I welcome British cozy mystery author V.S.Vale to my blog today. V.S Vale (Valerie) is a British author who has taken the traditional cozy mystery techniques of writers from the golden age of whodunit and given them a contemporary twist in her first book in a new series, Murder Most Fowl – A Swansneck Village Mystery. I have read it, and it is an intriguing mystery with humor, a wonderfully depicted British setting, and entertaining characters.
Were you ‘born to write’ or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
As a child in grade school, my favorite lesson was English. I was delighted when we were given homework that involved writing an essay, while most of my friends just groaned. I remember being quite happy to give the subject matter a twist, while also adding humor when at all possible. It’s just the way I am. I tended to write dramatically, but with a light tone, even as a child. More often than not my work was read aloud to the class by our teacher and later passed around the staff room during lunch break. I enjoy entertaining people with words and giving them an alternative point of view on something.
As a teenager, I sold a few articles to teenage magazines. Not fiction, just funny insights on the potential disasters of DIY hair care, that sort of thing. The mess you ended up with if you used egg, yogurt or honey on your head, for example. I flirted with the idea of becoming a journalist at that stage of my life, but the pressure to take on a more responsible role in our family clothing manufacturing business was becoming obvious. I shelved any ideas of writing at that point, but it never truly left me.
Move on another couple of decades and my life in clothing manufacturing came to an end due to commercial pressure from imports. So I thought the natural progression should be into interior design. It still involved textiles, after all. It was only during my studies for a university degree that I discovered I enjoyed writing the lengthy dissertations on the history of houses and textile heritage more than I enjoyed designing the interiors! That was when the penny dropped. Writing was still in my blood. But even then, it took me a while to see a possible career in writing. I actually found myself involved with jewellery for a few years, and THEN I decided enough was enough and took up my pen (well, actually, my laptop!)
What genre do you write in? Why?
I pondered what genres might suit me, and my innate style of writing. I think it must be incredibly hard to write something you find un-natural, or not to your own taste. For example, whether it is a movie or a novel, I like good strong plots with plenty of twists and turns. But, I am uncomfortable with graphic violence, gore or horror. It would give me nightmares if I had to spend months working on a novel that required me to imagine such scenes in detail. So, I considered how I enjoyed the puzzle of a whodunit, and the world of cozy mystery was a perfect match for me. could inject humor too, was the icing on the cake!
How do you decide on the setting?
I suppose the creation of Swansneck Village was a combination of events that bubbled in my imagination for quite a while. When I did my interior design degree, I was steeped in textbooks that covered the entire range of architecture and design styles over the centuries. I would visit local towns and cities and realize there was so much design around me that I hadn’t paid attention to previously. It really opened my eyes. Where I live in Northern England, I was surrounded by history. Not all of it grand, but all of it interesting. I began noting the extravagance of large local homes that had been built by rich merchants during the Victorian era. I observed the servant’s living quarters set in the roof and their working quarters in the basement. All while the wealthy families would enjoy living on the ground, first and second floors of these beautiful buildings.
This, coupled with the years I had spent visiting textile mills in the area as a buyer of fabric for our business, it had seeped into my psyche. These mills were not active in manufacturing during my lifetime, because they were now warehouses for textile merchants, but you couldn’t help but be impressed by the immense size and solidity of these structures. They’d been built in the 1800s by men who had great ambition. They are truly awe–inspiring. So, combining all that I had experienced, lived and studied led to the detailed creation of Swansneck Village and Swan Mill.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
How much research? Lots and lots! I went into research overdrive to create the history of the Swan family as cotton mill owners. I created family trees, biographies and details on everyone. I needed to be able to visualize them in my mind’s eye. Then I drew up a map of Swansneck Village and listed everything in detail. I hesitate to admit it, but I even used Google Earth to select a suitable section on the River Ribble in Lancashire where my fictional village could have been situated due to the original mill wheel needing a water supply! Yes, I’m that kind of person. Talk about obsessive!
Do you outline your books or wing it? Describe your process.
I’m a plotter through and through. I enjoy plotting in intricate detail before I begin writing. First is the murder method, then how such a style of murder would be used by a given character. Why would that character kill in such a way? Is it because they are a careful, pre-meditated type of person or a spare of the moment killer? Then I structure the surrounding cast needed for the story to take shape. From there, I begin to see reasons why each character might clash with each other. This builds my list of suspects and motives. Next, I create a detailed timeline, series of scenes and events that lead to the eventual discovery of ‘whodunit’ by the sleuth. Finally, I carefully lay out the clues, with solid reasoning behind each.
Personally, I don’t like it when a book hits me with a murderer at the end of the story, that I hadn’t been given the opportunity of guessing it for myself.Click to tweet
In books like that, I feel the only person who ever knew about the clues was the author! That’s unfair. So I try to insert clues all the way through the novel but disguise them. Well, we don’t want the puzzle to be too easy, do we!
How much of you is in the books you write? In what ways? What is your latest book, in the works or just published?
This is a scary question to answer, as it makes me realize there is quite a lot of me in the novel!
When it comes to Jenny Bradshaw, my amateur sleuth in the series, I think her strong sense of justice, both social and criminal, stems from me.Click to tweet
As Murder Most Fowl is the first in the Swansneck Village Mystery Series, I wanted to create a ‘world’ for the reader to become immersed in. I wanted the reader to be able to follow the lives of not only those who live there today, but also understand what the lives of the previous generations would have been like. Because, as we know, it’s the lives of our forefathers that shapes our values, morals, and ambitions today. All of this makes the ‘world’ of the story feel like reality.
What is your favorite part of writing?
Being inventive as to why a murder takes place, then plotting every detail of who/how/why/where. I’m a very logical thinker, and I need to know everything before I sit down to write. I really enjoy the act of plot creation, and hiding the clues well.
Some writers edit exclusively as they write, others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of editing. How about you?
No, I don’t leave editing until the end of the first draft. I tend to edit as I write, usually once I’ve completed a chapter. I think this may come from my compulsive need for a logical path throughout the story. It is a puzzle, after all. So, as I’m checking sentence structure, for example, I also consider whether I’ve inadvertently placed a piece of information too early—or even the wrong piece of information! This could totally change the desired outcome for the sleuth. An innocent person could be identified as the murderer! Oh no!
Ebooks, print or both? Any preferences? Why?
Maybe the delay in my becoming an author was serendipity? Now the timing was right to become an Indie author, rather than have to go the traditional route to publication. I like the independence this brings, and eBooks are a wonderful way to reach an international audience. Although I am still a huge fan of print, as there is something about holding a book and turning the page that I can’t abandon. And luckily, as the retailers can deliver paperbacks quickly whichever country you live in, you don’t have to choose one format over the other if you don’t want to. I’d also love to add audiobooks into the mix of available formats, but that’s a little way off just yet.
Do you have a view in your writing space? What does your space look like?
As I have spent years working at a desk in my former careers, I couldn’t get the creative urge that I needed from sitting at a normal desk. I wanted to be able to lose myself when writing. So I purchased a good ergonomic office chair and placed it near the large rear window in my lounge. I also have a laptop table that slides snugly over my knees. There’s some shelving nearby, where I keep all my files containing the details of each character should I need to refer to them. I also keep a map of the village to hand for reference.
From this location, when I look up from the screen I can see the flowers, shrubs, and trees in my garden. Currently, we are having beautiful weather, so I can watch fluffy clouds drift by to clear my head while I complete the second book in the series: Poetic Poison.
A dear friend recently gave me a wonderful gift to mark the launch of Murder Most Fowl. An ornamental peacock! It’s enameled in beautiful peacock colors and I’ve positioned it near the window, nestled among the foliage. Now I can admire my very own Derek while I write!
Returning home may not be in fashion, but solving a murder never goes out of style…
Despite the Swan family now promoting Swansneck village as a nostalgic Victorian tourist attraction for Lancashire’s cotton mill heritage, Jenny Bradshaw had never wanted to set foot in the place again. But a failed marriage and the conditions of her uncle’s legacy left her no other choice.
Forced to abandon her P.A. job in London, Jenny dreads the years of drudgery ahead. Working at the family bakery and caring for her uncle’s pigeons was not exactly the future she’d envisioned. But when a hat shop is offered for sale within the classy, recently transformed Swan Mill Hotel, Jenny thinks her luck may finally be changing. At least, until she unwittingly implicates a beloved childhood friend in murder…
Between attending the biggest wedding Swansneck had ever witnessed, juggling her new business and re-launching the Swansneck Messenger newsletter, Jenny seeks to clear her friend’s name. By establishing new links in the village and deciphering cryptic notes left in the pigeon coop, Jenny builds her list of suspects. But uncovering generations of secrets and lies from a roster of quirky Swansneck residents only seems to prove everyone has a motive for murder.
Unable to reveal her multitude of suspicions to urbane new neighbor, DI Kenon, without appearing to have totally lost her wits, Jenny’s quest for the truth threatens to turn her hometown into her final resting place.
Murder Most Fowl is an absorbing cozy mystery set in a charming British village. If you like amusing, engaging characters and true-to-life settings, then you’ll love V.S. Vale’s riveting whodunit.
Download a FREE copy of ‘Old Mother Bradshaw’s Cookbook’ that accompanies the series. Enjoy the same traditional Lancashire recipes as the characters in the series. Truly delicious treats from four generations of Bradshaw’s!
Go to: http://www.vsvale.com
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