Born in London, Lisa Jewell is a top ten New York Times and number one Sunday Times bestselling author who has been published worldwide in over twenty-five languages. Throughout her career, she has published a range of AMAZING books – including her newest dark psychological thriller The Family Remains.
Exclusively for QBD blog readers, Lisa tells us about her writing, detectives, and more… Enjoy!
Despite growing up on a diet of Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot, when it comes to writing my own crime novels, I have assiduously avoided creating any sort of fictional detective. This isn’t because of any personal vendetta against detectives, but simply because I have been too lazy to read the book I bought myself when I started writing crime about ten years ago called The Crime Writers’ Guide to Police Practice and Procedure, which is still sitting on my bookshelves covered in a fine layer of dust. I did read the first page and then stopped. Too much to learn! Too difficult! I decided that it would be easier simply to write crime without detectives, and consequently most of my crime novels use civilian characters to solve the crimes whilst the police bumble around vaguely in the background, being too slow, too underfunded, or too late to the scene to do anything effective.
I haven’t really read a detective series since my last Agatha Christie back in 1981. The last detective I followed for more than one book was Jackson Brodie in Kate Atkinson’s amazing cold-case detective series that started with Case Histories. Jackson was everything you wanted a detective to be; complicated, damaged, charismatic, better at his job than anyone else in the vicinity. But most of my favourite detectives have been on the screen. Who doesn’t love Robbie Coltrane’s acidic, lugubrious, troubled giant, Fitz in Cracker? Or electrifying London-based Luther? Exhausted Mare Sheehan of Easttown? Exhausted Sarah Lund and her wonderful sweaters in The Killing? I love detectives, I just didn’t want to write about them. But in my latest book, The Family Remains, something strange happened.
He came from nowhere, my first detective. DC Samuel Owusu was meant to appear fleetingly in the prologue, alongside his colleague DI Saffron Brown. They were meant to find the bones, identify the bones and then disappear through a back door somewhere leaving my characters to do the rest of the work. But Samuel just sort of stuck around and demanded that I work alongside him as he cracked the case. However, I still had no knowledge of police procedure and no desire to acquire any, so I wrote him with a very light touch, using the bare basics that I have gleaned over a lifetime of watching police dramas, avoiding anything that might require more depth. I focused down deep into his brain and stayed there. He was too busy thinking about clues and visual tics and tells to spend any time filling in paperwork or having acronym packed conversations with colleagues. He was too in-the-moment for a complicated back story. He was too pure for professional skulduggery, rule breaking or inappropriateness. I boiled him down to the purest essence of detective. A brain on legs. A genial sweetheart with a laser eye for detail and the patience of a saint. I have no idea if any such detective exists anywhere in the world, I just know that if I ever needed someone to crack a case on my behalf, I would love it to be a real life Samuel Owusu. And yes, I might be bringing him back for round two.
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