earth. Oddly, though, when you add East and West Sussex together, it is one of the largest counties, it is one of those least known in the UK and many mistake it for Essex! To be fair that may be because there are so very few towns of any size until you reach the coastal strip. It is rich in folklore and folk people and in 1940 was poised on the leading edge of the war waging just 30 miles away across the English Channel. The South Downs are spinal cord of chalk hills stretching from the Kent shores into Hampshire. Much of it was made a National Park just a few years ago (map) to preserve its beauty from the scourge of the housing developers.
Walk the fields in that area you are sure to find one of the many pill boxes and dugouts; hurriedly constructed preparations against the expected invasion in WW2. By the 1960s these historic and ominous structures were little more than a magnet for children at play. I had not realised the influence their presence had on me until it came to writing a crime novel.
My sleuth, Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney, was based loosely on the daughter of a local land owner that I knew in passing a very long time ago. She was one of those self assured young women as much at home mucking out horses as dancing at the Ritz. Had she been of the right age in those days of hardship she would have had the resources required to dabble in amateur detection. I knew many country folk like the Jenner brothers whilst growing up in a farming community. The old countrymen they were based on are all gone now, but hopefully I have done them, and their long vanished Sussex accent, justice in fictional form.
It was in the course of researching the world of farming folk of the era that I read how many of the large country houses were requisitioned by the Government in 1939 – and voila! Setting, sleuth and era all came together as Winter Downs.
The Winter Downs cover, designed my Peter Coleborn, was based on a propaganda poster urging women to Join the Land Army! An issue that was high on the rural Sussex agenda, and of course the addition of the snow, the planes overhead and rolling hills said all that needed to be said – yes we did consider adding the odd corpse or two, but that seemed a little like over-kill…
Once I had the time and place I could dive into research mode! I love digging out all of those snippets that were forgotten, or in some cases papered over. For instance a comment was made at my writing group that nobody carried a gas mask. I hit the internet, and the books, and came across many references to the fact that though films of the era – fact and fiction – assured viewers that everyone carried a gas mask everywhere because that was the law, nothing could be further from the truth. Millions of masks were issued through 1939 and 1940 but carrying it with you was never made law and by January 1940, when Winter Downs is set, less than 20% of people bothered taking their gas mask anywhere.
Writing Winter Downs was a lot of fun to write. I really have come to be very fond of Bunch and Wright. Onwards and upwards now to finish book two in the series!
Review As soon as I heard about this book I knew I was destined to read it! I am Sussex born and bred so could easily visualise the scenes and my mother was actually in the Land Army in the relevant time period so I feel I had an advantage. Whether that enhanced my enjoyment I’m not sure because it is such an endearing story so from the outset you instinctively go back to that era of the 1940’s.
Jan’s descriptive writing forms the basis for the tension and bleakness of war, the cold sometimes lonely downs and the austerity that was around, Winter Downs is the perfect title and I think you will agree the cover is simply stunning.
Two sisters, totally different in character but with a deep bond .. Bunch and Dodo find themselves in the middle of a mystery. After finding the body of a local man known to them Bunch is determined to prove that he wouldn’t/didn’t commit suicide and that something more sinister has taken place.
Due to lack of police or suitable funding because of the war, Chief Inspector Wright is adamant it is an open/shut case of suicide and the matter should be dropped.
So begins the search for a possible killer. Bunch and Dodo are already having to adapt to a completely alien way of life after the soldiers took over their house and they had to relocate to grandma, add in rationing, black-outs and the uncertainty of war. Dodo has already lost her husband in the fighting so Bunch is incredibly protective, this all results in the need for an answer. If it was murder then there could be further danger imminent.
I enjoyed finding out about these two women as their individuality emerges, Bunch is the feisty one of the two and I admire her determination to discover the truth. It kept me hooked as the puzzle deepens and I really couldn’t see how there was going to be a satisfactory ending.
The setting is beautifully described and for anyone who doesn’t have knowledge of Sussex it is a charming county steeped in history, yes I may be biased but it was so refreshing to read and absorb my local dialect which reminds me of my grandparents!
Anyone who likes historical fiction with a strong mix of characters will relish this story. Eerie, chilling and riveting I wholly recommend it. I’m already looking forward to more from Jan. I think this is a book that will stay with me long after finishing it and I’m likely to re-read and discover even more from it.
Shamansland interview july 2017
How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
Always a hard one to answer without sounding cliched, but I honestly can’t recall when I first started to make up stories to entertain others. My Monday morning ‘news’ at primary school was always complete fabrication. At senior school my languages teacher could never understand why, after three years of Spanish lessons I still could not speak it – despite spending my lessons with head bent over my books scribbling for all I was worth. The reason was, of course, that I was busy writing westerns and noir crimes to entertain my friends and never once looked at my text books.
My first publication ‘credits’ were in a local magazine called W.I.T. produced in Horham, Sussex, with a circulation of about 50! My first ‘proper’ publication was in Visionary Tongue magazine issue 6 – all of which happened in the mid 1990s.
Tell us about your new book! When is the publication date and where can we buy it?
Winter Downs – well now! First in a series of crime novels set in Sussex, UK during WW2. Bunch Courtney finds the body of her close friend Jonathan Frampton in a snowy woodland. The official opinion is that he took his own life but Bunch is positive that he did not. And as she delves deeper into the mystery of his death so the body count begins to rise. Winter Downs launched on 3rd June in paper and kindle formats on Amazon and other outlets.
How important is your setting?
I was born in Sussex and spent my first 13 years there so I suppose it has the most resonance of any place to me. The farm where I lived had several relics of the war, pillboxes and dugouts made in preparation for the invasion so it was always there on the periphery off my thinking.
I have a love of Golden Era fiction; crime, noir and pulp. I have had several Sherlock Holmes stories in print and also several diesel punk (fantasy set in the 1930s) short stories, and writing in historic settings is something I like to do.
Is there any genre or style of writing you haven’t tried yet but would like to?
I don’t think there is to be honest. I have not gone into romance and/or erotica as yet but neither really attract me that much as a writer.
Research: chore or obsession?
I love research! I can lose myself for days looking for one tiny snippet of information that may quite literally appear in a story as no more than a half dozen words.
I do realise how hard it to get every fact right, especially those tiny throw away things (I came across mistletoe growing on the ground in one book – a parasitic plant that grows in the branches of trees…) And I don’t doubt I get it wrong now and then but I only ever use a tiny fraction of the information that I do gather. Hitting that line between accurate background information and gargantuan info-dumps is a delicate operation.
Would you rather see your stories on the big screen or the little screen?
Small screen initially; maybe as a four part serial. But big screen is good too!
Do you have your own office, study or writing space, or can you write in a cafe or the library?
Currently I have a study, but my best writing times are the wee small hours – either in bed or in front of the TV with my laptop. I have considered the Cafe option. Not having social media to tempt/distract would be good!
Do you have any pets? Do they influence your writing?
Right now I have three cats: Oberon, Betty Poop and Dilly Dumpling. Do they influence my writing? Maybe not directly. I have written short fiction that involves cats. There are no felines in Winter Downs, though there is a big dopey Labrador and several horses. I have owned dogs in the past and worked with horses. It is the old ‘write what you know’ adage. Everything you experience has the potential to turn up in a story somewhere.
Who do you consider are your major influences in writing?
This is a question I always find tough because the answer will change depending on what I am writing. Like many people of a certain age my childhood reading revolved around the Famous Five, Swallows and Amazons et al. As a teen there were books by Michael Moorcock as well as Tolkien that made impacts on me. But then I could say the same of Daphne Du Maurier and Jane Austen and Lewis Carroll (Alice, like LOTR, was required reading circa 1968). My writing is probably less influenced by my reading choices in recent times purely because having read so much it would be hard to pick a few from the many.
If you were marooned on a desert island and could take just seven books, what would you choose?
If the boat was sinking and I had to grab just seven I’d drown! I simply could not choose a mere seven.
What writer, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Du Maurier or Austen? As with the book choices there are far to many candidates to single one out over the rest.
If you could have any director to shoot the film of your book(s), who would you choose?
Pass. I don’t notice names of directors if I am honest. Not Cameron (long-winded) or Tarantino (too silly). Had they still been alive Powell and Pressburger would probably have done a great job on Winter Downs!
Jenny Barber’s web page on 3rd June 2017
“Winter Downs Blog Tour, celebrating the launch of the ever excellent Jan Edwards’ new book – Winter Downs – a thrilling ride of 1940’s crime fic starring the kick ass Bunch Courtney. I interrogated Jan to find out more…
Winter Downs is the first in your Bunch Courtney Investigates series – who is Bunch and what can we expect from future books in the series?
Bunch Courtney is a well connected young woman who is set adrift by the changes that the coming of war has imposed on her, and knows that the life she was brought up to lead will never return. When she stumbles on a murder she discovers a talent and taste for sleuthing as she interacts with the local police force; and with Chief Inspector Wright in particular.
Bunch Courtney Investigates is an open ended series with the next two already mapped out in note form and ideas for at least two more. I am hoping people will love Bunch as much as I do so that I can see her through to D-Day at the very least. After that? It could be fun to take her into peacetime; maybe as a private investigator.
How difficult or easy did you find it to get the flavour of the era, were there any research holes you fell into, and did you find any elements of women’s life in the era that resonated with you?
I do like writing period pieces. I’ve written for a number of Sherlock Holmes anthologies and have a series of diesel punk/cosmic horror tales staged in the early 1930’s and starring Captain Georgianna Forsythe.
Immersing myself in the language and social mores can be a lot of fun, and the research required is jam on the top. I do get lost in seeking out small details. I can spend hours, even days, looking for one tiny fact. It is amazing what comes to light!
The lives of woman of the 20th century are so very different to the 21st. Bunch, for example, finds herself controlling the farm as the men were gradually absorbed into the war machine, even as early in the war as January 1940, yet still treated as a ‘girl’ by many of the men in traditional positions of power; police, the military, farm manager, even her own family.
I worked for 20 years as a Master Locksmith – the first female ‘practising Master’ working in the UK. I know first hand the frustration of having men (and sometimes women) peer around me as they ask to speak with the Locksmith, because they just ‘know’ it couldn’t possibly be me… I never whacked any of them with a spanner, though the temptation was there – everyday!
You and fellow writer Misha Herwin regularly appear on 6Towns radio – how did that start, what things do you talk about and where and when can listeners find you?
I think it began with a general call to local writers who may want to guest on the Curtain Call show on 6 Towns Radio http://www.6townstv.com/ And because we had a series of events to push it somehow morphed into a semi-regular gig. We talk about writing events and our own fiction going into print as well as writing in general.
How has your radio experience impacted your public speaking ability?
I guess it has made me less self-conscious about public speaking, though talking in a studio with just the show hosts present is rather different to sitting in front of a live audience.
You and Misha also regularly organise the 6×6 Writers Café – could you tell us how you started, what it is, where, when, and how people can find out more and/or get involved.
6X6 came about because we were trying to get reading gigs for new local writers but because of library cut backs the slots available were getting very scarce. Poetry does okay for events but prose not so much. We had heard of a regular event in Birmingham that gives writers a set time to strut their stuff and decided Stoke on Trent could use something similar – 6 writers – 6 minutes.
It’s a quarterly event at City Central Library, Hanley, Stoke on Trent. To take part people can go to the 6X6 blog at https://6x6writingcafe.wordpress.com/and follow the guidelines!
Having been a long time organiser of, and attendee at, Fantasycon and other events, how important are festivals and conventions to the writer at the beginning of the career, and how does this change as their career progresses?
Conventions, conferences, lit, festivals and events such as 6X6 or Fantasycon are all great opportunities for writers to both network with industry professionals and to find a readership. It’s essential for those starting out and remains true for writers at almost every stage of their career. Yes, when someone reaches the top echelons they will be the main attraction for readings and signings and guesting at conventions etc. but they will still be out there. Not that these things should be seen as purely business, though that is an essential part of the process. I’ve made lifelong friends from going to cons either as organiser, bookseller, author or reader. They are a fun as well as productive part of being a writer.
As a member of the Authors Electric site, how important is being a part of online writer communities and what ones do you recommend?
Blogs such as Authors Electric provide support and encouragement for writers and help to connect them with readers. Having an online presence is an essential part of being an author and popping up in regular slots helps in getting a wider reach for your profile.
What would I recommend? Authors Electric of course
You’re in a crime story – are you the detective, the victim, the villain, the red herring or the plucky sidekick?
Detective naturally. Though being the villain could be fun, and the Watson personna has the advantage of being an observer of the action at close quarters.
Chat About Books Post July 2017
If you enjoy historical fiction and/or a good murder mystery, then you will love Winter Downs. I haven’t read much historical fiction, as yet, but I do generally enjoy it when I do and I have thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Bunch is a feisty character! (She very much reminds me of Mary from Downton Abbey.) She has been used to a certain way of life which has been totally turned upside down since the start of the second world war. Having to give up her home to accommodate soldiers and having to move in to the Dower house with her Grandmother doesn’t thrill her, but she accepts it’s her duty to contribute to the war effort. She is very protective of her sister, Dodo, who lost her husband to war, having only been married for a few months. The sisters are like chalk and cheese, but devoted to each other.
As their small rural community in Sussex try to adjust to rationing, black outs and other such consequences of war, they also find themselves faced with a killer on the loose. When Bunch discovers the body of her friend, Jonathan, it looks like he has taken his own life, but Bunch knows him well and is convinced he has been murdered. It will be a struggle to prove it though without getting in the way of the official investigation, which already has it’s limits due to the ongoing war. As the investigation progresses, all sorts of secrets are revealed and they are faced with more tragedy. Will they discover the truth before the body count rises?
Brilliantly written with a great mix of interesting characters and beautifully descriptive language. I was transported to rural Sussex and totally immersed in the story. I could almost feel the chill of the snowy countryside and I was as desperate as Bunch to prove her friend was murdered and to see his killer brought to justice. The conclusion is one I definitely didn’t see coming!
Oh, and I love the Sussex dialect used, although it took me a couple of re-reads to understand on occasion
Gaslight crime july 2017
We’re delighted to bring you an interview with writer Jan Edwards, author of the newly published historical crime novel Winter Downs.
I absolutely loved Winter Downs, which takes place in a fascinating time in a lovely part of Sussex that Kipling called our blunt, blow-headed, whale-backed Downs. The perfect setting for the first novel in an atmospheric new crime series. If you enjoy classic, Golden Age style whodunits with engaging sleuths, a twisting plot and a wonderful sense of place – you’re in for a great treat.
Here’s Jan to tell us about Winter Downs and her writing process…
Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
Spike Milligan had the right answer for this one, “I was born at a very young age…” Not much to be said about me as such; usual number head and hands. And the old adage that most people do not move more than 20 miles from their place of birth has never applied to any of my tribe. I am a Sussex girl by birth, though Mother was Welsh/West Country mix and Father a Geordie/Oxfordshire lad. I currently reside in North Staffordshire with my husband Peter Coleborn and the obligatory authors’ clowder of cats. But Sussex remains my spiritual home.
On the fiction front much of my short fiction has concerned folklore because that is a passion of mine. This often reads as horror/fantasy, and I am a past chairperson of the British Fantasy Society. I have two collections of short fiction available, Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties and Fables and Fabrications. My contemporary novel, Sussex Tales, won a Winchester Slim Volume award, and is a nostalgia piece about rural communities in the early 1960s.
Tell us about your new book.
My new crime novel, Winter Downs, is also set in Sussex (a recurring theme in my fiction).
How did I jump from all of the horror to crime? I have always read crime in large quantities, especially those Golden Age volumes set between 1920s and 1950s. The period detail is fascinating and perhaps once again it is my love of folklore that has me seeking fiction that is not set in the now. I was lured into writing Sherlock Holmes fiction for several projects and adding the sum of those factors into a recent-history crime novel was a natural progression in my mind.
The crime and horror genres frequently leach across each other as both deal with the seamier side of existence. Though Winter Downs is not a horror story in the slightest. Yes it has a body count but its a pretty straight whodunnit .
Winter Downs in brief: “In January of 1940 a small rural community on the Sussex Downs, already preparing for invasion from across the Channel, finds itself deep in the grip of a snowy landscape, with an ice-cold killer on the loose. Bunch Courtney stumbles upon the body of Jonathan Frampton in a woodland clearing. Is this a case of suicide, or is it murder? Bunch is determined to discover the truth but can she persuade the dour Chief Inspector Wright to take her seriously?”
How did you decide on the setting of Winter Downs?
Sussex is never far from my heart. It is a truly magical place so if I am honest I don’t think I ever considered setting it anywhere else. Why WW2? Growing up in rural Sussex of the 50s and 60s, amongst the pill boxes and air strips left over from that time, made an impact, though I didn’t realise it at the time. The setting for my story just evolved as these things do. Probably, as I said before, because I prefer my own reading to be somewhere and some time other than the here and now, which I don’t need to read about because I’m already here… if that makes sense.
Do you have a typical writing day?
I am far too disorganised to have a routine, so answer to that question is a resounding no. I am a bit of a night owl and write most of my fiction in the wee small hours, so perhaps I have what could be seen as a writing night?
As you’ve written a period crime novel – do you enjoy research?
I absolutely adore research. I can get lost for hours reading reams and reams of notes to find one tiny fact that may appear on the page as three words. Just recently I spent two days finding out what the applicator pads in a 1930s handbag sized powder compact would be made of, (silk/velvet appeared to be the general consensus) and that snippet took up half a sentence in the final cut.
I may appear to be totally abstract in my writing processes but fact checking is the one area that I am really strict about. I may not always get it right but it will never be for want of trying. In Winter Downs there was so much to look into. For example: despite what we are led to believe from this time and distance, by Christmas 1939 almost nobody bothered to carry their gas mask with them. Then there is the gradual introduction of rationing. Knowing the month and year in which certain items went on ration, or the fact that alcohol was never rationed at all (though spirits did get scarce), are essential detail that I hope add some authenticity to the narrative.
What first inspires you when writing fiction – a setting, plot idea or character?
Each frequently feeds off of the other. It might be a news headline or an interesting fact in a book, or someone I met on a train, but in most cases I could never identify the point of sources
Full synopsis before you start – or seat of the pants?
Generally seat of the pants. Crime does need plotting, especially with a whodunnit where the author needs to sew the breadcrumb clue trail for the reader to follow. I tend to write the story first and make sure that trail makes sense in the rewrites. I suspect that is the long winded way to go about it but Gran always told me laziest people work the hardest.
What aspects of writing do you find the most tricky?
Words? Not as silly as it sounds. I am dyslexic so using the wrong word that is almost the correct one is a very real issue. ‘To and too’ or ‘of and off’ are particular issues. Recently it was draw when it should have been drawer. Fortunately I have beta readers and a top hole editor to point those out to me!
What advice would you give to new writers?
I go to a writing group and am amazed by the number of people who cheerfully admit that they seldom read books – and when they read their work out for critique by the group that lack of reading experience always shows. So my one big piece of advice is: Read! Often and widely!
AUNTIE M aug 2017
Please welcome Jan Edwards, whom Auntie M first read about on the wonderful UK Blog Gaslight Crime, to describe her new release, Winter Downs, the first in a new series:
Many readers have asked about the inspiration forWinter Downs, and, more specifically, why the county of Sussex, England in WW2, was the chosen setting.
Put simply, Winter Downs sprang from a Sussex childhood littered with abandoned airfields, pillboxes and dugouts, along with anecdotes swapped by parents with friends and relations.
Forgetting that, just like walls in the 1940s propaganda posters, small children also have ears, and the old timers would talk about how Mr ‘V’ was jailed for sheep rustling for the black market; How Mr and Mrs ‘W’ were interned for most of the war; How sad it was that Mrs ‘Y’s only son was shot down over France, before the Battle of Britain. And yes, I listened, never dreaming how many of those snippets would be filed away in my junk-yard brain, only to re-emerge in altered form, so many years later.
My amateur sleuth, Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney, and her ancient family home, Perringham Hall, are entirely fictional. But they were inspired by a vast pool of local people and places, and their much-repeated intrigues – the sort of things from which all legends are born.
And what is Winter Downs about, I hear you ask?
“Bunch Courtney stumbles upon the body of Jonathan Frampton in a woodland clearing. Is this a case of suicide, or is it murder? Bunch is determined to discover the truth, but can she persuade the dour Chief Inspector Wright to take her seriously? In January of 1940 a small rural community on the Sussex Downs, already preparing for invasion from across the Channel, finds itself deep in the grip of a snowy landscape, with an ice-cold killer on the loose.”
INDIE CRIME SCENE JULY 2018 INTERVIEW WITH JAN EDWARDS, AUTHOR OF THE “BUNCH COURTNEY INVESTIGATES” HISTORICAL MYSTERIES
The Indie Crime Scene is pleased to interview Jan Edwards, author of Winter Downs and the upcoming In Her Defence in the Bunch Courtney Investigates series of historical mysteries. This interview was conducted by Dennis Chekalov.
How did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?
It sounds corny but I have to be honest and say I don’t recall a time when being a teller of tales wasn’t an aspiration. I spent one summer holiday, aged around eight or nine, speaking in the third person because I was imagining my world as a book. To be fair I didn’t know what ‘third person’ was at that age but I had a whole raft of characters who got up to all kinds of things. These were characters in my book and not imaginary friends I hasten to add! So when did I realise? Apparently at some point before my ninth birthday.
Why did you choose WWII as your historical setting?
I have always loved Golden Age crime and having written some Sherlock Holmes shorts, as well as some diesel punk set in the 1920s/30s it somehow seemed a natural progression.
Where I was brought up in Sussex the landscape is – or at least was back then – littered with remnants of the defences thrown up in haste between 1939 and 42. Pillboxes and dugouts that were supposed to be secret rendezvous for a small army of resistance fighters in the event of the expected invasion were our playgrounds. Being born in the decade following WW2 it was part of the psyche as I grew up and simply rose to the surface when I started out with Winter Downs.
How do you conduct research for your books?
Ooh – don’t start me on research! It’s a favourite subject. Love it! I can and do spend many happy hours chasing down small facts, either among my books or online, which quite often will appear as a single sentence in the finished book. I strongly believe that a writer needs to get it right. This is valid whether it is contemporary or historical fiction. Small details may seem inconsequential but they build up a picture.
In researching Winter Downs the subject of gasmasks springs to mind. I was asked at a reading why my characters did not carry gasmasks. The person asking me this was convinced that it was an offence not to do so. Fortunately I had done some extensive research on the subject and knew that masks were issued for every adult and child during 1939, by January 1940 it was estimated that less than 20% or the population were bothering to carry them. The rest had apparently hung them on the coat stand in the hall where they remained until 1946.
I read (buy) a lot of books on the subject. These can be biographies of ordinary people as well as those historical volumes that concentrate on specialist areas. There are many manuals of the era available. E.G. Land Girl handbooks, pamphlets on ration book cookery, SOE training manuals.
The internet is obviously a huge resource, though I always try to find at least two unrelated sources to confirm any facts. It is amazing how many times the same facts will appear verbatim on a dozen or more sites, which is fine of those facts are accurate but I have sometimes found that not to be the case. Yes the internet is a fabulous resource but it can also be terribly misleading. The same thing applies to relying on your own memory.
Tell us please about your main character, Bunch Courtney.
Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney has grown up with the best things in life. Bunch is her nickname in a slightly dysfunctional family. Her parents who were often away so that she was raised largely by outsiders.
Then, in 1939, her family home, the one stable element in her life, is requisitioned by the MOD. She struggles to cope with its sudden removal so that when a close friend apparently then kills himself she immerses herself in proving he was, in fact, murdered, and did not shoot himself everybody else insists.
Will your series include a cast of supporting characters, or will Bunch Courtney solve detective mysteries solo? What about Chief Inspector Wright — will we meet him again?
In Bunch Courtney Investigates #2: In Her Defence, and the provisionally titled #3: Bruised Lilacs, Chief Inspector Wright figures large. I love delving into the dynamics that is developing between them and think there is a story still to tell there. I have two more in planning with every intention on having the Courtney/Wright still working in tandem and ideas for several more. For now DCI Wright is a fixture. But Will Bunch ever go it alone? Who can tell…
When will we see the next book about Bunch Courtney? What will it be about?
In Her Defence is due out later this year with Bruised Lilacs hopefully following in early summer 2019. IHD deals with the problems of enemy aliens and how they were perceived by the general public and starts with the poisoning of a Dutch refugee on market day in a crowded hotel/pub where Bunch is having lunch with her sister Daphne. Bruised Lilacslooks at the problems that arise as the Blitz forces many to flee into the countryside every evening to avoid the bombings. These people were called Trekkers (long before Kirk was boldly going )
Dr. Who is one of the most popular sci-fi series; please introduce to us Olive Hawthorne. What’s her role in the Dr. Who Universe?
Olive Hawthorne was a witch who realises that the village is in great danger but is initially dismissed as a crank. I found her a fascinating character. Possibly one of the few strong female characters of the Dr Who era, and I would include many of the doctor’s companions whose sole function often appeared to be getting themselves captured for the Doctor to rescue. To be fair some of the male companions were much the same, but Olive was that rare thing, a woman in those older shows who stood up to the Doctor. She was even able to resist the mesmeric gifts of the Master. A strong female all round. I had great fun helping to bring her to life for The Daemons of Devil’s End DVD and the Telos book of the same title, whicht came out shortly afterwards.
Other famous characters with whom you are well acquainted are Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, Dracula. Who is your favourite? Why?
I have a soft spot for Holmes, and in the books and also the Jeremy Brett TV era, for Watson. I get quite cross with TV and Film versions who insist in portraying Watson as the comic buffoon. And though I know many will disagree with me I would include the writers of the most recent BBC Watson in that.
Why do I like Holmes? I suppose he was the father of the whodunnit. Agatha very expertly fleshed out that construct, but in essence Poirot is Holmes’s direct descendant.
Please present us your other short fiction.
I would have to direct you to my blog and let you look for yourself. Most of my 50 odd short stories are either supernatural or folk horror. I have written several Holmes stories, including one for The Mammoth Book of Moriarty and of course a part of the The Daemons of Devil’s End – which is the book from the DVD. My next short in print, ‘A Small Thing for Yolanda’ will be out later this year in Into the Night Eternal: Tales of French Folk Horror, with Lycopolis Press, which is based on the famous unsolved crime of the murder in the Metro, so crime but with a fantastical twist.
Many of my short stories can be read in my two collections, Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties and Fables and Fabrications.
Please tell us about your awards and nominations. What do they mean to you?
My first award was the Slim Volume prize for Sussex Tales, which was a prize gathered at the Winchester Writers Conference. I have had several short stories nominated for awards and one, ‘Otterburn’ short listed for a British Fantasy Award. The Alchemy Press gained a best Small Press award which I won co-jointly with my husband a BFS award for Best Small Press and last year I received a Karl Edward Wagner Award for body of work. My Alchemy Press Ancient Wonders and Urban Mythic 1 & 2 anthologies with Jenny Barber all gained nominations and/or were shortlisted for awards as was the Wicked Women antho that we edited for Fox Spirit. Full details on my blog site.
The most recent award is the Arnold Bennett Book Prize for Winter Downs, a golden age crime novel, which was reviewed on this site a few months ago.
All of them mean something to me because they are a sign that my work is getting out to the readers. And more to the point being read and enjoyed.