DEBORAH CROMBIE: There is not much that gives me more pleasure than discovering a new British police mystery series. Add scenic Cornwall to the mix along with strong, quirky, female detective sergeant Morgan Davies, an appealing partner in Scenes of Crime specialist Calum West, stir in great procedural details and a great supporting cast, and you have one happy camper!
Author Will North has had a long, award-winning career in writing (more about that in a minute) just not in fiction. I say it's a good thing he got bitten by the fiction bug.
Here's what Elizabeth George says about his first Davies and West book, HARM NONE:
“For lovers of English mysteries with authentic settings and spot-on police procedures, North’s Harm None is just the ticket.”
I agree wholeheartedly! Here's Will to tell you more.
DEBS: Will, we have an obvious kinship here, both Americans writing British police novels. But, oh, my, what different paths we've taken to get there! (And yours is so much more interesting, I must say.) You are a native New Yorker, and from early on a very gifted writer who has had a distinguished career writing non-fiction, some of which is "ghostwriting", or more accurately, collaborating, with some very famous people. Can you tell us a little about that?
WILL NORTH: I’ve actually had several writing careers, which may be indicative of a short attentionspan if nothing else… I started my career as an environmental policy analyst, which culminated in a fairly senior appointed positon in the Carter Administration in Washington DC. I hadn’t even turned thirty. Then I branched out writing about broader economic policy issues which were the subjects of my first four nonfiction books. Eventually, Vice President Al Gore wanted me to write a book for him which came to be called Common Sense Government. Next thing I knew Bill Clinton was on the line. I met with him once a week in the Oval Office for three months and the result was Between Hope and History. I found him to be whip smart and a delight to work with. So, suddenly I was a ghostwriter. I’ve since ghosted books, some of them international best-sellers, for several famous mountaineers, a team of dinosaur hunters, and many others. This annoyed my mother: “When do I see your name on the cover?!” My response: “You’re still getting checks from me, right?” Mothers are so hard to please…
DC: From non-fiction it seems that you plunged into fiction. Did you always want to write fiction? Was there a particular event in your life that catapulted you into novels?
WN: I never thought I had novels in me. I’m not kidding. Not a clue. Then one day fiction showed up uninvited and beat me into submission. Ninety days later, my first novel, The Long Walk Home, was done. Three big New York publishers started a bidding war for the rights. A division of Random House won with a six-figure advance. I thought they were nuts. I still do, despite its success. But yes, something happened to me personally that produced that first novel: my ex-wife but absolute best friend died of cancer. I moved back East and took care of her for the final months of her life. Just before she died, she grinned and said: “I have a surprise for you.” (She was mischievous to the end.) I was to take her ashes to the top of a mountain in North Wales called Cadair Idris and scatter them at the summit. She was part Welsh. It took me a year to let her go but I finally did so. A couple of months after I returned home, it was like her spirit gave me a big dope slap and told me to get to work. That’s how it started. I blame it all on her. Before that, I’d never (knowingly) written fiction, had never even taken a creative writing class.
DC: Your first books were in the romantic suspense tradition. (I can't wait to read these, especially the two set in Britain.) Were there particular books and authors that inspired these?
WN: Honestly, no. The stories just showed up. The next two novels were Water, Stone, Heart and Seasons’ End (the latter set on the small island in Puget Sound where I now live). I think of them as love stories for grownups about second chances in life, although, yes, there is suspense. I usually have only three things in my head when I start a novel: a sense of place, a couple of quirky characters, and a larger theme I want to explore. Sometimes I don’t understand the theme until I’ve written a good bit of the book. I don’t outline; my characters boss me around and I do what they tell me to. I tell people this at readings and they think I’m joking. I’m not. Every writing day, and I write seven days a week, is a complete surprise. To me, that’s the fun.
DC: And then came the crime novels, starting with Harm None, set in Cornwall, featuring police detective Morgan Davies, and crime scene manager Calum West. The question we're always asked, as Yanks writing Brit: What drew you to Britain? And in your case, to Cornwall especially, with your wonderfully rendered settings? And what drew you to start a life of crime? Any writers in particular?
WN: For most of my life (until I found my island near Seattle and its deep sense of community), the only place I ever felt “at home” was Britain. It hit me the moment I stepped off a plane at Heathrow in the late 1960s. Eventually, I wrote a three-book series of off-the-beaten-track guidebooks called The Best of Britain’s Countryside. But Cornwall, that far southwestern tip of Britain, captured me. It is a weather-thrashed, magical place studded with Stone, Bronze, and Iron Age monuments and sites. You can walk from the English Channel side to the Atlantic coast side in less than a day and you just keep tripping over them. They’re everywhere. Cornwall has always been a place of mystery. On the way to nowhere, it kept its culture intact despite England’s best efforts to tame it. Also, there is a very strong pagan tradition there which I have used in my mysteries on occasion. As for other writers, I decided to write British murder mysteries because I always loved reading them. I started long ago with the great Dorothy Sayers, followed by Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, and later P.D. James, Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill, my neighbor and friend a couple of islands north of me, Elizabeth George, and Martha Grimes whose beautifully crafted mysteries are also just plain hilarious. (Someday I’ll have to tell you a funny story about the pub she features in The Lamorna Wink...)
DC: Now, the twenty-four dollar (or pound) question: How do you research the Davies and West books? How much time do you spend in England? (And can I poach your police contacts???)
WN: Having written those three guidebooks, which involved many long visits over three years with my late wife, I know Britain well, especially the countryside. I am blessed with a photographic memory of “place.” Ten years ago, for example, I spent three and a half months walking through most of southern England, pack on my back. To this day, it is a vivid movie in my head. It was traversing the whole of the Southwest Coast Path that made me realize Cornwall was where my heart was. I am blessed by having a whole team of “advisers” in Cornwall: a recently retired (and somewhat notorious) female CID detective sergeant, a former chief crime scene manager, one of the two forensic pathologists serving there, the head archaeologist for Cornwall, the staff of the Royal Cornwall Museum, the mortuary manager in Truro, several leading pagans and witches, and many others I’ve recruited as needed for each book. I reckon it’s my years as a nonfiction writer that I am so obsessed about accuracy, especially in procedure. I can’t even finish a sentence unless I know the facts are right. I get answers from these folks overnight and am so grateful that they have become my friends.
DC: Morgan Davies is a very strong, very real character; prickly, funny, and driven. How did she come about?
WN: She won’t mind my saying this, but Morgan is a (very) fictionalized version of my CID detective friend. The character is irascible, sharp-tongued, a rule breaker, but a passionate seeker of justice, in part because of a tragedy during her childhood. In short, she’s a bulldog. Sometimes also a loose cannon. My SOCO crime scene manager, Calum West, is her near opposite: calm, a gentleman, but equally driven when it comes to investigating scenes. He is fashioned, lightly, after my SOCO advisor. They’re both quite concerned about what quagmire I’ll drop them into next…
DC: What's next for Davies and West? I can't wait to read more.
WN: Harm None is followed by Too Clever By Half. In that story Davies & West struggle to sort out how a body comes to be discovered floating, naked, five miles off the English Channel coast. It’s tricky. Pretty soon you think you know what’s happened. But you don’t. I have just finished the third in the series, Trevega House. In this story, a series of increasingly dangerous and malicious events is visited upon a couple and their recently adopted, clairsentient young girl. All three are characters who return from my second romantic novel, Water, Stone, Heart. Readers kept demanding to know what happened to the girl. The answer is: a lot.
DEBS: Here's a little more about Too Clever By Half.
Two days later, a woman reports her partner, Archie Hansen, missing. A farmer and Druid, Archie has a secret: while plowing one of his fields he’s discovered an underground chamber holding a fortune in Iron Age gold and silver artifacts. Barely a month later he’s the “floater” found in the Channel.
Unraveling this mystery of treasure, deep secrets, adultery, betrayal, and revenge will test the investigative skills, intuition, and tenacity of Davies and West as never before. The killer is wickedly clever, but ultimately, as the Brits say, “too clever by half.”
READERS, will be dropping in to answer questions and comments throughout the day, and has a copy of Too Clever By Half (paperback or e-book) for one lucky commenter. So be sure and say "hi."
"Will North" is the fiction-writing pseudonym for an internationally best-selling author and ghostwriter of more than a dozen nonfiction books. His new novels include ,"The Long Walk Home, "Water, Stone,Heart," "Seasons' End," and the first two books in the Davies & West murder mystery series, set in Cornwall, England: "Harm None" and "Too Clever By Half." The third in the series, "Trevega House," will be released very soon. He lives with his wife and various animals on an island in Puget Sound, Washington. You can find him at www.willnorthonline.com and on Facebook at Will North, Author.
REDS ALERT! Stephanie Stevens has won the signed copy of Away in a Manger and can email Rhys at firstname.lastname@example.org
And JHolden was the winner of Sadie Hartwell's book, if you can email Lucy with your address.
DEBS: And, Will, another question from me: Tell us about your gorgeous dogs!
And one more. I want to hear the story about The Lamorna Wink:-)