Friday 25 October 2019

☆Author Spotlight ~ Susan Grossey☆

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Susan Grossey back to the blog. 
Susan is the author of the wonderful Sam Plank series of historical financial crime novels.

Hi and welcome, Susan. This is now the sixth book in the Sam Plank series of historical crime novels - will you tell us where you got the inspiration for Sam and is he based on anyone you know?

I was doing some research for a client into the history of their bank and I came across the story of a corrupt London banker in 1824. As I was reading his story, I found that he was arrested by something called a “magistrates’ constable”, which piqued my interest (as I am a magistrate myself and had never heard of such a thing). It turns out that magistrates’ constables existed only for a couple of decades, chronologically between the Bow Street Runners and the Metropolitan Police, and their duty was to execute warrants issued by magistrates. They had no investigative powers and detection had yet to be invented, and yet they had a great impact on reducing levels of crime in the capital. I turned to one of the greatest resources for a writer of historical crime fiction – the transcripts of trials at the Old Bailey, which have been digitised – and found that magistrates’ constables were often called to testify. And in my browsing through these transcripts, I came across a fellow (not a constable, just a layperson witness) called Sam Plank – and I thought it was just the perfect name for a solid, dependable, honest Englishman. So Sam is an amalgamation of all the magistrates’ constables and his name is pilfered from someone else!

With each successive book does the series become easier, or harder, to write and at the start of the series did you have a plan on how Sam’s character would evolve?

When I wrote “Fatal Forgery” – the first Sam Plank story – I had no idea it would lead to a series. In fact, “Fatal Forgery” was first written from the point of view of the banker, not the constable, and then I completely re-wrote it when I realised that the constable was the more interesting character. And by the end of that book I had fallen in love with Sam. I couldn’t face life without him and decided that he could have some more adventures – one per year from 1824 to 1829, when his role was swept away by the creation of the Metropolitan Police. As for the evolution of his character, I have let Sam take the lead. In each book I try to reveal something significant about him – why he became a constable, for instance, or how he met his wife Martha, or how they feel about having no children, and (in this latest outing, “Heir Apparent”) how he copes with the imminent disappearance of his job.

When combining historical fact with fiction it must be quite a challenge to get the balance right. How do you manage this without compromising on authenticity?

I have a very clear policy that I follow: if something is known to be true (e.g. John Conant was the Chief Magistrate at Great Marlborough Street and had a home in Portland Place) then I have to stick to that truth, but if something is uncertain (e.g. how many children the banker in “Fatal Forgery” had) then I am allowed to speculate and fill in the gaps, as long as it fits in with what we do know. London is a joy of a location for the historical fiction writer, as – if you look above shopfront level – so much of it is still in evidence. Mind you, I do have to be careful about street names, as these change; I always refer to the 1827 map of London that was created by the great mapmaker John Greenwood (and is searchable online via the library at Harvard in America – the wonders of modern technology!).

Talk us through your experiences as a self-published author. Why did you go down this route?

When I finished “Fatal Forgery” I did try the “traditional” publishing route – I sent the book to nine agents and publishers. And they all replied with the same answer: it’s a good story, well-written, but we won’t be able to sell it because no-one is interested in financial crime. I thought that was rubbish, because I work every day with people who are fascinated by financial crime, and the self-publishing industry was just taking off. So I decided to go it alone, and it has been an absolute blast – I have loved every minute of indie publishing. You can pick and choose which bits of the process you want to do yourself (I’m very happy with formatting the inside of the book, using a template that I have bought) and which bits you want to farm out (I have no artistic eye and so I use the marvellous team at Design for Writers to create my covers), and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have created something from scratch.

I know that you fit in writing your novels around your ‘day job’ – how easy is it to combine the two and do they ever overlap?

My day job is as an anti-money laundering consultant – I advise businesses on how to avoid criminal money. So the overlap is a complete obsession with financial crime – the awful things that people do for money, and why they do those awful things simply for money. We think that we modern folk have invented financial crime but all that has changed is the technology: there have been corrupt bankers since banks were invented, forgers and thieves since money was invented, and fraudsters and victims since investment was invented. And I enjoy spending my work life looking at the modern versions and my writing life looking at the historical ones. People have always been greedy, amoral, sneaky, naïve and desperate – and financial crime is the result.

When I read the stories I have a definite image of Sam in my head. If the Sam Plank series were optioned for a TV drama, and I really think it should be - who would you choose to play Sam?

I’m a bit nervous about this, if you have your own image of Sam, but I have always thought that Brendan Coyle and Claudie Blakley would make the perfect Sam and Martha – they were married in “Lark Rise to Candleford”, so I know they can do it! And as for a Sunday evening drama, wouldn’t that be perfect?

The latest book, #6 in the series 

Heir Apparent was published 13 October 2019

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A young man returns to London from the family plantation in the Caribbean after an absence of six years to be at his father’s deathbed – and to inherit his estate. But is the new arrival who he says he is, or an impostor? Anyone who doubts his identity seems to meet an untimely end, but his sister swears that he is her beloved brother.With their investigations leading them into the complicated world of inheritance law and due process after death, Constable Sam Plank and his loyal lieutenant William Wilson come face to face with the death trade and those who profit from it – legally or otherwise. Among them is an old enemy who has used his cunning and ruthlessness to rise through the ranks of London’s criminal world. And, in this sixth novel in the series, it’s now 1829: as plans progress for a new police force for the metropolis, Sam and his wife Martha look to the future.

Discover more about Susan's writing and the world of Sam Plank

Twitter @ConstablePlank

☆Huge thanks to Susan ( and Sam) for being the author in the spotlight today 

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