I was really pleased when Julie said she would be the first author under my spotlight with Little Brown Books donating the brand new book for Julie to sign for our winner. The competition was very easy you just had to send in a question for Julie to answer and she picked the best one.
This was won by Sheila Harris and her question was: How long does it take her, in research, when preparing for a new book?
The amount of research that goes into one of my Whitstable Pearl Mysteries can be as long as that proverbial piece of string… and often it’s not until I’ve actually begun writing that I recognise how much research I actually need.
I tend to know a little, and then begin to research quite a lot. For example with the first book. The Whitstable Pearl Mystery, I knew a fair a bit about sailing as I’d disappeared off on a yacht for five years in the late mid ’80s but I knew very little about oyster fishing for my main storyline, so that required some talking to an oyster fisherman called Andy Ritches to whom I ended up dedicating the book.
Murder-on-Sea required research regarding various toxins and in May Day Murder, I realised half way through writing that I needed a further crime concerning a precious stone, so that all had to be researched too.
While writing my fourth book, Murder on the Pilgrims Way, which involves an Italian TV chef by the name of Nico Caruso, I threw myself into a lot of (enjoyable) research about Italian cuisine – and spent some many enjoyable evenings at a pizzeria called A Casa Mia in Herne Bay which has proper accreditation from the board of Neapolitan pizza makers.
My latest book, Disappearance at Oare, required for me to research various geographical locations, including Creekside boating areas as well as visiting Catching Lives, a Canterbury based charity that helps the homeless in Kent.
This question has led me to calculate that I probably spend at least a quarter of my writing time on research, since there’s always the issue of police and medical issues to research for every book. But research always acts as inspiration towards further plot points so it’s always worthwhile.
Congratulations on winning Karen’s competition!
I also asked Julie to answer some of my own questions so we could all get to know her and work out how a murderers brain works!
When did you start writing?
I’ve always written, even as a very young child. I became fascinated by the whole process of storytelling after sitting enthralled, one rainy afternoon, listening to a little girl at my primary school as she narrated the tale of a girl called Ella, who had to clean the fire grate for her two ugly sisters…. As an only child, I probably had more time and peaceful periods at home in which I could lose myself in writing my own stories. Much later, I wrote short stories and articles for some women’s magazines as well as long poems for children’s magazines. But it wasn’t until I was working for a company making TV commercials that I was encouraged to write screenplays. The first one was accepted for production as a short black comedy by Channel 4 and British Screen, and I then got an agent and began writing TV drama. In 2010, I wrote a memoir, published by Harper Collins, More Than Just Coincidence, which made it to the Sunday Times Best Selling Non Fiction Top Twenty and became Mumsnet Book of the Year. That gave me the confidence to finish my first Whitstable Pearl Mystery novel, published by Little, Brown Book Group.
How long does it take you to write the book?
I find it true that work expands to fill the time available and so I always find it hard to concentrate fully until a deadline finally looms…. Consequently, I’ve finished some of my novels in only eight weeks, but my first took at least a year, complete with lots of tinkering… Jeeves and Wooster author, PG Wodehouse, is said to have finished one of his novels in only 3 weeks – the entire project wrapped up in a couple of months – but what I find even more astonishing about that is that he wasn’t writing on a laptop back then – he was bashing words out on a typewriter. It’s so much easier for authors these days with all the technology available to us, particularly for research.
Do you write in quiet or with radio or music on?
I can never write with a song playing in the background or my mind begins to settle on the lyrics – even if it’s my husband whistling a familiar tune. I need silence in order to “hear” the words I’m writing – there’s a cadence and rhythm to every sentence and listening to any other kind of music in the background interferes with that. The best place for me to find some peace and quiet is at my beach hut – though seagulls can be quite noisy too….
Would anything make your writing easier?
I sometimes think that it would be nice to do what happens in TV whereby a producer comes up with an idea and hires one or more writers to bring it to life…I worked as a TV drama writer for over 20 years, principally on Eastenders and other long running series, and it would certainly be nice to have a team of gifted writers helping me to write The Whitstable Pearl Mysteries but that’s not the way it works with publishing – it’s all down to the author.
What bit do you like best, writing or marketing?
I love writing the books, I also love finishing writing a book and I do then thoroughly enjoy the period when a book is finally published and I can then stop being captive to the laptop and head out into the world again and mix with real people. This interview is currently taking place just a day after my launch event for my new book, Disappearance at Oare, which was held at the historic Guildhall in Faversham and organised by Faversham Literary Festival. BBC Radio Kent’s Dominic Kent was the presenter and it was a real pleasure to meet up with the many readers and bloggers who came along – including Karen herself. It can be a huge irony that the more successful a writer becomes, the more they are taken away from the best inspiration of all – real life…
Have you got ideas for the next book and when will it be published?
I have just been commissioned for the next two Whitstable Pearl Mysteries and I’m currently working on the next book, the sixth in series, Murder Fest. This should be published in May 2019, followed by Death on Duncan Downs the year after.
Do you know how long it will be before we see your books on the TV?
My Whitstable Pearl Mystery series of crime books have been optioned by Buccaneer, the television production company responsible for the series, Marcella, starring Anna Friel. They have commissioned a pilot episode from a writer who recently won a BAFTA for another project and while it’s not possible at the moment to gauge how soon the books could transfer to TV, I have always thought they could do so very successfully due to the wonderful locations here in Kent, a cast of colourful characters and a series of murder mysteries with an ongoing subplot of a “will they/won’t they” love affair between my heroine, private detective/restaurateur, Pearl Nolan and DCI Mike McGuire of Canterbury CID. In my mind’s eye I see “Doc Martin” with murder…..
What part of the book comes first to you, the murder or general plot?
It’s difficult to say what comes first to me with story. With some plotlines, it’s the “inciting incident” as we call it in TV drama, the action that sets our protagonist on a particular journey… With the first Whitstable Pearl Mystery, I knew I wanted Pearl to become involved in solving the mystery of an oyster fisherman’s death on the eve of the annual Oyster Festival in Whitstable, so I returned to the image of someone having been dragged overboard and drowned after they accidentally stood in the heavy coiled chain of an anchor before throwing it overboard…For May Day Murder, I saw the image of a woman’s dead body tethered to a maypole in the grounds of Whitstable Castle but for my latest book, Disappearance at Oare, I simply wanted Pearl to take on the case of searching for a young man who had gone missing seven years ago and was about to be presumed dead for legal reasons. I knew little else when I began writing so it was though I travelled on with Pearl throughout the book, picking up clues with my heroine…
Do you plot it out in chapters or just write?
…And as far as plotting goes, I do tend to fly by the seat of my pants and simply trust my experience as a storyteller to get me to the end page. I had to plot meticulously for producers and script editors during my TV career so now it’s nice to have some freedom to follow my instincts. The writer E L Doctorow likened writing to “…driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” That’s a good thing to remember when you’re halfway through an un-plotted book….
Do you ever go on writing retreats?
I don’t go on writing retreats though I was once nominated to go away to a residential screenwriting course in the late ‘80s, called the 1st Screenwriters’ Laboratory in the heart of the Devon countryside. There were about a dozen of us writers and we had to take with us a screenplay as work-in-progress, to be discussed by various tutors. Those tutors included some very prestigious writers: the playwright, Snoo Wilson and screenwriters Paul Mayersberg and Kathleen Tynan (widow of critic, Kenneth Tynan.) A decade later, I tutored a Writing for TV course at the Arvon Foundation but, apart from my degree in English and History, I’ve had no formal training in writing. I just “retreat” to my garden or beach hut to get work done.
Have you found lots of different places in Kent due to your research?
Kent is an extremely rich landscape for a writer to use for locations. Here in Whitstable, I am close to the sea, but also to nearby countryside as well as the city of Canterbury. My first three Whitstable Pearl Mysteries were set firmly in Whitstable and Canterbury but my fourth, Murder on the Pilgrims Way, took Pearl and McGuire to the beautiful countryside of Chartham, to an Italianate country manor house on the banks of the River Stour. My latest book, Disappearance at Oare, is set around the Creekside areas near Faversham, Oare and Hollowshore but it also explores Herne Bay, Reculver, Seasalter and the Isle of Sheppey. I’m sure I could write hundreds more books set in this beautiful county before I ran out of locations…. If you are interested in some of the places Pearl has explored during her investigations, please do visit the Locations section of my website where you can find stunning images from the likes of Kent photographers Simon J Dunn and Kentish Dweller – as well as more information about my books: www.juliewassmer.com
Thank you very much indeed, Karen.
So that was our first author spotlight, which I think went very well, we had one happy winner who is now reading all about The Disappearance at Oare.
If you have a favourite author then please let me know and I will see what I can do.
Now, who do we have for July’s author in the spotlight? Will tell you soon so you can start thinking of what you want to ask her.