Saturday, January 1, 2011
A Visit with British Novelist Geraldine Evans
Crime novelist Geraldine Evans has 17 novels to her credit with another scheduled for release in February. Her two series, Rafferty & Llewellyn and Casey & Catt, are written concurrently and are fast paced, filled with humor and plenty of plot twists.
Geraldine, what was it like growing up in the London Council Estate and how did it affect your later writings?
It was great fun, mostly, as I had lots of play-mates, at least on the first estate, though we moved from there when I was about eleven. I suppose, looking back, what strikes me most about it now was the lack of aspiration. I didn’t know anyone who’d been to university, for instance, or even anyone who had hopes that way. As to how it affected my writing; it certainly affects my main character’s family background – not for him an intellectual, educated background of the middle-class writer. DI Joe Rafferty has more street wisdom than the academic sort. I suppose the amazing thing is that I started writing at all. I have no real idea from whence this desire came, but I had it in spades and eighteen published novels later, it’s still going strong.
Did your first job as a library assistant pique your interest in writing? How so?
I don’t know if the job itself did so – though the fact that I could borrow as many books as I liked without having to worry about paying fines – must have helped. But I was always a reader. My mother encouraged me and my three siblings to read and we’ve all kept the habit up, though I’m the only one who ended up as a writer. Like Colin Dexter, I remember one day reading a particularly bad novel and thinking even I could do better. It must have planted a seed, of knowing I could do this – even though, at that time, no publisher agreed with me! It was then a matter of persevering and seeking out criticism so that I could improve. Eventually, after my sixth completed novel, I was published. That was in 1991. The book was a romance, entitled Land of Dreams and the publisher was Robert Hale. I started my Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series after Hale rejected my next effort in the romance genre. Much to my amazement, Dead Before Morning, that first crime novel, was plucked from Macmillan’s slush pile and published in hardback and paperback, both in the UK and in the US. I brought it out as an ebook in December 2010.
You mention England’s class system on your website. Does it affect your readership and for whom do you write your novels?
Yes, I suppose it does. I don’t write books that are particularly intellectually ‘clever’. I aim to amuse and entertain and have never striven to amaze with my brilliant mind! No Times crossword type puzzle for me – I haven’t the intellect for it as I left school at sixteen. I simply aim to do what I do best and for what I am best equipped. The humorous sub-plots are as much what my novels are about as the main crime plot. I suppose I write for people much like myself: working-class readers, who like a bit of fun in their crime novels.
How did your characters, Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty and Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn, come about and how do you research your crime novels?
I think Rafferty’s ‘Ma’ came about first and Joe Rafferty evolved from that – a London-Irish lad trying to stop his Ma impinging on every aspect of his life as Irish mothers were – are? – wont to do. I wanted to depict a working-class copper as a bit of light relief from the clever but dull policemen depicted in some crime novels. As for Dafyd Llewellyn, he evolved because I wanted someone who would be a complete foil to Rafferty; someone who was a stickler for the law and morality, in a way that Rafferty wasn’t. Although that’s not to say that Rafferty isn’t a moral person. He is. He’s just a little more understanding of human nature and its frailties (particularly his own).
The need for research varies tremendously, I find. Some books, such as Deadly Reunion [to be released February 24, 2011, and few months later in the US], needed very little, just the normal forensic stuff. Others, such as the two books in my Casey & Catt crime series, required a lot more, mostly on Asian religions and customs in Up in Flames and on cannabis farming in A Killing Karma.
I find the internet very useful for research. I also have an endlessly updated library on forensics, police procedure, world religions, poisons, scene of crime and so on. I’m rapidly running out of room, so I thank God for ebooks, though some of my favourite research books are as yet unavailable as ebooks.
What about your Casey & Catt crime series?
The Casey & Catt crime series, my second, is another series that utilizes a lot of humour. The main characters are Detective Chief Inspector Will (Willow Tree) Casey and Detective Sergeant Thomas Catt. It is set in the fictitious town of King’s Langley in Norfolk, England. Casey’s parents are a couple of old hippies, Moon and Star Casey. Thomas Catt is an orphan who spent his childhood in various children’s homes.
So far, there are two novels in the series: Up in Flames about a death by fire in the Asian Community and A Killing Karma about two unreported suspicious deaths in Casey’s parents’ hippie commune, which, for various reasons, they expect Casey to sort out. I really ought to write another one or two in this series, but my publishers prefer my Rafferty & Llewellyn series, so I don’t know when I’ll produce the next.
Why is humor important in your own work as well as other crime novels?
I’ve always had a lively sense of humour and suppose I was a bit of a class clown. Anyway, as a reader, I found some crime novels as dull as ditch-water and wanted my own first effort to be a bit more lively. Not just a straight mystery, but a bit of fun and games as well. And, as most writers who know, will tell you, humour is regarded as one of the hardest types of writing to do. That fact has never worried me – you either have a natural penchant for something or you don’t and humour was, I thought, one of my strengths. I think the use of humour in crime novels adds another dimension. The reader gets more for their money, whether it’s my crime novels or Brookmyre’s. It’s important in other crime novels because it’s what I, and many other readers, want to read.
Who most influenced your own novels and why? Your favorite novelist?
I can’t say that I’m aware of a particular influence. Though since starting my own Rafferty & Llewellyn series, I’ve found the novels of Christopher Brookmyre, Cynthia Harrod Eagles and Ruth Dudley Edwards strongly to my taste. They’re all very witty writers and I admire that. These three figure amongst my favourite novelists. I also like P D James, Mark Billingham and the Inspector Wexford novels of Ruth Rendell, though I’ve never got on with her psychological novels. I also enjoy the novels of Dorothy Simpson, Margaret Yorke and June Simpsons. Amongst other genres, I like Philippa Gregory, Sharon Penman and Jean Plaidy. I also enjoy historical non-fiction.
How, in your opinion, do mystery/crime novels differ in the UK from the US?
I’m not sure that I’ve read widely enough amongst US writers to have an opinion. My favourite novelists are still mostly British, though I like Janet Evanovich. I must spread my wings a little wider.
Tell us about your latest novel, Death Dance.
In this one, Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty has just left his wedding rehearsal when Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn calls. Llewellyn tells him that a local man has come home to find his wife dead on the kitchen floor. She’s been strangled. Adrienne Staveley is a woman with secrets and several lovers. Was she killed by her husband in a jealous rage? Or maybe her stepson, driven by hate and teenage angst has killed her? Or maybe one of her lovers did the deed?
There are several other suspects, each with a reason to harbour strong feelings for the dead woman. It seems she isn’t someone to cause weak emotions in others and, given her behaviour, it is a wonder someone hasn’t tried to murder her before.
To Rafferty’s horror, the fingerprints of Abra, his fiancée, are found in the murder house. What had she been doing there? She’d never mentioned knowing Adrienne. And what were her prints doing in the bedroom of John Staveley? Is Abra guilty of having an affair even before their marriage? Or is she a murder suspect? Rafferty isn’t sure which he would prefer. But with only a few weeks till his wedding and honeymoon he has to work against the clock to find the killer and hopefully, exonerate Abra, before he has to cancel both.
Advice to aspiring writers?
Don’t follow the crowd. Last year’s hot ticket will have often gone out of favour by the time you finish your effort. Find out what matters to you, what you feel passionately about and write about that. And when you’ve written your book, don’t immediately send it out to agents and publishers. Give it a chance in the market-place and have it professionally criticised. This is not a cheap service, but nothing worthwhile is ever cheap. It could raise your chances a lot, so don’t spend the money on a holiday instead. This is you investing in your future. Don’t regard is as an extravagance. It isn’t. Nor is it an indulgence. It’s getting what you want to be your career off to the right start. So don’t stint. Ask for recommendations from writing friends or consult the writing reference books like The Writers’ Handbook and Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.
Thank you, Geraldine.
You can visit Geraldine at her website: http://www.geraldineevans.com.
and her blog: http//wwwgeraldineevanscom.blogspot.com
Her Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/?tid=10150356637650206&sk=messages#!/pages/Geraldine-Evans-Crime-uthor/134541119922978?v=wall