After years of writing children’s and adult non-fiction books, my first fiction novel for adults! It was quite a while in the planning and writing, and I discovered along the way that detective/whodunit stories have an extra layer of complications and pitfalls when it comes to working out the plot. Even after much careful preparation I still made a couple of mistakes which might not have been noticed in other types of fiction but which undermine the whole plot in a detective story where clue is built upon clue, suspect upon suspect. Hopefully I ironed it all out before publication – but I’m sure someone will let me know if I didn’t!
I knew I wanted to write a detective novel, but it took me some time to settle on the type of story and who my hero would be. I shied away from a modern setting from the outset. I prefer escapism when I’m reading and much modern crime seems to have to be gritty and realistic, and I’m afraid I tend to find that rather grim. It would also mean having to familiarise myself with modern police procedure, forensics etc, which again didn’t appeal. History being a passion anyway, and the Victorian era a special interest, it was the obvious candidate. I was mulling it over in the bath one day – a good place for ideas – when I remembered how much I enjoyed the televised version of Bleak House, and how I loved the character of Inspector Bucket. There and then I knew I had my man!
I had already learned from reading The Suspicions of Mr Whicher that Dickens had met the eponymous detective and his colleagues, and that Bucket came out of his chats and going out on patrol with them. What was even better was that this was the very start of the detective service. The idea of police prowling around in plain clothes was a new one and aroused uneasiness and even hostility at the time (the early 1840s). That was an added bonus, something I could work into the novel. I then gave Mr Bucket a sidekick who was new to police work – a young, handsome ex-army officer. He not only made a good foil for the older, married Bucket, but his lack of experience gave me the excuse to have Bucket explaining how things worked and what the streets of London were like back then for the reader’s sake.
My two disappointments regarding the book are firstly the cover, which to me looks like it belongs on the modern, hard-boiled crime story I deliberately didn’t write. I tried to get the publishers to change it but their marketing people insisted it was perfect… Also, Robert Hale the publishers are an old, independent publisher – something that appeals to me in this age of huge corporations gobbling all the little fish up. However, they specialise in selling to libraries rather than bookshops, and only publish in hardback. Quite how that works as a financial model is baffling to me, but that’s the way it is – so unless you want to fork out for the hardback, the best bet is to march into your library and demand they get a copy in. (I am told, though, that an e-book version is planned for the summer – watch this space!)