Murder by Mistake is your 11th book in the Elie Quicke series. How did you get the idea for this series?
I started in crime many years ago, before going on to write in other genres. A division of HarperCollins wanted a traditional mystery series to take a Christian world view out into mainstream. It took me months to think up how this could be done, to get to know and understand Ellie and then, just as we got started on the series, this part of HarperCollins was sold off and I transferred to Severn House – where I remain, very happily, to this day.
After a few years of writing Ellie, Severn House wanted me to think up another series with a different protagonist, to run in tandem with the Ellie Quicke Mysteries. Thus was born the Abbot Agency series, whose protagonist is a business woman, and nothing like Ellie, except that they both try to live a Christian life. FALSE MONEY, the fifth of these, is due out early next year.
Tell us about the challenges of writing a book series.
Early on we decided that the crimes Ellie investigates would be local, set in a suburb of London. This defines the territory, ie, no gun battles or organised crime but plenty of human frailty.
In some series the protagonist doesn’t develop: think of Morse, Miss Marple, Poirot. But Ellie does grow and becomes a stronger, wiser woman as she meets the various challenges that come her way. One of these days she might even be able to say No to her bullying daughter, whose sub-plot is a constant in the series.
One problem that arises in a series is that of keeping track of names of characters and streets. I keep lists of these – not for publication – but to jog my memory .
The key to great mysteries is tension. How do you keep the tension high?
You start with a problem on page one, add complications throughout, and end up with a solution. Quite often I find Ellie is working against time, which helps to maintain the tension.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
By the time one book is through copy-editing and into the proof stage, I am well on the way with the next story, and don’t have time to look back. I have to produce two books a year, plus the odd short story. I’m always looking forward, not back.
You live in England. Do you think writing/reading is viewed differently in the UK than the US?
I really don’t know the answer to that question. (Except that we’d say ‘from’ where you say ‘than’!)
The struggles of aspiring writers are much the same. Most people travelling on the Underground are reading – which is good. Paperbacks seem to be doing well. There are a lot of book reading clubs – which is also good. There aren’t many e-Readers or Kindles to be seen yet.
How would you describe your perfect writing day?
I’d get the house tidied, the garden watered, breakfast cleared away. I’d hope there were not too many e-mails to deal with, and see my husband off out for the day. I’d have breaks for chocolate, coffee, and a quick walk to the shops for food. Later there’d be another break to meet a friend or husband for coffee in the afternoon. On ideal days, the editing of yesterday’s work would go easily, and the next bit of story would flow without a tangle in the plot. I’d arrange for a supper which is easy to prepare, and play a game of patience with real cards – not on the computer – while I thought about the next day’s work. I’d limit myself to an hour of TV or, preferably, read a few chapters of a book. Prayer time and bed.
Veronica Heley will be celebrating the publication of her 66th book in the UK this Christmas, though the USA publication date will be a couple of months after that. She’s been in the business now for over 30 years, having her first crime fiction book published in l977 – recently re-issued in 2008. She’s written a straightforward biography of St Paul, some historical fiction, many articles and reviews, masses of children’s and resource books, and learned how to write story-boards for cartoons. She enjoys giving talks and teaching about writing.
She is married to a retired probation officer who sometimes gives her ideas for stories, and has a married, musician daughter. She is active in her local church and community affairs, likes to break for coffee with friends and does the garden when she has time. She has been a member of a book reading club for 40 years, but has decided that life is too short to read depressing literature any more.