I’ve met the lovely Alison Lingwood twice now at an author and blogger meet-up. But each time, I’ve only managed a very quick chat with her. Luckily, she agree to be my interviewee so I could find out a little bit more about her and her books.
Q. Your latest book, Immersed in Murder, came out last year. Can you tell us about it?
A. Immersed in Murder opens with a family returning from their holiday to find a total stranger dead and naked in their bath. The identification of this woman is the first challenge, and when her clothes are found in an adjacent policing area, the story provides the opportunity for my detective to work with an ex-colleague. The plot is complex with the motive for the crime eventually being linked to the woman’s past.
Q. Immersed in Murder is the sixth book in The DCI Chris Timothy series. How hard is it to write a series?
A. I wrote the first book, Portal to Murder, for my own enjoyment and to see whether I could. When the story was about halfway through the idea for a sequel presented itself and so the series evolved, almost as if the topics chose me rather than vice versa. At no point had I planned to write a particular number of DCI Timothy novels.
Q. How did you first get the idea for DCI Timothy and how has he taken shape as a character over the six books?
A. I never started the first book with a particular character or physique in mind for my detective. He too has developed as the series has grown. He started as a single man, a detective inspector and by book 7, the current work in progress, he is a DCI, married with children and a great deal of experience. At least one of his encounters with crime has been life-changing for him. His name is shared with an actor who was a popular TV vet in the 1990s and some readers say it is his face they visualise when reading. I have never specified his age or appearance, allowing the reader to make of him what they will.
Q. What do you most enjoy about writing in the crime genre?
A. There are two aspects of writing that I particularly enjoy. One is the challenge of writing murder mysteries. The author has to set a puzzle, which she is capable of solving. (If the author cannot solve the murder(s) then neither can her detective.) At the same time the puzzle must be sufficiently complex to keep the reader guessing. No-one wants to finish a book if they think they have worked out the denouement after fifty pages – even if they are wrong.
Secondly, I enjoy the research. I have no medical, police or forensic experience but the internet helps immensely. I write, not for the expert who would undoubtedly find holes in my stories, but for the layman who wants a good yarn. I have found people are usually willing to be very helpful; for instance the head of car parking at an international Airport who told me how to “lose” a car, and the curator of a Dorset museum who was very informative about the rope-making industry.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. The ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. The first one, for example, was from a friend’s post on social media announcing an imminent holiday. It occurred to me that she had just let a lot of people know that her flat would be empty for a fortnight, and it built from there! The second came from predictive text on my computer, suggesting I was looking for the phrase Bridport Dagger. Of course I then had to look up what this was, and so the story was born. With other books it has been a geographical location, a friend’s anecdote about family, or just some nebulous idea that seemingly comes from nowhere and takes root.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you find about being a writer?
A. I often find it hard to remain focused on the writing. Life gets in the way, if you like, and sometimes I could be more disciplined. As I self-publish I am not working to externally dictated deadlines, so it’s easy to get distracted. Another downside is my lack of professional editing and proofreading. When re-reading your own work, you tend to read what you intended to write, not necessarily what is on the page.
Q. Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
A. I never intended to publish at all but was encouraged by family and friends after they had read drafts of Portal to Murder. I did submit to several publishers to be met with rejection, but hearing professional writers talk about the deadlines and conditions imposed by editors and publishers I was not too concerned. I pursued self-publishing, initially through CreateSpace and subsequently Kindle Direct Publishing. All my books have now been published through KDP so are available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.
Q. Do you get time to read yourself and if you do, what books do you read?
A. I read a lot, often when I should be spending the time writing. I love reading murder mysteries although my taste is for the gentler type of crime stories without too many descriptions of gratuitous violence. I also read extensively from a wider range of fiction and the source depends on my mood at the time. I also, to a lesser extent, enjoy non-fiction. Recently I have read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, Coming up Trumps by Jean Trumpington, and Sebastian Faulks’ Charlotte Grey.
Q. When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A. Much of my spare time is spent reading, but we also have a young rescue beagle, Ruby, who takes a lot of exercise. Fortunately the area where we live is crossed with wonderful walks and she and I cover miles along the canal bank each morning before coming home to feed the rescue hens I keep in the garden. I am a member of a book club and attend local writers’ events at the central library. I also enjoy visiting charity shops and boot sales, and who doesn’t love to be a lady who lunches? My husband is due to retire shortly and we hope to spend more time together. I love gardening, and the gift from last Christmas of an annual pass to Trentham Gardens is well-used. When the weather makes gardening impossible, I enjoy quizzes and puzzles.
Q. Finally, what piece of advice can you give to writers who are struggling to get that first book written and published?
A. To become commercially published requires determination and a thick skin. Many set-backs can be encountered along the way and publishing itself is being squeezed, both economically and by the changing way in which books are being bought. It also takes a great deal of luck; however good your book is, if a publisher does not have a vacancy for a new author in that genre at the time you submit, then your work is not going to be accepted. So the only way is to keep at it, don’t lose heart, and remember that there are great opportunities, and some advantages, to self-publishing.