Friday, March 24, 2017

Stephen Booth--Secrets of Death



DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Oh, what a treat today, when nothing could suit me better than a good
British detective novel--and a chance to introduce a British writer to American readers who may not be familiar with the series! I've been a fan of Stephen Booth's Cooper and Fry books since the very first one, and now there is a new book out on April 4th. The series is set in the stunning Derbyshire Peak District (where I have gotten very lost, once upon a time...) with two appealing police protagonists, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, and I have followed their stories as if they were my friends. And I'm not the only one, as Stephen will tell us!

STEPHEN BOOTHThank you for hosting me on Jungle Red Writers!

One of the fascinations of writing a long-running series is the complicated relationship that develops between fiction and reality.

There’s a kind of magic that happens in a reader’s imagination, isn’t there? When we’re completely gripped by a novel, we can become so absorbed in the story, so involved in the lives of the characters, that we accept the fictional world as just another form of reality.

It’s true for the writer too. After 16 novels in the Cooper and Fry series, I sometimes feel as though I’m living in strange parallel universes, moving backwards and forwards between the two like a character in the TV show Fringe.

I’ve written about Ben Cooper and Diane Fry for 18 years now, and they feel very real to me. Nothing gives me more pleasure than a reader who believes in them too.

Of the two characters, Ben has gained the most fans around the world. Readers have fallen for him because of his humanity and his sense of compassion. He cares about people, and he always tries to do the right thing. Thousands of people have become involved in his life and want to know what happens to him next. Will Ben find happiness? Will he get promotion? What name will he choose for his new cat?

I’m British, but I love the unbridled enthusiasm of American readers. A lady once emailed me from California to say:

“I think Ben Cooper is the most wonderful human being I’ve ever met!”

Another reader once sent me a message via our local bookshop. She really likes the books, and she particularly loves Ben Cooper. But she wanted me to know that she’s getting very elderly now, and she doesn’t want to die until Ben has got married and settled down. What sort of pressure is that for the author? I don’t think he even had a steady girlfriend at the time…

I write about England’s beautiful and atmospheric Peak District, and my characters work for a genuine police force, Derbyshire Constabulary. My fictional version of Derbyshire has a lot of similarities to the real county, but there are differences too.

Over the years the settings have become very important to readers. When a new book comes out in the UK, I know my readers go out into the Peak District to try to find every location I’ve mentioned – including the fictional ones.

And it comes down to the smallest detail. One of my books opens with a threatening phone call to the police, which turns out to have been made from a particular public phone box, located in the real world in a village called Wardlow. I’ve lost count of the number of readers who’ve told me they’ve travelled to Wardlow to look at that phone box. Well, it’s a nice traditional red one… but it’s just a phone box. So why is that important for readers? Well, I think it’s because that phone box is a physical connection between the real world and the fictional world they’ve been reading about. You can go and stand in exactly the same spot that Ben Cooper stood, which puts you right into the story.

Some of the emails I get from readers make me think quite hard about this complex relationship between reality and fiction. I write about real places as much as possible, but my detectives are based in a fictional town, which I call Edendale. Although it’s fictional, I know exactly where it would be on the map if it existed. This is fortunate, because I get some tough questions!

In a couple of books I’ve mentioned that Edendale has a railway station, because Cooper or Fry will occasionally drive past it on their way somewhere else. A reader wrote to me with a very pertinent query.

“If Edendale has a railway station,” he said, “where do the trains run to?”

Ah, yes. Where do the trains run to from a fictional town?

But I know where Edendale is, and I was able to answer his question:

“So there’s a (fictional) branch line which comes off here at Grindleford (a real place). It runs up the Eden Valley (which doesn’t exist), and there’s a tunnel through that hill there (the hill exists, but not the tunnel). It connects with the (real life) Buxton to Manchester line at a (fictional) junction near (real place) Doveholes.”

And my reader was perfectly happy with that answer. One day I might have to supply details of the train timetable and how long the journey takes from Edendale to Buxton, but for now the bridge between fiction and reality is holding up!

I’m aiming for what I call “the golden moment”. For many of us, there comes a moment when we’re so fully engrossed in a novel that we forget there’s a difference between the real world and the fictional one we’re reading about.

Just this week, a reader informed me she’d been telling people about an incident she thought she’d read about in a local newspaper. When no one else seemed to have heard of it, she suddenly remembered that she’d actually read about it in one of my books.

One of my novels is set around an area called Stanton Moor, a very ancient and atmospheric place full of stone circles and Neolithic burial mounds. A reader wrote to me who lives so near Stanton Moor that she can see it out of her window, and she was reading that book. She’d reached a point in the story where the police are looking for a white Ford Transit van, which has been seen near the murder scene. As she was reading, she looked up – and going past her window was – guess what - a white Ford Transit van. Her first thought was: “I wonder if that’s the one the police are looking for?” Then she remembered that outside her window was the real Derbyshire, not the fictional one. For a moment, she’d forgotten there was any distinction.

That’s a testament to the power of a reader’s imagination, and it’s part of the unique magic that happens when we’re reading a good novel. It’s such a thrill to be able to create an entire world, and the people who live there, and then invite readers to come in and share it with me. What a privilege we have as fiction writers to experience this magic.

So what about you? Do you lose yourself so completely in a good book? Have there been occasions when you’ve forgotten the difference between fiction and reality? Perhaps there are characters and a location you love so much that you’d like to be living in their world, at least for a visit? 

DEBS: Stephen, I know exactly what you mean! My characters and setting seem so real to me after seventeen books that I sometime feel I'm living in two realities. It's very strange, but I wouldn't change it for anything.

Here's more about SECRETS OF DEATH:


Residents of the Peak District are used to tourists descending on its soaring hills and brooding valleys. However, this summer brings a different kind of visitor to the idyllic landscape, leaving behind bodies and secrets.

A series of suicides throws Detective Inspector Ben Cooper and his team in Derbyshire’s E Division into a race against time to find a connection to these seemingly random acts - with no way of predicting where the next body will turn up.

Meanwhile, in nearby Nottingham Detective Sergeant Diane Fry finds a key witness has vanished . . .

But what are the mysterious Secrets of Death?
And is there one victim whose fate wasn’t suicide at all?


And about Stephen:  Stephen Booth is a British crime novelist. He is best known as the author of 16 novels in the Cooper and Fry series, all set in England’s beautiful and atmospheric Peak District and featuring young police detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry. The series has won accolades on both sides of the Atlantic, including an Anthony nomination, two Barry Awards, and four Dagger nominations from the UK Crime Writers’ Association. Ben Cooper was a finalist for the Sherlock Award for the best detective created by a British author. The books have been translated into 16 languages, and are currently in development for a TV series.

REDS and readers, whose fictional world would you like to visit? 

And Stephen, I just have to ask--who would you cast as Ben and Diane???? 

Oh, and Stephen will be checking in to chat, even though he is on UK time!

37 comments:

  1. Stephen, I enjoyed the explanation of the trains in your fictional town of Edendale . . . do you get such questions often?
    I think it’s a tribute to the author when readers are so involved in the story . . . I imagine that happens more with a long-running series where readers have the opportunity to see the characters’ lives over a space of time?

    If I could visit a fictional place, I’d like to visit Julia’s Millers Kill . . . .

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    1. Yes, I think with a long-running series the characters become like old friends, and the place they live is somewhere you get to visit occasionally. I do get a lot of questions about details which are important to a particular reader. This gentleman was obviously interested in trains!

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  2. Oh, these books sound fascinating! How come you've never urged one on me, Debs? I know you love to get me hooked on a new mystery series. Yes, okay, I'm sure it's because you're waiting for me to get through all the Bess Crawford/Flavia DeLuce/Peter Grant books first before you launch me into yet another new world and timeline. But it's the Peak District! Are there border collies?

    And, speaking of peaks, one of the fictional places that has spoken very deeply to me recently is the small-town Appalachia in Julia Keller's Acker's Gap. I have never been to West Virginia, but I grew up in the Missouri Ozarks, where the poverty runs deep and the community roots run deeper. I've worked in a DA's office, and I know firsthand the urge, and the struggle, to escape a town like that. Keller writes beautifully, so it all springs to life in my mind every time I pick up one of her books. That's another series I'm hooked on. So bring it, Stephen Booth! What's one more? I'll be sure to check these out.

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    1. We all love to get hooked on a series, Gigi! I hope you enjoy a Cooper and Fry novel or two. If you want to start at the beginning, the first one is called 'Black Dog'. Oh, and there are definitely lots of border collies!

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  3. Ah, fictional towns. St. Mary Meade, Dame Agatha's fictional town, is as alive and well in my head as Colin Dexter's Oxford. And such a British question: where DO the trains run? Trying to think what's the analogous question for a US town... I guess where do the highways run. I confess I cannot just make up a place. All of my "fictional" places are based on real ones. Except for my book about Beverly Hills which really is Beverly Hills, as I remember it from the 60s and 80s. There WAS a train that ran parallel to Santa Monica, right through the middle of town, but I have no idea where it went.

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    1. When we're writing fiction, we all make it up at some level, don't we? Even if we're writing about a real place. I chose to write about a fictional town but located it in a real county, with a real police force. That created complications!

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  4. I've loved these books from the beginning and remember Stephen coming to Kate's Mystery Books for a visit early on. This is a series that makes you want to explore the Peak District on foot. Ben is an endearing character but it is Diane who intrigues me. Keep on writing, Stephen!

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    1. Thank you, Michele. I've had many happy visits to some wonderful mystery bookstores in the US. And I'm delighted you find Diane intriguing. For me, she's a very interesting and complex character to write about - and a bit of a challenge for me to write as a 30-year-old woman!

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  5. Welcome, Stephen. I am in the mood for a good Brit crime novel having spent some of the week streaming old episodes of Scott and Bailey on Britbox. (Deb, you have to look into this)

    And I have to admit the excitement of seeing the names Stephen and Fry in the same sentence was, well, exciting! I am going to go order the first in the Cooper and Fry series and settle down on this rainy tundra day to be entertained.

    I love visiting the places I read about, and as I've said here before, we often plan our trips around those. One of the best was Nether Wallop, the site of the fictional St. Mary Mead in the PBS series. I am pretty sure i saw Miss Marple whiz by on her bike. Last year we visited the Perigord just to check out Bruno's home territory. And I am sure that Julie has dragged me everyplace that Proust ever lived, but that is another story.

    I look forward to reading your books, and thank you for being here.

    Ann in Rainy Rochester

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    1. Many thanks, Finta. I hope you enjoy the books! I don't think Diane is related to Stephen Fry, but you never know...

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  6. How wonderful! A new to me series that sounds just like my kind. I can't wait to get started. And place is always important to me; I often get out my maps and try to follow along. Some authors use real place names but if you look on a map they have put them somewhere else. That can be confusing but I try to just go with it.

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    1. Thank you, Judi. I love maps, and we're lucky in the UK to have the very detailed Ordnance Survey maps, which show every field and every building. Readers often come to events clutching their OS maps for me to sign because they use them all the time when they're reading my books.

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  7. It's not that it's really fiction, right? It's that it's real, just in a sort of different universe.

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  8. And the brain exploding concept when is one of characters you create becomes so real that a reader can talk about him or her. As if the words on the page make them exist. Which they do, right? Which is why we have to be so careful. Welcome welcome welcome!

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    1. If you believe strongly enough in something, it does exist in a way. The most amazing thing is that a character can take on such a powerful life of their own that they live on long after the author has gone. Sherlock Holmes being the perfect example.

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  9. Sixteen books in this series and I've missed them all?? Will remedy that ASAP! JRW has posted before on the topic of setting in a novel--how important is it to readers? This is another excellent example of how setting creates the universe in which the characters act and the plot unfolds. Right now I want to grab my camera, my pen and paper and run off to explore the Peaks District (and if there are border collies--maximum bonus points!). My youngest sister and I want to go to Three Pines. I'd like to order a burger and a shake from Cork's place and walk out to Henry's meadow, walk the streets of London and sit and listen to Andy and Poppy playing; sit at a booth in Miller's Kill and listen in on Marjorie and company's conversations. Too many places, not enough time!

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    1. Many thanks, Flora. I hope you get to visit the Peaks. And yes, there are definitely border collies! No Derbyshire farmer would be without at least one. In fact, Ben Cooper's brother has one. If you go into any village pub, a border collie is likely to emerge from under a table to greet you.

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  10. Love this blog, Debs and Stephen! I did read several of the first books in the series and forgot to continue. Must fix that! Since Key West is a smallish town, I have lots of people writing to tell me what they visited from the books and how they think of Hayley when they pass houseboat row. It's always a thrill!

    I would love to get back to London with Debs! Though so sad about the tragedy there this week...

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    1. It's wonderful feeling isn't it, Lucy? We're so privileged.

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  11. Yay! A new series to devour! Welcome, Stephen and congrats on your latest. I've had readers email expressing concerns about my main character's diet, and I've had to reassure them that she's really okay! I love when the characters and the place are three dimensional and make a book feel like a living, breathing thing. It's a credit to you that your readers are so engaged and passionate.

    And Ann, I love "Scott & Bailey," but the most recent episodes I saw on PBS left me hanging. I'll have to look into Britbox...

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    1. Many thanks, Ingrid. How wonderful that readers are concerned about your character's diet. I once had Ben Cooper call in a shop in Edendale to pick up a local delicacy called homity pie. In response to the demands from readers, I had to put the recipe for it on my website!

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  12. I have the same feeling as many have already expressed: this sounds like EXACTLY my kind of mystery series -- how have I missed them until now? I will remedy that post haste. (Actually probably leapfrogging several others on my TBR list.)

    The two fictional settings that I most want to visit are Three Pines and Colleton County, North Carolina.

    I have one dramatic memory of a time when I was so engrossed in a book that the line between reality and fiction blurred for me. It was a science fantasy book set in an alternate world, and an act of genocide was committed in the story right before I had to put the book down and leave for church. I will never forget catching myself sitting in church thinking, "The giants are dead! I can't believe ALL THE GIANTS ARE DEAD!!!" Then of course I remembered, there never were any giants, it was fiction, and by the way get your head into the moment. But my grief and outrage felt so real in that moment that I have never forgotten it!

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    1. Fantastic story about the giants, Susan. I'm sure your grief was absolutely real. You obviously have a powerful imagination, which I always hope for in readers.

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    2. That is SUCH a great story, Susan!

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  13. Susan, I love that story!

    Ann, I don't know about Britbox. Going to check it out now. I love Scott & Bailey!

    Fiction has always seemed as real to me as "real" life. I remember the first time I went to London I was sure I would see Peter Wimsey walking down Piccadilly.

    Stephen, I'm in the "any book with a border collie" club. Trying to decide who gets the dog in the book in progress:-)

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    1. Well, for all you border collie fans, the Peak District has the oldest sheepdog trials in the world, where you can be surrounded by border collies! http://www.longshawsheepdog.co.uk/photos2010

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  14. I very much enjoyed your posting in today's Jungle Red Writer's Blog. I love to be carried away by a book.

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    1. Thank you, Celia. There's nothing like it, is there?

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  15. Stephen, if your post was such fun reading. I love your reader interaction stories. The reader seeing the white van--priceless!!! That's the ultimate achievement for author and reader.

    I am so looking forward to reading this series. Another amazing author I've learned about here on Jungle Reds. Thanks, Debs for bringing Stephen here.

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  16. Stephen and Debs, even the post whisked me away! Stephen, I think you've said it perfectly about living in both worlds and why readers want to actually see and be where the characters have been. Thank you for caring so much about your readers!

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  17. So happy to read about your series, Stephen! You know you've succeeded with your characters and locale when readers are hanging on your every word and detail. That is awesome! As for me I could happily take in all of England. And the Shetland Islands, thanks to Ann Cleeves. Three Pines in Canada. Millers Kill. Sunflower County, Mississippi. Charleston, S.C. Too many places in Ireland and Scotland. Deadwood, S.D.
    I'm ready to jump on a plane!

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  18. The story about the phone booth and the van are funny and wonderful.

    I have a friend who writes about a fictional county in southwest PA, where I live. I seriously had to go get a map to confirm that this place was fictional. She was so tickled when I told her. I think those are the kind of moments writers live for. I look forward to the day when my books (set in a real place with some fictional twists) can do that.

    Mary/Liz

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  19. Hi, Stephen,
    This is a fantastic post. I love how you talk about slipping between the real and the fictional world. I am definitely the sort of reader who would look for the specific red booth because it would make the fictional world that much more tangible for me. Thanks so much for visiting. I can't wait to read Secrets of Death!

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  20. I have enjoyed this series ever since I picked up a book in 2006 when in Wales for a narrow boat holiday. I love the practical details that provide such a sense of place, such as the traffic snarls caused in historic towns by modern cars and lorries. The characters are very real-feeling. And thanks for the introduction to The Levellers!

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    1. That's great to hear, Lisa. And I'm glad you discovered The Levellers!

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