That sounds very existential, doesn’t it? But I’m not really going to try to go into the depths of self analysis right now. I’m just posting this to introduce myself and say a little about why I decided to write cozy mystery.
I’ve been writing since I was eleven. Which means, now that I’m squarely middle aged, that I’ve been writing for 42 years. Gosh, looking at that figure takes me aback. Most of the writing was done as a passtime, however. I finished my first novel when I was eighteen – it was a life of Loki as told by himself. Then after that I wrote a lot of directionless short stories and the beginnings of SF/F novels until I was in my mid twenties, when I discovered fanfiction.
Fanfiction taught me that I could write stories that other people would actually want to read. That was quite a thing!
Because fanfiction is largely about shipping – that is, about two characters falling in love and having a relationship – I ended up with a series of slash (m/m romance) short stories that could be worked into a book, just at the time I learned of a publisher having a competition to discover their next author. “Let’s give it a go,” I thought, and reworked the stories into a novel, scraping everything identifiable about the characters off as I went. And that novel won what was an international competition, with the result that I got a publishing contract for it.
Suddenly I was a romance writer!
The odd thing about this was that I had never read a Romance novel in my life.
It seems ungrateful to confess it, but I didn’t actually like Romance. I could appreciate a good love story, but I didn’t fit well into the genre of Romance – I didn’t really get it. I still maintain that the best features of a relationship are the settled contentment and friendship you get after a long time together, and those early falling in love days are so queasy with emotional ups and downs that it’s good when you’re over them.
I had two genres of fiction that I reliably actually read. I liked my science fiction and fantasy to challenge me, to teach me something new and broaden my mind. And for days when I wanted a comfort read – something I knew I would enjoy, something risk-free – I would go to mysteries. I loved Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Whimsey books, and I spent one summer reading the entirety of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver series. Agatha Christie, of course was a must, though I don’t seem to be able to remember her plots. I went to see Murder on the Orient Express recently – the new one, with Kenneth Branagh – and I genuinely didn’t remember whodunnit.
I’d always thought of writing one myself, but I felt intimidated by the genre. Surely I wasn’t clever enough? So I thought I’d try it out first with a m/m romance, and I wrote The Wages of Sin which is a classic big house mystery, but with a ghost as one of the murderers.
It took me a very long time to write the plot plan. I had to decide who had done what right from the outset, and then what clues they might have left and how my investigators would find them. But perhaps because I spent a long time on the plan, the actual writing was a joy and I’m still very proud of how it turned out.
Writing the Unquiet Spirits series convinced me that I could after all write a mystery. But what about?
A long time ago, I read Ngaio Marsh’s Off With His Head – which is a morris dancing murder mystery – and it stuck with me as a spooky, atmospheric glimpse into weird English village life that I appreciated for years. But then I moved into a small English village and I became a morris dancer myself, and it gradually dawned on me that she’d just made the whole thing up.
Time to apply my local knowledge, then, and write my own morris dancing murder mystery that drew on morris as it is in this century. I’ve been dancing ten years now and I have to say I haven’t been to a single blood sacrifice yet!
With a subject in mind and a new confidence, I decided it was time to write that cozy mystery I always said I would write one of these days. And here it is – Murder of a Straw Man – based very loosely around the Wittlesea Straw Bear festival