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The creation of a crime series is a bit of a puzzle - in more ways than one - isn't it? Do you try to create a clone of Wexford, Morse, Dalgliesh? Or maybe the publishing world would prefer a bit of all three? Is that a chorus of 'Yes! Please!' I hear in the background? Before I tried my hand at a crime novel, I'd been writing for six years, mainly articles and romantic novels. The articles were (mostly) published, but the romantic novels were all - bar the last of the six - rejected. So, once I'd figured out that romance writing wasn't really my bag, I decided I'd take the plunge in to crime. That decision brought my first dilemma. Because as I've already said, most of the really well known crime characters, although very different in temperament, etc, were of a certain type, middle class and well educated. I assumed I would have to follow suit. Coming from a working class, Council houseraised and secondary modern educated (sic) background this was a conclusion that put a damper on my aspirations. How could I possibly hope to write about such characters? Even trying a second-rate clone of them was, surely beyond my ability (or desire). I couldn't write about such people. Not only couldn't, but wouldn't. I didn't want to write about such people. Why the hell would I? Back then, I found the mere idea so completely intimidating that I revolted against it, not least because after thinking about those crime writers regularly praised for their devilish ingenuity, God-like intellect and masterly characterisation, I felt as if I should crawl back from whence I had come and not bother the critics – or anyone else – ever again.
But I didn't follow that first, wimpish, inclination. My natural bolshieness rose to the fore and I said 'to hell with that!' (Or words to that effect…!) And decided to do it 'my way'. So I took my life by the scruff of the neck, threw out the ridiculous idea of writing about middle-class characters from my Council estate mind-set, and created my main crime character from the police majority; the ordinary Joes who have more to do with the reality of the average copper; those who came in at the rough end of policing and worked their way up. Okay, I pretty much suspected that the cop character I came up with wouldn't be the style of copper that seems to most impress the critics, my main man would be pretty well the opposite of the critics' darlings. My copper would be working class and indifferently educated. Much like me, in fact (that I've worked my socks off since leaving school to try to educate myself, is beside the point). This seemed like a far better idea. Especially as I felt it was essential that my main character, at least, should be someone to whom I could relate. If, by some miracle, my first effort in the genre was published, I might be writing about this character through four, five, six or more novels. No way I'd be able to do that if I wrote about a lead character whose background was totally at odds with my own. Thus was formed Detective Inspector Joseph Aloysius Rafferty. Like me, Rafferty is Council-house raised and secondary modern educated. Again, like me, he's Catholic and London-born of Irish parents and is one of quite a crowd of siblings (he's the eldest of six, I'm the youngest of four, but the similarities are there: very important, those similarities.).
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Like many of the working classes who have risen above their roots to get somewhere in life, Rafferty is cursed by coming from a family whose aspirations have not risen with his own. In short, the Rafferty family has more than their share of 'Del Boy' Trotter types whose leisure-time preferences are far from Adam Dalgliesh and his poetry writing or Morse's Wagner. The Rafferty family pursuits are nothing so refined. They're in to back-of-a-lorry bargains of dubious provenance and other diversions of equally questionable legality. And Rafferty's ma, Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in these pursuits, using emotional blackmail to make Rafferty feel guilty when he upbraids her. Having far more than her fair share of Blarney Stone baloney, she always wins these little arguments. To give Rafferty even more problems, I provided him with a sidekick preordained from birth to look with a jaundiced eye at Rafferty's outlook on life, his theories and conduct of cases and his less than law-abiding family. DS Dafyd Llewellyn, the university-educated only son of a Welsh Methodist minister, lives on the moral high ground and thinks the law should apply to everyone – even the mothers of detective inspectors. Once I had the basics of Rafferty, his family and his side-kick sorted out, I had to place my main man in his environment. And after all I've said about his background, I felt there was only one place I could use as a setting for such a character. Essex. You'll understand why it seemed his natural habitat. We've all heard of the 'Essex Man' euphemism as a term for people who are stupid and common, with criminal tendencies. Politically incorrect it may be, yet it's stuck. But, unlike the stereotyped depiction of the working classes in 'Essex' jokes and many of the older
British crime novels, as chip-eating, adenoidal and terminally stupid, I wanted to show that there is intelligent life, not only in Essex, but also among the working classes themselves. As far removed from the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes type of sleuth as it's possible to be, Rafferty is the typical, down-to-earth British copper. Okay, he's not exactly deeply intellectual; or highbrow, but intelligence, like most things, comes in different guises. His background has given him a street-wisdom of a kind that's often far more valuable in police work than the more academic intelligence. But Rafferty has to work with the partner I've given him - Dafyd Llewellyn. Unsurprisingly, at first, Rafferty resents this intellectual copper. He resents his superior education and superior morality. Poor old Rafferty has far more chips on his shoulder than his plate where Llewellyn's concerned. Unlike Rafferty, Llewellyn likes to examine the facts of a case immediately, rather than go off on flights of fancy. Worse, he has a tendency to run a coach and horses through Rafferty's favourite theories, which are often outrageous and tend to indulge his various prejudices to the full. Rafferty, of course, thinks the more politically correct Llewellyn takes all the fun out of police work. What's the point in having the usual working class prejudices, he thinks, if you don't occasionally indulge them? Besides, it's amusing to tease Llewellyn, who needs taking down a peg or two. You could say the pairing epitomises the famous George Bernard Shaw saying, with which I shall take a bit of artistic license: You know the one: ‘It is impossible for a Brit to open his mouth without making some other Brit despise him.'
5 Evans/Take Eye of Newt Yet they manage to rub along together, helped by both Rafferty's overactive Catholic conscience and Llewellyn's stern Methodist moral code. As the series and the cases progress, so does their relationship. They both come to agree that a man consists of rather more than his accent. Anyway, all this furious thinking produced Dead Before Morning from the steamy cauldron; a crime novel which featured a prostitute bludgeoned beyond recognition, a suave, social-climbing doctor and an idle hospital porter, who had a few 'nice little earners' of his own. In this first novel, Rafferty has just been promoted to the rank of inspector in the CID. His beat is Elmhurst, a fictitious town based on Colchester, the old Roman town where that original Essex girl, Boadicea, used to hang out and harry the centurions. Alongside the main story runs a humorous sub-plot, in which poor Rafferty is ensnared in the first of the series' many family-induced problems. My seventh Rafferty & Llewellyn, Bad Blood, is due out in December 2004, and like the previous six, it has poor Rafferty embroiled in more trouble than a Victorian lady of the night sans the morning after pill. Apart from Rafferty's working class background and his family's teeny-weeny tendency to dishonesty, there was another reason I chose to locate him in Essex. And that was because of the county's historical connections. Many of the towns and villages in Essex are associated with the early settlers in America. And because of its port links, the entire area has always been close to the religious dissent stemming from Europe.
A bit of a dissenter himself, having been force-fed Catholicism from the cradle Rafferty is against religion of any persuasion as a matter of principle. So it's no wonder he feels at home in
an area with such strong dissenting traditions. One of the reasons I wrote the kind of crime novel I did is that my mind has a natural tendency to see the humour in a situation; especially a situation that contains a large dollop of Sod's Law. In Rafferty's – and my – experience – Sod's Law really does Rool OK. Whatever the critics made of it, I must have done something right because on only its second outing, that first Rafferty & Llewellyn crime novel was taken from Macmillan's slush pile and published (after a bit more writing and cutting, naturally). It was also published in the States in hardback and paperback. After Macmillan had published four books in the series they were taken over by a firm of German publishers (not noted for their humour, the Germans!) and I was told to take a hike - and take my Rafferty novels with me. That was a blow. But after a second lengthy fallow period with nothing but rejections, I was lucky enough to get taken on by a new agent. It's thanks to my new agent, Vanessa, that the fifth Rafferty & Llewellyn novel (Absolute Poison) that had been rejected by Macmillan, found a home with Severn House. She also placed Up In Flames, the first in what I hope will be a new series, featuring new police characters, Will (Willow Tree) Casey, the only son of unreconstructed hippies for whom the 60s never died, and the politically incorrect Thomas (Thom) Catt, his DS, who was brought up in a number of children's homes. Vanessa has also secured me not one, but two lots of 2-book contracts for more Rafferty & Llewellyn novels; the first of which, Dying For You, came out on 24 June 2004
and Bad Blood, which, as I mentioned, is due out in December 2004. As for the second of the double contracts, I'm about a third of the way through the first book, which is due at the publishers in February 2005. She also obtained a contract for Reluctant Queen, my first
7 Evans/Take Eye of Newt historica,l about Henry VIII's younger sister, which was published by Robert Hale on 31 March 2004, under the name Geraldine Hartnett. Altogether, with Vanessa's expertise and empathy, my publishing history has improved from five published novels and rejection doldrums to ten (come December 2004) and, with luck, as long as I do my bit, by the end of 2005/beginning of 2006, it will have risen to 12 published novels So being dropped by your publisher needn't be the end of the world. That painful rejection may just signal the start of a whole new writing chapter. It certainly has for me. I took a chance, and 'Did it My Way', when I created that first Rafferty & Llewellyn. But it paid off. And, let's face it, if we weren't independently-minded cussed, types, set on doing it 'our way', I think the publishing – and the reading world – would both be a lot poorer. ends. Geraldine Evans 7 Station Road North Walsham Norfolk NR28 0DZ Tel: 01692 403953 email: email@example.com
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