Author Interview: Alan Beechey

Beechey-cover-photo-192x276Like me, Alan Beechey was born in England and grew up in London, not far from where I lived, as it happens. He lives in the US now, and I met him at the Unicorn Writers’ Conference, where he was giving a talk on how to write crime novels. I wanted to read one of his books immediately, because he made me laugh. I know you’re thinking it’s all about that British sense of humor, but I think you’ll find his mysteries, which take place in London, refreshing and a bit off-beat. Being a person who likes to start a series at the beginning, I read his first book, An Embarrassment of Corpses, and enjoyed it so much that I’ve got the next two sitting on my electronic To Be Read pile.
And if you want a taste of his sense of humor, you could do worse than check out his blog.

GC: When did you start writing novels, and what made you choose crime as your genre?An-Embarassment-of-Corpses-177x276
AB: I dedicated my most recent book, This Private Plot, to my late parents, and I note there that my mother started it all by giving me The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot whodunit) when I was twelve. I reconnected with the world of crime as a college student  when I read P.D. James’s Death of an Expert Witness, having heard it reviewed on the BBC. And after a couple of misguided attempts at get-rich-quick screenplays with friends, I switched my mystery-reading habit to a mystery-writing habit when I settled down to write my first novel, A Nasty Little Murder. Never heard of it? It’s crap, and it was rightly never published, despite being shunted around several British publishing houses. But it taught me what voice not to use.
GC: Do your fans love your books more for your characters and plot, or for your sense of humor?
AB: From the letters and emails I get, it’s clearly the characters, which is the way it should be. Plot and humor should flow from characters and their situations – or at least look like they do by the time you’re finished. Although I am pleased when readers note that there is, in fact, a plot, and I hope a good one. I’m writing a mystery, not a soap opera.

GC: How did you come up with the extraordinary names of your characters?

AB: I found several of them in the old four-volume London telephone directory. “Strongitharm” – presumably a contraction of “Strong in the arm” – which is the name of one of my lead characters, came from those. Ever since I was young, I’ve kept notes of good names, or words that aren’t typically names but could be – belfry, welkin, moldwarp, mormal.  The last review of This Private Plot that I posted on my blog was by the magnificently named Sue Millinocket. That’s going on the list. There are also a few bad jokes shoved in (Mark Sandys-Penza? Hoo, Watt and Eidenau? I mean, come on), including a particularly filthy one in the name of the company Oliver works for in the first book. Nobody’s noticed so far. (GC: Must go back and look…)

GC: Of all the characters in all the novels, which is your favorite?
AB: Effie. They’re called the “Oliver Swithin” mysteries, but she’s almost the co-hero. Effie Strongitharm is Oliver’s girlfriend, but also a Scotland Yard detective sergeant, who works for Oliver’s uncle. I work harder on Effie, because it’s a challenge for a male writer to create a convincing female character, especially a woman working in a sexist, male-dominated environment like the police. Her appearance, especially her unruly hair, is based on that of a much-loved girlfriend from my teenage years (who tolerates her fictional incarnation), but her character is every woman I’ve ever loved, and her insecurities are probably mine.

This-Private-Plot-cover-178x276GC: How much promotion did you have to do once your books were published? And what’s the most effective way to promote a book, in your view?
AB: How much did I do? Not enough. It’s never enough, these days. I have a blog, I contribute to other people’s blogs, I do signings and readings . . . Still not enough. I think I’m destined to be a boutique. Maybe it’s enough to have a few devoted fans. One of them even tattooed my initials on her back. (If you’re reading this, hi Rebecca!)

GC: What’s in the works? More of our hero, Oliver Swithin?
AB: I’ve started the next Oliver Swithin novel. I’ve also had a non-Swithinian short story published, one that started out as a romance, but inevitably became a mystery. But the past year has thrown up a few distractions, some good, some bad, so I don’t currently have a good chunk of writing time on my schedule. This will, of course, all change as soon as someone offers me a couple of million for the screen rights to An Embarrassment of Corpses, or the BBC decide the Swithin series is a worthy successor to “Lewis” or “Midsomer Murders.”

You can connect with Alan on Facebook, Goodreads, via his blog or through his publishers, Poisoned Pen Press

The Art of the Sequel

Publishers, like film studios and broadcasters, have been trading off literary hits for decades. And 2013 was another bumper year of literary reinvention.

Earlier this month, a writer was hired to pen a fourth instalment to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson’s hit trilogy that has taken the book – and film – worlds by storm.

Larsson died in 2004 while working on a fourth novel. David Lagercrantz has now been commissioned to take on the characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist, as Swedish publishers look to cash in on Larsson’s cult creation.

They are not alone.

This year also saw Sebastian Faulks take on Jeeves and Wooster, William Boyd tackle James Bond and Joanna Trollope take on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, as well as another spin-off of the ever popular classic Pride and Prejudice, in the form of Jo Baker’s Longbourn.

There was also the announcement of a new novel featuring Agatha Christie’s Belgian crimebuster Hercule Poirot, due for publication next year.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Hercule Poirot rides again…with Jeeves and Wooster

HPI read today on the BBC website that Sophie Hannah (poet and author of the Zailer and Waterhouse mystery series) has been commissioned by the author’s grandson to write a new crime novel based on Agatha Christie’s immortal (it seems) sleuth Hercule Poirot, probably best known from the television series starring David Suchet. From the comments I’ve read on the BBC’s website, reactions are mixed, and I suppose mine are too. On the one hand, it seems a shame to let the character disappear, but if the new novel doesn’t read like Agatha Christie, will it be as good? Conversely, would it be better not to attempt Christie’s style but simply use her character? Clearly the plot will have to be set in the past – there’s no way Poirot could be expected to grapple with the modern world.

A few months ago, Sebastian Faulks, (author of Birdsong, Charlotte Gray and Jeevesmany other literary novels) was commissioned by the Wodehouse estate to write a new Jeeves and Wooster novel in the style of their original author P.G. Wodehouse. Faulks has already written a hugely successful James Bond novel, Devil May Care, so this isn’t his first attempt at writing in a style other than his own. Wodehouse seems easy to copy, but in fact, his erudition and incredible knowledge of poetry, the classics and the Bible, which he uses in many a throwaway line, will no doubt render the job difficult. But I think I will give the new book, due in November, a try because I adore Wodehouse so much that any new offering is welcome. But if it doesn’t satisfy within the first chapter, I will have to abandon it. Here’s what Evelyn Waugh had to say about PGW: “Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.” Exactly. So I can’t have my memories of Wodehouse’s world sullied by an inferior copy.

Cozy antiques – Interview with author Jane K Cleland

I’m a sucker for a good mystery. More specifically, along with most mystery lovers, I love a mystery series. And I particularly like a female detective as my chief protagonist. Maybe it’s something about the triumph of a woman who uses logic and deduction to sort out murder and mayhem that feels so good. Whatever the reason, I was delighted to meet Jane Cleland, author of the Josie Prescott “antique” mysteries, at the Westport Library recently. She was there to talk about her most recent book, Dolled Up for Murder, which revolves around the use of antique dolls for smuggling purposes, and she was kind enough to grant me an interview.

GC: You’ve written 7 Josie Prescott novels, but I know that your previous publications were non-fiction. What made you decide to write your first mystery novel?

JKC: I’ve just finished the eighth Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery, Lethal Treasure. The pivotal antique is silent movie posters. It will be out in June 2013. As to how I got started… after the publication of my last business communications book, Business Writing for Results, my literary agent said, “You use so many examples and anecdotes in your writing… have you ever thought of trying your hand at fiction?” It opened up a door for me that I hadn’t realized I wanted to walk through.

GC: You’re following in a great tradition of women sleuths. Do you read many mysteries yourself, and if so, are there any you particularly like, or that have influenced/inspired you?

JKC: Thank you. I love mysteries… it’s why, when I decided to write a novel, I gravitated toward the mystery genre. My favorite author is Rex Stout. He wrote the Nero Wolfe mysteries.. I also love Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. As to female sleuths, I like Sue Grafton’s books. I also enjoy Patricia Cornwell. My favorite female sleuth remains Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.

GC: For readers who don’t know, can you explain the genre “cozies”?

JKC: Cozies (the term comes from tea cozy, the doily cover that keeps a tea pot snug), refer to traditional mysteries that share certain qualities—it’s code to readers. First, I should clarify that a traditional mystery is itself already a sub-genre of crime fiction. Cozies are a sub-sub-genre. Second, here are the characteristics readers expect from a “cozy.” They usually:

  • Revolve around characters who live in (or who are visiting) a small town.
  • Feature an amateur detective, often a woman.
  • Avoid on-stage violence, graphic sex, and cussin’.
  • Provide an organic reason for the detective to do research… she might be the town gossip, work as a reporter, or run the post office, for instance.
  • Include domestic motives—the killer and the victim are known to one another… you won’t find random serial killers in a cozy.
  • Involve solutions that depend on the deductive ability of the sleuth. Forensics are less important in cozies than the detective using her “little grey cells.”

GC: Your heroine, Josie, lives in Rocky Point, a fictional seaside town in New Hampshire. Have you ever been tempted to have Josie travel elsewhere? (Think of the research you could do in Paris…)

JKC: I have considered this, but in cozies, the setting becomes a character. Readers want to spend time in the sweet and decent community I’ve created.  Recurring characters also become important. Readers want to spend time with the people they’ve come to care about. One reader wrote that I’d created the kind of work world where everyone would want to work. Isn’t that lovely? To me, it means that readers want to know what’s up at Prescott’s, want to be there. Also, Josie depends on a cub reporter named Wes for intelligence, and since Wes works for a local paper, no way would they fund his trip to Paris. (Nor would he have the same depth and breadth of contacts in Paris that he has in Rocky Point.)

GC: You have a recurring cast of characters. How do you keep the characters fresh?

JKC: Several plots have developed around the recurring characters, which allows readers to learn more about them. For all of the recurring characters, whether they’re featured or not, I focus on having them do as they normally would. The characteristics are the same; it’s the situations that vary.

GC: Each of your novels highlight different types of antiques. How do you do the research? Specifically, do you work from your notes as you’re writing? Or do you learn as much as you can and then write from memory? I ask this because historical fiction writers sometimes work one way, sometimes another.

JKC: I do a boatload of research and keep copious notes. I remember a lot, but I often refer to my notes as I’m writing.

GC:  Plotting is key in mystery novels. How much do you plot in advance?

JKC: I work from a synopsis. A synopsis is, in a sense, an aerial view of the story. I know how I’ll get through the woods from Maple Street to Elm Street, which is to say, from start to finish, but it isn’t until I’m actually on the path, tripping on unseen roots and stumbling into the brook that the details of the plot develop.

GC: Where do you actually write, and why there?

JKC: I have a tiny office in my Manhattan apartment where I work, but I find I write all the time. I write on planes and trains. I write as I do dishes. I’ve been known to write in my sleep, by which I mean I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night having thought of something and grab a piece of paper or dash to my computer to get it down.

9. Where can readers find you (online links)

JKC: You can find me at my website, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads