Well, I’m honoured indeed to have been asked to Lisette’s Writers’ Chateau, where the dishy gardener is only too keen to show me his beds. Lisette also has a Bentley: he has the most amazing eyes and barks a formidable welcome, whilst Le Chat, the resident feline, takes her eau with delicacy and purrs as if I’ve been a lifelong friend. The châtelaine herself, of course, presides over all guests with the genteel refinement of the hostess of a superior literary salon, but then, you knew that!
She has asked me to talk about my writing of crime mysteries and I hope that what I have to say will be of interest to all visitors to the Chateau.
First, may I say that there are horses for courses and crime novels for crime addicts; I’ve read enough gruesome gore and nasty noir to confirm me in my belief that there is a limit to how much of that I and others can take and I set out to write for an audience which, like myself, prefers depiction of the psychology of the criminal mind to the painting of horror and the painstaking attention to police procedures. I wanted to develop character and use dialogue to point up the interest of interactions between people and, most of all, I sought to avoid stereotyping both detectives and villains.
In the world of my books, things are not cut and dried, nor necessarily tidily rounded off with everything sorted and satisfying. Life just isn’t like that. In a series, there are definitely some aspects that will be pursued in subsequent stories, but I still aim to make the books stand alone and have their own individuality, regardless of the presence of the same police personnel. So, readers of DI Yates know that I’ve used first person as well as third person narratives in two of the books, whilst in the other I’ve ‘got inside’ the head of one central character. I’ve also depicted different kinds of people to provide at least a sense of the human tapestry of the society of South Lincolnshire. As for the police themselves, I like to focus on different members of Tim Yates’ team; it’s interesting that Juliet has an enthusiastic following amongst my readership, some of whom were disappointed that I did not develop her much in the first novel, In the Family. Sausage Hall may go some way to address that.
I’m often asked about how I plot my books and this is a matter of huge importance to me, as my early unpublished work definitely needed the rigour of tight plotting. I try to fit plot design into our annual holiday, when I can escape from the interruptions, non-stop emails and telephone calls that my work-a-day existence always throws up. I have to spend time on clear thinking and working out how the layers of action will be interleaved and how to prevent the reader from guessing the outcome too soon. I’ve said many times that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to writing, as, so far, I haven’t written chronologically and that has meant it’s all been much harder to control the detail and the connections. However, I’m always very much aware of the total concept, to deviate from which would of necessity mean significant changes to the entire narrative.
Readers seem to like my use of language and to enjoy the dialogue, so I try to include plenty of that, enjoying the cut and thrust of conversation, especially when I can create humour in the relationships between the police officers, for I know that what one reader has described as ‘zesty banter’ is often the way by which those hard-pressed men and women cope with the stresses of their jobs. Character voice is always important and quite a challenge when it is to be sustained from one book to the next – I’m acutely aware that readers pick up on inconsistencies and I have to revisit previous stories to check up on my accuracy.
I can’t avoid giving my work what some readers have remarked on as a ‘literary’ quality. As long as it doesn’t lead me into dense passages of purple prose, my style does lend itself to touches of irony, subtleties of meaning and elements of theme and symbol that help to tie the narrative together. I don’t want to have the sequence of events dictate the terms of the books, for events themselves, though of course important, are not my prime concern.
I’ve been delighted to have built up an enthusiastic following. I started out as an author and, although most people now know that I am the commissioning crime editor for Salt Publishing, I wanted to be read for my writing alone, not because I might be ‘useful’! For one thing, I think it’s vital that an editor has credibility; after all, making judgements on others’ work is difficult enough as everyone is sensitive to criticism. Having myself ‘been through’ the harsh experiences of those who try to get published is very helpful in handling difficult moments with authors… and there are plenty of those. I also wanted to establish relationships with virtual friends on the social networks as a writer, not an editor, and I’m so lucky to have formed many of those with people around the world. They are an enduring and reliable support; I enjoy interacting with them and doing my best with what time allows to support them in their writing endeavours. I’m thrilled when they achieve success. And my blog is my writer’s showcase; I aim to make every post as perfect as I can, as well as to convey aspects of my own character and opinions. Though I’ve never said this before, there’s a reference on the blog’s author page to those see-through police boards that appear on TV crime programmes and I set out from the beginning to provide over the entirety of the posts little clues to me and my real life that regular readers could, if they bothered to do so, use to form a complete picture of Linda Bennett, as well as Christina James.
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