Catching up with Martin Edwards!

Martin 2017 2

Hi, Martin, and welcome back.  It was great to meet up again and congratulations on becoming the Chair of the CWA.

Thanks, Val. It was a pleasure to spend time in your company at the CWA’s enjoyable annual conference in Edinburgh recently. You know from your own experience that the CWA is a vigorous and highly collegiate organisation. For me, it’s a huge honour to be elected Chair.

Cwa-logoThe CWA keeps growing – it now has more members than ever before in its 64 year history. Although most are British writers, we have an increasing number of members based overseas, plus corporate and associate members involved in many different ways with the business of crime writing. We also prize non-fiction crime writing – a CWA Gold Dagger is awarded each year for the best factual book as well as for the best novel.

So the CWA is a very broad church. That makes it a vibrant organisation, but it also presents challenges. How can we make sure that we deliver value to all our members? That has to be our central aim. It’s not the committee’s organisation, far less my own. It belongs to the whole of the membership. And that’s something I keep at the forefront of my mind.

At present, for instance, self-published writers are not eligible for membership. The writing business is changing rapidly, and my personal view is that our eligibility criteria will change too. But this will only happen when there’s a clear consensus in favour on the part of the membership – it’s not a decision that can or should be imposed.

Already, we do a great deal for our members. If you take a look at the membership benefits on our website, you’ll find that there are very wide-ranging, and rarely matched by comparable groups. Our regional chapters offer an eclectic mix of social and professional activities; each chapter operates with a high level of autonomy, which is the way our members like it. As well as social media platforms, we run the Crime Readers’ Association, with its monthly newsletter going to over 10,000 subscribers. The bi-monthly Case Files has a similar readership. Our members have exclusive access, therefore, to a key target audience, an audience that is expanding all the time.

Golden Age pbkBut I want us to keep growing, and to offer our members even more. My belief is that the CWA’s potential is almost limitless. Crime writing is, after all, enormously popular worldwide, and few “brands” within the genre can match the prestige of the CWA, and of our internationally renowned Dagger awards.

Let me mention just a few of the areas that I’d like us to explore in the coming years – not just while I’m Chair, but on a continuing basis. Our links with libraries are very important, and mutually beneficial. The CWA Dagger in the Library is a popular award, and our National Crime Reading Month links writers, readers, and libraries each June. I’ve just appointed our first Libraries Champion, Ruth Dudley Edwards, who will develop those links further, to everyone’s benefit.

I’m equally keen to develop our links with booksellers nationwide, and with publishers large and small, as well as with like-minded people and organisations in the UK and further afield. So I’m talking to – among others – the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Crime Writers’ Association of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America to explore ways of deepening our relationships to the benefit of all concerned.

And there’s much more – too much for one blog post! But I’d like to highlight the valuable work we do for the public benefit, not least encouraging the next generation of writers via the exceptionally successful CWA Debut Dagger, and also a flash fiction competition for students at the Edinburgh conference. This is another area of our activities that I’d love to expand.

I’Story of Classic Crimem also proud that our archives are a central part of the British crime writing archives now held at Gladstone’s Library. Over time, I hope this will become an internationally recognised resource for researchers and crime fans. The archives are being opened officially at a week-end event in June, Alibis in the Archive, which quickly sold out – surely a sign we are doing something right. In fact, the tremendous level of interest means that we’ve already agreed to run another Alibis next year.

Of course, there are constraints. Our resources are limited, and so – crucially – is the time of committee members who are unpaid volunteers. We can’t do everything we’d like to do, and we will never be able to please everyone – no organisation can. We need to build up our management infrastructure, and operate as professionally as possible, so that our worthy aims can be implemented efficiently and over the long term. Making sure that all this happens in a sound way cannot be achieved overnight. But the portents are good. The future of the CWA promises to be even more exciting than its prestigious past.

Read Martin’s original interview here!

Dungeon House UKMartin Edwards’ eighteen novels include the Lake District Mysteries and the Harry Devlin series, and The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. He has edited thirty crime anthologies, and won the CWA Short Story Dagger, CWA Margery Allingham Prize, and the Poirot Award. He is series consultant for the British Library’s Crime Classics, President of the Detection Club, and Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. His The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books appears in July.

The CWA Dagger logo is a registered trade mark of the CWA

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Miss Ruth Grainger’s coach jolts to an abrupt halt when it is stopped by a highwayman.

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An Interview with Michael Fowler

This month’s guest is a man who has spent his life dealing with crime and now enjoys creating his own – crime writer and artist, Michael Fowler.

Welcome to my blog, Michael.

Your police career involved a lot of undercover work. Did you sometimes feel that you were in an acting job, however one that had a realistic edge?

Acting is a very good phrase, because it was just that, especially when I was in the Drug Squad. I underwent undercover training by experienced undercover officers. The script they gave me involved learning the ‘language of the street’ together with acting ability on how to buy drugs and set up ‘deals’. My props were a changed appearance – I grew my hair long, wore an earring and changed my dress style. My stage was wherever the drug fraternity hung out. The more time I spent with them the more polished my acting ability improved.

That period of policing was up there as my best, despite being nerve-jangling at times.

When did you discover the desire to become an author?

I never had a desire to be an author. I always wanted to be an artist. My policing and writing career have come by default. I’ll expand on my writing career in a later question.

Were you always drawn to crime?

I’ve been an avid reader since the age of eight. In my early teens I started reading adult books of the Science Fiction and Horror genre. An uncle, who was also well read, introduced me to crime. I initially read cosy crime written by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Dashiel Hammet, and then I discovered the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain and I was hooked on police procedurals.

Your first published works were about Mexborough. Have you always had an interest in social history?

The publication of my childhood and teenage nostalgic accounts of growing up in Mexborough came by good fortune. In the late 1980’s I discovered writing groups and began composing stories. My childhood adventures in the 1960’s, within a mining community, were the first things I wrote about. The writing groups were run by the WEA and one of my tutors suggested I approach a local publisher who published this type of work. In 1994 I met the editor at Wharnecliffe Press (Pen & Sword books), pitched my accounts and walked out with my first writing contract. They published three of my books, but I never thought it would progress beyond that because policing and two growing sons took up my life at that time.

Could you tell us about your artwork and what is your favourite medium to use as an artist?

As I have already alluded to painting was my first love. My earliest artistic recollection was sitting at the table drawing with my mum, and all through schooling I pursued art as my passion. My last art teacher introduced me to oil paints and I never looked back. At the age of 16 I passed an interview to attend art college only to return home to be told by my father that he couldn’t afford to support me and so I joined the police cadets. I did paint regularly, all through my policing career – it was a great stress reliever, and I also sold my work. When I retired in 2006, I did so to paint. I rented a studio and painted daily. My work was accepted at major exhibitions at The Mall Galleries, London, and I exhibited with a number of prestigious art galleries. In 2009 I was awarded Professional Artist of the Year. Then came the fall-out from the bank crash. Three of the galleries I painted for closed down and people stopped buying artwork. I knew I had to do something other than paint every day and so I returned to writing and going back to writing groups. I focussed on writing police procedurals and in 2011 I got a publishing contract for my first crime novel. Now I’m hooked on writing. I still paint occasionally, and I tutor an art group once a work, to keep my hand in.

What has been the most important lesson you have learnt as a writer?

That like a good wine you improve over time. I am now on book number seven and I can see a vast improvement from my first book, especially the grammar. A lot of that is thanks to the publishing editor’s skills. I have learned such a lot from the edited proofs that have come back to me prior to publication.

Where did inspiration for DS Hunter Kerr and DS Scarlett Macey come from: reality or fiction?

Hunter Kerr is 95% me and 5% my alter ego, even some of the events he is involved in are based on jobs I have worked on.

Scarlett Macey is a creation. I wanted to test myself developing her and it’s been a very interesting and enjoyable experience. She gets her first outing this September in ‘Scream, You Die‘ and I’m hoping she’s well received.

What next for Michael Fowler?

My first crime novel was released three years ago. Since then I’ve added another four Hunter Kerr books and I’m amazed at how my readership has grown. It’s been a wonderful experience that I want to build on. My policing career developed my discipline and drive and it would be fair to say that I am striving to be a widely recognised crime author.

More from Michael

Crime and Punishment – Part 2

In my exploration around Ripon’s three amazingly well preserved law and order museums I was touched at the ease at which a person’s life, regardless of their age or sex, or the seriousness of the crime, could be devastated by incarceration, transportation or death.

The Police and Prison museum was mentioned in an earlier post.

The Courtroom, however, is based upon a Victorian courtroom and has been well preserved. It presents some shocking facts about how crime was dealt with from before this period too. The ‘Quarter Sessions’ were held at: Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas and trial was by jury. Sentences passed here could send people to be punished in the market square or for more serious crimes to the County Assizes to hang.

From the seventeenth century the court could also sentence a ‘criminal’ to transportation to the colonies for up to 14 years. This could be instead of a death penalty. It was thought that criminal behaviour could spread so by removing it the problem it would literally go away by sending them to…

“His Majesties Colonies over the seas… preventing the communication of the cantagion.”

This was an extremely cruel system as many failed to return. Forgery was a capital offence, but this could be reduced to transportation. We usually link this to sending prisoners to New South Wales, Australia (1788-1868) as dramatised in the TV series Banished, but before this convicts were sent to the Americas from as early as 1610 to 1770’s.

Special gaols (jails) were built to house debtors. These were self-funding as inmates had to pay, if able, which made it difficult for them to clear the actual debts they were imprisoned for.

Suicide was judged as a crime and the bodies of such poor souls would be buried at crossroads rather than in consecrated ground.

Lesser sentences included whipping (for both sexes) pilloried or placed in stocks, was done publicly to humiliate and shame. Fines could be levied, but if the person was poor there was little point to this. When the standard of living improved then fines became more popular and they raised money to build more prisons, which were expensive to build and run.

A person could be bound over to keep the peace. It seemed normal for the harsher sentences to be levied against offenders who had already been before the court.

The last case of a man to be held in the stocks was in 1857. It was interesting to learn hat it was the Methodist and Evangelical Christians, who had previously been behind the banishment of slavery, who helped change public opinion and the law against such public cruelty as a punishment.

Vagrants and the poor had a different fate. If they stayed within the law and did not steal in order to feed their family they could end up in the harsh regime that was the workhouse. Ripon’s Workhouse certainly provides plenty of information about the long days and the harsh life of the individuals and families that were made to work there. Families were split, even mother’s from their children.

From being stripped and bathed at the entrance, to the early rise and long hours picking oakham (the threads were literally unpicked by hand (the phrase ‘money for old rope’ was born) to harder labour of breaking rocks. They did nothing to encourage people to stay willingly, but to make them work in the absence of any social welfare, they were places to avoid if possible.

Sophie's Dream Sophie’s Dream is to find an exciting life away from her strict education in a workhouse. She applies, with references, through an agency for a position as Governess in New South Wales. Along with other young women, she is chaperoned to their new life, beyond the social barriers in England. Abandoned on the quayside of Sydney, Sophie discovers the agency is a sham. Her instincts lead her to Mr Matthias Wells and a very different world opens up to her.

Sophie’s Dream is also available to buy on Smashwords!

More about crime and justice within the era:

Crime and Punishment – Dead to Sin

The early nineteenth century in England was a harsh time of poverty for many. When soldiers and sailors were no longer needed to fight the wars that had dogged England from the end of the previous century, many men returned victorious having fought for their King (or Prince Regent) and country only to face unemployment. With little or no social support they often turned to crime to feed themselves and their families. With the increase in crimes, came new laws and harsher sentences.
Ripon Museum
I recently stopped by one of North Yorkshire’s finest museums in the little city of Ripon. Ripon is an unspoilt cathedral city that has maintained its characteristics of a delightful market town with plenty of historical places of interest to visit. It is also an excellent base for venturing into the Yorkshire Dales or the North Yorkshire Moors!

Ripon Museum comprises of three museums, all to do with the city’s historic law and order buildings that have been lovingly maintained. The photos below were taken in the Prison & Police Museum in St Marygate. It was a prison from 1686-1879 and a police station from 1880-1959.

When I first visited the prison I was writing Dead to Sin. Although the existing building was Victorian, the cells hold exhibits which relate to its earlier history and the development of crime and punishment, cruel and harsh as it was. Nowadays, the museum is clean, whitewashed and immaculately presented. Obviously in the time of Nicholas Penn it would be far from this.

The first chapter of Dead to Sin begins with Nicholas Penn bracing himself as he enters this dark, fettered world.


Nicholas Penn took one last deep breath of fresh air outside the high stone walls of the Gorebeck lock up. He glanced back at the cobbled square of the market town; wagons rattled, farmers haggled, women bartered, children’s laughter melted into the animals’ pitiful cries, the noise of which was in turn drowned out by the banter of the bidders. All was chaotic, all stank, yet there was colour and life here amongst the continuous whirl of people trading their wares.

             A heavy lock was turned in the barrier in front of him. Nicholas breathed deeply, his broad chest glad of what fresh air there was as his mind dreaded the prospect of seeing what he would find within the cold walls – and who. The reinforced wooden door creaked and groaned as the warder pulled it open, grating the edge against the stone.

             He pulled the high collar of his coat close, covering the ends of his shoulder length locks. ‘Trapped sunshine’ his mother had poetically described his wayward curls when he was a cosseted child. Now straighter, they had matured and grown like Nicholas himself. No sunshine would filter through behind this door. The rain started to pour down. Nicholas was silently led inside along a narrow stone corridor; he was taken further into the building’s bowels, down a spiral metal staircase to an airless chasm where six bolted black doors lined the dimly lit passage. Disembodied coughs could be heard even through the iron-wood barriers, which incarcerated their prey. Nicholas intuitively pulled out his kerchief and held it over his mouth. Gaol fever was to be avoided by the wise man who had the option to, but the inmates of this place had little chance to do that. The warder turned another key in the door lock at the end of the narrow corridor.

             “Ten minutes!” he growled back at Nicholas. The man had a curvature of the spine and did not look up at Nicholas’s straight frame. Instead, he shuffled back.

             Nicholas grunted what could have been his agreement or a simple acknowledgement. The turnkey gestured for Nicholas to enter.

             With some reluctance, Nicholas stepped into the small dank cell, ducking slightly so that his round hat did not contact the top of the door’s stone frame. What light and fresh air there was from the open grate that served as a window, was lost to the rain water, which now poured in, bringing with it the filth washed down from the market street above. The cell’s air stank of damp and excrement. Nicholas stood equidistant from the slime covered walls, not wanting his new riding coat to touch anything in the place.

             The cell was putrid. Under his highly polished boots was a stone-flagged floor strewn with soiled hay. Nicholas fought back memories, bleak, barefooted memories, as he glared at the figure in front of him. Like the cell, the man locked within it was unwashed, unshaven and unkempt. His appearance was in stark contrast to the man’s usually immaculate presence. The figure was seated on a small stool, wrapped in a flea-infested woollen blanket, leaning against the edge of the moist wall. Even in such discomfiture he seemed to be calm in manner, resigned perhaps to his fate. Nicholas wondered if this was true. To most people in his circumstance it would have been the case, or a near breakdown of spirits, but not Wilson. Nicholas knew the man too well. He was as hard as the stone walls which held him, to the depth of the heart that beat strong within his chest.

             Ebony eyes looked up at him as the door lock was slammed shut behind Nicholas who was trying hard not to show his inner fear, or his loathing of small airless spaces as much as his abhorrence for the pathetic looking creature in front of him.

             “You came, Nick!” the voice announced, louder than Nicholas had expected it to. That tone was almost as if he was annoyed at his late appearance. This was not the whispered breathy word of a dispirited soul. The confidence, the strength and the defiance were still there in his comments even if he looked to be in a physically weakened state.

An Interview with Alison Joseph

Alison Joseph portrait

Photo by:  Hugo Glendinning

I am delighted to welcome Crime Writers’ Association Chair, Alison Joseph, as my guest this month. 

Alison is a prolific author of crime novels as well as a radio dramatist skilfully adapting such works as Georges Simenons’ Maigret for the listening audience.

Welcome, Alison.

Have you had a love of books and story-telling from a young age?

Absolutely. I began to write stories almost as soon as I knew what writing was. And I was an obsessive reader too.  I was quite a sensitive child, and sometimes real life was somehow too big, or too chaotic, perhaps,  so finding I could take refuge in fiction was a huge relief. Not that I had an unhappy childhood, though – it was more my own response to it.

Your career began in local radio before making documentaries for Channel 4. When did you decide to branch out and become an author?

I loved being a radio presenter, in Leeds. And then, back in London, I got into making films. Documentaries is only another kind of story-telling, really. I made a series about women and religion for Channel 4, presented by Helen Mirren, and at that time my first child was about a year old, and I’d just tuck him under my arm and bring him on the shoot with me – in fact I have a lovely photo of him and Helen gazing rather adoringly at each other. But as he got older and then I had two more children, the logistics of freelance directing and childcare just got too much for me. As I said, I’d always written, and it just seemed to be the right time to start to take it seriously as a career.

What appealed to you about the crime genre?

I rather tumbled into it. I was lucky, that my first few short stories got published – they were mostly romances for women’s magazines. But I started hatching a plot to write a detective nun, and my then agent was extremely encouraging about it, so I wrote the first Sister Agnes story chapter by chapter, sending it to her. And it got snapped up straight away, and I started on the second. But even then I had no idea how much I would love being a crime writer, and how a properly structured, page-turning story was the thing I really aspired to do.

The Sister Agnes Mystery series has an independent, compassionate and frequently challenged protagonist at its core. Did you set out to explore issues of faith, science and life as the character develops through the cases she solves?

Again, those themes grew with time. The idea of a detective nun to start with was a kind of literary device – I wanted a female detective who was single and who would stay that way, but I didn’t want anyone hard-edged, and I didn’t at that time want to write a policewoman. Sister Agnes is white, half-French but very English, a contemporary nun, working in an open order, and as I wrote more of her I realised how she can quite realistically be in a position to know more than the police, for example, she works in a hostel for homeless people in South London. It’s difficult to write a believable amateur detective in these times of expert policing, so an amateur detective has to have access to places that the police can’t necessarily uncover with any ease.aj-act

And then, of course, there’s the dilemma of having a character who believes in a benign God constantly being brought face to face with the worst that one human being can do to another. Again, this has become a rich seam in the novels, her religious doubt in the face of suffering, and the way her own faith is tested by the criminality she encounters.

The novels have a very different setting, giving each book a fresh appeal. Did you plan out the whole series beforehand or do you move Agnes on one book at a time?

I don’t plan anything. Although, I have got a bit more orderly in my plot structuring as I’ve got better at it. My early plot structures were completely chaotic and often re-written madly as a result. But I have certain obsessions which I constantly circle in my work, and having a continuous character has been a great gift in exploring them. So, for example, The Dying Light is about family secrets emerging. It’s set against the background of the building of the Jubilee Line extension – I got to go down into the tunnels while they were being built, which was fantastic. And the Night Watch is about gambling and chance and the mathematics of probability. And A Violent Act is all about creationism and Darwinism.

Last year Dying to Know was released. What appealed to you about Detective Inspector Berenice Killick?

Berenice is a policewoman, a mixed-race Yorkshirewoman. I had got to the point where I wanted to write more realistically. If you’re a copper then you really are dealing with murder, whereas if you’re a nun, even on the mean streets of Bermondsey, it’s not going to be that normal to have to solve a crime.  Dying to Know  is a police procedural about particle physics. I invented a physics lab in Kent, on the marshlands of the south coast there, and the story starts when it looks as if there is a serial killer targeting the lab. I got to visit the Large Hadron Collider at CERN for it, which was one of the most compellingly interesting days of my life.dtk200

What is the most challenging aspect of adapting someone else’s work for radio?

The thing about writing a radio play is that it’s all about speech. But in a way, so is crime writing. It’s about what people say – whether they tell the truth, whether they’re telling lies, whether they choose to say nothing at all. So my own radio plays, although most of them aren’t crime stories, still have a mystery about them, I hope.  My adaptations have been more to do with crime, for example, the Maigret stories by Simenon which I absolutely loved doing. I love working with actors too – there’s a magic about seeing someone find the potential in a line of dialogue.

You have been chair of the CWA for nearly two years, What major changes have you seen in that time and how exciting do you see the future of crime writing?

It’s been a great privilege to be Chair. It’s a role I give up this April. The single most important thing I’ve witnessed in my time as Chair has been the centrality of the crime and thriller story to our culture. It’s quite wonderful, really, how readers and viewers take the detective story to their hearts. It’s not surprising, though – a well-told story that is about important issues of criminality and morality is always going to have a huge following.

The other important issues I’ve seen are to do with publishing, and the business of it. Our genre remains buoyant, but of course there are concerns about the market’s greater reliance on bestsellers, and the sustainability of the business model of publishers selling to bookshops and bookshops selling to readers. There are so many fractures in that model, to do with on-line selling in particular. On the other hand, those fractures are opening up new markets, in terms of e-books and self-publishing, that weren’t there before.

What is next for Alison Joseph?

I have just started doing a series of novellas featuring Agatha Christie as a detective. The first one is called Murder Will Out. I was reluctant at first, as she’s real, of course, and I wasn’t sure it would be possible. But it’s been hugely enjoyable, firstly to write in that era (the first one is set in 1923) and secondly to structure a story around the tension between what’s real and what’s made up. And, thirdly, to aspire to Dame Agatha’s mastery of the crime story.mwo200

I’m also planning the next Sister Agnes story, and the next D I Berenice Killick story too, and I’ve got another, male, detective, waiting in the wings. I seem to have created these demanding characters who are very keen to get on with the next chapter in their lives. I guess I’m just lucky that I haven’t yet run out of ideas.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions and share your writing experience and your love of the crime genre with us.

More from Alison: