t’s just five days to the release of Cause of Death!
Today, I am chatting to my fellow crime writer, Val Penny, about my characters, the lives they lead with or without my blessing, and their intrusions upon each other’s stories.
Cause of Death is the third instalment in my cosy crime series The Shires Mysteries, and as I tread deeper into it I spend more and more time thinking of my two protagonists’ personal lives and plotting what happens to them next. Their lives cannot be static. My characters cannot go stale and become predictable. In fiction (just as in life), people face challenges, transform and grow, fall in (and out of) love, lose their loved ones, discover new passions, cry and laugh, move on, look back and remember, dream, sometimes live their dreams, and sometimes live through their nightmares. Whatever it is that they go through, it amounts to being alive. Fiction is a reflection of life so it follows that my characters must have lived a little, got bruised a little and picked up a few life experiences along the way in order to be believable and relatable.
Yes, crime fiction is about murder and that’s where lives end and characters expire, but in a series there has to be continuity – the golden thread that stitches all the individual books into one coherent entity. That cohesion is achieved by constant development of the personal story of the lead detective or, as in my case, the two personal stories of my sleuthing duo, Maggie Kaye and Sam Dee.
When I conceived The Shires Mysteries, its starting point wasn’t murder but my two characters: the flamboyant, slightly eccentric, chaotic Maggie Kaye who blunders through her life, hurtling between the dead and the living, with no particular direction or purpose, and her counterpart, the sensible and rational, retired barrister Sam who escapes to the country after the untimely death of his wife Alice. Once I had those two firmly established in my mind, I could get down to murder.
As much as every book in the series can be read as a standalone, there is the thread of Maggie and Sam’s personal lives and their relationship that meanders in the background, occasionally surfacing to hijack the story. With every new book, another layer is added to give them their past, their families and some emotional depth. In book 2, At Death’s Door, we find out about Maggie’s long-lost sister, Andrea, and unpick her family secrets. In Cause of Death, Sam’s history comes to the fore as he digs into the complicated circumstances of his wife Alice’s death. At the same time, affection, trust and perhaps even love begin to blossom between those two unlikely partners in crime (solving).
As with many writers of series, I find myself deeply engaged with my characters and cannot always let them go. And neither will they allow me to sideline and forget them. It is true to say that often they’ll just take over the story and start dictating to me how it unfolds. Sometimes they will take me to places I never suspected existed. On occasions, they will force themselves onto the pages of my books, uninvited. Take Gillian Marsh, the detective inspector from my other series, The DI Marsh Mysteries. She could not stay confined to her own series, especially after I put that on pause to concentrate on The Shires, so she migrated to the Shires and makes regular guest appearances there to get on Maggie’s nerves. You see, DI Marsh is also really good at solving murders and she is quite imposing. She has almost succeeded at hijacking this blog!
Maggie and Sam’s crime-busting exploits continue in Cause of Death, book 3 in The Shires Mysteries.
All is not well in the village. The local meadows have been the pride of Bishops Well for hundreds of years, but now they are facing the sharp blades of developers. The landowner is a rich and reclusive author who is happy to see them destroyed, but the villagers – including Sam Dee and Maggie Kaye – are fighting back.
Until, that is, someone decides to silence one of their number permanently.
As Maggie and Sam soon discover, there is more than a quick buck to be made in the developers’ plans. There are age-old secrets and personal vendettas that could have deadly repercussions in Bishops Well today.
With Sam’s legal expertise and Maggie’s… well, Maggie-ness, they delve into the past, determined to unearth the truth. And, as sparks begin to fly, could there finally be something more between this sleuthing duo?