It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.
What is it about mysteries that compel us to pour a cup of tea, settle into a cozy armchair by the fire, and proceed to match wits with fictional detectives? Lovers of this genre have a new sleuth to admire in Inspector Wesley – the creation of author Dave Watson whose latest book, Murder at Melcham Hall, is the third in a page-turning series that transpires across the pond.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Let’s start with some background about your upbringing in Middlesex. Was it a landscape that fueled your imagination for history, mystery and village life?
A: I was born in 1956 in Heston, Middlesex, some twenty miles from London. In those days Heston was a tiny village where the hive of activity took place along the small parade of shops and, of course, the local public house. The village is steeped in history and I have traced my family back to the early 1700’s where Watson was the predominant surname. When I was a youngster, there were no fences to separate neighbours’ gardens and everyone walked in and out of their neighbours’ back doors. I have always longed for a village life again and maybe one day that dream will come true.
Q: Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what authors and titles might we have found on your nightstand?
A: I have always been an avid reader. As a child I read all the ‘Biggles’ books written by Captain W E Johns. In my teenage years I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings along with Jules Vernes’ classic 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
Q: Who or what first sparked your interest in becoming a writer?
A: I wrote a couple of short stories for my children when they were in Junior School and that was probably the spark. It was something I really enjoyed.
Q: Are there some favorite authors that influenced your own style of storytelling, character development and dialogue?
A: The authors who have influenced my style of writing are Agatha Christie, Kate Ellis and Jacqueline Winspear. These authors have the ability to write leaving the reader to want to keep turning the page. They create characters that one can envisage and relate to, almost as if they were real.
Q: If you could go to lunch with any of these authors and ask them one question, who would it be and what would you want to know?
A: It would have to be Agatha Christie, and my question would be, “Did you always decide who the murderer was at the start of each novel, or did you change the culprit as the story unfolded?”
Q: What’s the first book you had published and how long did it take from start to finish?
A: The first book was titled Full Circle and it took me around eighteen months from start to finish.
Q: For many authors, the task of finding the right publisher for their work can be even more time consuming than writing a book in the first place. What was your own experience in this regard?
A: To anyone starting out I would simply say, shop around. The Writers and Artists year book is a good guide. Look for publishers who specialize in your genre. It is also important that you find a publisher who understands your work.
Q: What governed your decision to create a mystery series and what are some of the particular challenges of this approach?
A: Initially I think Agatha Christie is responsible. One of the main challenges in each story is remembering the personalities and mannerisms of the main characters.
Q: So what’s Murder at Melcham Hall all about?
A: The story relates to centuries of corruption and fraud surrounding the ownership of Melcham Hall. When a young girl is found murdered on the estate, Inspector Wesley soon uncovers a web of deceit. Someone living at Melcham Hall is not who she appears to be and when an elderly woman living in the grounds of the estate disappears, things take a dramatic twist.
Q: One of my college professors once said that if you’re going to write murder mysteries, it’s better to set them in an earlier time period versus contemporary because of all the advances in technology that make crime-solving easier. What are your thoughts about that?
A: To some degree that’s correct. I also think readers often prefer to be taken back in time as stories set in an earlier period often carry more nostalgia.
Q: Who’s your favorite character to write about and how did s/he evolve in your imagination?
A: My favorite character has to be Inspector Wesley. I grew up watching old British detective series on television (in the days of black and white television) and Wesley evolved from there. Rather a plain character who sits back to roll a cigarette whilst contemplating the case in question.
Q: How much historical and police procedural research goes into your stories?
A: Quite a lot really. It helps to get a feel for a location and if you can base it on somewhere you’ve been then so much easier to visual places. My police procedural research is mostly done from watching TV programmes and learning from other authors.
Q: Writing is a solitary craft. Do you allow anyone to have sneak peeks at your work in progress or make them wait until the whole thing is done?
A: I occasionally ask family or friends for feedback, especially if I’m unsure about a particular paragraph or chapter. It helps to obtain feedback. I have learnt that no one asks a silly question.
Q: What’s a typical writing day like for you?
A: I usually shut myself away around mid-morning until mid-afternoon. That time of day works for me. However, it’s in the evening that I read other people’s novels and discuss book matters with friends and colleagues via Facebook and other outlets.
Q: Have your characters ever surprised you by doing or saying something you hadn’t planned when you were fashioning the story in your head?
A: Yes and no. Once or twice I have written a few lines about what one of my characters is doing at the time, only to stop and ask myself the question. Would he/she really say that?
Q: You also have a short story out about a pair of adventurous cats. That’s quite a departure from Inspector Wesley, isn’t it?
A: Smudge’s Adventures is a short story written for charity. A close friend lost her baby due to Group B Strep which is a life threatening infection. My son and a few friends ran a number of 10K races to raise money and I thought I could add to the pile by writing a short story donating all proceeds to the charity. http://www.gbss.org.uk/
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: Ah good question. I guess it would be that at 57 years of age I have only been writing for around 4 years. I wish I had started earlier. There’s a story in everyone.
Q: What’s your best advice to writers who are just starting their own journey and wanting to get published?
A: Be prepared to allocate yourself some time each day and stick to it. Put your story together and read it numerous times before asking someone else to proof read it. Take time to find someone who is prepared to edit your work. Only then, search for a publisher, someone who works in your genre. Look at who else they publish. Look to see who publishes other works similar to yours.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently working on a 4th Inspector Wesley novel, titled The Loxwood Legacy which I hope to have published in the Spring.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you?
A: The best place is to check out my website www.davewatson.info or take a look at my author page on Amazon.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: It is an amazing feeling knowing that other people read your books and in doing so share your thoughts and ideas. It makes all those solitary hours of writing so worthwhile!