Mystery Without Gore...Bio Historical with Love

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How To Create a Crime Series-1-of-3

 

Psst! Do you want a few tips on how to commit the perfect murder?

 

You do? Okay. But before I advise you on planning the dispatch of your mother-in-law, you’ll want to know why I can help you avoid having your collar felt.

 

Publication History

I’ve had twenty-one crime novels published. Sixteen traditionally (Macmillan; St Martin’s Press (US); Worldwide (US / P/B); Severn House), and the rest Indie.

 

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Background

I come from an Irish Catholic working-class background. I suppose you could say I was one of life’s late developers in the area of personal ambition.

 

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I certainly had no idea what a criminal direction I would end up in. Killing people – and getting away with it – was far in the future.

 

When I took the 11+ examination — which would decide my educational future, I confess, I was far more interested in winning Jimmy Smith’s prize 4-er marble than I was in taking tests.

 

Geraldine Evans's Books How To Create a Crime Series-1-of-3 2020 September 24

From Wikepedia Creative Commons

What can I say? I was young for my age. Still very much a kid. Unlike eleven-year-old’s in 2020!

 

Darlings – I won the marble! But failed the 11+ examination. So it was off to secondary modern for me.

 

Secondary Modern Education

 

For those who don’t know, secondary-modern schools existed to teach working-class kids the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Then send them out into the world at fifteen or sixteen to get low-paid jobs, rather than having an actual career.

Our opinion on this wasn’t sought. As far as the educational establishment was concerned, we were all thickies. We had all been written off. So we could like it, or lump it. Either way–we were stuck with it. 

Our entire future decided before we’d even reached the age of eleven!

A Long List of Dead-end Jobs Followed

I won’t bore you with a litany of them.

Though, funnily enough, that first job was in a public library, where I could indulge my love of reading as much as Billy Bunter enjoyed the tuck shop at Greyfriars. But, like an idiot, I left the library after a year.

Looking back, that job could have provided a fulfilling career.

The last thing I wanted

But, at that young age, more exams was the last thing I wanted. At seventeen, I didn’t have either the wit or self-knowledge to look to the future, and think about a career.

Careers simply weren’t discussed, either at home or school. All that was expected was that I get the same kind of dead-end job as my peers, so I could support myself, and not be a burden. So I did.

Not the Best Start in Life

I didn’t know any better. So I just went with the flow.

But Ambition Found Me

Somehow, somewhere, along the way, ambition found me. I realised that i wanted to do something with my life, rather than fritter it away.

I’d always been a keen reader. So trying to become a published writer seemed a natural step on the road. Fortunately, I was too ignorant to know any better!

 

Oh Boy! Was I in for a Shock!

 

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Photo: Pexels

I first started writing in my early/mid twenties. But I was an amateur. A rank amateur. I knew nothing about research. Nothing about creating characters or plot. I hadn’t a clue, basically. I was a dilettante, and never finished anything.

One of Those Age Milestones

But hitting the age of thirty concentrated my mind wonderfully. I determined to finish a novel, rather than just play about at the edges. And gradually I learned how to write novels—and how to finish them. 

Long Apprenticeship

From the age of thirty, I wrote a book a year for six long years, before I achieved publication with Hale. 

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Photo: Pexels

That book was a Romantic Novel called Land of Dreams (OOP in any edition, and not yet digitalised). 

It was set in the Canadian Arctic (in an attempt to be the same, but different, from what had been previously published).

Robert Hale

After that brief brush with publication, Robert Hale rejected my next Romantic Novel. It was back to Rejection Alley.

Angry and Dejected

By then I was pretty fed up. Nobody likes being repeatedly rejected. My ‘stuff you’ mentality came into play. I felt like murdering someone. So I did.

 

I turned to Crime

Remarkably, my very first crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile, and published. It was also published by St Martin’s Press in the USA, and Worldwide in P/B.

Murderous Methods

I’ve done them all. Stabbings, poisonings, smotherings, bludgeonings. You name it and I’ve done it. I’ve even hanged someone. But that was after they were dead.

So, How Do You Start Creating a Crime Series?

By thinking, long and hard. The first book in a crime series is, I believe, the most difficult and demanding. You have to master the problems of plotting, clue laying, and red-herring scattering.

You also have to learn about police and forensic procedures. And at the same time, somehow, create a cast of characters who are capable of supporting a series.

A Tall Order!

A pretty tall order for a first effort in a genre I think you’ll agree.

There must be many neophyte writers who have fallen by the wayside in attempting to write crime novels. I might have been one of them if I hadn’t decided to do my own thing rather than follow the crowd.

 

Originality

Maybe the word originality explains why so many fail. That single word strikes terror into the hearts of a lot of new crime writers. I know it did mine.

So far, I had a writing history of five rejected romantic novels, followed by the publication of the sixth, and then more rejection. As well as the publication of various articles. Not very impressive.

So Attempting to Write a Crime Novel was an Intimidating Prospect.

Not least because of those crime writers who are regularly praised for their devilish ingenuity, god-like intellect and masterly characterisation.

It was enough to have more ordinary mortals, like me, quaking in their boots at the thought of trying to emulate them.

 

So How Do You Set About Creating an Original Crime Series?

All I can tell you is how I went about it.

I suppose you could describe the Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery novels, which form my first series, as Inspector Frost meets Del Boy Trotter and family.

For those who don’t watch British TV, Inspector Frost is something of a bumbler who’s anti-authority, but he’s smart enough to get his man.

And Del Boy Trotter is a market trader (market stall not the stock market), who’s into buying dodgy gear. He’s working-class and a bit of a ducker and diver, but witty with it.

So if you’re looking for the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes, type of crime novel – steer well clear! Though, having said that, I had one reviewer who likened me to Holmes(!).

In short, the Rafferty family has more than their share of ‘Del Boy Trotter types’. Their leisure-time activities are far from Adam Dalgliesh and his poetry writing. Or Morse and his Wagner.

The Rafferty family pursuits are nothing so refined. They’re into back-of-a-lorry bargains and other diversions of equally questionable legality.

And Rafferty’s ma, Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in such pursuits. She uses emotional blackmail to make Rafferty feel guilty when he upbraids her.

Having far more than her share of Blarney Stone baloney, she always wins these little arguments.

 

Don’t Restrict Yourself

Given the above, don’t restrict yourself to what you think are the usual sort of police characters. Like middle-aged men in suits. If something else would come more naturally to you, go for it.

Like me with Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty and his back of a lorry, bargain-hunting family – try to find the main character that’s right for you.

 

The Tricky Business of Originality

To get back to this business of originality for a moment, I think we can all agree that being original is a tricky business.

A book that one person considers a true original might be thought of as over the top by another.

While a third person might consider your hard won originality is nothing more than a poor copy of a well-known writer’s style that’s been given a bit of a twist.

So, originality’s a pretty movable feast.

What Publishers Want

Who knows?! Publishers themselves are often pretty vague when they try to define what they’re looking for.

But, even if they can’t tell you what they want, they find it easier to tell you what they don’t want.

No editor is going to be impressed by a writer who’s a copycat. For one thing, it’ll put the publisher in danger of being sued. So—no second rate plagiarism.

 

Ask Yourself Some Questions

Okay, so where do you start? You start by asking yourself a few pertinent questions. About your background, your family, warts and all. And then maybe oomph it up a bit.

 

Unusual Background

Maybe, like ex-British Prime Minister John Major, your family has a circus or funfair background?

Maybe you could have a sort of Gypsy Rose Lee type in there somewhere? A travelling crook detector with her crystal ball ever at the ready!

Outlandish, perhaps, but then wacky might be just your thing.

Or maybe your working background’s a little more conservative? In insurance, for instance.

 

An insurance investigator could get to look into a lot of suspicious deaths. And he doesn’t have to be your average stereotypical insurance worker. Whatever that is.

Maybe he desperately wants to get out of the insurance business and into the world of entertainment. An insurance investigator as comedian, given to cracking tasteless jokes at the crime scene.

A man who’s learned to judge the witnesses as he would judge an audience.

 

Feel Free

They’re just a couple of ideas to get you thinking. Feel free to use them. Or not!

 

Bit of a Scruff

To get back to me, and the choices I made when I was creating my crime series. I decided on the surname Rafferty because I wanted his name to suggest someone who was a bit of a scruff – a rough Rafferty, in fact.

I chose the name Llewellyn for his sidekick because I wanted to give the suggestion of royalty.

Dead Before Morning #1

Alongside the main story runs a humorous sub-plot, in which Rafferty is ensnared in the first of the series’ many family-induced problems.

I’ve just started #19 in the Rafferty series. I know–I should have started it months ago.

My excuse is that a modern writer can no longer just concern him/herself with the story. I wish!

 

I had it easy starting before the invention of the internet. Or Social Media / Websites / Photoshop / WordPress / Social Networking / Marketing / Categories / Niches / and a whole host of their brothers and sisters.

 

So, Some Serious Studying was Necessary.

Which is what I’ve been doing, rather than getting on with Rafferty #19.

As well as biting the bullet and accepting that my website needs a complete overhaul.

From start, with this particular website (in 2010) to finish (now, midway through July 2020). Ten years worth of work. It’s enough to send a girl sobbing into her dotage.

To Return to Series Creation

And similarities. I thought if Rafferty shared class and education with me, he might as well have other elements of similarity. Why not? Other writers do.

Would a non-classical music lover have created Morse? Would someone who knows little and cares less about poetry have created the poetry writing Adam Dalgliesh?

Well, possibly, i suppose. But it’s far more sensible to make use of elements from your own life, as I presume those devilish types did.

 

A Character You Can Empathise With

One who was as near me as I could get. Believe me, it helps!

Even though I’m not a man, I made Rafferty male because I felt the relationship with his ma was important. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that there would be more scope for humour with a male main character.

You’ll Have Enough Trouble

In creating a plot that conceals as it reveals. With coming up with clues, red herrings, a satisfying denouement and the rest.

You won’t need to increase your difficulties by having a lead character from a totally different social background from yourself as well.

As I said, my background is Irish-Catholic working-class. So is Rafferty’s. I was educated (sic) in a Roman Catholic secondary modern. So was Rafferty. I come from a large family. So does Rafferty (four kids in my family, and six in Rafferty’s. What a bunch of breeders!).

There are a few differences, of course. Apart from the differences in gender. But the basic elements of similarity are there. They all help to give the writer a ‘feel’ for a character and their background. Something I regarded as essential when I hoped to carry him through a series of novels.

Unsavoury Habits of Youth

There are a lot of working class policemen out there – just like Rafferty – who have risen up the ranks. Leaving behind them the less savoury habits of youth and family.

Often, they’ll have had to shed or at least conceal, certain aspects of their character. Prejudices of one sort or another, for instance. Or, like Rafferty, a family with a love of dubious ‘bargains’.

But just because our policeman character has found it necessary to change doesn’t mean to say his family would be so obliging as to do likewise. He would have parents, siblings, nephews, nieces and so on, all with their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong. And all beyond the lead character’s influence or control.

Imagine such a family. They’d be only too likely to embarrass your lead character.

 

Think of Ex-PM

Now, i know we’re talking fictional policemen here, but just think again for a moment, of John Major and his family. Of Terry and Pat, and the trapeze-artist, gnome-loving father.

Nothing criminal there, of course. But still, what ammunition they provided his enemies – of whatever political persuasion. He must have often wished he had been an only, lonely orphan. Rafferty often wishes the same!

It doesn’t take a major (go on – groan!) Leap of the imagination to see that a policeman, in a position of authority, with the need to be seen to uphold the law can easily be embarrassed by a less than honest family. He could even have his career put at risk by them.

I was well into my stride now and decided that if Rafferty was going to be working-class like me, he might as well have other elements of ‘me’. Why not? it not only makes life easier, it also helps me relate to the main character and to the past which has helped to shape him

Memories

But in order to have a ‘past’, he’s got to have memories. And the best memories, from the point of view of believability, are one’s own memories.

Which is something else you might perhaps care to bear in mind if and when you start creating your own crime series.

I’ll give you an example.

In Down Among The Dead Men, the second in the series, I had Rafferty reveal – just as I remember doing – that as a schoolchild he and his classmates would attend Friday afternoon Benediction at the local Catholic Church. There, they would sing Latin hymns without – as they had never been taught any Latin – having a clue what they were singing about.

Not much, perhaps, in the broad sweep of a novel, but it’s little touches like that which help to bring a character to life. Which perhaps helps a reader to identify with them, to the point of saying, ‘yes. I remember doing that.’ it helps to make it all more real.

Once i had Rafferty down on paper, i gave a lot of thought to his sidekick. But that’s for the second of my three-parter articles. So tune in next time!

 

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Mike Jecks: Prolific Author of the Last Templar

The Guest Author today is the Enviously Prolific Michael Jecks!

Makes me feel like a sloth.

He’s also branched out from writing his very popular historicals into thrillers. Is there no end to this man’s talents? (Gnashes teeth!).

 

Meet Guest Author Mike Jecks

Michael Jecks 01Hi, I’m Mike Jecks, always writing under the name Michael Jecks, and I’m the author of 35 published books, as well as a bunch of short stories, novellas with Medieval Murderers, and, let’s not forget, five unpublished books.

I never meant to be a writer.

Back in the 1980s, I embarked on a new career in computing. Before that I’d been determined to have a life as an Actuary. What’s that? A mathematician and statistician who applies his brain to insurance and finance problems. Or, as I learned later, having failed every exam for two years, a person who finds accountancy too exciting.

I thought there must be more to life, so I set out to be a computer salesman. And I did very well. My first 5 years saw me as one of Wordplex’s top salespeople; my second 5 years saw me as a successful salesman in Wang Laboratories. However, sadly, the recession of the late 80s meant that after 13 years selling, I had achieved 13 jobs.

For the sake of the mortgage (and my sanity) it was time to change direction. In 1994 I sat down to write a book. I needed the money!

I took a straightforward approach to my writing, imposing the same discipline as I’d experienced at work. Because writing is a job, and it’s a damn hard one. Few jobs are so all-encompassing, requiring the practitioner to be thinking about his or her work every waking hour, every day of the week. Especially for such dreadful money. Still, I was keen to make a go of it and so on the first of January, 1994, I sat down to write a novel.

What sort of novel? Well, my first idea was, to write something I would want to read. If I’m not enthusiastic about something, I can’t expect to make someone else excited.

At the time I was an avid reader of all things thrilling. I loved Frederick Forsyth, Adam Hall, Alistair Maclean and all the other old-fashioned thriller writers, so I set out to write a book like theirs. However, working 7 days a week meant I finished that at the end of the month. Undeterred, I hunted around for another style of writing I liked. I loved The Name of the Rose, and that immediately struck me as the kind of book I’d like to write – but without the lengthy descriptions of door-frames and architecture!

I had recently read about the Knights Templar in a wonderful book by the historian John J Robinson called Dungeon, Fire and Sword, and so set out to explain a little more about the Templars and what sort of men they were. It was to lead to the Templar Series of crime novels, with the latest, number 32, Templar’s Acre, being published last year by Simon and Schuster.

The first book, sadly, called The Sniper, was snapped up by Bantam Press only to be rejected a few days later. It was a good thriller, with bombs, drugs, bullets, sex and heavy metal music. However, it was also all about the IRA, and because they agreed their first cease-fire, the book was instantly redundant!

Still, in early 1994, I had two manuscripts and I needed to see my books in print. To achieve that, I knew I had to get an agent. Everyone is always fascinated to know how an author gets an agent. The simple answer is, the author has to depend upon luck.

Michael Jecks 02I got hold of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which lists all the agents in the UK and USA. This wonderful book showed me all the agents who were likely to take on my kind of work. I went through methodically, looking for someone who would be able to tell me whom I can call by phone.

But the problem was, all the agents said “In the first instance, send two sample chapters and a full synopsis”. That was fine, but I didn’t want to run that risk. I wanted to talk to someone (I had been a salesman, after all). There was one lady whose insertion said, “Please phone me”, so I did. And every time I tried, clearly so did all the other aspiring authors that week, because her line was constantly engaged.

Finally, in despair, glancing at the opposite page of the listing, I saw a lady with the same name as my wife. “Well,” I thought, “at least I won’t forget her name.” I called, arranged a meeting, and one week later she was representing me.

The trouble is, all agents suffer from the same problem as editors. They all receive more than 12 unsolicited manuscripts a day. For your work to get through, it has to really shine. Work with blemishes – typos, inaccurate grammar and punctuation, repetitions or simply the wrong use of language – will not pass. Editors and agents are looking for reasons to reject work, not reasons why they should take on something new.

The other thing is, rejections don’t mean work is no good. Everyone has an off day. If the editor tripped over the dog that morning, had a steaming row with her husband, fell off her push bike on the way to work – well, it’ll affect her view of the world. Your work has to be stupendously good to get past her on a morning like that!

However, I was very lucky. My agent took me on, and although we had one rejection for The Last Templar, the second publisher my agent sent it to was Headline, always an enthusiastic publisher of popular, commercial books. They took it on and immediately commissioned two more books in the series.

Michael Jecks 03My writing career has been very fortunate. From early on I was writing two books a year and regularly going to visit writing and reading groups, giving talks at libraries and festivals. At a few of these I began to meet with other historical writers, and I met with Professor Bernard Knight, who wrote about the 1100s; Ian Morson, who wrote about the 1200s; Susanna Gregory with her excellent late 1300s stories; Karen Maitland and her suspenseful thrillers in all periods; Philip Gooden; CJ Samson.

These all became firm friends, and I had a brilliant idea: all of us declared how much we hated public readings. Rather than that, why didn’t we join forces, I suggested, and become a performance group covering the different periods in English history? Thus Medieval Murderers was born.

A second inspiration struck after Medieval Murderers had been aimlessly wandering around the country for a year or two: why not write a book as well? We had a lengthy meeting (in a pub) and soon afterwards started work on The Tainted Relic.

This was a new concept: a novel composed of a series of interlinked novellas, all dealing with the one coherent theme through the book, but with sections written by authors in the Medieval Murderers collective. In ten years, we have ten editions of Medieval Murderers books, the latest being published in 2014: The Deadliest Sin.

Because I have always been keen to help new writers, I organised the Debut Dagger Competition for the Crime Writers’ Association for a while, and helped several new writers get their first novels into print. This interest hasn’t faded. I’m now helping organise the AsparaWriting Festival for aspiring writers. An odd name, but the aim is to run author-led workshops over the six weeks of the Asparagus Festival at Evesham every year. Authors come and host a meal at the fabulous Evesham Hotel, then lead a day of workshops the following day and give amusing talks on writing too. This year we were fortunate to have brilliant writers like Peter Guttridge, Alyson Hallett and Simon Brett.

I write in a manner which I like to think of as total immersion. When I am embarking on a new novel, I like to write the first draft quickly, so that the inspiration and enthusiasm doesn’t wane. I write in solid blocks of text and time. I set myself targets, usually of 5,000 words in a day, and split these up into one hour blocks. I can easily write 1,000 words in 50 minutes, so I write for that long, then get up, make a coffee or tea, and all the while I’m thinking about the next scene. After my ten minute break I can return to my desk moderately refreshed and keen for the next writing.

Of course, nothing always goes perfectly to plan. Sometimes words don’t come easily first thing in the morning. When that happens, I write blog posts, tweets, notes and outlines for other scenes or stories. That way I keep my own interest up without writing complete twaddle in a novel.

Michael Jecks 04There is such a thing as “writer’s block”, but all too often it’s a mental pebble in the way of the tank of writing. The tank should be able to crush that pebble: it’s just a case of starting the engines and letting out the clutches. I’ve never had a problem because I cannot allow it. I’ve been earning my living as a professional novelist for 20 years now. I am a writer: it’s what I do. I will not allow a morning’s hangover or general grumpiness to get in my way; rather, I will incorporate those feelings and irritations into a character. If I have a hangover, I’ll inflict the same on a character and explain my headache through his head.

Rotten, aren’t I?

The first book, The Last Templar, introduced my main characters, but it was also an introduction to the moors themselves. Dartmoor is a wonderful place, with mainly rolling, unspoiled grassland strewn with rock and granite outcrops on the top of the hills. It has an atmosphere all of its own, and what I find most delightful is the way that you can leave the 21st Century behind.

Stop the car, walk for ten minutes, and you could be back in the middle ages. There is nothing but the swish of the grasses, the hiss of the wind soughing between rocks, the cries of buzzards high overhead, the piping of the smaller birds in the furze. It was this that led me to base so many books in the moors, because the reader can all too easily travel to Dartmoor and experience what mediaeval was like. The books bring the moors to life, but the moors bring the books alive too.

The books have changed over time, which is no surprise: after all, my books are now the longest-running series written by a living crime author. The first third, roughly, dealt with aspects of mediaeval life that interested me: persecution, witchcraft, tin mining, mercenaries, markets, leprosy – a wide variety of matters.

Then I progressed to Dartmoor legends and old tales for a few books, such as The Devil’s Acolyte and The Sticklepath Strangler. Soon, however, I moved into a different phase in which I was taking actual murders and looking at the Coroners’ Rolls or ecclesiastical court records to pick out specific examples, such as The Mad Monk of Gidleigh. This has, I think, made my stories rather more compelling, because I am looking at the serious themes of life and death through the eyes of contemporary victims and persecutors.

The final stage of the series became an investigation of the end of the reign of King Edward II. This period was like gold dust for a novelist for, as I explain in the forward to No Law in the Land, there was a complete breakdown of social order. Ideal for murders to proliferate!

However, all good things must eventually come to an end. I loved the Templar series, and still do, but it’s time to take a holiday.

AoVA couple of years ago I decided to break with my own tradition in several ways. First was, I wrote a novel without a commission: Act of Vengeance. This was a book that led directly from the events following on from 9/11, and is a very fast-moving modern spy thriller: a kind of mix of George Smiley and Jason Bourne. I was enormously fortunate to have Lee Child give me a generous comment on it. He said: “An instant classic British spy novel – mature, thoughtful, and intelligent … but also raw enough for our modern times.  Highly recommended.”

For me, Act of Vengeance was a bit of a break. However, I’ve been thinking about other books too. The result was, this year, my latest novel set in the 1300s, Fields of Glory from Simon and Schuster. Moving on a little from the Templar books, this is set firmly in the Hundred Years War, and looks at the lives of the regular platoon-sized group of men during that war. I look at the type of man who joined Edward III’s armies before Crécy, how they lived, how they fought, how they thought. It was brilliant fun, and has reached a whole new audience of readers. I’m now completing the second book in that series (it’ll be a trilogy) before embarking on another espionage story with the characters from Act of Vengeance.

FTLoOB NchyS TST

And to test the water, I have put out two collections of short stories: For the Love of Old Bones and No One Can Hear You Scream which are selling gratifyingly well.

Writing two books a year leaves little time for outside interests, sadly. In the main, I love sketching and watercolouring badly. I adore my dogs and walking with them over Dartmoor, which has given me the inspiration for so many of my books. I used to be a keen shooter, archer and skier, but sadly finances have put paid to these. So, for now, I focus on the writing and painting, both of which I find enormously fulfilling.

Details of the books in print:

lasttemplar_paperback_1471126455_72 merchantspar_paperback_1471126439_72 moorlandhang_paperback_1471126471_72 creditonkill_ebook_1471126390_72 abbotsgibbet_paperback_1471126412_72 lepersreturn_paperback_1471126374_72

THE LAST TEMPLAR

When a spate of burnings occur in a quiet Devon village, Bailiff Simon Puttock is grateful for the help of the astute yet strangely reticent Sir Baldwin, who has recently come to live nearby. Are the deaths linked, and will the murderer strike again? (First published March, 1995; reissued June 2013)

THE MERCHANT’S PARTNER

The midwife and healer Agatha Kyteler has only ever helped the locals, but to some superstitious folk her skills seem like witchcraft. Sir Baldwin and his friend Simon must forge a path through the suspicion, jealousy and disloyalty of the little village to find her murderer. (First published November, 1995; reissued June 2013)

A MOORLAND HANGING

A runaway serf can expect death if his lord catches him, but Peter Bruther can claim the protection of the King when he runs to Dartmoor, so his death is murder. But with the tinminers’ protection racket, Sir William Beauscyr’s feuding sons, and the strange northern knight, there are too many suspects. (First published May 1996; reissued June 2013)

THE CREDITON KILLINGS

The arrival of a brutal band of mercenaries is fearful enough for the small town of Crediton, but when a servant girl is found murdered and the mercenary captain’s treasure is stolen, Simon and Baldwin find that the Crediton Killings have only just begun. (June, 1997)

THE ABBOT’S GIBBET

Tavistock’s fair should be a time of enjoyment, but a decapitated corpse ends that. Simon and Baldwin cannot even tell who the victim was, yet they know that beneath the activity of the bustling fair, anger and violence lie ready to burst out. (April 1998)

THE LEPER’S RETURN

Civil war looms and a goldsmith is murdered in his own hall. Baldwin and Simon must seek the murderer quickly, before the wild rumours make the angry townspeople take their revenge on the lepers in the local hospital, causing wholesale slaughter. (November, 1998)

squirethrowl_paperback_1471126358_72 belladonnaat_paperback_1471126331_72 traitorofstg_paperback_1471126315_72 boybishopsgl_paperback_1471126293_72 tournamentof_paperback_1471126277_72 sticklepaths_paperback_1471126250_72

SQUIRE THROWLEIGH’S HEIR

After Squire Roger dies, falling from his horse, his five year old son inherits. When he too dies, Baldwin is convinced that it was no accident, but so many had motives to kill poor young Herbert. Little do Baldwin and Simon realise how shocking and sinister this investigation will prove. (June 1999)

BELLADONNA AT BELSTONE

It is hard to run a convent, but Lady Elizabeth, Prioress of Belstone, must fight devastating competition for her very position. And then young Moll is murdered, and she must call for the help. Baldwin and Simon find that primitive passions and secret ambitions are prevalent even in a house of God. (December, 1999)

THE TRAITOR OF ST GILES

A warrior lies dead, one of his hounds dead at his side, and nearby is the body of a convicted felon. Could the felon have killed a trained knight and his dog? And if he did, where is the knight’s horse and his money? And then Baldwin and Simon learn that the dead knight was ambassador to the king’s hated friends, a man with many enemies. (May 2000)

THE BOY-BISHOP’S GLOVEMAKER

When Ralph, a noted philanthropist, is found dead, Exeter’s people are baffled, but then a youth is poisoned in the Cathedral and the mystery deepens. Was it suicide, or was he killed by outlaws in revenge for the hanging of their comrade? Hidden by the Christmas celebrations, there is a ruthless murderer who will soon strike again. (December 2000)

THE TOURNAMENT OF BLOOD

A tournament should be a time of pageant and pleasure, and yet before it can begin the man financing it is found beaten to death. Soon, even as the tournament gets under way, more men are found dead, and Baldwin and Simon must catch the murderer before he can kill again. (June 2001)

A gem of historical storytelling… authentic recreation of the modes and manners, superstitions and primitive fears that made up the colourful but brutal tableau of the Middle Ages

Northern Echo

THE STICKLEPATH STRANGLER

The joy of an innocent afternoon’s play is shattered when two girls find a skull. Baldwin and Simon join the Coroner and learn that there have been several murders over the last seven years, but were they committed by a man – or is there a supernatural explanation? (November, 2001)

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THE DEVIL’S ACOLYTE

In the autumn of 1322, history is about to repeat itself, or so it seems. A man has been found dead on the moors, and wine has been stolen from the Abbot’s private stores. It is reminiscent of the legend of Milbrosa and the murders of the Abbot’s way …. but does the Devil really provide the key to Tavistock’s present fears? (June, 2002)

THE MAD MONK OF GIDLEIGH

When Mary is killed, the priest’s sin seems all too clear, yet Mary was not the simple miller’s daughter many thought. Many are devastated by her death, including Sir Ralph of Gidleigh himself, and when the truth about her murder emerges, life for the folk of Gidleigh won’t be the same. (December, 2002)

THE TEMPLAR’S PENANCE

After the shocks of the Mad Monk of Gidleigh, Baldwin and Simon have decided to make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, but even here they find that murder is not far away. A group of pilgrims is attacked by outlaws, then a young girl is found murdered near Santiago, and the local pesquisidore soon asks Simon and Baldwin to help try to find the killer. (June, 2003)

THE OUTLAWS OF ENNOR

Returning with relief from their pilgrimage, Simon and Baldwin are thrown from their course by pirates and foul weather. Simon is horrified to wake to recall that his friend was thrown from their ship as they neared the strange islands of Ennor. There Simon is asked to help seek the murderer of the hated local tax-collector, but his searches are hampered by knowledge of the hatred between the community on Ennor and their neighbours on St Nicholas. (January, 2004)

THE TOLLS OF DEATH

At last Simon and Baldwin are once more on the mainland, and their journey home should be shorter, but as they pass Cardinham, they learn that there has been murder in the little Cornish vill: Athelina and her two sons are dead. Baldwin and Simon soon realise that these deaths are not isolated, and want to help find the killer, but when the country is about to become embroiled in civil war, how can they hope to serve justice? (May, 2004)

THE CHAPEL OF BONES

Forty years ago, Exeter Cathedral close rang to the clamour of weapons, shouts of defiance and screams of pain. Afterwards, the bodies lying in their own blood bore silent witness to the conflicts that were tearing at the heart of the Cathedral itself. Today, in 1323, more deaths have occurred. Is the first an accident? The second is surely murder, brutal and foul. (December 2004)

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THE TAINTED RELIC (by the Medieval Murderers)

A cursed relic, a piece of the True Cross which was cursed when it was stolen from a church, has passed on through time with disastrous results: the Medieval Murderers collaborate on a series of novellas, telling how their sleuths each in turn encountered the relic. (May 2005)

His research is painstaking down to the smallest detail, his characters leap alive from the page, and his evocation of setting is impressive

Book Collector

THE BUTCHER OF ST. PETER’S

A strange man is entering people’s houses at night, causing panic amongst householders, because this is a man who likes children. And although many had thought him harmless, now he seems to have committed murder. A man lies dead in his own home, slaughtered merely for trying to protect his children, and the folk of Exeter want this menace caught and hanged. (May 2005)

A FRIAR’S BLOODFEUD

Bloodshed and mayhem reach almost into Simon Puttock’s own household: Simon’s servant, Hugh, has been granted leave to look after his wife Constance and help raise her child. One day she is attacked and raped by a gang of men at her home. She sees her son being murdered and then her man Hugh is struck down, before she is killed and the house set on fire.

SWORD OF SHAME (by the Medieval Murderers)

From its first arrival in Britain, with the Norman forces of William the Conqueror, violence and revenge are the cursed sword’s constant companions. From an election-rigging scandal in 13th century Venice to the battlefield of Poitiers in 1356, as the Sword of Shame passes from owner to owner in this compelling collection of interlinked mysteries, it brings nothing but bad luck and disgrace to all who possess it.

THE DEATH SHIP OF DARTMOUTH

In Dartmouth, a man is found lying dead in the road. But the inhabitants of this little haven dismiss his death as a drunken accident, their attention turned to more worrying matters – piracy. A ship, the St John, has been discovered, half ravaged and the crew missing, in an attack that bears all the hallmarks of the supposedly disbanded Lyme Pirates. Could this be the beginning of a vicious onslaught, or is something even more sinister happening?

Shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award.

THE MALICE OF UNNATURAL DEATH

Roger Mortimer – the King’s most hated enemy – has escaped from the Tower, and the King’s life is threatened. Baldwin and Simon know the dangers of becoming embroiled in politics, in these bloodthirsty times. But when two bodies are found in the city’s streets, the Bishop calls upon them to find out who was responsible. And one of the dead men was a messenger, carrying a dangerous secret…

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DISPENSATION OF DEATH

The first of a short mini-series in which Baldwin and Simon are thrust into first national politics, and then international. They are taken to London with the Bishop of Exeter as part of his coterie of advisers and guards. There, they learn that there has been murder committed within the palace of Westminster itself. The King demands that they help find the murderer.

THE TEMPLAR, THE QUEEN AND HER LOVER

Isabella, Queen of England, has been dispatched to France in an attempt to bring about peace between the two countries, and Baldwin must accompany her. But the day after their arrival, a servant is found murdered, with Baldwin’s dagger lying next to the body. As Baldwin struggles to prove his innocence, the killer strikes again. With so many English enemies gathering in Paris, will Baldwin be able to expose the culprit in time to protect the English King?

HOUSE OF SHADOWS (by the Medieval Murderers)

Rumours of ghosts and dark secrets abound at Bermondsey Priory; when the daughter of one of the hated Despenser’s servants is found dead in the surrounding marshlands, Bishop Walter asks Baldwin and Simon to investigate.

THE PROPHECY OF DEATH

Baldwin and Simon return from France, but cannot extricate themselves from affairs of state: they have an urgent message for the King. Once more they find themselves at the centre of a deadly court intrigue involving the most powerful and ruthless men in the country. Has Baldwin won the enmity of the most dangerous man in England?

KING OF THIEVES

In their most dangerous mission yet, Baldwin and Simon must uncover a deadly assassination plot that will change the course of English history.It’s 1325, and Sir Baldwin de Furnshill, Keeper of the King’s Peace and his friend Bailiff Simon Puttock are in France to join Prince Edward and Bishop Walter’s entourage as they make their journey to the palace of the French king, Charles IV. The Prince must make a demeaning submission in order for the English to keep hold of their French territories. Meanwhile, Queen Isabella has been causing a scandal in the French courts with English traitor Roger Mortimer. The Prince’s entourage are delivered into the Queen’s custody, but it becomes clear that they have enemies within the palace walls. Simon and Baldwin soon discover a murderous plot that threatens England’s future…

NO LAW IN THE LAND

At last, Baldwin and Simon return to Devon – but is this good news? When they inform King Edward II that his estranged wife, Queen Isabella, is set on defying him, the King flies into a rage and Baldwin and Simon are told that they are no longer in his favour. Back in Devon, they discover that outlaws now hold sway in the land. Sir Robert, a knight from the King’s household, has turned outlaw from his castle near Crediton. When a pair of clerics are found brutally murdered, Baldwin and Simon are asked to investigate.

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KING ARTHUR’S BONES (by the Medieval Murderers)

1191. During excavation work at Glastonbury Abbey, an ancient leaden cross is discovered buried several feet below ground. Inscribed on the cross are the words: Hic iacet sepultus inclitus rex arturius – here lies buried the renowned King Arthur. Beneath the cross are skeletal remains. Could these really be the remains of the legendary King Arthur and his queen, Guinevere? As the monks debate the implications of this extraordinary discovery, the bones disappear…

THE BISHOP MUST DIE

1326. In France, King Edward II’s estranged wife Queen Isabella shames him by refusing to return to England, and humiliates him further by flaunting her adulterous relationship with the king’s sworn enemy, traitor Sir Roger Mortimer. When the king hears she has betrothed their son to the daughter of the Count of Hainault, all England fears an invasion of Hainault mercenaries. Meanwhile the Treasurer of England’s life is threatened. He has made many enemies in a long political life and Sir Baldwin and Simon must do all they can to find the would-be assassin before he can strike…

THE OATH

1326. In an England riven with conflict, knight and peasant alike find their lives turned upside down by the warring factions. Yet even in such times, the brutal slaughter of an entire family, right down to a babe in arms, still has the power to shock. Three further murders follow, and bailiff Simon Puttock is drawn into a web of intrigue, vengeance, power and greed as Roger Mortimer charges him to investigate the killings.

KING’S GOLD

As the year 1326 draws to a close, London is in flames. King Edward II is a prisoner – and his guards are Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and bailiff Simon Puttock. Their loyalties are torn, and soon they find themselves entangled in a tightening net of conspiracy, greed, betrayal and murder.

CITY OF FIENDS

It’s 1327 and England is in turmoil. The deposed king has escaped from captivity – and when Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and bailiff Simon Puttock ride to Exeter to admit their failure, they are greeted by bloody murder within the walls of the town.

TEMPLAR’S ACRE

Look back to the Holy Land in 1291. The Crusaders still cling to one last city: Acre. What has brought Baldwin de Furnshill, a young boy, green and scared, to this desperate battle?

FoG

FIELDS OF GLORY

The year is 1346 and King Edward III is restless. Despite earlier victories his army has still not achieved a major breakthrough and the French crown remains intact. On the beaches of Normandy, Edward’s men are ready to march through France to victory. The Battle of Crecy will be a decisive turning point in the Hundred Years’ Wars. This is the story of that battle and the men who won it.

OTHER MEDIEVAL MURDERS BOOKS

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With thanks to thestoryreadingape blog: https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2014/09/13/reserved-for-mike-jecks/

 

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My Biographical Historical Novel, Reluctant Queen: About the Little Sister Of Henry VIII

 

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277 Reviews over UK / USA /CA / AU

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Portrait of Princess Mary Rose Tudor: From Wikimedia Commons Wasn’t she gorgeous?!

 

Average Customer Review UK : 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)

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UK: Reluctant-Queen-Defiant-Little Sister of King Henry VIII

US: Reluctant-Queen-Defiant-Little-Sister-of-King-Henry-VIII

CA: Reluctant-Queen-Defiant-Little-Sister-of-Henry-VIII

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CREATING A CRIME SERIES

This is Number One of a Series of Three

 

Psst! Do you want a few tips on how to commit the perfect murder?

 

You do? Okay. But before I advise you on planning the despatch of your mother-in-law, you’ll want to know why I can help you avoid having your collar felt.

 

Publication History

I’ve had twenty-one crime novels published. Sixteen traditionally (Macmillan; St Martin’s Press (US); Worldwide (US / P/B); Severn House), and the rest Indie.

 

ALT: four mystery books free

Want Four Free Rafferty & Llewellyn Mystery Novels? Go to HOME

Background

I come from an Irish Catholic working-class background. I suppose you could say I was one of life’s late developers in the area of personal ambition.

 

I certainly had no idea what a criminal direction I would end up in. Killing people – and getting away with it – was far in the future.

When I took the 11+ examination — which would decide my educational future, I confess, I was far more interested in winning Jimmy Smith’s prize 4-er marble than I was in taking tests.

 

What can I say? I was young for my age. Still very much a kid. Unlike eleven-year-olds now!

 

Darlings – I won the marble – but failed the 11+ examination.

So it was off to secondary modern for me.

 

Secondary Modern Education

 

For those who don’t know, secondary-modern schools existed to teach people the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Then send them out into the world at fifteen or sixteen to have jobs rather than careers.

 

So you could say it wasn’t the best start in life.

Unsurprisingly, after I left school at 16, a long list of dead-end jobs followed. I won’t bore you with a litany of them.

 

Ambition Found Me

But somehow, somewhere, along the way, I found ambition. I realised that i wanted to do something with my life, rather than fritter it away.

I’d always been a keen reader. So trying to become a published writer seemed a natural step on the road.

Oh Boy! Was I in for a Shock!

I first started writing in my early/mid twenties. But I was an amateur. A rank amateur. I knew nothing about research. Nothing about creating characters or plot. I hadn’t a clue, basically. I was a dilitante, and never finished anything.

One of Those Age Milestones

But hitting the age of thirty concentrated my mind. I determined to finish a novel, rather than just play about at the edges.And gradually I learned how to write novels—and finish them. From the age of thirty, I wrote a book a year for six years before I achieved publicver finished anything.

Long Apprenticeship

From the age of thirty, I wrote a book a year for six years before I achieved publication. That book was a Romantic Novel called Land of Dreams. It was set in The Canadian Arctic (trying to be the same, but different, from what had been published before.

Robert Hale

Afier that brief brush with pubkication, Robert Hale rejected my next Romantic Novel. It was back to Rejection Alley.

Angry and Dejected

 

By then i was pretty fed up. Nobody likes being repeatedly rejected. My ‘stuff you’ mentality came into play. I felt like murdering someone. So I did.

 

I turned to Crime

Remarkably, my very first crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile, and published. It was also published by St Martin’s Press in the USA.

Murderous Methods

I’ve done them all. Stabbings, poisonings, smotherings, bludgeonings. You name it and I ’ve done it. I’ve even hanged someone, but that was after they were dead.

So, How Do You Start a Series of Crime Novels?

By thinking, long and hard. The first book in a crime series is, I believe, the most difficult and demanding. You not only have to master the problems of plotting, clue laying, and red-herring scattering, you also have to learn about police and forensic procedures. And at the same time, somehow, create a cast of characters who are capable of supporting a series..

A Tall Order!

A pretty tall order for a first effort in a genre I think you’ll agree.

There must be many neophyte writers who have fallen by the wayside in attempting to write crime novels. I might have been one of them if I hadn’t decided to do my own thing rather than follow the crowd.

Maybe the word originality explains why so many fail. That single word strikes terror into the hearts of a lot of new crime writers. I know it did mine.

After a writing history of five rejected romantic novels followed by the publication of the sixth. As well as the publication of various articles. The writing of a crime novel seemed not only much more demanding than anything I’d tackled before, but also extremely intimidating.

 

Intimidating Authors

The crime writers who are regularly praised for their devilish ingenuity, god-like intellect and masterly characterisation. It was enough to have more ordinary mortals, like me, quaking in their boots at the thought of trying to emulate them.

 

So How Do You Set About Creating an Original Crime Series?

All I can tell you is how I went about it.

I suppose you could describe the Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery novels, which form my first series, as Inspector Frost meets Del Boy Trotter and family.

For those who don’t watch British TV, Inspector Frost is something of a bumbler who’s anti-authority, but he’s smart enough to get his man.

And Del Boy Trotter is a market trader (market stall not the stock market), who’s into buying dodgy gear. He’s working-class and a bit of a ducker and diver, but witty with it.

So if you’re looking for the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes, type of crime novel – steer well clear! Though, having said that, I had one reviewer who likened me to Holmes(!).

In short, the Rafferty family has more than their share of ‘Del Boy Trotter types’. Their leisure-time activities are far from Adam Dalgliesh and his poetry writing. Or Morse and his Wagner.

The Rafferty family pursuits are nothing so refined. They’re into back-of-a-lorry bargains and other diversions of equally questionable legality.

And Rafferty’s ma ,Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in such pursuits. She uses emotional blackmail to make Rafferty feel guilty when he upbraids her.

Having far more than her share of Blarney Stone baloney, she always wins these little arguments.

 

Don’t Restict Yourself

Given the above, don’t restrict yourself to what you  think are the usual sort of police characters. If something else would come more naturally to you, go for it.

Like me with Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty and his back of a lorry-bargain family – try to find the main character that’s right for you.

 

The Tricky Business of Originality

To get back to this business of originality for a moment, I think we can all agree that being original is a tricky business.

A book that one person considers a true original might be thought of as over the top by another.

While a third person might consider your hard won originality is nothing more than a poor copy of a well-known writer’s style that’s been given a bit of a twist.

So, originality’s a pretty moveable feast.

What Publishers Want

Who know?! Publishers themselves are often a bit vague when they try to define what they’re looking for.

But, even if they can’t tell you what they want, they find it easier to tell you what they don’t want.

No editor is going to be impressed by a writer who’s a copycat. For one thing, it’ll put the publisher in danger of being sued. So—no second rate plagiarism.

 

Ask Yourself Some Questions

Okay, so where do you start? You start by asking yourself a few pertinent questions. About yourself, your background, your family, warts and all. And then maybe oomph it up a bit.

 

Unusual Background

Maybe, like ex-British Prime Minister John Major, your family has a circus or funfair background?

Maybe you could have a sort of Gypsy Rose Lee type in there somewhere? A travelling crook detector with her crystal ball ever at the ready!

Outlandish, perhaps, but then wacky might be just your thing.

Or maybe your working background’s a little more conservative? In insurance, for instance.

 

An insurance investigator could get to look into a lot of suspicious deaths. And he doesn’t have to be your average stereotypical insurance worker. Whatever that is.

Maybe he desperately wants to get out of the insurance business and into the world of entertainment. An insurance investigator as comedian, given to cracking tasteless jokes at the crime scene.

A man who’s learned to judge the witnesses as he would judge an audience.

 

Feel Free

They’re just a couple of ideas to get you thinking. Feel free to use them. Or not!

 

Bit of a Scruff

To get back to me, and the choices I made when I was creating my crime series. I decided on the surname Rafferty because I wanted his name to suggest someone who was a bit of a scruff – a rough Rafferty, in fact.

I chose the name Llewellyn for his sidekick because i wanted to give the suggestion of royalty.

Dead Before Morning #1

Alongside the main story runs a humorous sub-plot, in which Rafferty is ensnared in the first of the series’ many family-induced problems.

I’ve just started #19 in the Rafferty series. 

To return to similarities, I thought if Rafferty shared class and education with me he might as well have other elements of similarity. Why not? Other writers do. Would a non—classical music lover have created Morse? Would someone who knows little and cares less about poetry have created the poetry writing Adam Dalgliesh? Well, possibly, i suppose. But it’s far more sensible to make use of elements from your own life.

I wanted a character I could empathise with. One who was as near me as I could get. Believe me, it helps! (even though I’m not a man, I made Rafferty male because I felt the relationship with his ma was important and I felt, rightly or wrongly, that there would be more scope for humour with a male main character).

And with that first crime novel you’ll have enough trouble creating a plot that conceals as it reveals, with coming up with clues, red herrings, a satisfying denouement and the rest. You won’t need to increase your difficulties by having a lead character from a totally different social background from yourself as well.

My background is Irish-Catholic working-class. So is Rafferty’s. I was educated (sic) in a Roman Catholic secondary modern. So was Rafferty. I come from a large family. So does Rafferty.

There are a few differences, of course. Apart from the differences in gender. But the basic elements of similarity are there, which all help to give the writer a ‘feel’ for a character and their background, something I regarded as essential when I hoped to carry him through a series of novels.

There are a lot of working class policemen out there – just like Rafferty – who have risen up the ranks, perhaps leaving behind them the less savoury habits of youth and family. Often, they’ll have had to shed or at least conceal, certain aspects of their character: prejudices of one sort or another, for instance. Or, like Rafferty, a family with a love of dubious ‘bargains’.

But just because our policeman character has found it necessary to change doesn’t mean to say his family would be so obliging as to do likewise. He would have parents, siblings, nephews, nieces and so on, all with their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong. And all beyond the lead character’s influence or control.

Imagine such a family. They’d be only too likely to embarrass your lead character.

Now, i know we’re talking fictional policemen here, but just think again for a moment, of John Major and his family. Of Terry and Pat and the trapeze-artist, gnome-loving father. Nothing criminal there, of course. But still, what ammunition they provided his enemies – of whatever political persuasion. He must have often wished he had been an only, lonely orphan. Rafferty often wishes the same!

It doesn’t take a major (go on – groan!) Leap of the imagination to see that a policeman, in a position of authority, with the need to be seen to uphold the law can easily be embarrassed by a less than honest family. He could even have his career put at risk by them.

I was well into my stride now and decided that if Rafferty was going to be working class like me he might as well have other elements of ‘me’ – it not only makes life easier, it also helps me relate to the main character and to the past which has helped to shape him

But in order to have a ‘past’, he’s got to have memories. And the best memories, from the point of view of believability, are one’s own memories.

Which is something else you might perhaps care to bear in mind if and when you start creating your own mystery series.

I’ll give you an example.

In Down Among The Dead Men, the second in the series, I had Rafferty reveal – just as I remember doing – that as a schoolchild he and his classmates would attend Friday afternoon Benediction at the local Catholic Church and sing Latin hymns without – as they had never been taught any Latin – having a clue what they were singing about.

Not much, perhaps, in the broad sweep of a novel, but it’s little touches like that which help to bring a character to life. Which perhaps helps a reader to identify with them, to the point of saying, ‘yes. I remember doing that.’ it helps to make it all more real.

Once i had Rafferty down on paper, i gave a lot of thought to his sidekick. But that’s for the second in my three-parter posts. So tune in next time!

JOHN DESJARLAIS INTERVIEW

Geraldine Evans's Books JOHN DESJARLAIS INTERVIEW 2020 September 24

Today I’m very pleased to welcome JOHN DESJARLAIS, the author of VIPER, BLEEDER and other books. A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, John Desjarlais teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990, re-released 2000), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval thriller, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, re-released 2009) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder and Viper (Sophia Institute Press, 2009 and 2011 respectively) are the first two entries in a contemporary mystery series. His work has appeared in periodicals such as Student Leadership Journal, U Magazine, The Critic, On Being, Student Soul, Apocalypse, The Upper Room, The New Pantagruel, The Karitos Review, Dappled Things and The Rockford Review.  A member of The Catholic Writers Guild, The Academy of American Poets and Mystery Writers of America, he is listed in Contemporary Authors, Who’s Who in Entertainment, and  Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.

On All Souls Day, Selena De La Cruz’s name is entered in her parish church’s “Book of the Deceased.”

The problem is, she’s not dead.
And someone thinks she should be.  

Is it “The Snake,” a notorious drug dealer Selena helped to put in prison when she was a Special Agent with the DEA years ago? Or someone far, far more dangerous?

Geraldine Evans's Books JOHN DESJARLAIS INTERVIEW 2020 September 24
VIPER  a mystery

by john desjarlais
coming March 2011
from Sophia Institute Press

the thrilling sequel to BLEEDERHaunted by the loss of her brother to drugs and a botched raid that ended her career with the DEA, insurance agent Selena De La Cruz hoped to start afresh in rural Illinois. But her gung-ho former boss needs her back to hunt “The Snake,” a dealer she helped arrest who is out of prison and systematically killing anyone who ever crossed him. His ‘hit list’, appended to a Catholic Church’s All Souls Day ‘Book of the Deceased,’ shows Selena’s name last. Working against time, small town prejudice and the suspicions of her own Latino community, Selena races to find The Snake before he reaches her name while a girl visionary claims a “Blue Lady” announces each killing in turn. Is it Our Lady of Guadalupe or, as others believe, the Aztec goddess of Death?

See the 30-second video trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vY1wljwPe5w

That certainly sounds intriguing. Tell us a little more about your latest novel, Viper.
VIPER is the sequel to BLEEDER, a mystery published in 2009. It features a minor character from the first book as the protagonist, Latina insurance agent Selena De La Cruz. Since the first book touched upon immigration issues in rural Illinois and my main character Reed Stubblefield was disabled and dealing with insurance problems, Selena provided a way to present a positive and empowered Mexican-American character while at the same time addressing those insurance claims. As soon as she walked on the stage in those cherry high heels and with that attitude, I knew she had a story of her own. She played a larger role in BLEEDER than I’d originally envisioned. Then, in thinking about the next book and the “Book of the Dead” on All Souls’ Day, I learned that the Mexican holiday called “The Day of the Dead” runs nearly concurrently with that feast. It was clear to me then that the sequel would feature Selena and the story would be told against a rich tapestry of Aztec mythology and Mexican Catholicism.

Geraldine Evans's Books JOHN DESJARLAIS INTERVIEW 2020 September 24

What age were you when you decided to write a book and what prompted you to do it?

I was 35 and working as a scriptwriter in a small media company that produced videos for corporate training and public relations. I produced a documentary on the history of Western Christianity and became intrigued by the Irish monastic movement – scholarly men and women who valued art, literature and poetry, who were close to nature and champions of womens’ rights. Columba of Iona fascinated me in particular – a hot-tempered monk with “Second Sight” from a royal family who went to war over a disputed manuscript. 3,000 men were killed in the “Battle of the Book” in 560 AD, and in remorse, Columba exiled himself among the Picts of Scotland where he dueled the druids, miracles versus magic. He’s also the first man in recorded history to have encountered the Loch Ness sea-beast. This was material for a novel, I told myself, and I wrote “The Throne of Tara” in 1989 (it was published in 1990 and re-issued in 2000).

You have written historical novels – do you have any plans to write more?
No – I’m hooked on mysteries for the time being.
Geraldine Evans's Books JOHN DESJARLAIS INTERVIEW 2020 September 24
Did you find your background in teaching a great help when it came to
writing novels and if so, why?
Teaching literature and writing has provided me with a short cut in learning the elements of style, perhaps, although I’ve benefited more from writers’ conferences and books about genre novel-writing.  Being a teacher allows me time to write, especially since I have summers free – and my college granted me a sabbatical to finish a draft of BLEEDER.I imagine, as your books combine history, religion and mystery that you must
do a lot of research. How do you set about this? Does the research take
longer than writing the novels?
Research is time-consuming but opens up many character and plot possibilities. I love libraries, and the Internet has changed everything. I conduct interviews where needed. You might think that the historicals require more research than the mysteries, but it is a different kind of research and nearly as demanding. For historicals, one must re-create a world and pay assiduous attention to every detail of clothing, customs, architecture, weapons, food, the works. Everything contributes to atmosphere and authenticity but must never be overbearing. With contemporary mysteries, there are a whole new set of concerns. For BLEEDER, I needed to do research on blood diseases, cancer treatment, anxiety medications and other medical things. I needed to learn about the mystical phenomenon of the stigmata and the Catholic Church’s procedure for investigating such things (they are quite rigorous and skeptical about it), as well as know the process of canonization. I was not Catholic at the time of drafting and so I needed to learn about the Mass and the special services on Good Friday (I didn’t know there was no Mass on Good Friday). Then there’s all the police procedure, police interrogation techniques, police report writing, coroners’ inquests, etc. VIPER was even more of a challenge, since I had to create a credible Mexican-American female protagonist in the insurance business with a troubled background in the DEA and ongoing issues in her family.  So research about Aztec religion, snake handling, vintage car repair, firearms, DEA undercover operations and crime scene management were all easier than learning to “be” a 30-something Latina.
Geraldine Evans's Books JOHN DESJARLAIS INTERVIEW 2020 September 24

Tell us about your heroine, Selena De La Cruz, and why you decided on her
character. Is the choice of name of any significance?

Selena is a thirty-something Mexican-American woman in a family of three brothers; her Mami and Papa were well-off since he was a PEMEX executive before becoming an official in the Mexican consulate in Chicago. The family was raised in the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago. Selena’s fraternal twin Antonio developed a drug problem in the Army and was killed in a car accident in Germany, leaving her with his chili-pepper red 1969 Dodge Charger called “The Beast.” Always a tomboy anyway, Selena was motivated by this incident to join the DEA where she applied her finance degree from Loyola in the Financial Tracing division before hitting the streets where she really wanted to be. She is handy with a P226 SIG Sauer pistol, does undercover work well, and knows how to maintain her awesome car. She’s fond of expensive shoes (seized drug money pays for them) and struggles with living in two worlds at once, being bi-cultural and being an independent woman in a man’s world. Her real name is Selena Perez; she changed it to De La Cruz when she left the DEA under a cloud and wished to start afresh as an insurance agent in rural Illinois. The name is from a medieval Spanish poet and mystic she admires, Juan De La Cruz (John of the Cross). 

Here are some reviews for VIPER

“I just couldn’t put it down! More compelling than BLEEDER!”
     Regina Doman, author of The Shadow of the Bear and The Midnight Dancers

“Non-stop action, nail-biting suspense –and enough genuine compassion to warm the coldest heart. A winner, start to finish.”Jeanne M. Dams, author of the Dorothy Martin and Hilda Johansson mysteries

“A compelling mystery that will keep readers in suspense.” spiritualwomanthoughts

“Desjarlais keeps you guessing as the action accelerates faster than De La Cruz’s souped-up vehicle. VIPER strikes fast and sinks its teeth in you. You won’t be able to put it down.”Tony Perona, author of Second Advent and Angels Whisper

“A don’t miss it page turner that blends ancient Aztec mysticism, Catholic Mariology, and a good old-fashioned whodunit.”Mike Manno, author of Murder Most Holy and End of the Line  
  Geraldine Evans's Books JOHN DESJARLAIS INTERVIEW 2020 September 24

Wow! As we can see, above, you’ve had some tremendous reviews. So what next for John Desjarlais? It sounds as though your novels would make for exciting movies. Is there anything in the wind?

No movie options yet. I need an agent for that, and my previous agent left the business after a serious car accident. I managed to sell BLEEDER and VIPER on my own.

What are you currently writing?

I’m working on the third book in the mystery series and, at the moment, I think it will be the last in this arc. I’d like to try a stand-alone thriller and pitch it to an agent next year. Let’s see if Selena has other ideas.

Clearly religion has played a big part in your life. Tell us about your upbringing, where it happened and the importance that religion had in it.

I was raised Roman Catholic in north-central Massachusetts but it didn’t mean anything to me and I chucked it all in high school. However, I discovered Jesus in college and was utterly transformed. After bouncing among churches, I finally landed in the Presbyterian Church where I was a devout disciple for years along with my wife. Around age 50 I began reading the Church Fathers and Catholic poet and intellectual Thomas Merton, seeking a closer, more ‘sacramental’ union with God through contemplative prayer. I went to Catholic monasteries on retreats and came to see that the majesty, mercy, and mystery in the Catholic tradition was completely fulfilling. It was nothing like what I knew as a kid. There is a beauty, peace and wisdom here that has made me a new man. I appreciate the Catholic social teaching on justice for the poor and the weak, and the historic support of the fine arts is also a wonderful thing.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that your readers would like to know?
My wife and I are involved in retired racing Greyhound rescue. These gentle creatures make excellent family companions and I’d encourage everyone interested in adopting a dog to do a little research at a site like regapgreyhounds.org in Illinois (REGAP is “Retired Greyhounds As Pets”);  there are REGAP chapters in many states and rescue organizations in many other countries.
Thank you, John. A most interesting interview. I was intrigued to learn about your background and the widely divergent style of your novels.
An interview with John can be found in Novel Journey and Time with Tannia.Contact John at his website: http://www.johndesjarlais.com/

Visit John’s blog,
Johnny Dangerous

Meet John at www.facebook.com/jdesjarlais1.

Follow John on Twitter

Viper is not yet on Amazon, but here are the links for Bleeder – USA paper, Kindle, and UK paper, Kindle:

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