Friday, June 26, 2015

What We're Writing: @deborahcrombie-- In the Beginning

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have been saying for years (many) that I was going to reread my own books, in order, from the beginning. Not that I haven't browsed through them for continuity issues (I should have browsed more thoroughly!) And I had actually reread a few of the books here and there, but not in any sort of order. There were always deadlines, and other books to read and things to write, and somehow I just never managed. 

But this summer I decided I absolutely must, and I have to admit I looked on it as a bit of a chore. I was given a push by the fact that Rick, cleaning out an old box of floppy disks, found the disk with the original manuscript of A Share in Death. (This was 1992! Floppy disks! Word Perfect!) The sight of that little square of plastic somehow brought back the thrill of sending off that first manuscript, and of having it published. So I pulled out my hardcover copy.

This is the original cover! I didn't like it much at the time--I thought it was too cozy and made the book look like a period mystery (which it wasn't, then!) But now I think it is utterly charming. And then there's me on the back flap in my first-ever author photo, looking impossibly young and skinny!

 And the book itself? It's been the oddest experience. Like meeting old friends too long missed, and at the same time having vivid little flashes of my own life as it was when I was writing the novel, and of Yorkshire, where the book is set. And although I know what happens I was totally caught up in the story.

A little synopsis: Overworked Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid takes up his cousin's offer of a week's holiday in a Yorkshire timeshare. But he can't escape work--first an employee is murdered, then another guest. He is compelled to solve the crime, enlisting the help of his new detective sergeant at the Yard, single mother Gemma James.

It has been fascinating to see those first glimpses of Duncan and Gemma, knowing that I had absolutely no clue how they--or their relationship--would develop. But the seeds are there. I remembered one particular scene as being my favorite when I wrote the book, and I found it was still.  Here, Duncan pays a visit to the female police surgeon who has certified death for the two murders in the Yorkshire time share.

The single track road wound back toward the very base of the hills.  Kincaid had left the Midget's top down and turned the heater up full blast, hoping the crisp evening air would clear the cobwebs from his brain.  The sky looked faintly luminous against the opaque shapes of the trees.
     Presently he saw the lights of the bungalow through the trees on his left and pulled the car carefully into the leaf covered drive.  It was a low house of rosy-colored brick, with light streaming from the large French-paned windows either side of an arched front door.
     The door swung open, revealing two small girls with dark hair surrounding heart-shaped faces.  They gazed at him solemnly, then before he could speak they burst into a fit of giggles and ran toward the back of the house, shouting, "Mummy, Mummy!"  Kincaid thought he'd better have a look in a mirror before long, if the mere sight of him reduced children to hysteria. 
     The room stretched the width of the house, with dining furniture to his left and the sitting room to his right.  What he could see of a worn rug was liberally covered with doll-hospital casualties.  Books flowed off the tables, a fire burned steadily in the sitting room grate, and the temptation to sit down and go to sleep became almost unbearable.
     Anne Percy appeared, wiping her hands on her white cotton apron, and saved him from embarrassment.  She smiled with pleasure when she saw who it was, then looked at him more critically.  "You look exhausted.  What can I do for you?"  The little girls were peeking out from behind her like Chinese acrobats, only slightly subdued by their mother's presence.  "Molly, Caroline, this is Mr. Kin­caid."
     "Hallo,"  he said, gravely.  They giggled again, and swung out of sight behind her back in unison. 
     "Come into the kitchen, if you don't mind my cooking while we talk."  She led him through the swinging door in the back of the sitting room into a large, cheerful room full of the aroma of roasting chicken and garlic. 
     Anne shooed the children out with a reminder that supper wouldn't be ready for a half hour yet, pulled up a tall stool for Kincaid, and went back to stirring something on the cooktop, all with a graceful economy of movement.  "Drink?  I'm having Vermouth, since it went in the chicken, but you look as though you could use a whiskey.  Off-duty and all that.  Is it really true that policemen don't drink on duty, or is it just a myth perpetrated by the telly?"
     "Thanks."  Kincaid gratefully accepted the whiskey she splashed into a glass, and after the first sip warmth began to radiate from the pit of his stomach.  "And no, it's not true.  I've known quite a few who do.  Chronic alcoholism is just as likely to turn up on a police force as anywhere else, I guess.  Maybe more so, consider­ing the stress level.  But I don't, if that's what you're wondering.  Don't like to feel muddled."
     "I know your rank but not your given name.  I can't go on calling you Mister or Superintendent.  Doesn't seem appropriate in the kitchen."
     "It's Duncan."  He grinned at her surprised expression.  "Scots for­bearers.  And my parents had an inordinate fondness for Macbeth.  It could have been worse.  They could have saddled me with Prospero or Oberon."
     "Lucky you.  My family still calls me Annie Rose.  It makes me feel three years old, not a grown woman with children of my own and a fairly respectable profession.  My patients call me Dr. Anne.  It makes them feel more comfortable."
     "I'd settle for just plain Anne."  He sat and sipped his drink while she moved from cabinet to cooktop and back, feeling the warmth of the room and the whiskey move through him like a tide.  He felt as though he had been sitting on this stool, in this kitchen, for years, and could go on sitting there for as many more.  Concentration became Anne Percy, he thought, watching her tuck her hair behind one ear as she stirred.  She had the same heart-shaped face as her daughters', but the soft, fine hair was lighter, the color of demerara sugar. 
     She checked a casserole in the oven, then dusted her hands off and turned to face him, leaning against the counter.  "Now.  Everything should take care of itself for a few minutes."
     Kincaid found himself at a loss, distracted by a floury smudge on her eyebrow.  What he wanted from her was so formless, so nebulous, that he couldn't think where to begin.  "I'm finding myself in a very awkward position.  I've no official sanction to investigate either Sebastian's or Penny's death‑-not yet, anyway.  And yet I'm involved, even more so than I would be under ordinary circumstances, because I knew them both."
     Anne Percy studied him with the same serious regard she had given her casserole, and Kincaid felt suddenly uncomfortable, as if his face might reveal secrets he hadn't intended.  "I've been known to lose my professional detachment upon occasion, too."  Her apparent non sequitur, thought Kincaid, went right to the
heart of the matter.  "I checked on Emma this morning, to see if she wanted a sedative or‑-"
     "She didn't,"  Kincaid interrupted, smiling at the thought.
     "Damn right, she didn't.  She gave me hell.  But she talked to me.  People do, sometimes, when they're in shock.  They tell you things that ordinarily they wouldn't dream of revealing.  Emma had been worried about Penny's behavior for months, and it seemed to be getting progressively worse.  Episodes of forgetfulness, confusion.  It sounds like it might have been the onset of Alzheimer's, or some form of premature senility.  I don't know if it's any comfort to you, but the quality of her life probably would have deteriorated rapidly."
     "No," Kincaid said angrily, "no, it bloody well isn't.  Whatever the quality of her life, no one had the right to take it from her.  And I'm an utter fool.  It might have been prevented. She tried to talk to me and I wouldn't take time to listen, because it wasn't my case, because I didn't want to take responsibility, because I judged her as foolish and ineffectual.  I should have known better‑-it's my job, for god's sake.  Now we'll never be sure just what she saw.  The night Sebastian died, Penny waited until Emma fell asleep and then went downstairs.  She'd forgotten her handbag and didn't want Emma to know.  A silly little thing, but if she knew Emma was worried about her forgetfulness‑-"
     "You think that Penny was killed because she saw something that would lead to Sebastian's murderer?  That just one person is responsible for both deaths?"
     "I think, from something Emma overheard Penny say, that Penny saw two people that night‑-two people not where they were supposed to be.  Did she remember where she had left her bag, and slip into the sitting room in the dark?  Did she see someone coming out of Cassie's office?
     "Did they see her?" Anne asked, caught up in his reconstruction.
     "Well, we don't know, do we?" Kincaid asked softly.  "But I think not.  Either the plan would have changed, or Penny would have died then and there.  This . . . person . . . is a remarkable opportunist.  It seems to me that neither killing was premeditated, not in the usual sense, but they were both done with great ruthlessness and a willing­ness to take almost insane risks.  It was sheer, tremendous luck to have managed both these killings without being observed‑-"
     "Except, perhaps, by Penny," Anne interrupted.
     "Yes.  But it's rather an odd profile.  People who kill on the spur of the moment usually do it in anger and regret it after­wards.  Those who premeditate like to plan it carefully and execute it from a distance, with as little risk of discovery as possible.  Poison­ers are the perfect example."
     "Maybe this person has an inflated idea of his own invincibility."
     "Could be, but I don't think these are random killings by a psycho, violence for violence's sake.  There's an objective in this, a sort of single minded cunning."  Kincaid laughed abruptly, then shrugged.  "Sounds fanciful, doesn't it?"
     "Possibly.  But back up a minute, Duncan."  Anne frowned, the smooth skin between her brows crinkling with her intensity.  "If the murderer didn't see Penny, how did he know she'd seen him?"
     "I think," Kincaid measured his words carefully, "that she told him."  Seeing Anne's incredulous expression, he shook his head before she could interrupt him.  "I know it sounds crazy, but Penny . . ."  He searched for words that would make Anne see Penny the way he had seen her, hoping the whiskey hadn't made him maudlin.  "Penny lived with scrupulous honesty‑-except perhaps in protecting Emma.  She wouldn't have wanted to falsely accuse someone."
     "You think she just walked up to this murderer and said 'I saw you.  What are you going to do about it?'  But that's‑-" Anne's voice rose with righteous indignation, and Kincaid thought he'd hate to be a patient who'd disobeyed a reasonable doctor's order.
     "Foolish.  And if Penny saw two people, she picked the wrong one to speak to first."  Kincaid stretched and looked at his watch, took another swallow of the whiskey.  "I should be getting back, just in case something turns up.  Peter Raskin's taken some pity on me‑-if he hears the p.m. results tonight he might let me know.  Thanks for letting me sound off."  In spite of his words, he stayed slumped on his stool, swirling the remains of the whiskey in his glass. 
     "Stay for dinner.  There's plenty.  Tim's out on call so we won't wait for him.  We never know how long he'll be."
     "What does he do, your husband?"
     "He's an obstetrician."  She spluttered a laugh at the sight of his face.  "Close your mouth.  That's most people's reaction.  But who could be more sympathetic to a doctor's schedule than another doctor, or a vet?  Or a policeman," she added thoughtfully.
     "Now I know where I went wrong.  I should have married a doctor.  My ex-wife wasn't sympathetic to my schedule at all."  He finished his drink and stood, finding it a great effort. "I'd love to stay, but I'd better not.  Maybe some other time."  They stood, suspended in a brief awkward silence, then Kincaid reached over and rubbed the smudge from her eyebrow with his thumb.  Anne caught his wrist and held it for a moment, then turned away.
     "I'll show you out, then."
     The children were arguing intensely over whose turn it was to bandage the doll, their faces rosy in the firelight.
     "Goodbye, Molly and Caroline."
     "Are you going to visit us again?" said Molly, curiously.
     "I hope so."
     "Come any time."  Anne's fingers brushed his arm, light as down.
  As the door closed behind him Kincaid saw that all the light had gone from the sky behind the hills.  

   Although neither he nor I knew it then, it's clear that he was longing for all the things that would come to him later--a relationship, a family, a home. And reading this scene gave me serious chills because in the book-in-progress all those things are at risk.

I've almost finished reading the second book, All Shall Be Well, and while it's a little weird switching back and forth between reading the past and writing the present, I'm loving seeing the characters grow. I'll definitely be rereading the rest of the series--by which time there will be another book finished and that will make SEVENTEEN!

I want to know, fellow REDS, do you, or have you, reread your own books on a regular basis? And what did you think when you did? 

And readers, do you reread series novels? If so, do you see earlier books in a different perspective, having read later ones? What are your favorites to reread?


  1. What a pleasant look back . . . kind of like a special visit with a dear friend. Thanks for the reminder of how the story began.

    Yes, I do reread, but not as much as I would like to simply because I have so many books in my to-be-read pile and the dear Red authors keep adding new ones that I simply must read.
    I've re-read [from the beginning] Julia's Clare and Russ books several times now, and generally I find something new each time I re-read them. But I don't know that my perspective is really different. I do find that the pleasure in reading them is not diminished by the fact that I've already read them all.
    I re-read all of J.D. Robb's "In Death" books, but that's become a very intensive process these days since the next book will be the forty-first in the series . . . .

  2. That cover is wonderful! And omg you were adorable. Still are, of course, but in a more seasoned way. And the writing is gorgeous. (I'm afraid if I reread my first I'll be appalled.)

    So interesting how characters evolve over a series. Lucy's Lorenzo. Your Gemma and Duncan. (Next week Julia Dahl will talk about how her character IS evolving from Book 1 to Book 2... Julia is still impossibly thin.)

    The only rereading I do is classics like Austen, Bronte, Chandler, Christie (I never remember the endings.) And children's lit like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women and The Little Princess and Harry Potter.

  3. What fun! I love the cover and adore the photo of you, Debs!

    And yes, I am very much a re-reader - including the Duncan and Gemma series.

    Re-reading favorite books is something I enjoy very much as it's like a visit with a good friend. Especially when I'm going through a tough time. A familiar voice telling me a familiar tale helps me escape for awhile, able to face things a little stronger after the respite.

  4. I was so happy, after I read your first Duncan and Gemma, to realize there were more books to follow. Rereading this scene reminds me why--the writing was so good!

    I do reread my favorite books--those are the ones where the story carries me along yet again, even though I know how it ends--I get caught up in the characters, the action--good writing never gets old.

  5. I LOVE that cover!! It is so I can see how you thought about it then, so funny, but now--amazing. ANd so clear how talented you are.

    I jusr re-read, in fact, all my Charlie MNally books. For a reason, which we will discuss another day. But yeah, I love seeing how the seeds of so many things are there.

    It's a if our subconscious knows something we aren't aware of, yet. Amazing.

    (And ah, you know? Other books? I don;t re-read. I may dip into them, like Agatha Christie, but usually it's better just to remember.)

  6. The cover is WONDERFUL! Love rereading books -- how can you see the foreshadowing if you don't know the ending?

  7. This was great, Deborah. Now I know why my dad is such a fan. I really do have to make time to read these (17 - it'll keep me busy for a while).

    I've re-read my early stories. Some of them are awful. Some are not bad. They get better as they go. I guess that's natural, right?

    I'm a little like Hallie on the re-reading, I guess. I've lost count of how many times I've read Harry Potter and Pride & Prejudice. It's comfort reading when I feel out of sorts.

  8. That cover art is charming. Even if charming wasn't what you had hoped for.

    I reread my old mss with a horror of the passing years, and invariably think how easy it all was then (sure) and how my brain has atrophied. I blame menopause.

  9. Over the winter, I re-read all your books, in order, curious about your character arcs. By now, reading them is like sitting down with old friends. As any parent would, I enjoy the children and their progression into a family (pets too). My favorite? The book about rowing. I rowed in college and I remember the meditative slap of the oars digging into the still water at dawn or dusk, and the wonderful mental release that accompanied hard physical labor.

  10. Yes, I definitely re-read series books. I do that especially while waiting for a new book in a particular series.

    By the way, Deb, I happened across one of your books for the first time a few years ago when I was browsing through the New fiction at the library. After one look at it, I KNEW "I'm going to like this author", but I didn't want to read it out of order. I borrowed your books in order, then very quickly got caught up to what was the newest at the time, and now I look forward to purchasing each new book.

    Thanks for the reading pleasure you provide. If ever I have enough money, I want to visit Duncan and Gemma's London!

  11. I thoroughly enjoy re-reading a series. Last winter I was trying to make more space on my book shelves and got caught up re-read Diana Gabaldon's Jamie and Claire's Outlander books. Unfortunately, I had to re-purchase a few. When I love a book I often lend it to friends, and somehow, it isn't always returned. Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody series is another of my favorites. And I'm on book 4 of the Gemma and Duncan books. I am paying closer attention to the relationship between Gemma and Duncan this time.
    I've learned to use the Stop You're Killing Me website as a quick reference for the order of the books.
    I also have two series that I have listened to again - Flavia de Luce and the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The readers of both of these series add so much to the characters.
    Thanks for hours of enjoyment Deborah. I can't wait for the next book.

  12. By the way, I was delighted to see your newsletter in my inbox this morning. I love it!

  13. Before I discovered author blogs I used to reread series every time a new book came out. Ha. There's no way I can do that any more, with all the new series I'm now trying to keep up with.

    I've reread some of my old writing, and wondered who it was who wrote it. Sometimes that's a good thing, and other times less than good. LOL

  14. Joan - thank you! Re-reading may be the ultimate compliment to the mystery author. It's not like anyone goes back to find out whodunnit (although as I get older, this may change!)

    I don't re-read my own series, but I have listened to them all in audiobook format several times. I very much like the reader, Suzanne Toren, and her interpretation gives me a fresh look at me own words.

    Debs, I love that 90's look you were rocking! Straight out of a Patrick Nagel illustration! (for those of you who don't remember this iconic late 80's/early 90's artist.)

  15. It seems I reread very little these days. I would be fun, but there are too many books I'm dying to read for the first time.

  16. Oh no (well, actually, oh yes, since it's a grand idea for summer) - my TBR stack is falling over but after this excerpt I think I want (need) to go back and re-read (again) all your books, Debs. I found the first one I read on sale as a Nook book. Read a couple of chapters and decided I needed to start at the beginning so bought them all and had a marathon. Whichever book you start with, Duncan and Gemma are so compelling you can't put it down, but starting from the beginning is best.

    I, too, don't reread as much as I would like because there are so many terrific new books I want to read.

  17. I reread series and I also listen to special favorites in audiobooks. I have cassettes of most of Elizabeth Peters series (and still have a player to listen to them on!). Before starting the 10th Liss MlacCrimmon mystery, the one I'm currently writing, I decided I'd better reread for continuity. I'd started out keeping good notes on the characters and setting, but somewhere around book three I got sloppy. I didn't reread them all, but I found lots I'd forgotten I set up in the first five, some of which really helped with plotting the new one.


  18. I like to reread my favorite books and would do more of it if only I could figure out how to add another day or two to the week. But I will frequently reread the last entry in a series just before the new one comes out. Deborah, thanks for the glimpse back at Duncan's early days -- now I may have to go back to the beginning with him and Gemma.

  19. Julia, I have listened to most of my audio books that are read by wonderful Gerard Doyle (a.k.a. Michael Deehy in earlier books.) It does give you a very different perspective, and a great sense of the pacing and dialog. I wish I could read them aloud myself in the proper accents, sigh. I do hear them that way in my head.

    Grandma, I hope you do! I think summer is a great time for indulging in rereading.

    I have been rereading other things lately; in the spring, The Lord of the Rings, which I had not read all the way through in a long time. Then Diana Gabaldon, although I only made it halfway through the series before I got too caught up in rereading my own books. I will get back to them. I think.

    Like Theresa, I have quite a few time reread Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books, and her Vicki Bliss novels. I have all Susan Conant's Holly Winter books, many times reread.

    And Hallie, I have reread Harry Potter, I think when the last book came out, but would love to do it again. I watched all the movies in sequence when the last film came out. I was such fun to see the kids grow up. I think I'm going to experience a little of the same rereading my books.

    It's just such an odd thing--there's a sense of removal, if that makes sense, as if I didn't write them, as if the characters and the stories now have a life independent from me. Does that sound totally bonkers?

  20. Kathy Lynn, I know I should be taking notes! So many things I'd forgotten... But I'm reading last thing at night, and when I come across something I think, "Oh, I'll write that down in the morning..." Not. But you are so write about the plotting ideas!

    I'm sorry Rhys if off the grid. I don't know how she even remembers how many books she's WRITTEN. I'm very curious to know if she rereads any of them.

  21. Oh, Debs, I just loved going back to the beginning with your excerpt, so many good and bad things yet to come for Duncan and Gemma, so many murders to solve, so many parts of London to learn about (as well as a few other locations, including Scotland). I so want to go back and read them all again, but there are just all these new books that are piled up waiting. I was fortunate, although I don't usually think of it that way, in coming to the series late (two years ago), so I got to read one right after the other there for a while. What a great reading time that was! It was my first Bouchercon year, 2013, and I read your series and Julia's up to speed. I've now caught up on all the Reds, and you all do keep writing those new books that I have to read.

    I love the old cover of your book, Debs, and the author photo shows the sweet, pretty, and perky lady that you still are. Different hairstyle, but definitely you. Of course, now, as with Duncan and Gemma, we have a more complete picture of you with your family and dogs and backyard in Texas. Your connection to London and thus to your characters is such a part of the enjoyment of the books, too.

    I do so wish I had time for rereads. Along with the series here of the Reds that I would love to revisit, there are some books I used to reread regularly. To Kill a Mockingbird, Hound of the Baskervilles, Call of the Wild, Fahrenheit 451, and Jane Eyre. I have managed an occasional reread with the grandgirls, such as the wonderful Catwings books by Ursula Le Guinn with my five-year-old granddaughter and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green with my fourteen-year-old granddaughter.

    As we continue working on the house, one of my biggest juggling acts is moving books, weeding some (not doing too well with that) and reorganizing where to put the massive quantity that aren't already on all the bookshelves I have. I just bought a new, huge bookcase that will get filled quickly and still leave me with my copper tubs and straw baskets filled. The point of this information is that my husband was frustrated yesterday with all the book piles that I know perfectly well will be attended to. But, he made the mistake of asking that question that non-book people ask, why I needed to keep books I'd already read. Oh, poor dear. He hadn't a clue, even after 38 years with me. When I told him that I couldn't possible part with my autographed copies, he kind of understood that, but when I told him that I might someday want to reread some of the books, his eyes started glazing over. All I know is that I am well prepared for the Apocalypse where reading material is concerned. I'll let him worry about water and food.

  22. The cover cracks me up! It looks more old-fashioned than 1992, like from the 50s or 60s. It's quaint. :-)

    Here's a question for you, Debs: As you're reading, can you see the ways your writing has changed and grown over time? What are some of the biggest differences?

    Maybe in 20 years I'll reread KILMOON -- right now, I couldn't bear it. All I'd see are its faults.

  23. Kathy, there are not many things more fun than finding a new series and getting to read straight through it. And one usually happens on them unexpectedly, which is even more fun. About the books, I've been asked the same question by my husband. "Why do you need to keep books you've already read?" When I did a huge book clear out a couple of years ago, that was actually a big part of my "stay or go" criteria. Books I liked but thought I would never reread when to better homes:-)

    Lisa, I always thought the cover looked very Golden Age--30s or 40s, maybe. Now I get "big book" covers, and while I suppose they do sell more copies. I never had consistent cover design until I went with William Morrow. I LOVE those covers from Now May You Weep through Necessary as Blood--they used my photos, so not surprising. Then with No Mark Upon Her they went for a bolder look and they've done a very good job with them.

    On the writing, such a good question. And I don't know yet, as I'm just finishing the second book. It will be interesting to see. What I am finding is that while of course there are places I'd edit, I'm surprised at how good the writing actually is. Gives me a huge case of performance anxiety, I can tell you. (Can I still write like that? Are the new books as good? Have already used every good metaphor???) Ack.

  24. The many ways we can beat ourselves up as writers -- even when observing our own good writing!

    (Golden Age -- that's it! I could quite place it.)

  25. Oh, and have I used every good character name???? But that's another blog...

  26. Funny, but I just re-read your books, Deborah! Being a solo librarian in a middle school with almost 1900 students means the end of the school year is crazy! It's been so nice to crawl into bed with Duncan and Gemma - ha! And the beauty of growing older is I've usually forgotten all the details, so it's like reading new books about old friends.

  27. Funny, but I just re-read your books, Deborah! Being a solo librarian in a middle school with almost 1900 students means the end of the school year is crazy! It's been so nice to crawl into bed with Duncan and Gemma - ha! And the beauty of growing older is I've usually forgotten all the details, so it's like reading new books about old friends.

  28. Funny, but I just re-read your books, Deborah! Being a solo librarian in a middle school with almost 1900 students means the end of the school year is crazy! It's been so nice to crawl into bed with Duncan and Gemma - ha! And the beauty of growing older is I've usually forgotten all the details, so it's like reading new books about old friends.


  29. After seeing you in Annapolis, I went back and reread the whole series - knowing where they have gone didn't change the enjoyment I had a rereading each book. We were listening to a book on CD during a car trip and I was trying to explain to my DH how the relationships evolved and I knew then that I had to read them all again. Looking forward to the next book