It was a cold and frosty night in London town and even the train strike didn’t stop us from getting to First Monday Crime. A huge thank you to Severn House for sponsoring the evening and providing drinks and mince pies. We also had great entertainment in the form of our Christmas panel – Simon Brett, Shamini Flint, Sam Blake and Tarquin Hall with Jake Kerridge asking the questions.
Jake started off with finding out a bit more about the authors and their books.
Simon Brett has written loo books (sorry – 100 books! Jake’s joke and too good to miss out) and has an OBE. He’s a former TV producer and has written for TV and radio. His new book Killer in the Choir is the latest in his Feathering series. It’s a fictional village but he’s based it on the villages near where he lives on the South Coast. He likes to write about how villages are now – mainly retired people and women in their fifties. In particular he likes to focus on how women of this age tend to become invisible when they’re anything but. For research, Simon went and sat in on rehearsals with choirs (his wife is a good singer but he’s tone deaf). Simon records his own audio books and towards the end of Killer in the Choir he had to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’. He apologises now to anyone who listens to that.
Shamini Flint used to be a corporate lawyer but gave it up to be a stay-at-home mum, writer, part-time lecturer and environmental activist to make up for her evil past in the law. She lives in Singapore and writes children’s books as well as Crime novels. She’s best known for her Inspector Singh series. Her latest book is The Beijing Conspiracy and is a standalone combining contemporary China and the events of Tiananmen Square thirty years ago. She didn’t think Inspector Singh was the right character to take on the issues of the new Cold War between China and the US, so she created Jack Ford. Shamini’s a bit embarrassed about her new protagonist. As a white man he’s very underrepresented in literature and she’s aware she’s used cultural appropriation in writing this fifty year old, alcoholic, ex-marine who can kill with his bare hands. Shamini used to kill her characters by a close range gunshot but she’s done this too often now and needed a new method so swapped to beating up. (As you can probably tell, Shamini was very tongue-in-cheek and hilarious.)
Sam Blake lives in Ireland and is the author of the Cathy Connolly series. Her latest, Keep Your Eyes on Me, is a standalone. Two women meet on a flight to New York. They’re both in First Class. They chat and discover that they have men in their lives that need sorting out – perhaps they could help each other out. One has a husband who’s got his mistress pregnant. The other woman is on her way to a job interview in NY but her brother dropped a bombshell just before she left – he’s been swindled out of the family business. A friend of Sam’s went on holiday to New York and helped with research by sending photos and videos of various things. Sam used to be a literary scout but says it’s a very different experience being a writer. Sometimes it’s hard to see what you’ve got on the page. She plots in quite a lot of detail and likes to see where the arc is going with its highs and lows.
Tarquin Hall is a journalist and used to live in Delhi. He’s written five books in his Vish Puri detective series and also a handbook – just in case you want to become an Indian private detective. Tarquin’s wife is originally from India so he’s spent a lot of time there. Some of his ideas have come from family members. One of his wife’s cousins, aged twenty five, still wasn’t married and they were looking through the matrimonial pages in the newspaper to find her a husband. She explained that prospective spouses are normally investigated by private detectives to make sure they’re suitable. Tarquin met some real life detectives who do this. He found they deal with bigger crimes as well such as kidnapping and murder. He originally wrote this as a newspaper article but a few months later decided to turn it into a crime series. Since the detectives dealt with diverse cases, Tarquin knew his detective had to have a big team helping him plus his domineering mother who tries to help as well. In The Case of the Reincarnated Client, Puri’s mother has found a witness to a cold case murder that Puri’s father had investigated and not solved. He’s delighted until he discovers the witness claims to be the reincarnated murder victim. Alongside this plot, there’s the problem of a snoring bridegroom and the bride’s family are holding Puri accountable for not discovering this before the wedding.
Jake then asked the authors – why do you write your books?
For Simon, it’s primarily to entertain – himself as well as others. Boredom is a strong instinct! He sometimes surprises himself when writing and loves it when he gets left-field ideas. He also finds that humour is a good way of sugaring the pill.
Shamini started writing as she thought she could change the world – what a disaster! The world is deteriorating rapidly! She likes to encapsulate entire Asian societies in her books for example, Malaysia or Bali.
Sam started writing when her husband went away for two months. She sent it out to everyone and was rejected. But she loved writing so kept at it until she got the writing book. Writing allows her to escape to different worlds.
Tarquin’s aim was to get rich and buy a super yacht! He has to have humour in his books as he can’t take himself or the world seriously. India is an exciting prospect as anything can happen there. He doesn’t really plot and often writes himself into a corner and then has to find a way out. As well as the humour (snoring bridegroom), he likes to add social commentary into his novels. The latest looks at the Sikh massacre in 1984 after two Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indira Ghandi. He tries to describe the place just as it is and include anything extraordinary. For example, all the diamonds in the world are sent to India to be cut and polished. But they’re not delivered by DHL but by family networks in a somewhat chaotic manner. India functions very well in a way that we in the West can’t grasp.
The authors kept us so entertained that Jake only had time for those two questions! But our evening wasn’t over. After a break to buy books and eat more mince pies and cookies, we had the extra part of our evening – a mash-up of Mr & Mrs and Criminal Mastermind. Angela Clarke and Claire McGowan were our contestants. They had three rounds of questions from Sophie and Katherine (questions by Liz and Katherine) – how well do they know each other’s books, specialist subject (Poirot for Claire and Miss Marple for Angela) and general crime fiction. It was very close and after some adding up, it was a tie. But there could only be one winner and after a tie-break question, Angela Clarke was crowned the Queen of Crime.
And that was the end of our First Monday Crime Christmas Extravaganza. We’ll be back in 2020 with more fantastic authors. In the meantime we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
If you want to purchase or pre-order any of the authors’ books then please click on their names. Books make fabulous Christmas presents! And if you’re able to buy from an independent bookstore that’s even better.