Today I’m chatting with UK crime writer Geraldine Evans. We’ve agreed on the Black Swan, favourite haunt of DI Rafferty and part of his patch in Elmhurst, Essex. The grey day is made bleaker by bare branched trees and leaden clouds, but the warm glow behind the latticed windows of the ancient pub exudes welcome and the promise of a relaxing ale. Which is good for me because I’m a little awed at meeting the prolific woman behind the gripping Rafferty and Llewellyn police procedurals and more.
RH: Welcome Geraldine, thanks for joining me in your own corner of Writers’ Block. We could share a ploughman’s lunch with tea, Rafferty’s favourite – unless you’d like something stronger?
GE: I’ll have a large brandy and water (no ice – makes my teeth ache), since you’re asking!
RH: Great idea. Think I’ll settle in with a scotch myself. *signals the tall auburn-haired barman who looks a lot like Rafferty*
RH: Congratulations on the publication of your latest Rafferty and Llewellyn novel, Death Dues. This is number eleven of this series, and it’s not the only series you are working on. Tell us a little about how you manage to be so prolific.
GE: Actually, Death Dues is another of my backlist titles to which I’ve managed to retrieve the rights from my ex-publishers and bring out as ebooks. There are currently fifteen novels in the R & L series.
How do I manage to be so prolific? Oh, Rowena, I wish I was prolific. It must be two years since I published a new Rafferty novel (Kith and Kill #15). Between getting most of my backlist formatted as ebooks, selecting or myself creating, covers for them, with a website and blog to keep updated, with two full email inboxes (one, with over 7,000 inputs, I have nigh on abandoned from sheer desperation), social media, marketing and God knows what else, I‘ve struggled to find the time to get on with my next book.
RH: I can see why. *Accepts drink from waitress. Raises a toast* I think you’ve well earned your brandy and water. It’s a wonder you can get everything done.
GE: Just last night, I made the ruthless, but imperative decision to put all social obligations on hold (apart from updating my website, blog and newsletters), to finish my year-end accounts for the taxman (a necessary but exhausting chore), and then just free myself to write my next book. I’m becoming seriously concerned that, with such a gap in my familiarity with my Rafferty books, that I will fail to please my readers with the plot, storyline and humour that they’ve come to expect. Surprising? Perhaps. But even veteran novelists can become imbued with self-doubt.
RH: Will you hate me if I say that makes me feel better? *wink* You write in a range of genres, so that might feed into your concern a little.
GE: I had originally decided to get on with the research for my second historical. But my Rafferty fans are eager for DI Joe Rafferty’s next period of mayhem and I don’t want to let them down, so the historical will have to fall into line and wait its turn. But it’s definitely next on the agenda. I’m champing at the bit to get on with the research.
RH: Can’t wait – for the historical and the next Rafferty! You have an impressive array of reviews and have been commended for the wit and insight you bring to the police procedural as well as the polish of your writing and plotting. I agree. You certainly know your way around a gripping police procedural. Tell us a little about how you come to have so much insight into police procedure, the politics and the workings of a copper’s mind.
GE: I read widely, and I have several in-laws who were in the police. I also have various police memoirs, many books on police procedure and forensics as well as the mighty Blackwell’s expensive array of books on investigatory techniques, law and so on. But, to me, the family aspect of my novels is equally important. The tagline of my Rafferty & Llewellyn novels is:
DI Joe Rafferty came from a family who – if they MUST have a copper in the family – thought he might at least have the decency to be a bent one.
RH: Yes, I love Rafferty’s tagline. It is the best snapshot of a backstory I’ve ever read. And we get a glimpse of this dilemma in Death Dues when we meet his cousin Nigel Blythe. Tell us how you came up with that tagline and how it informs the development of the characters in the Rafferty and Llewellyn series.
GE: That line pretty much encapsulates how I view my Rafferty and Casey and Catt series. Both of which have family mayhem at their heart. It just intrigued me, when I first started writing crime novels, how a working-class copper, with a family for whom ducking, diving and devilry, were second nature, would fare in his career. That was it. My basic premise. Everything else has come from that first, brief idea.
You see, I started with the idea of ‘Family’ and worked outwards from there. I’m a working-class woman and was brought up on several Council estates, so it occurred to me ‘What if?’ What if, I created a working-class copper with a family with ‘attitude’? So many fictional detectives are middle-class and well-educated, yet the police service, on the whole, has widely recruited amongst the less-educated part of the population. I wanted to explore that truth.
I’ve never shared the late Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher’s ideology on family; perhaps I witnessed to much in my early life to feel comfortable with her beliefs that family was ’All’? I don’t know. All I know is that I seriously questioned such a notion. From that idea, firstly, my Rafferty novels sprung and then my Casey & Catt, second series, also with family-created difficulties.
That tagline encompassed everything I feel about ‘family’ and how potentially damaging it can be. Let’s just say that my dad really wasn’t cut out for fatherhood and leave it at that.
RH: Rafferty is an intuitive, go-by-his-gut copper and you’ve paired him with the methodical, in-danger-of-plodding Llewellyn. How did you arrive at that pairing? As you develop each character in each subsequent tale, have you ever struggled to stay true to their characters?
GE: No, I’ve never struggled to stay true to their characters because each of them, Rafferty & Llewellyn, both, are halves of me. One part of me is imbued in Joe Rafferty, who’s not much of a one for rules and regulations and who’s an intuitive sort of policeman, but one who’s capable of taking a wild, Irish lilt on investigations. But, for such a man, I felt I needed a foil – these books are more a humorous take on the police service – a bit of a caper – if you like, though, while indulging my protagonist’s idiosyncrasies to the full, I do the necessary research to make sure they conform to usual police behaviour.
DS Dafyd Llewellyn, I thought, made an interesting foil to Rafferty. Admittedly, I only created him because I needed such a foil. But he’s grown beyond being a mere stereotype. In fact, I’ve become rather fond of my Welshman, even if he’s made clear to me how profoundly I lack the necessary Classical education – Llewellyn is well-educated (unlike Rafferty) and is given to quoting from Classical Latin and Greek authors, much to Rafferty’s annoyance. I don’t mind admitting, that I have my work cut out keeping on top of Llewellyn’s erudition! Like Rafferty, I left school, age sixteen, after a basic education.
RH: Llewellyn is definitely one to have in your corner, as Rafferty has found out more than once! In Death Dues Rafferty must investigate the murder of unsavoury debt collector John ‘Jaws’ Harrison while also dealing with plans for his impending wedding to fiancée Abra. The description of Abra’s spiralling aspirations and Rafferty’s bemusement at the fuss is so evocative it made me agree with him that Gretna Green was a better option. Is this something you have experienced yourself, or are you making an observation of the wedding industry in the current era?
GE: No, it’s not something I’ve experienced myself. Living ‘in sin’ for eight years, I didn’t feel entitled to bridal white, so I bought a suit, at the cut price of £35.00. I made my own wedding cake (which, with hindsight, I should have given more than one layer of icing!). I spent the night before our wedding at my parents’ house, leaving my husband-to-be and my future sister-in-law to sort out the food. Was I cursed, afterwards! We honeymooned in the Lake District for a week, in our ancient Caravanette. It rained. For the entire week… Romance? What’s that?
RH: *choking with mirth on a mouthful of Dewars*
GE: But, yes, like Rafferty, I am a firm believer in the idea that: The more expensive the wedding, the shorter the marriage.’ I think this idea has been borne out more frequently than the ‘Trace Your Ancestors’ industry can cope with.
RH: Rafferty describes Primrose Avenue, the scene of the crime and abode of the suspects, as a place where there were ‘few primroses to be seen.’ The image of the once green fields and bubbling stream having been sacrificed to the post-war housing is very moving. How much inspiration for your stories do you take from the landscapes in which you set them?
GE: I suppose I found inspiration for this from my own life. Between the ages of eleven to twenty-five, I had lived off a road called Lavender Avenue, which used, once upon a time, to have lots of lavender bushes. This became a big, built-up, Council estate, with no lavender bushes to be seen. It just shows that every life experience, however small and insignificant-seeming, is grist to the mill.
My Rafferty & Llewellyn novels are set in in the fictitious Essex market town of Elmhurst. This is based on Colchester (the oldest town in the UK). I have made use of their (rearranged) street plan, some of their history and other aspects as suited my purposes.
RH: You are a master (or would you prefer mistress?) of planting clues in plain sight. So far, I have never picked up on the one that clinches the answer for Rafferty. Is this the result of careful planning or do you plant these later once you know how the story ends? I guess I’m asking: are you a plotter, a pantser or something in between?
GE: Rowena! Thank you! I can’t, unfortunately, claim that I am a master of careful planning. I have always been a ‘seat-of-pants’ writer. But, after attending a crime-writing course in the summer of 2013, held by Lois and Bill Brackon in Tuscany), with bestselling crime-writer Meg Gardiner as the tutor, I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t take a more planned course to my novel writing. I confess to feeling a bit torn. Yes, unquestionably, my Rafferty novels might be better if I piled on the angst and raised Rafferty’s problems up a gear, but Meg’s course was more about the ‘straight’ crime novel. I don’t write ‘straight’ crime novels, so I confess to feeling in a bit of a quandary at the moment. Which perhaps explains why I have felt so anxious and uncertain about proceeding to the second draft of Asking For It, which, I hope, will be my sixteenth Rafferty novel.
RH: I hope it will be too! And the best advice I ever got was ‘don’t mess with your process’. *oh boy, did I just give Geraldine Evans advice?*
RH: After years of being a traditionally published author, you’ve recently reclaimed your rights and become an indie publisher, which seems to be working out well. Tell us a little about that decision and how it came about.
GE: I had been writing and publishing for years but still had to have a day job. And then came the explosion of ebooks and Amazon’s Kindle. And as I read more about it on the blogs of authors who had gone before me, I began to see that I might, finally, be able to earn the full-time living that years of dogged midlist authorship had failed to give. I had already retrieved the rights in the first four Rafferty novels from Macmillan, so I obtained advice about formatting and, one by one, sent them off to be prepared for Kindle. It was quite an expensive process and, thankfully, I have now taught myself how to do the formatting. I even create the covers for my non-fiction books. My income started slowly, but as I added more books, it began to increase very promisingly. As this augured well for the future, I asked for the rights back in my later books and was lucky enough to obtain nearly all of them before British publishers had sufficiently grasped the coming importance of this new publishing medium. It was certainly important to me as it increased my income twelve-fold and, at long last, enabled me to write full-time (in theory, anyway!, as I mentioned at the beginning of this interview).
RH: Well, you’ve certainly reached a wide audience – all the way to Australia! Besides being a prolific crime writer, you’ve explored several other genres and I see that you (as Gennifer Dooley-Hart) have branched into palmistry with Palmistry Pointers for Writers. Tell us a little about palmistry: Why it first interested you and how it can help writers.
GE: I’ve been interested in palmistry, astrology and other New Age subjects for years. In fact, these short, Palmistry Pointers series, are taken from articles I had published some years ago in various magazines. It’s an interest I let lapse for some time (reading palms used to be my ‘party piece’!, but no longer). I simply thought the knowledge I had gained from my study of the subjects of palmistry and astrology, might be informative to others. I haven’t even tried to market them much; I thought anyone interested would find them.
RH: So what’s next for Geraldine Evans?
GE: Another Rafferty, Asking For It. Another historical: The Nearly Queen, another in the non-fiction Palmistry Pointers series (Palmistry Pointers for Career-Seekers)
RH: What is your all-time favourite book/movie?
GE: Book: The Plantagenet historical: The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman. Movie: Air Force One (I love Harrison Ford!)
RH: What are you reading now?
GE: I’m reading a book I promised to critique and review, by Bill Brackon, called A Matter of Perspective, a murder story set in fifteenth century Florence.
RH: What is your favourite word?
GE: It’s two, really: Aurora Borealis. I feel it’s absolutely beautiful. One day I hope to see the Northern Lights for myself.
RH: What is the best bit of advice you ever got (about writing or life in general)?
GE: Just do it. That’s all. Just: Do it. Don’t waste your time, waiting for approval from the gatekeepers. If you’ve made sure (editing, decent cover and formatting, plus good storyline, plot and characters), that your book is worthy of publishing, GO FOR IT, on kindle!
RH: That’s great advice. Thanks for joining us today, Geraldine. Where can we find Death Dues and your range of fabulous books?
Geraldine Evans is the author of eighteen mysteries over two series and one standalone, one historical and one romance. She has also published shorter fiction and non-fiction, including How to Eformat Your Novel for Amazon’s Kindle, Palmistry Pointers For Lovers and Palmistry Pointer For Writers (under the pen name Gennifer Dooley-Hart). Now an indie author, she was originally traditionally published by Macmillan, St Martin’s Press, Worldwide, Severn House and Hale. Some of her novels are also available in audio and large print.
Originally a Londoner, Geraldine lives in Norfolk, UK, where she moved in 2000.