When I left you last time I was about to reveal what location I had chosen for my Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery series and why I chose it. I’ll start off by saying that I felt there was only one place I could use as a setting for such a character as working-class DI Joe Rafferty and his ‘bargain’ loving family. Essex. Anyone reading this who isn’t British will understand why it should seem his natural habitat after reading the following.
The Brits out there will all have heard of the ‘ Essex Man’ euphemism as a term for people who are stupid and common with criminal tendencies. Politically incorrect it may be, yet it’s stuck.
You may recall some of the ‘Essex’ jokes that were popular some years ago. Jokes like:
Q what’s the difference between Essex and Mars?
A there might be intelligent life on Mars
Q what is an Essex girl’s idea of a really classy meal?
A a wooden chip fork with her takeaway.
Get the picture?
But, unlike the stereotyped depiction of the working classes in ‘Essex’ jokes and many of the older British crime novels, as chip-eating, adenoidal and terminally stupid, I wanted to show that there is intelligent life, Not only in Essex, but among the working classes themselves.
As far removed from the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes type of sleuth as it’s possible to be, Rafferty is a typical down-to-earth British copper. Okay, he’s not exactly deeply intellectual or highbrow, but intelligence, like most things, comes in different guises. His working-class background has given him a street-wisdom of a kind that’s often far more valuable in police work than the more academic intelligence. And with a family attuned to picking up ‘bargains’ of the dubious sort or to getting into bother of the criminal sort, he’s often thankful for this street-wisdom which helps get him out from under.
Anyway, all this furious thinking produced Dead Before Morning, a crime novel which features a prostitute bludgeoned beyond recognition, a suave, social-climbing doctor and an idle hospital porter who had, like Del Boy Trotter from Only Fools and Horses fame, a few ‘nice little earners’ of his own.
In this first novel, Rafferty has just been promoted to the rank of inspector in the CID (Criminal Investigation Department, the plain clothes branch). His beat is Elmhurst, a fictitious town based on Colchester in Essex, the old Roman town where that original ‘Essex Girl’, Boadicea, used to hang out and harry the centurions.
Apart from Rafferty’s working-class background and his family’s teeny weeny tendency to dishonesty, there was another reason why I chose to locate him in Essex.And that was that Essex has lots of interesting historical connections. Many of the towns and villages in Essex are associated with the early settlers in America. And, because of its port links, the entire area Has always been close to the religious dissent stemming from Europe.
A bit of a dissenter himself, having been force-fed Catholicism from the cradle, Rafferty is against religion of any persuasion as a matter of principle. So it’s no wonder he feels at home in an area with such strong dissenting traditions.
Whatever the critics made of it, I must have done something right, because on only its second outing, that first Rafferty and Llewellyn crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile and published. It was also published in hardback and paperback in the States. In December, I also published it as an ebook.
I took a chance and did it my way when I created that first Rafferty and Llewellyn novel but it paid off. I’m now an established author from being a no-nope nobody whose formal education ended at the age of sixteen. It just shows what a bit of determination can do.
You can see now, I hope, how one decision about a character helps you make other decisions, not only about the lead character himself, but also about the other characters who will populate your series. And about where in the world they’re going to play out their roles.
To help me keep details of streets, pubs, etc, I drew my own detailed map. Which is something you might perhaps consider doing. It certainly saves a feverish hunt through an entire previous book or typescript trying to find where such and such a pub was situated. Or even what it was called. You can base it on somewhere real if you like. As I have said, my fictitious town, Elmhurst, is roughly based on Colchester in Essex. I have taken some elements of the town, like the castle and made up others. Now I’m not even sure what is real and what is made up! It’s all got so woven together.
You will understand from all this that my Rafferty books have a strong vein of humour running through them.
Now, strongly humorous crime novels are not to everyone’s taste. This sort of crime novel isn’t always highly regarded by critics.
But this was my book and this was how I wanted to write it. And given the perennial difficulties in the publishing world, it’s something to say that rather than making thecommon mistake of following either the herd or a fading trend – I did it my way – and actually got published.
The choice is yours. Do you want to be ‘original’ and do your own thing? Or do you want to be the same as what has gone before?
One of the reasons I write the kind of crime novel I do is that my mind has a natural tendency to see the humour in a situation. Especially a situation that contains a large dollop of Sod’s Law’. In Rafferty’s – and my- experience – Sod’s Law really does Rool OK.
Maybe your experiences are the same. If so, why fight it? In the end you have to be true to yourself.
Dead Before Morning, that first novel in the Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery series, was published in 1993. Altogether, I’ve had eighteen novels published with another just finished, seventeen of them crime, fourteen in my Rafferty & Llewellyn series and two in my Casey & Catt series.
Yes, there have been disappointments along the way, but that’s part of the life of the average writer. And the disappointments make the good times so much sweeter.
Who knows, if I hadn’t done it ‘My Way’ back when I created my first Rafferty novel, the publication of all my other novels might never have happened
I wrote the kind of book I liked to read. The kind where the writer makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me wait, even, but most of all makes me care about the characters. Admittedly, that’s just my preference. You might prefer your crime novels to concentrate firmly on stimulating the brain rather than the funny bone. But i didn’t see any reason not to try to do both.
This approach provided the bonus that I had far more fun with Rafferty than I imagine the more high-minded writers have with their characters.
And writing is meant to be fun, isn’t it? It’s meant to be enjoyable. If it isn’t why do it? After all those dead-end jobs I mentioned in my first post I was determined that I would end up doing something I liked.
There’s no reason why, just like me, you shouldn’t ‘do your own thing’ and attract a publisher who goes ‘mm. This is different.’
So, go and have fun. And give me another crime novel that provides the occasional chuckle. If you do you’ll be guaranteed one fan.
Oh. I forgot to tell you how to commit the perfect murder as I promised in the first post of this three-parter. First you –
Oh! Darn it. Look at the time. I must fly! Till next time.