Thursday, November 19, 2015

Will North--Too Clever By Half

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 attention
span 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.  

Naked, anonymous, the body found bobbing in the English Channel five miles off the coast of Cornwall is a baffling puzzle for Major Crimes Unit Detective Inspector Morgan Davies and her Scene of Crimes Manager, Calum West. Davies has no victim to name. West has no scene to investigate. The post-mortem confirms that the shallow wounds marking the corpse are due to torture.
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 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

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:-)


Joan Emerson said...

What an interesting writing career you've had so far. Do you have a preference between writing fiction and non-fiction?
I'm looking forward to reading Morgan Davies' adventures.

Reine said...

I was sitting here in my room, not the slightest sleep-inclined at 3:45 AM and wondering what to read. I thought maybe the Reds had the day's blog up. I could read that. You guys--Debs and Will--you did not let me down. Not only was your interview great, but now I have new books to order and download. Thank you so very much. xoxoxxx

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

This is a wonderful interview--thanks Debs and Will! You've done so many interesting things--are you imagining you'll continue on with this series?

Kristopher said...

That is quite a path to fiction writing. And like Deb, I love a good British procedural. I can always count on the REDS to add books to my pile. (I'm not complaining, and I know my blog does the same for others)

Mardy Blackmore said...

I love mysteries and have never read Will Norths' books. I intend to add him to my list of 'must read' books. Thank you for this blog.

Hallie Ephron said...

Happy to see you on Jungle Red, Will - Talk about past as prologue! All that travel writing was just research for your career as a novelist!

Margaret Turkevich said...

I look forward to reading your book. I adore Martin Walker's Inspector Bruno books about France and anticipate learning about Cornwall in your book.

Debbye Giles said...

I've been looking for a new series -- I think I've found it! Thanks, JRW, for introducing me to this intriguing series.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

This sounds so fabulous! (I worked in Washington DC, too, for the Senate Judiciary Committee, and fro Rollin Stone--just a little before your time What an education. I always marvel at how what we do in the past returns to be the perfect thing.

(I just had to fix a typo--I had written "I wonked in Washington DC." Maybe I should have left it.)

What is it about British procedurals that makes them so irresistible?

SO great to meet you, Will!

Susan D said...

The Jungle Red Jungle is a dangerous place for me, because I keep finding more and more writers to read. Everything about these books sounds just my cup of tea, and add to that, what's not to like about a writer in a plaid shirt with two dogs on a dock?

(No, no, don't enter me in the draw, thanks. I've won so many books from the Jungle they're forming a little sub-section on my mystery shelves. :^0)

Brenda Buchanan said...

Wow! What an interesting personal story you have, Will, and your books sound just as fascinating. I will look for them, perhaps for holiday gifts for some British mystery fans on my list.

Mary Sutton said...

Hank, I have the same question - I have such a list of British procedurals I fear I'll never read them all.

I find your journey to fiction writing fascinating. Is there anything about one you prefer over the other?

And I love your dogs. =)

Rhys said...

Cornwall? Absolutely my neck of the woods. We stay with John's sister every summer at her manor house (near Lamorna!) so I really look forward to reading these books. I hope pasties and cream teas figure in the plots!

Gram said...

I am looking forward to this series. I love strong female leads.

Yvonne MacQuarrie said...

I absolutely love British mysteries, can't get enough of them! I will definitely add Will North to my list of to-be-read authors. What a fascinating journey you have had, Will, to reach this stage of your life.

Julia said...

Will, your journey to crime fiction is fascinating. Just this morning on The Writer's Almanac, I head a quote from the poet Sharon Olds: "I was a late bloomer, but anyone who blooms at all is lucky."

Sounds like you've had a whole garden, blooming at different times!

Laurie Reissler said...

I am drawn to police procedurals set an interesting places with a strong female lead. Can't wait to check this one out. Thanks

Celia Fowler said...

There is just something about Cornwall that draws one in. I enjoyed the interview and look forward to reading your books!

Anonymous said...

Diane Hale here.

I must admit, of all the interesting things you've done and written about, I'm most intrigued by your writing about/with with dinosaur hunters. I spent many years as a kid rock hunting with my folks--digging fire opals, dry-washing for gold, or collecting some of my treasured rocks just because they had interesting colors or shapes.

I love that you started with characters and they formed the story. Such an encouragement for writers finding their path.

Your British procedurals sound fascinating, and I'll definitely be adding them to my reading list.

chelty said...

This sounds fascinating. A new author for me to 'get involved with'. The author has such a varied background but with a writing skill at his core. Very interesting interview which intrigued me. Now I need to start on this new, to me, mystery series. Thanks for the information.

Libby Dodd said...

Finding one's "home: is so magical.
For my husband and me it was rediscovering Maine after not visiting for years. Now, although we live in south FloWe only get there a few weeks per year, but it's marvelous.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Hi Will! You had me at "Cornwall" and "prickly heroine"! Can't wait to dive in!

TFJ said...

Yippee: I now can look forward to some binge reading with your new series, Will, as well as catch up with your stand-alones. My fascination with British mysteries began with Catherine Aird decades ago and am so happy to have it continue with both the Reds and you.

Thanks for starting my day with this interesting post.


David Squires said...


Kathy Reel said...

I am so excited!!! I loved Water,Stone,Heart and Cornwall is an obsession of mine, even though I've never been there. Boscastle, a character in itself, and the other great characters have stayed with me since I read this book in April of 2011. Oh, and the hedge building was immensely interesting to me. Now, I learn that Will North is writing a crime series set in Cornwall, and the reappearance of Andrew, Nicola, and their special girl is something I am looking forward to. So, I have much about which to be excited. A new series set in a favorite setting and a visit with old friends. I have already put Harm None and Too Clever By Half on my Amazon wishlist, thinking these books will be a great addition to my Christmas box of books I give myself every year. And, I've always loved that phrase, "too clever by half."

Thank you, Will, for visiting the Reds today and for cheering me up. I was thinking about all of the things around the house I need to do in the next few days and feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Well, that all went out the window when I found out about your Cornwall police mysteries. And, as I am wont to do, I visited your Web page and signed up for your blog, which I encourage others to do at As a blogger myself, I have to check out other blogs, and yours looks so interesting. Also, I'd like to give a shout out to Margaret D’Ascol and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, thanking them both for your wise choice of career.

Kathy Reel said...

Arghh. How could I have forgotten to tell you, Will, that your dogs are gorgeous. They are!

FChurch said...

Just picked up Too Clever by Half today, came home and found this on JRW!

Favorite meme recently: a photo of a shopping cart full of huskies with the tagline: "They were having a sale!"

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

That is a great quote, Julia!

And SUsan D--so happy you are hooked!

Reine said...

Julia I've copied the quote and blue tacked it to the bottom of my computer screen. Thanks, Hank for the reminder. xo

Will North said...

Hello, wonderful commenters! We're having some technical difficulties responding to your questions but are working on a solution. Thanks so much for your patience! -- Will North

Denise Ann said...

Hope I am not too late to say hello and throw myself into the pot for one of these sensational books!! I visited Cornwall once -- in the mid-90s and loved everything about it!! We stayed in an historic hunting lodge, enjoyed cream teas, and searched for King Arthur.

Reine said...

Wait a minute! There's a give-away? How'd I miss that? Thank you, Denise Ann!

I've haven't been to Cornwall (yet), but I had a pasty or two at Oxford--probably in the covered market up the street and across the High from Tom Gate. I found out later I'd been pronouncing pasty all wrong. I'm still embarrassed! I started eating them when my tutor's admonition came true. "Don't eat the fish and chips from the truck parked outside. You'll get sick."

Will North said...

WOW! So many comments! As I am almost computer illiterate, I'm guessing this is where I answer you questions. If not, I reckon the Jungle Red ladies will give me a dope slap and sort ,e out. Okay, from the top:

Joan: I much prefer writing fiction. I think of nonfiction as my former "day job." Lucrative but not nearly as difficult or rewarding.

Reine: thanks so much for ordering the books. I want critiques from you at

Lucy Burdette: Yes, I have more stories for the series.

Hallie: Yes, the travel guidebooks (very quirky and opinionated) filled my head with ideas. It is a bit odd to have a photographic visual memory (the rest of my memory is useless!).

Hank: yes, I was a "policy wonk" for many years. Then Reagan fired me and I was set free! So much happier as a writer ever since. And by the way, Hank, I've seen your photo; I sincerely doubt you are older than I am!

Mary Sutton: Which of my books to I prefer? My first novel, romance and suspense, "The Long Walk Home," got me into fiction, is very popular, and is dear to me. As for the Davies & West mystery series, I have to say I like all of them and hope the third will be available soon. Oh, and I am sorry to say both those dogs have since died of cancer. I miss them deeply: noble and elegant they both were. We now have four more. NEVER MARRY A VETERINARY TECHNICIAN!

Julia: I, too, am a Sharon Olds fan. She strips herself naked and gives us her soul

Diane Hale: The dinosaur book is "The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt." It's quite a yarn It's written with my real name, which is "William Nothdurft."

And to all you "Reds," thank you for your words. I feel honored to have been "discovered" by JRW!

will north @ said...

Okay, the Martha Grimes "Lamorna Wink" story: Grimes names her mysteries after real pubs in England. She is a splendid and often hilarious writer. So, the Lamorna Wink is a tiny pub wedged into a narrow valley on the English Channel coast of Cornwall. It's walls are studded with artifacts from Cornwall's history of luring ships to the rocks. The "wink" comes from long ago when Cornishmen brought French brandy, illegally, into their tiny ports. At the pub, where everyone had their own pewter mugs hanging above the bar, a wink would signal a tipple of brandy, rather than ale, invisible to the revenuers watching them.

I asked the landlord of the Lamorna Wink whether she knew about the Martha Grimes mystery, and she fairly exploded: "Nothing to do with us! None of that ever happened here!" I tried to suggest that it was fiction, but she'd have none of it.