Today I’m delighted to welcome Faith Martin to my Blog. I haven’t as yet had chance to read her book, “Murder on the Oxford Canal”, but I’m looking forward to it!
About the book:
MURDER ON THE OXFORD CANAL is the first in a series of page-turning crime thrillers set in Oxfordshire.
Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, or Ruth Rendell.
The Oxford Canal meanders through the beautiful county of Oxfordshire, sometimes joining up with the rivers Cherwell and Thames, and flows past the world-famous university city of Oxford. Unlike many canals which are practically ruler-straight commercial waterways, built to help transport goods and heavy traffic before the advent of the railways, the Oxford Canal is a more winding and natural-looking body of water, and is a haven for wildlife and wildflowers. It has several romantically-named locks on its length (such as the Three Pigeons Lock, and Dashwood Lock) and boasts the ominously-sounding Somerton Deep Lock, which often terrifies first-time boating holiday-makers.
DI Hillary Greene
An attractive woman in her forties, Hillary Greene is a police officer of many years’ experience, and came up through the ranks. Consequently, she knows how the system works, and is fiercely loyal to the force without being blinkered to its faults. She is a long-standing friend of her immediate superior officer, ‘Mellow’ Mallow and enjoys a rather enigmatic relationship with the steely Superintendent Marcus Donleavy. Popular with the rank and file for her no-nonsense attitude and competence, she is currently under investigation, on account of her recently deceased, and definitely corrupt husband (Ronnie Greene). But adversity has never stopped her from doing her job.
DCI Philip ‘Mellow’ Mallow
Mel appreciates Hillary’s first-rate ability to solve her cases, and isn’t happy about her harassment by the officers from York. Known for his sartorial elegance and laid-back manners, he has a sharp mind, and an eye for the ladies. A good friend and ally for Hillary in her recent tribulations, he’s determined to keep his best investigator focused on the problems at hand.
Guest Post: Fundamental Questions
When I began to plot this novel, I first had to consider several fundamental questions.
- The setting of any novel is obviously fundamental. Some readers like to feel an affinity with their surroundings, whilst others don’t mind being taken out of their comfort zone. Some like to be beguiled by a setting and perhaps learn something new. Others need to be immersed deeply in an environment (such as fans of Rebus, who get to know Edinburgh like the back of their own hands when reading an Ian Rankin novel.) Others are happy if the scene is simple and straightforward, such as the finding of a body on a golf course, say. Either way, where a crime takes place gives any novel it’s starting point, and sets up the flavour of the piece. So when I contemplated DI Hillary Greene’s first case, I asked myself. What’s new? What’s not been done before? And the answer to these two questions, as any novelist could probably ruefully tell you is – not much! The genre is so popular, and has been the haunt of so many great writers over the years, that practically any setting has already been visited! So, then I moved on to slightly less tricky territory. What might be interesting, or alluring or at the very least, scenic? And it was then that I hit upon the idea of setting a crime on the Oxford Canal. After all, my DI was already living on a narrow boat, so why not capitalise on her expertise? Pleasure boating is now a popular holiday activity, and the canal system is one of the country’s glorious natural treasures as well. So it seemed churlish not to grace it with a dead body!
- THE ACTUAL CRIME. That wasn’t hard – I was writing a murder mystery after all! But what sort of crime did I want my new DI to have to tackle as her first case? An old lady felled by a brutal mugger? A teenage victim of drugs? A woman, killed by a jealous lover? In the end, I decided I didn’t want anything quite so cut and dried. After all, a body was to be found floating in a canal lock. Could it have been accidental? Or suicide? Without any ID, who was this person? How had he come to die where he had? And then, only by answering these questions and the others that would quickly follow, could both Hillary and my readers set off on the trail of a killer.
- I’ve read many, many crime novels over the years, and I’ve always enjoyed books that have a subplot interwoven in the main story line. It adds interest and richness and, most of all, gives some of the supporting characters in a book room to breathe and grow, and show the reader what they’re made of. BUT BEWARE, I reminded myself, sometimes subplots can be annoying! They have to be relevant to the crime case, or at the very least, add something to the plot line that would otherwise be poorer without it. But since DI Greene was already being investigated by fellow officers, the obvious subplot was being handed to me on a plate.
- WRITING STYLE. When I first sat at my desk, staring at the blank screen of my computer, before I’d even typed in the words ‘Chapter One’ I needed to know what kind of a book I wanted to write. (Well, obviously, I wanted it to be fast-paced, action-packed, thrilling, un-put-downable, and packed with witty prose and robust characters that would take the critics by storm and shower me with plaudits.) But, putting the usual writer’s favourite fantasy to one side, I had to make up my mind on one simple thing. WHAT KIND OF BOOK IS THIS GOING TO BE? And I quickly realised that it was easier to decide what I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t want it to be extremely violent and gory for instance. (I’m a bit chicken and squeamish!) Nor did I want it to be strewn with foul language and unbearably bleak. But I was not writing a ‘cosy’ crime either. I wanted Hillary Greene to be a normal, average human being, with all the strengths and weaknesses of anyone else, doing an incredibly hard job to the best of her ability. So she could get mad, and make mistakes, and be petty sometimes; but also have her moments when she could be incredibly brave or rather bright. I wanted her to have a sense of humour, and a healthy scepticism. I wanted the crime she was solving to be real and relevant, but not depressing. And so, bearing all that in mind, I did what every writer eventually has to do, when all the research has been done, and the chapter synopsises have been written and you can prevaricate no longer. I took a deep breath and typed in the first sentence.