Today, I’m delighted to welcome Chris Longmuir to Virtual Book Club, an interview series in which I put questions to authors about the books they’d like to persuade your club to read. If you want to pose a question of your own, you’ll have the opportunity to do so at the end.
Chris was born in Wiltshire but considers herself a Scot because she moved to Scotland at the age of two. She always had the urge to write, but spent her early working life in a variety of jobs in offices, shops, mills, and factories, and was even a bus conductress for a time. But, despite enjoying everything she worked at, she always felt the urge to develop her skills. Initially that involved further education which led to her studying for her Open University degree. Following the award of her BA, she undertook a post graduate course in social work, and found employment as a social worker until taking early retirement to concentrate on her writing. During her time as a social worker she gained experience in all aspects of social work, including criminal justice, and she reckons this is what contributes to her ability to use the dark side of life in her writing.
Q: Chris, perhaps you can start by telling us how you came to be a writer.
I was a solitary child whose friends lived within the pages of books. I would make up stories in my head and dream of writing my own book. But those dreams took half a lifetime to fulfil because I thought writers were magical people, not really of this world. My interest in writing was rekindled much later in my life when a creative writing class attracted my attention, and I’ve never looked back.
At first I wrote short stories, articles, monologues and street theatre, and to my astonishment I became a published author and playwright. I suppose you could say I have a driven personality and it wasn’t long before this success was not enough. That’s when I started writing novels. It didn’t matter that those novels were not embraced wholeheartedly by agents and publishers, I kept on writing.
Q: What was your first recognition or success?
Four books nestled in my bottom drawer, otherwise known as the hard drive of my computer, before I achieved a publication deal. My breakthrough book was Dead Wood, and it all came about because of a competition. Three of the books I had written over the years had won competitions, but this time it was the biggie. It was the Dundee International Book Prize which is listed as the premier prize in the UK for debut novelists. It came with a publishing contract and a rather nice cheque of astronomical proportions. Interestingly, I had my final rejection from a publisher on the eve of publication and the announcement of the prize.
Q: Can you remember the moment you first saw your book on the shelves of a bookshop?
I can! It was the Dundee branch of Waterstones. However they weren’t allowed to put Dead Wood on the sheIves until after the announcement of the award, so I actually saw the book the day before it was launched. I was taken down to a basement to sign loads of books in readiness for the next day. Naturally I went back to the shop to see them on the shelves, and I think I almost made love to the book on the spot. It is one of the most exciting things an author can experience, seeing their first book in the bookstores. It’s a bit like giving birth to your first child.
Q: If you were trying to describe your writing to someone who hasn’t read anything by you before, what would you say?
This is more difficult than I thought it would be. The simple answer is that I write crime fiction. The Dundee Crime Series, are contemporary murder mysteries set in a dark and dangerous Dundee. The series contains three books: Night Watcher, focusing on two very different stalkers; Dead Wood, a combination of police procedural and woman in jeopardy which tells the story of Kara who is running from gangsters as well as a serial killer; and Missing Believed Dead, a story of vengeance, missing children and internet predators. Readers identify with my main police character DS Bill Murphy in The Dundee Crime Series, but my police are actually secondary characters – although I retain the same police team in each book because it would be silly to change them. The main characters are the victims, the perpetrators, or anyone affected by the crime plot. And they always have twists. I like to keep my readers guessing. I suppose you could say I come somewhere in the middle between Agatha Christie and Val McDermid, probably veering towards the latter.
Q: But today we’re going to talk about your latest novel, The Death Game. Where does it fit in with the rest of your work?
I’ve changed direction. It’s a historical mystery and detective novel in the tartan noir vein, with gothic undertones and a new and original female scottish detective.
It’s set in 1919, when Britain is recovering from the horrors of the Great War. Kirsty Campbell, former suffragette and a policewoman in Britain’s newly formed Women’s Police Service, returns to her home town of Dundee to become the city’s first policewoman. Her struggle for acceptance in the all male police force isn’t easy, and she fights for recognition. But Kirsty isn’t easily intimidated and, despite police attempts to curtail her activities, she defies her superior officer to pursue an investigation into a murder which is linked to missing orphan girls.
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Q: Kirsty sounds like my kind of character.
Kirsty is unusual. She’s feisty, single-minded, and yet vulnerable, with demons of her own to fight.
Q: Tell us a little about the major areas you had to research.
The idea for The Death Game arose out of research I did for an article on the origins of women police. The research surprised me because it wasn’t what I was expecting, and when I found out there was a policewoman in Dundee in 1917, at a time when there were only two policewomen in the whole of Scotland, one in Dundee and the other in Glasgow, Kirsty Campbell took root in my mind.
My research revealed that the first women police appeared in London in 1914. They were recruited, trained and employed by voluntary organisations, so although they worked alongside the police and had the approval of the Commissioner of Police, they were not part of the male police establishment. But the most surprising thing was that the women police were set up by the main suffragette organisations.
It is ironic that this novel was once rejected because the publisher’s editor claimed that a suffragette could not possibly be a policewoman. He hadn’t done his research! He did me a favour though, because it resulted in the addition of a historical end note in the book.
In addition to researching women police in the early part of the twentieth century, I spent a considerable amount of time finding out about social conditions and how people lived their lives at that time.
Q: Did you incorporate any real life characters into your novel? If so how?
There are some real people who have walk-on parts in The Death Game. These include Sergeant Lilian Wyles, who later became the first woman in the CID department of the Metropolitan Police; Superintendent Sofia Stanley, who led the women police after they were officially recognised by the Metropolitan Police; and Chief Constable John Carmichael, City of Dundee Police Force. There are also fleeting mentions of Margaret Damer Dawson, and Sir Nevil Macready. However, none of these real-life characters played a significant part in the story apart from providing historical accuracy.
Q: ‘I’ve always said there are two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. Architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up.’ (George R R Martin) Which are you?
I’m definitely a gardener. I usually start with a character and a scene, and then it’s a matter of thinking ‘what if’ this happened, or ‘what if’ that happened. It’s only a matter of time before my characters start to write the story for me. For example, Dead Wood started with a picture in my mind of two well dressed men holding a young woman by the throat with her feet dangling in the air, unable to make contact with the ground. At that stage I didn’t know who the men were, nor that Kara, was a single mum with two children, nor the reason she was being threatened. But it all came together in a fast paced thriller. I take the view that if I don’t know what’s going to happen, then neither will my reader.
Q: So would you say your writing is character-driven or do you give equal weight to the plot?
I think my writing is a combination of both. I start with character and scene, but because I write murder mysteries with plenty of twists there has to be a plot as well. But, as I said earlier, my characters usually dictate the plot as my writing develops. However, this means I have to compile a timeline so I can be sure that the murderer, whoever he or she turns out to be, can actually be physically available to do the deed.
Q: Why did you decide to switch to different characters’ points of view?
I write in third person, multi-viewpoint, because I like to explore each character. I like to delve into their minds, see what makes them tick, and see how they regard the other characters. I feel it gives a rounded view of who a person is, not who they think they are. And, of course, not every character is honest in what he or she gives away about themselves.
Q: Without giving too much away, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a historical murder mystery which also includes spies and saboteurs. The title is Devil’s Porridge, and it is set in Gretna Munitions Factory in 1917 at the height of the Great War. It started out as part of the Kirsty Campbell series, although it takes place two years earlier than The Death Game, however, I think it might have to be a standalone novel in which Kirsty Campbell plays a part. The problem is that my Belgian refugee character, Beatrice, has assumed a larger role than intended. I’ve almost finished the first draft so I’m hoping to publish this book within a few months.
Q: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
I have to confess that I’m fascinated by electronic gadgets of all types and descriptions and I’m never happier than when I’m experimenting with new hardware and software. I suppose you could call me a techno geek. I like to muck about with computers, upgrade them, and I even built my last two computers from scratch. Reluctantly I’ve had to stop because there is insufficient houseroom for further new build computers. However, that doesn’t stop me from trying out all sorts of software, and it’s a great displacement activity.
Q: One last question, if I may. Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and why?
Sadly, my biggest fan, my husband died before any of my novels were published, so the dedication in Dead Wood reads: ‘For Ernie whose encouragement and support kept me going, particularly during the times when I doubted my ability as a writer. His belief in me, and pride in even the smallest of my successes, contributed to this, my greatest success.’
Want to find out more about Chris?
Visit her website for all her latest news, links to her blog, an inclusive book page, as well as pages for individual book and links to their first chapters. And, of course, it has buying links to most of the places you will find my books. The links are as follows:
Remember, if you enjoyed this post please share it. If there’s anything else you’d like to ask Chris, leave a comment.
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Written on May 24, 2016 at 1:14 pm, by Jane Davis
Categories: Author Interviews, Homepage, Virtual Book Club | Tags: Author Interviews, Bookclub, crime fiction, Dead Wood, Dundee Crime Series, Dundee International Book Prize, Fiction set in Dundee, indie author, Missing Believed Dead, Night Watcher, Open University, Scottish authors, Self-Publishing, The Death Game, Waterstones
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