I started reading mysteries when I was very young. I loved Richard Scarry’s picture books featuring the detectives Sam Cat and Dudley Pig!
I started writing them quite early on too – I was around nine, and it was in our English classes at school. I sometimes wonder what my teachers thought of the melodramatic content!
I set my books in Cambridge where I’ve lived for over two decades. I find the city’s contrasts and contradictions fascinating. You get choirs singing madrigals by the river whilst criminals deal drugs on the commons. Cambridge’s size means secrets travel fast, too – and in unexpected directions. Lots of people are employed by the university in all sorts of capacities, and it sometimes feels as though everyone knows everyone else.
I write traditional mystery fiction – in the same vein as series like Morse, Lewis and Midsomer Murders. I love crime plots that focus on personalities and potential motives and that influences what I write.
I have two things in common with Paddington Bear. You remember how Paddington was the sort of bear that things happened to? That’s me all over. For instance, I once boarded a train at Cambridge station only to find seconds later that all the doors closed and the lights went out. I ended up getting shunted all the way to London… On the upside, the driver, when I found him, was incredibly kind and switched on the heating and lights in my carriage. (Once he’d stopped laughing, obviously…)
And my second Paddington overlap… is that I love marmalade. I think that’s where the crossover ends. (I haven’t yet been followed by dogs as a result of carrying bacon in my handbag…)
I get some of my most useful writing ideas whilst cycling to work – I send them to my personal email account, ready to address when I get home. Although it can be tantalising not to work on them straight away, I do enjoy the half days I spend with my friendly colleagues. It offsets the feeling of isolation that sometimes takes hold if I work at home all day.
My maternal grandmother was a dancer in the Ballet Rambert, but I am terribly clumsy. Not long ago I attended a Zumba class with my daughter in a church hall and collided with a lectern.
I’m a fan of PowerPoint when it comes to plotting. I have a slide per scene and make bulleted notes on what will happen. I find the display of slides down the left-hand side of the screen really useful. I drag them around if I change my mind about the order of events, and slip place-holder slides in to remind me about scenes that I must include somewhere.
And not to be content with PowerPoint, I also use spreadsheets. I begin a fresh one with each new series of books, and have tabs for characters, research, clues and red herrings, settings and more besides. As the series characters carry through from book to book, and some of the police and forensics research is relevant across titles too, I re-save the spreadsheet for book 2, deleting out any information that’s no longer relevant, but keeping everything else, so that I can refer back to it as required.