Theresa Le Flem on Writing ‘The Sea Inside His Head’

The Sea Inside His Head A daughter of the artist Cyril Hamersma, Theresa Le Flem was raised in London and married at nineteen. After having three children in quick succession she trained as a hairdresser, took up pottery but ended up working in a factory to pay the bills. After her eventual divorce she married again in 2006. Finally, having the support of friends and family, and with her children settled in New York and Kent, Theresa is able to follow her passion for writing and express her strong views about social injustice. She is an avid listener of Radio 4 and a keen gardener, growing all of her own vegetables. The Sea Inside His Head is her first novel.

In this interview, Theresa tells us where her ideas come from and how she goes about writing a book.

Where did the idea for The Sea Inside His Head originate from?

When the idea for The Sea Inside His Head first came to me, it was Christmas Day 2006, and I was sitting by a roaring coal fire. Feeling so happy and secure, my thoughts turned to the past when my life was far from easy. The atmosphere of the old mining-village came back to me, and I remembered not so much the tension of the miners’ situation but the peace of the churchyard nearby. It was the contrast of the anxiety, poverty and aggression associated with the strike, set against nature, in all her timeless freedom, which gripped me. A phrase came into my mind, I reached for my notebook and I was away!

What sort of process do you follow in your writing? Do you plan in advance?

I don’t plan at all until I get to know my characters, and they themselves create the novel. I have glimpses of scenes and I write these on scraps of paper and lay them out – like stepping stones – across the floor. Then I move them around until I have the plot. Writing fiction gives me freedom to re-visit the past and meet characters who might otherwise be just faces in a crowd. I can wander through rooms I remember as a child, and recall arguments from a safe distance. Writing acts like a scrapbook for my memories. It’s also a great healer… I hardly ever watch drama and shy away from violent scenes on TV and film because I don’t like being on the receiving end of someone else’s imagination. But when I’m the one in control it’s not scary. My writing is very visual.

Once an idea for a book strikes me – just a feeling, an atmosphere, or anything really – I begin to research and the bare branches gradually produce buds, leaves and send down roots. It’s a three dimensional organic experience. I use books for research mostly, although the internet is useful. But without having faith that there is a reader out there, who will read what I’ve written, I don’t think I could write. I need to voice my imagination, but more than that, I need to know someone is out there listening. I can easily imagine The Sea Inside His Head as a film.

What books do you read in your spare time?

I read mostly classics, my favourites being D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. Their portrayal of characters is just stunning.

The Sea Inside His Head is published on 30 April 2012 in hardback and is available now to pre-order with a 30% discount for a limited time only.

Roger Silverwood on What Makes Great Crime Fiction

Roger Silverwood was educated in Gloucestershire before National Service. He later worked in the toy trade and as a copywriter in an advertising agency. Roger went into business with his wife as an antiques dealer before retiring in 1997. His Inspector Angel series is now on its 18th book.

Here he talks about how he came up with Inspector Angel and what he thinks makes great Crime Fiction.

Where did the idea for Inspector Angel come from and how has it been developing the character over all the books?

I based Inspector Michael Angel on my father who had most of his virtues; his bad points are all mine; and his good looks are the product of any Hollywood studio in the 1940s.

I was getting tired of reading about the fictional copper portrayed as a hard drinking, smoking, swearing, gruff type who always had women trouble. While I am sure that there must be some policemen like that in real life, I wanted a character that was more likeable and believable. So I dreamt up Inspector Michael Angel, who is a real man with old fashioned standards, good manners and simple charm but could be wily and tough when necessary. He is happily married (most of the time) to a wife who also has a mind and a will of her own. He is attractive to other women and is occasionally propositioned, such situations up to now he has dealt with in a gentlemanly way. I wanted him to enjoy a drink, but be sober, always hard up, well-educated but not an academic. I didn’t want him to be as intellectual as Sherlock Holmes; that sort of clever scientific approach had, I thought, by the turn of the century been well and truly over replicated. He would also be annoyingly pernickety and meticulous over all the nitty-gritty details of an investigation, but it would be the minutiae that would lead him into solving the case. This is well exemplified in The Cheshire Cat Murders, the 18th Inspector Angel Mystery.

What drew you to writing crime?

There is a sort of magic about writing crime stories. The idea of creating a mystery and then solving it seemed to be the appeal to me. As a boy I was fascinated by stories with such naïve titles as, The Duchess’s Pearls, Sir George’s Will, The Mystery of the Locked Room and so on. I read everything like that to do with crime that I could get hold of before graduating as a young man to Dorothy L Sayers, Wilkie Collins, G K Chesterton and then on to Raymond Chandler. I guess crime was the only subject I would ever want to write about.

What key elements does a great crime novel need?

I write setting the scene with familiar elements in it so that the reader can believe that he or she is actually looking over Angel’s shoulder as the story unfolds. I want the reader to feel the tension and be involved in working out who the murderer is, and there should be enough interesting, credible activity and suspense throughout the narrative to keep him or her turning the page right up to the exposé.

THE CHESHIRE CAT MURDERS – SYNOPSIS

Detective Inspector Michael Angel and his team are desperately searching for a wild cat on a killing spree in the South Yorkshire town of Bromersley. It appears that the cougar is under human control and is trained to kill to order. Retired schoolteacher and well-known cat enthusiast, Miss Ephemore Sharp, becomes the prime suspect, but Inspector Angel is unable to prove her guilt. Matters take a decisive turn when she is found in possession of the antique pot figure of a famous performing cat called ‘Pascha’. Angel is greatly tested and the investigations become more mystifying and dangerous, as he races to find the explanation to stop more mayhem and murder. This is the 18th in the highly successful Inspector Angel series.

The Cheshire Cat Murders is available to pre-order now in hardback.

The Snuffbox Murders is out now in ebook.

Author Interview: Steve Hayes and David Whitehead Discuss Sherlock Holmes and Writing as a Team

Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamonds was released by Robert Hale last month and sees Holmes brought in to help a friend track down a missing person. Authors Steve Hayes and David Whitehead talk about what it’s like to write as a team and what drew them to Sherlock Holmes.

How did your writing partnership come about and what made you want to write as a team?

David: Steve had written a Black Horse Western called Gun for Revenge, which I enjoyed very much. A mutual friend named Tom McNulty, who saw the review I posted to the Yahoo Black Horse Westerns group, mentioned it to Steve. Steve emailed me to say thanks and I guess we both just clicked from there. As our friendship grew we discovered that there were certain subjects or projects we were both drawn to, and the idea to collaborate sprang from that. It’s an amazing thing—here is one half of the team in sunny California, the other in not-so-sunny Suffolk, England. We’ve never met but have spent countless hours on the phone and indeed talk every day. While we are in many ways complete opposites, it’s those very differences that somehow gel to make a very happy and productive whole.

Steve: Exactly. This is a partnership that almost didn’t happen. As David mentioned, but for McNulty I never would have read the review or contacted David. Once I did, and we got to know each other, I realized he was as serious about writing as I was and did not expect me to do all the work, as other collaborators have in the past. I’ve written with many famous writers, some who have won Academy Awards, and so I was well-tutored in the ways of collaboration. I just needed to know that Dave was a true professional. After that, the rest was easy.

What are the ups and downs of writing as a team?

David: I think it can easily become a perilous path if you don’t have the right attitude going into it. Steve and I both park our egos at the door. Neither one of us has any desire to upstage the other. If one of us comes out with a particularly dazzling idea or turn of phrase, that’s great, because it reflects well on the other one. There is of course much discussion and a fair bit of give and take, but overall I believe we have enjoyed a very cordial and productive partnership which has so far resulted in twelve books and a number of related projects.

Steve: As all good writers know: “You have to be willing to kill your babies.” David and I are. We also know that there will always be other stories that a special phrase or line of dialogue can fit into. As a pro—especially in television or screenwriting—the term “Nothing is written in stone” becomes a mantra.

Steve Hayes

What drew you to writing about Sherlock Holmes?

David: I’ve been a Holmes fan for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first pastiche, The Adventure of the Pentonville Twins, when I was just fifteen. But Sherlock Holmes didn’t really feature in our plans until Steve mentioned one day that he’d had an idea for a Sherlock Holmes story. Actually, at that point, Steve saw the project more as a western in which Holmes appeared. I saw it more as a Holmes story in which there were some western influences. We took it from there.

Steve is absolutely fearless, as anyone who knows him will tell you. But I myself approached the project with considerable trepidation. I certainly didn’t want us to produce a story that would in any way offend the Holmes purists. I wanted it to be as close to the style and spirit of Conan Doyle as possible, but not merely an imitation. If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to make these things seem contrived. I’ve read plenty of pastiches where the authors have tried too hard to capture Watson’s distinctive voice. Some of Holmes’s deductions in these books, which were of course so brilliantly described in the originals by Conan Doyle, often come across as somewhat laboured or deliberately manufactured. We didn’t want to fall into those same traps. We wanted Holmes’s solving of the mystery to seem entirely natural, the result of his great intellect, wide-ranging knowledge and ability to simply observe. As a result, I believe we ended up with a very good, very original story that will hopefully please Holmes fans of every stripe … plus those readers who simply enjoy a good Victorian mystery!

Steve: I’m not the fan of Holmes that David is. By that I mean I didn’t know that much about the character other than what I’d seen in movies. I’m old enough to have been in Hollywood in the Golden Era and I got to meet Basil Rathbone several times. He was Sherlock Holmes in my eyes. And has been ever since. Having David’s knowledge of Doyle’s Holmes and his background turned what I saw as a western for Brad Pitt (my agent got good feedback from his people, who said Brad was interested in playing Jesse James; which he did finally, although that particular movie tanked) eventually became a genuine Holmes’ story. Holmes’ fans can thank David for that.

With all the new stories, film and TV adaptations, how do you think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would react to the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon that his stories created?

David Whitehead

David: Well, we don’t really have to speculate, because the phenomenon began in Doyle’s own lifetime. As we know, he always considered Holmes to be a distraction from his true calling as a serious historical novelist, and he came to resent Holmes because of that. I don’t really think he ever fully understood just what the character meant to the public, and indeed, when he killed Holmes off, he did so “even if I buried my bank account with him.” And you can see why. It’s a bit like asking an artist to paint the same still life every day—after a while there’s just no challenge in it. Now, when Steve and I finished writing Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamonds, we went straight into a supernatural adventure called Cast a Deadly Shadow, which was about as far removed from Holmes as you could get.Steve: I think Doyle would be delighted. Variety is the spice of life, isn’t it?

What is your favourite Sherlock Holmes story, and why?

David: Definitely The Hound of the Baskervilles. It is just perfection on every level, though some of the Devonshire geography is a bit questionable! It has a wonderful legend, a cruel and cunning villain, a great location, some wonderful examples of Holmes’s deductive abilities, a fantastic cast of characters, more red herrings than a fishmonger’s stall and, perhaps most importantly, a wholly satisfying denouement. It truly is one of the great stories of all time, in my opinion. The only irony is that Holmes himself is largely absent for most of the book.

Steve: I don’t have one. But The Hound of the Baskervilles is as good as any.

What do you think are the key ingredients to making a great piece of crime fiction?

David: Originality. Pace. Credible characters caught up in relatively incredible events. Something that’s just a bit different.

Steve: I agree. But also the opening “hook” is vitally important. It’s important in any genre, but in mystery or crime fiction is it is vital if you want to keep the reader’s interest. That was hammered into me in every production meeting of every television show or movie I ever wrote. Hook the reader/viewer, give them fascinating characters, and keep up the pace and everyone goes home happy and satisfied. Even the poor lowly writer!

Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamonds is out now in hardback

Author Interview: Peter Cottrell Explains Why He Made the Move From Non-Fiction to Fiction

You’ve already published non-fiction books on the history of Ireland. What made you make the move into fiction?

I grew up reading swashbuckling adventure stories and absolutely love reading historical fiction. So, after writing a couple of non-fiction books about the Anglo-Irish troubles that followed the Great War, I decided to have a go at taking some of the incidents that I’d come across in my research and string them together to tell a story that captures the atmosphere of being a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary.  That way, I thought I could reach a wider audience than just those people who would choose to read straight history with a fascinating, albeit sadly neglected facet of our history.  I really think it’s important to get the details right so I have tried to be as accurate as possible.  Consequently, most of the events and many of the characters in the book are based on historical fact – IRA man Emmet Dalton really did win a Military Cross whilst serving in the British Army; Drumlish was attacked by the IRA; Constable Mullan died in an IRA ambush at Gaigue Cross and DI Philip Kelleher really was gunned down in mysterious circumstances in a Republican bar having a drink with IRA leader Michael Collins’s girlfriend!  Truth is often stranger than fiction and the more I researched for my non-fiction the more I realized that there was a story to be told.

England’s Janissary is about one man’s disillusionment with war. Why did you choose this area for your first novel?

The protagonist, Kevin Flynn, is a war veteran whose experiences in the Great War not only made him a ‘hero’ but stripped him of his innocence.  In a way there are no heroes or villains in this story, just men tainted by violence and unlike many of us, Flynn has no illusions about what he is capable of and the story looks at how he copes with that unpalatable truth.   In a way the book isn’t just about one man’s disillusionment with war but rather his disillusionment with himself.  Although my own experiences on operations don’t come anywhere close to those who fought in the Great War, I decided that it would be sensible to write what I know – so there are elements of me in Flynn, as well as elements of soldiers and policemen that I have known.  Flynn has mixed feelings about violence; as do many of the characters in the book.  He sees violence as a means to an end, but is not convinced that the ends in the story merit it.  Faced with the turmoil of post-war Ireland, Flynn joins the police, partly to try and recapture the sense of belonging the war gave him and peace took away and partially because he his sickened by the willingness of some to turn to violence to get their way.  Whilst Flynn is fictional he is an amalgam of several men I came across during my research.  Ultimately, I chose this theme for my first novel because I wanted to try and bring out many of the problems soldiers have when they come home from war, whether it was Flanders in 1918 or Afghanistan today; and I chose an ex-Dublin Fusilier turned RIC policeman because there few books who tell the story of this period of Anglo-Irish history through the eyes of men like Flynn.

How much is your experience in the Territorial Army; Regular Army and the Royal Navy reflected in the detail of the novel?

To be honest it was crucial in being able to write England’s Janissary.  I always get frustrated when I read books or watch films about conflict that get things wrong and it is easy to tell whether a writer or film maker has actually spoken to a soldier, let alone been one.  Hopefully the fact that I have first-hand experience of military life and operations comes through in the book.  I served as the Deputy Team Leader of the UN Military Observer team in Mostar during the Bosnian war where I experienced first-hand what it felt like to be shelled and shot at.  I also served for over three and a half years in Northern Ireland and based many of the characters in England’s Janissary on members of the RUC and Royal Irish Regiment that I came into contact with.  It also helped that my brother was an inspector in the Metropolitan Police so I based some of the characters on policemen I met through him as well.

What tips would you give any non-fiction authors looking to make the move into novel writing?

I think I would repeat the advice that I was given by an author friend when I decided to write historical fiction. Don’t write history with a bit of a story, tell a story with historical background.

England’s Janissary is out now in hardback.

Check out the Facebook page for England’s Janissary here.

Author Interview: Jan Jones Discusses Her RoNA Rose Award Nomination and All Things Romance

Credit: John Robertson

Congratulations on your nomination for The RoNA Rose Award for The Kydd Inheritance. How does it feel to be nominated?

Thank you, I’m absolutely thrilled! This is the third year running that I’ve been shortlisted for the award (it was previously called the Love Story of the Year). I’ve been up against very strong stories each time, so I’m delighted that the reading panel enjoy my books enough to include them on the shortlists.

Why do you think the Romance genre is so popular?

I think love, companionship and happiness are things that everybody wants. They make your heart beat faster, they make the day brighter. Reading about characters you care for going on that journey and finding that bond makes you feel good by proxy. It lifts the soul.

Why did you choose to write Romance books?

I write books that I’d like to read. (I also write mystery serials and general-interest short stories.) In the case of the romances, I get caught up with my characters and want to write their story. I also want to make my readers happy!

Where do the ideas for your books come from?

There are no shortage of ideas in my head – it’s more a case of which ones make short stories, which ones are suitable for magazine serials and which ones have the potential for a full novel. I usually start off with the main characters and the situation and take it from there. I normally know what the ending will be, and a couple of key scenes along the way, but the rest of the book comes from the development of the characters themselves. It is as much a delight for me to find out about and write as it is – I hope – for readers to read.

How useful do you find it, as a writer, to belong to like-minded societies like the RNA?

Oh, beyond compare. Writers are generally a bit odd, living inside our heads as we do for long periods of time. It was a huge relief to me when I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and discovered masses of other people who did just the same. I’ve made a lot of very good friends through the RNA whom I would never have met otherwise. On the business side, The RNA also has parties which are tremendous for networking, and they run conferences where we can all hone our craft, brush up on our PR, find out about the latest opportunities and trends, or simply talk about work.

As a regular tweeter, do you recommend it to would-be writers as a source of support?

Definitely. The lovely thing about Twitter is that you don’t have to be glued to it all the time, but it is there whenever you need a tiny break. Any time of the day or night you can log on and chat to someone. It’s a good source of answers to quick questions, it is lovely for cyber-hugs if you feel a bit low or convinced that what you’ve just written is rubbish. It’s good for keeping in contact with existing friends and for making new ones. Getting a Twitter response is instant gratification – it reminds you that you are not alone in the universe.

The Kydd Inheritance is out now in hardback.

You can follow Jan on Twitter @janjonesauthor or check out her blog.

If you would like more information about the Romantic Novelists’ Association, check out their website.