I’d like to thank Judith Cranswick, murder mystery author, for sharing her writing world with us. Hi Judith, thank you so much for coming along and allowing yourself to be tortured in this way! I understand you’ve got some great news to share with mystery book lovers?
Yes Caron that’s right. I’ve got a new book coming out TODAY! Blood Follows Jane Austen is a Fiona Mason Mystery. This time Fiona stays in England and takes her party on a tour of sites associated with Jane and her novels. Fiona’s problems include an antagonistic guest lecturer, a difficult passenger intent on upsetting all and sundry plus the usual dead body. Fiona’s relationship with MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones has once again become strained. He is busy dealing with the repercussions following the assassination of a central African leader, but she needs his help to prevent the wrong person from being arrested. Although it is the 7th in the series, it can be read as a standalone.
That’s exciting news. I have to admit I’ve already been lucky enough to read this book, and I loved it, so if any mystery fans are reading, you should definitely order it now by clicking this link!
Q1. In case anyone hasn’t figured this out by now, tell us what kind of books you write, Judith?
The quick answer is the kind I like reading. I love whodunits in the Agatha Christie style, lots of hidden clues, red herrings and a relatively small number of suspects.
I tend to call my two series travel mysteries, and they probably come under the cozy umbrella because you won’t find any excessive violence, bad language or sex in them. A touch of romance for Fiona but that’s it.
Having said that, my first published books were standalone psychological suspense novels. I enjoy writing them (I have a couple of ideas I’d love to tackle if only I had the time), but my readers are always telling me they can’t wait for the next Fiona or Harry and Aunt Jessica story.
Q2. What first drew you to writing mysteries rather than, for example, romance or fantasy/sci-fi?
The first novel I wrote was an historical novel, ‘The Tribune’ about a 4th century Romano-British soldier inspired by a trip to Chedworth Roman Villa. The second book was ‘Magic for a Magician’. I entered a fantasy short story competition, fell in love with my 7’2” magician and the story became chapter one. I couldn’t get a publisher interested in either of them.
In the early 2000s, I was reading a great many psychological suspense novels – writers like Nikki French, Barbara Vine, Minette Walters and Val McDermid. I loved the edginess of their novels. That gave rise to my ‘All in the Mind’ and ‘Watcher in the Shadows’ both of which won awards.
My then agent, suggested I try writing books with a series character which led to the first Fiona Mystery – ‘Blood on the Bulb Fields.’
Q3. What comes first for you, plot or characters?
Neither. I start with a scene such as a woman being mugged in an underpass (as in ‘All in the Mind’). How the main character reacts to the situation influences what happens next. I’m not a plotter and for me the fun of writing is discovering how the story line and the characters develop on the journey. Rather like Minette Walters, I never decide on my murderer until the final few chapters. I may have a vague idea who it will be midway through the book but then often change it right at the end.
Obviously, with my series books I do have my small core of main characters (who I hope continue to grow with each book) plus the country where the tour will take place, but from then on it’s just start writing. By halfway, I probably have some idea of where I want to end up, but it’s all very fluid.
Q4. Do you buy books as gifts at Christmas? Can you tell us about any surprises in the Christmas stockings this year? (we promise not to blab)
Choosing books for other people is difficult. I did when family members were small but then changed to book tokens. Only my son has a long wish list of books on Amazon and most of those are reference books.
Q5. What do you do when you’re not writing or reading?
I teach yoga and tai chi and in a usual year I would probably be doing several cruises as a guest lecturer. I began running writing workshops on board ship, then went to giving talks on writing, became a port lecturer and in recent years I’ve been asked to give history lectures. Ancient history is another of my passions.
My husband and I also take several holidays each year, mostly as research for my novels of course. (Well that’s my excuse.)
I spend my mornings either at the gym teaching or doing Pilates or Zumba, and two mornings line-dancing.
Q6. What’s next for your writing?
My next project is another Harry and Aunt Jessica novel set in Persia. Our last holiday, back in November 2019,was to Iran. It’s an amazing country, full of breath-taking architecture, Persian palaces and sumptuous mosques, and a fascinating history. Accompanying our trip was the same history lecturer who came on our Morocco holiday which is what gave me the idea for my first Aunt Jessica Mystery.
Q7. If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you do?
I became a published writer when I retired. I taught geography and eventually became a headteacher.
Q8. What’s the biggest challenge for you as a writer? What can be a struggle at times?
Even though I’m retired, finding time to actually write can be difficult. I don’t write quickly and on average it takes me a whole year to produce a book. Starting a book is never a problem but I’m not a plotter and I do tend to languish in the middle before I get to the final rush at the end. This last year, by far my biggest problem has been research. Long before I even work out the story line, I visit the area as a passenger on an organised tour, which forms the basic framework on which to develop the plot. This year, that just wasn’t possible.
Q9. Do you have a set routine when you’re writing? Do you set yourself a daily word count to achieve?
My best writing time is probably early in the day but, in normal times, I’m out every weekday and life does tend to take over. I may need to stop everything to research and prepare PowerPoint presentations for a lecture cruise. I spend on average six weeks at sea, but preparing the lectures takes at least as long. My overall plan is to write a book a year. The actual writing – first draft – stage takes five to eight months, then comes four major rewrites, then to my editor, major rewrite, beta readers, more rewrites then proof-reader. During the intensive writing stage, I probably have a daily word count of around 500 to 800, but nothing is set in stone.
Judith, it’s been so lovely to catch up with you and good luck with the new book.
Readers who want to know more about Judith and her books can follow this link to Judith’s blog where she posts a lot of insights into her books and especially, the journeys that inspire her highly popular books.