As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.
Today I welcome North West Crime Writer
Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?
I’ve always wanted to write stories – really, from the time I was able to read. And I became fascinated by detective stories at a very tender age – just short of nine years old. (I tell the full story of how that came about in the introduction to THE GOLDEN AGE OF MURDER). I wrote a mystery at age 10 – the first in a series! – and a full-length thriller while I was training to be a solicitor (my parents had wisely urged me to get a ‘proper job’ so that I could pay the rent while trying to write). But I realised the thriller wasn’t good enough to publish, and so I never sent it anywhere. When I started working in Liverpool, I began to write articles, and later books, about the law. My first book’s unlikely title was UNDERSTANDING COMPUTER CONTRACTS. Surprisingly, it did quite well. But novels were what I wanted to write, and eventually I published ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE in 1991. The hero was, naturally enough, a down-at-heel Liverpool solicitor....
As a writer based in the North West, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?
The British publishing world revolves around London, there’s no denying that. But I’ve always been devoted to my part of the country, and writing books set first in Liverpool and more recently in the Lakes has been a source of great enjoyment. Also, technology means that you can live pretty much anywhere and still do quite a bit to promote your books.
Your novels are set in the North West but I wonder do the people and its landscape shape your stories in any way?
Absolutely. The Harry Devlin books couldn’t be set anywhere but Liverpool, and when I returned to the series after a ten year gap with WATERLOO SUNSET, I really enjoyed exploring the changes in the city during that time, through his eyes. The sub-text of the series is the metamorphosis of Liverpool since the dark days of the early 80s (which coincided with my arrival there, but I don’t think I was to blame....) In a different way the Lakeland landscape – and literary heritage – is at the heart of the Hannah Scarlett books. There the sub-text concerns the pressures on rural English life, and in particular on Lakeland life..
If you were pitching the North West as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?
I have tried to ‘sell’ the North West many times during my legal career, explaining to disbelieving young solicitors why it would be appealing to relocate oop North. For those addicted to London, it’s only a train ride away, but the quality of life is immeasurably better here in my personal opinion. It’s not just that housing is so much more affordable (even in Cheshire!) but also that there is so much variety on your doorstep in terms of landscape and places to spend quality time. There’s culture aplenty – look at Liverpool’s museums and art galleries, let alone all the others – and plenty of peaceful places where you can get some writing done. An example, a short bus ride from Chester, is the unique Gladstone’s Library.
In your research for your books, do you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?
I always visit them, and for me it’s vital try to soak up the local atmosphere. So I explored Williamson’s Tunnels in Liverpool when working on FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST. I even dragged my protesting teenage children to Coniston for a very wet and cold February week-end so I could see what the place was like at the time when THE ARSENIC LABYRINTH was set. Luckily they are still speaking to me. Among many other examples, I’d highlight the fascinating west coast of Cumbria, around the intriguing ancient port of Ravenglass, which forms the backdrop to THE DUNGEON HOUSE. A wonderful part of the world, and very atmospheric.
Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?
I’ve been a member of the CrimeWriters’ Association for many years, and CWA events have helped me to form many friendships. I was a founder member of the very active Northern Chapter of the CWA, and later a founder member of Murder Squad, founded by Margaret Murphy and also including Ann Cleeves and Cath Staincliffe among others. Both groups are still going strong. I’m now the Vice Chair of the CWA, and a year ago I was elected eighth President of the Detection Club, which was the world’s first social network for crime writers. It was founded by G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and several others; that trio were among my predecessors as President, so I’m honoured and excited to have the role. We have three dinners a year in London, and they are very convivial events. Apart from all that, I enjoy going to crime conventions here and overseas.
How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?
I’ve found libraries in particular very supportive of my writing, and I enjoy doing a range of library events – including talks, workshops, and murder mystery evenings. I’m concerned about the threat to library funding – libraries form an essential part of every community and any local council and government that is committed to improving community cohesion should take care to protect and enhance the library service.
And finally, if someone is new to your work, which book do you think they should start with?
THE COFFIN TRAIL is the first of the Lakes books, and a lot of people tell me they like to start there. My own favourite in that series is THE DUNGEON HOUSE, while I’m fond of YESTERDAY’S PAPERS and WATERLOO SUNSET in the Devlin series.
You can discover more about Martin on his website by clicking here
His crime writing blog by clicking here
Huge thanks to Martin for sharing his thoughts about his work and also about
what makes living and writing in the North West so special.
Coming next week : Paula Daly