Therapy, Poetry & Non-fiction: a Path to Crime by Nell Peters

Hostile Witness ver 2Nell Peters is another Accent Press author and one whom I had the pleasure of meeting face to face at the launch of yet another Accent author, Tom Williams. Welcome to my place, Nell.

Thank you, Laura, for inviting me along – promise I’ll try not to disgrace either of us too much.

I’ve written a lot of guest blogs recently, one of which was for fellow Accent author Jenny Kane’s fab new series, My First Time – about first publications etc. Her opening question was something like what was the first story you wrote because you wanted to, not because you had to at school. My answer was that I started to write (truly, beyond awful) children’s stories one summer in Montreal, when I was in my early twenties, childless and at a loose end. I sat in a garden that stretched down to the St Lawrence River with pen and notebook poised, as I sweated buckets from the intense humidity and got eaten alive by mosquitoes. After I’d given Jenny my answer, however, I realised it wasn’t wholly correct – I’ve always had some form of writing project on the go, ever since I can remember. And trust me, that’s a very long way back.

My parents thought children should be neither seen nor heard, and so I spent a lot of time alone in my room, both reading and writing. With just a sister seven years younger, I was practically an only child and I was a painfully shy, introverted kid who lived vicariously through their imagination. Actually, I haven’t changed that much … weirdo alert!

I daydreamed my way through a high percentage of my schooling – a traditional grammar with stringent conduct and uniform rules, where thinking outside the box was most definitely not encouraged. There was a detention for every perceived misdemeanour – and no ChildLine. Goodness knows how I managed half-decent results – do examiners give sympathy marks? Having a retentive memory probably helped – I passed English Lit, for instance, purely by remembering what had been said during class discussion. Luckily, my form mates (including author Judy Astley) had read the books and done their homework, so (very) belated thanks, gels! Even if I do say so myself, I did a pretty good job of winging it through questions on Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale – that would definitely not be my chosen subject on Mastermind (like I’d even make it onto the ‘Maybe, But Only If Everyone Else Contracts Bubonic Plague’ pile of applications). My leisure reading included all the usual suspects – much Enid Blyton from Noddy up, including the Mallory Towers books passed on by a neighbour, and I ploughed through Agatha Christie from an early age, thus planting the seeds of murder and mayhem in my impressionable young mind, and revving up zee leetle grey cells. The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes did nothing to sway my enthusiasm from dastardly deeds, mystery and convoluted plots either, and I guess the dye was cast – but it was many years before I actually started writing crime.

Fast forward through uni, a scary career, marriage, a move overseas – the Montreal years – and back again (though not necessarily in that order) and I’m living in London with four sons. And writing poetry – something that happened pretty much by accident. By Easter one year, I’d gotten thoroughly fed up with the older boys’ procrastinations about writing their thank you notes for Christmas presents received, so I penned a collective thank you to relatives in rhyme. And lo, I got the bug.

Writing poetry as a form of therapy is something that continues to interest me, but that’s another story … or verse, perhaps. It was, nonetheless, how I came to write crime, bizarre as that might sound. Based loosely on empirical research (not mine), I wrote a non-fiction around the premise that writing poetry can alleviate the symptoms of depression, and I sent it to Hodder, where it was picked up by the submissions editor. Imagine my shock/horror/surprise/disbelief/embarrassing happy dancing when I received an enthusiastic email by return, telling me that although the non-fiction wasn’t for them, could I write a novel for their consideration? She liked my style apparently – someone has to.

Obviously, I didn’t have to be asked twice and set to work on a crime novel – what else? Sadly, I hadn’t even finished the thing, when the editor was made redundant – cue very sad face. Me, that is, but I don’t expect the subs editor was deliriously happy either. That book was called Curry Favour, and the protagonist was a cleaning lady called Amelia Vanderloo (do you see what I did there?) She was quite posh and refined, but had landed upon hard times, and being trained for nothing in particular took to cleaning others’ houses to earn a crust. I think I finished the book, but never did anything with it and veered off to other endeavours, time permitting.

Before this turns into War and Peace, let’s fast forward again, glossing over a move to Norfolk, years spent on my own with the children (a contradiction, I know – but I’m sure you understand my meaning) while the OH worked all over the world, and a return to uni to read psychology. I continued to write crime fiction whenever I had a spare moment, at that time in between churning out assignment essays on serial killers and terrorists, and a dissertation on Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The guy was a Class A basket case – Liberty, Equality and Fraternity notwithstanding, I suppose. He definitely showed schizophrenic tendencies, long before the condition was identified by the German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin. I do believe I mentioned JJR’s fluid grip on reality in my diss (I may not have used the term ‘basket case’, but t’was sacrilege nonetheless) and rather surprisingly ended up with a scraped 2:1 Hons, plus an implied award for being the oldest student on campus.

After that, I took a serious look at my backlist and did a lot of work – my efforts were rewarded two years ago, when Editor Greg at Accent Press picked up By Any Other Name. Yay! He also liked my style – and warped sense of humour. Of course, I became rich and famous overnight, but sadly only in my dreams.

Accent subsequently published Hostile Witness in February ’16 – it can be found on Amazon, link below.

Right – I have a ravenous chicken to feed (yet again – she’s more gannet than chook), so again I’ll say thank you very much for having me to Laura and go find the birdseed.

Have a good day, y’all.

NP

Hostile Witness is here: http://mybook.to/hostilewitness

Nell Peters is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NellPetersAuthor

And on Twitter as @paegon

 

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