1. How did you first get started as a crime writer? Did you have any murderous impulses of your own that you needed to sublimate?
I’ll say! I originally started out trying to become a romance author. After writing a romantic novel a year for six years and collecting rejections for all of them, I finally had one accepted. But then the publisher rejected my next novel in the same genre. I felt (strongly) that the only way for the ensuing murderous rage not to potentially land me in prison was if I restricted it to fiction. So Dead Before Morning, the first book in my Rafferty & Llewellyn series, was born.
Unlike my romantic novels, it was almost immediately accepted from Macmillan’s slush pile. It went on to sell to St Martin’s Press and Worldwide (pb) in the US. Seems I should have opened that murderous vein several novels earlier . . .
2. Blood on the Bones is part of the Inspector Rafferty crime series. Can you tell us a little bit about the main character? How did the inspiration for the character come to you and how has he developed over the series?
I suppose Rafferty came about, in part, because after trying the Mills & Boon (Harlequin) romance route for years and failing, I knew I had to try to be ‘the same, but different’ in the crime genre, too. I was certainly ‘different’ with that last (and only published) romantic novel because it was set in the Canadian Arctic – not the usual romantic destination for authors.
My working-class background disinclined me to try making my detective the usual middle-class protagonist of British crime novels. I thought writing my first crime novel would be demanding enough without trying to create and make believeable a background for Rafferty that was totally at odds with my own. Anyway, I was keen to include a humorous element and I felt far more confident about being able to create humour in my own class than another. I was brought up on south London council estates and I had only to cast my mind back to my childhood both there and in Dublin during school summer holidays when we stayed with my maternal grandmother, to be able to conjure up situations that I felt to be both believable and funny.
Irish mothers and their sons are worthy of a sociological study all on their own in my opinion. My grandmother had a saying: that if her twin sons, who died in infancy, had lived, they would have ‘two suits a day’, which would have been practically a Celebrity wardrobe for babies from my background back then. You can perhaps imagine how my late mother felt about this, particularly as she was destined to be an only child and made all too aware of how keenly her mother felt the loss of her precious boys!
When I first started this series, Joe Rafferty was the same age as me, but the slings and arrows of the publishing world (don’t ask!) has meant he’s ended up younger. My tendency to age him one season, rather than one year, per book has added to my arithmetical quandary, but I didn’t want him to reach the police retirement age while I still had stories to tell, hence the seasonal aging. The fact that I was always hopeless at figure-work just exacerbated my problems.
Anyway, when you add all this together, it means I’ve tended to make him older in some ways than his current chronological age (while younger in others). Rafferty, whatever his age, has my memories. And my memories incorporate Irish mothers as they’re fixed in my brain from when I was young: far more proud of their sons than their daughters, a bit controlling and determined to have a hand in sorting out their love lives.
So Rafferty began life with a match-making mother who had a tendency to poke her nose in where it wasn’t wanted. He also began with an assortment of working-class prejudices of the politically incorrect sort, but Sergeant Llewellyn and the PC-luvvies of the police management hierarchy, as well as his own growing experience and maturity, has softened this character element over the series. But his desire to use it to tease Llewellyn hasn’t entirely removed it from his character make up. In Asking For It #16 in the series, which I’m working on now, he’s married and with a baby on the way.
His family hasn’t evolved at all. They’re still way too keen on a little gentle law-bending for Rafferty’s peace of mind and career.
3. Inspector Raffety is well known in the series for being a ‘lapsed Catholic’. In Blood on the Bones he comes close to a religious re-conversion. Were you ever tempted during the writing process to allow him to cross the line into a full reawakening of his faith!
No, not really. I might have toyed with it for a while, but I soon put that idea behind me. It’s part of the ‘Bible’ for this series that I’ve put together since my uncertain start as a crime writer, that Rafferty is firmly lapsed. Besides, part of the fun of the books is that his Ma and his parish priest are both keen to get him to return to the fold. If he succumbed it would deny me the opportunity to write scenes where he manages to evade their religious clutches. Apart from any other consideration, I thought it would point to a weakness of character to return to something that he’d already determinedly rejected once. Rafferty has plenty of frailties, so adding another one might just tip those scales too much.
4. Do you share any of Inspector Rafferty’s religious opinions and sentiments. He seems to have had quite a rough religious upbringing.
Very much so. Like Rafferty, I had the Catholic faith shoved so far down my throat when I was young it’s a wonder it didn’t choke me. Of course I was still in my cradle when I was baptised into the Catholic faith. But my opinion wasn’t inquired into during any of the ensuing years. Seems my ‘religion of choice (!)’ was compulsory, whatever my opinion on the matter.
But I’m not of the temperament to be force-fed, whether it’s someone else’s religious beliefs or my late mother’s watery cabbage. It’s one of the reasons I’ve evolved from that not very promising background to become firstly a self-employed writer and then an indie one. Yes, I believe in God, or a form of God, and so does Joe Rafferty. But organised religion always has too many agendas that are of man’s making rather than God’s, for my liking.
5. How did you manage to create such sympathetic and realistic characters of the nuns? Do you have any experience with cloistered contemplative nuns? Do you share any of Inspector Rafferty’s impressions of the contemplative life as he encounters it in the novel.
No, I have no real-life experience of contemplative nuns. What I started with was the belief that nuns are just human beings like the rest of us. I went on from there. Some of my secondary school teachers were nuns, which helped me to see them as only too human. But I also researched the subject of nuns’ lives, particularly those of the contemplative sort and was interested to find that human element confirmed, not only by researchers who shared their cloistered life for a time, but also from books written by ex-nuns who had gone out into the world.
Two books I found particularly helpful were ‘Cloister and Community: Life Within a Carmelite Monastery’ by Mary Jo Weaver and ‘The Hidden Life: Essays, Meditations and Spiritual Texts, the Collected Works of Edith Stein.
These and other books I researched all made clear that nuns – again like the rest of us – can be sharp, rude, selfish, anti-authority, witty, have an earthy sense of humour and so on and don’t turn into holy robots any more than I’d be likely to.
At the moment, though, more for general historical research for my bio historical fiction, I’m reading ‘Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy’ by John Julius Norwich. Another book that confirms, through many centuries, that Popes, like nuns, have always been all too fallible humans first.
6. There is a careful and fair minded balance in the book between respect for the contemplative life of the nuns and the destructive aspects of Catholic guilt, particularly regarding the treatment of unwed mothers in the past. Could you comment about this theme in the book?
Yes, it was an important one for me. I’m aware that some people have a very strong faith. Equally, some people are very anti-religion. I didn’t want to offend either of them. I just wanted to write a novel that, under the surface of the murder investigation, probed, hopefully in a fair-minded way, what it means to be a religious was also an opportunity for me to revisit my Catholic roots and learn more about a subject that I had so vehemently rejected in my youth. Maturity allowed me to ask the questions I wasn’t permitted to ask when I young.
7. One of the striking aspects of your crime novels is the use of humor. What was your intention in adding this dimension?
Apart from the fact I wanted my books to have a fun element (because I have) as well as the serious aspect of investigating murder, I thought concentrating so much on the darker side of the human condition would be far too unhealthy and depressing. That’s why I never once contemplated writing a series about a serial killer and their spine-chilling doings. My main purpose in writing the series was to entertain and to provide some light relief from the pressures that just living brings.
The news media does its best to turn us all into antidepressant junkies without me increasing the dosage. Reading fiction provides that necessary escape from the reality of our own lives that we all need from time to time if we’re not to crack up. I think, particularly in this stressful technological age, it forms an essential safety valve for the pressures in society.
8. You recently decided to go the indie self-publishing route. Can you say a few words about that decision and the benefits that have accrued?
At the heart of that decision was the need to have more say, more control over my own creations. I had eighteen novels published by traditional publishers and I had no say over anything. I was weary of it. I also thought I might have more chance of making a full-time living if I went indie (none of my previous publishers can be exactly said to have put their backs into marketing my books or even providing me with the basic marketing skills to do it myself).
But chiefly, it was the blog of American author Joe Konrath (A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing) that mainly convinced me I could make a go of the indie life. I went indie in September 2010, and while, with ever-increasing competition, it’s becoming daily more of a challenge, I’ve been a full-time writer since early 2011. I’m still (mostly) managing this helter skelter of a life choice! It’s a big help that other indie authors are such generous souls and tend to share what they’ve learned. Something for which Joe Konrath in particular should take much of the credit. He really started the ball rolling on this sharing and caring aspect of the indie life.
9. Are you at work on another Inspector Raffety crime novel? What is your latest writing project?
Yes, as I said, I’m working on Asking For It, the sixteenth in the Rafferty series, though owing to all the other demands on my time, it’s been a bit of a stop-start project. I have now laid down a timetable of the end of March 2015 to complete this book. But because I’ve been so concentrated on preparing my back-list for digital publication I haven’t had the time I would like for new work. Sometimes, to my horror, I feel I’m turning into more of a glorified bureaucrat than a writer. I know other authors in this social media modern world find it difficult to steal writing time from everything else that demands our attention. We tend to huddle together on writers’ forums to chew the fat and have a damn good whinge.
Thank you, Geraldine, for these very meaty, insightful comments!
Geraldine Evans is a British writer of police procedurals that contain a lot of humour and family drama Her 15-strong Rafferty & Llewellyn series features DI Joe Rafferty, a London-Irish, working-class, lapsed Catholic, who comes from a family who think – if he must be a policeman – he might at least have the decency to be a bent one. Her 2-strong Casey & Catt series features DCI ‘Will’ Casey, a serious-minded, responsible policeman, whose ‘the Sixties never died’, irresponsible, drug-taking, hippie parents, pose particular problems of the embarrassing kind.
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