It might have been wet enough outside to build an ark but inside West Barnes Library, we had an evening full of sun, sea and suspicion with Murder on the Beach. Authors Mark Hill and William Shaw had braved the elements to join us. We started the evening with finding out more about the books.
Deadland is the second in the DS Alex Cupidi series by William Shaw. Two teenagers steal a phone. Nothing new there really. Except they steal the wrong phone and the owner is willing to do anything to get it back, including murder.
The Bad Place is the first DI Sasha Dawson novel by Mark Hill. His previous character, DI Ray Drake, was quite dark. Sasha evokes the seaside setting by having a sunnier disposition and family life. She ends up looking into a cold case. Twenty-six years before, six children had been kidnapped but only five made it out alive.
I asked about the pros and cons for having a seaside setting. William’s books are mainly based in Dungeness although DS Cupidi has to travel all over Kent including Margate. William particularly loves Dungeness as a location. You can’t view it on Google maps as it’s privately owned by EDF Energy and they charge too much for the photos to be taken. So the only way to see it is to go there. He particularly loves the original shack buildings but isn’t so keen on the newer contributions to the area. They might look architecturally beautiful but they’re edging out the original inhabitants. Having a nuclear power station as a backdrop is also useful at times!
Mark originally wanted to set his book in North London but his editor said no. So he decided to go back to his Essex roots and chose Southend, although like DS Cupidi, DI Dawson is covering most of the county too. And going to research Southend (with the world’s longest pier) wasn’t too much of a hardship and got him out of the house.
Seaside towns have quite mixed fortunes. Some, like Bournemouth and Brighton are quite prosperous with universities and good transport links. Others like Jaywick (Essex) and Blackpool are incredibly deprived. I asked the authors if they considered this in their writing.
William does consider it. The rise of packaged holidays abroad really knocked the tourism trade in the UK. Add to that, big cities shipped their poorest to live at the seaside because it was cheaper to house them there. With little work available, the poor stayed poor. So William is really aware of the impoverished areas of Kent, especially the seaside towns. There may be parts that still look good but get away from the tourist centre and the situation for locals is a lot bleaker. So he does his best to weave some of this reality into his stories.
Mark is very aware of the poverty too but it’s not the main focus in his novels. For him it’s all about the plot and characters. He’s less concerned about adding themes. Having said that, his next book will include a TV reality star. Can’t think where he’s got that idea from!
Having both previously written male police officers, I wondered how the switch to female had worked for them.
Both were aware about not writing stereotypes. William was given the advice by female authors to think about how women might speak to each other if no men were around. So he has quite a few conversations between DS Cupidi and her female colleague, DC Jill Ferriter, that take place in the ladies toilets. Alex Cupidi has a teenage daughter and William wanted to explore the dynamic of a single mum coping with work and motherhood.
Mark is doing a similar thing as Sasha has a husband, two children and both parents living nearby. He wanted to think about how she would react dealing with a murder investigation when a family member would suddenly ring up and ask inane questions. Juggling work and home commitments is a constant battle for Sasha.
As both authors use multiple voices in their novels, I wondered how they created these.
Mark has a whiteboard and he plans out the various scenes for his narrators. This gives him two advantages. Firstly he knows exactly where the story is going and secondly, it allows him to write out of order. If he’s in the mood for a chase scene, he writes that. Or a romantic scene. He gets bored easily so there’s a lot of pace in his books. If he’s bored writing it, then he’s aware the reader might feel the same.
William starts with chapter one and works his way through, adding the different voices where it seems necessary. With Deadland, he has divided it into four parts. He did this because he wanted there to be quite a gap between hearing from the two teenage boys. For me, this worked really well as I was aware we hadn’t heard from the boys for a whole section and it added to the tension. Using different narrators is a relatively new thing for William. In his next book, we’re going to be hearing from a badger. Yes, really.
I always send out my questions in advance to the authors so they can prepare for the event. However, I didn’t mention to them about the little quiz I’d prepared for them. As they’re now writing about female officers, I tested their knowledge on TV female sleuths with a theme tune competition. I won’t give the final scores but it’s fair to say that Mark Hill aced this quiz and puts his prowess down to watching a lot of reruns on Dave.
There was so much more that William and Mark shared but it’s hard to remember it all when you can’t take notes. A big thank you to William Shaw and Mark Hill for a hugely entertaining evening. If you would like to buy the books then please click on the authors names for more details.
And thank you to the Friends of West Barnes Library who hosted the event. We’ll be back on Monday 18th November with The Lady Thrillers – Emma Curtis and Amanda Robson.