I have always been taught to write about things I know. Even fiction has to have that air of authenticity in order to persuade the reader to trust you. Writers ought to have lived, experienced, endured and observed first hand before they sit down to describe or explain. Nothing is worse than a reader saying, “No, that’s not how it is. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I had been harbouring the idea of setting one of the DI Marsh murder mysteries in a secondary school for quite some time before I finally mustered the courage to dive into the murky waters of the teenage world. To achieve that I went undercover and spent a year running a college library (OK, I did that for other reasons, too). The job provided me with a perfect cover. Young people open up to librarians more than they do to their teachers. Librarians are non-threatening and you can talk to them about almost anything. It could be the book you’ve just read or the sequel you want to reserve. Or it could be about Che Guevara and the advantages of anarchy over capitalism. It can also be about bad things that happen at home. Librarians are a little bit like priests, and libraries are like chapels. Students don’t come to libraries just to read. Some come for peace and quiet, to finish the homework they couldn’t do at home, or to chat up that girl who doesn’t hang out in the corridor outside the PE hall like all the others do. Others are hiding from bullies who would never set foot in a library (libraries to bullies are like crucifixes to vampires). There are those who just pop in to shelter from the rain, and those who want to sit down and munch their packed lunch (which, by the way, is prohibited in libraries, but then if a teenage culprit can get away with it, he will keep breaking that rule and relish the moment, as well the ready-salted crisps).
So, I spent a happy, and very educational, year in a secondary school, and after that year I felt confident enough to write, “A Conspiracy of Silence”. It is the fifth book in my DI Marsh series. A missing girl and a murdered young man are both linked to a prestigious independent school in rural Wiltshire. DI Marsh is forced to interact with petulant, uncooperative and self-absorbed teens, a condescending Head Master, and a culture from which she finds herself removed by at least one generation. Although the school I worked at is by no means the prototype for my imaginary Whalehurst Independent, my stint there helped me to recreate the vibe and construct a student community that hopefully is authentic. I should add here that everything else in the book, the characters, the murders and the plot is made up.
For my next book research, I am hoping to engage in a spot of investigative journalism somewhere nice and sunny, somewhere free of teenage anguish and full of well-meaning, sensible adults skilled in yoga, cooking and therapeutic massage. I’m thinking a health farm in Tuscany.
“A Conspiracy of Silence” (Headline Accent) is out this week and can be ordered here
When a body is found in the grounds of a prestigious Wiltshire private school, DI Gillian Marsh takes on the case. The young groundsman, Bradley Watson, has been shot dead, pierced through the heart with an arrow.
As the investigation gathers pace, DI Marsh is frustrated to find the Whalehurst staff and students united in silence. This scandal must not taint their reputation. But when Gillian discovers pictures of missing Whalehurst pupil, fifteen-year-old Rachel Snyder, on Bradley’s dead body – photos taken on the night she disappeared, and he was murdered – the link between the two is undeniable.
But what is Whalehurst refusing to reveal? And does Gillian have what it takes to bring about justice?
What readers are saying about Anna Legat:
‘Brilliant. I didn’t want to put it down!‘
‘It’s a rare author who can keep me guessing until the end – and the ending was a shocker‘
‘Plenty of twists and turns’
‘A brilliantly complex spaghetti of unrelated sub-plots to challenge any armchair sleuth‘
‘I thoroughly enjoyed this book, reading it cover to cover in a weekend’
‘I shall look out for more from Ms Legat’