Today’s guest blog is by Julie Wassmer who is the author of the Whistable Pearl Mystery series. A former professional television drama writer she has worked on a number of well-known television series.
Having written for popular television dramas like Eastenders for almost twenty years, I became used to having to produce detailed treatments for TV producers, showing the way my episodes would unfold. Often these come in the form of a scene breakdown in which every moment of television action is finely plotted.
This gives production staff a good sense of what to expect, but for many writers, like myself, such premeditation takes all the fun out of what I call the “journey of writing” - and the unexpected twists and turns that often appear when we simply follow our instincts with a story.
In my Whitstable Pearl Mystery novels I decided to make a complete break with the usual methods of plotting for TV and to simply trust my instincts. As whodunits, my books are filled with the drama of a murder or two (or three) to be solved, but for story and plot I rely on my characters to tell me where they want to go.
Like my heroine, Pearl Nolan, I am a “people person” so for me a story must always begin with characters – the people who bring a narrative to life and continue to drive it by keeping readers hooked. I’ve mentioned in author talks that it really doesn’t matter how wild a car chase is or whether our hero or heroine ends up hanging by a cliff-top by their fingertips, if we don’t care about those protagonists we won’t care what happens to them. Part of creating credible characters with whom we can empathise is by giving them quirks and foibles – like Pearl, the chef, who hates following recipes…
Pearl comes to readers as a woman on the brink of 40, wondering whether she can revive old dreams and become the detective she always felt that she could be. Twenty years ago she undertook police training but had to give it up when she found she had become pregnant with her son, Charlie. Two decades on, and with her son now at university, “empty nest syndrome” leads her to start up her own detective agency.
Pearl is attractive and brave but we sense her vulnerability in her relationship with the city police detective, Mike McGuire, who has achieved the status she always wanted for herself. While Pearl acts intuitively, McGuire always relies on the certainties of police procedure. They are opposites but, as we all know, opposites attract and so Pearl and McGuire’s “will they/won’t they” love affair underscores the action of the books.
For the plotting of the central crimes I know very little when I begin – only the victim and the method employed for their murder but, by building up a clear picture of who this person was and how they might have related to others, I am actually following the methodology of the investigations used by Pearl and McGuire – though as writer I remain always one step ahead!
In my third book of the series, May Day Murder, the victim is Faye Marlow, a once famous actress who has arrived in Whitstable to open the annual May Day festivities. Like Pearl, Faye is a Whitstable native, but having left the town many years ago, the star has been living in the South of France since her agent's phone stopped ringing. Charming but 'sensitive', she arrives with a small entourage and though her presence in Whitstable causes a stir, Pearl's mother Dolly remains unimpressed, choosing to remember Faye Marlow when she was plain old Frankie Murray - the daughter of a local whelk merchant. When Faye’s body is found tethered to the Maypole at the local castle on the eve of the festival, Pearl begins to discover just how many enemies the actress left behind.
As a theme, archaeology plays a part in this story, as the work of the crime detective resonates with that of the archaeologist - both are digging to uncover a buried truth.
Allowing my characters to lead me where they want to go can sometimes feel like a bit of a magical mystery tour but there’s always a destination at the end – and hopefully it’s a satisfying one for my readers.
May Day Murder is published by Little, Brown in paperback on 1st September. £8.99
May Day Murder by Julie Wassmer
It's springtime and Whitstable is emerging from hibernation. While neither the restaurant nor detective agency is too busy, Pearl resolves to spend some time at the family allotment. But her best friend, Nathan, has persuaded one of his favourite actresses to open the May Day festivities at Whitstable Castle and involves Pearl in his plans. Like Pearl, Faye Marlowe is a Whitstable native, but having left the town more than two decades ago, the star has been living in the South of France since her agent's phone stopped ringing. Charming but 'sensitive', she arrives with a small entourage and though her presence in the town causes a stir Pearl's mother Dolly remains unimpressed, choosing to remember Faye Marlow when she was plain old Frankie Murray, the daughter of a local whelk merchant. Nathan soon realises he has made a mistake with this invitation and his doubts are confirmed when Faye is nowhere to be found on the morning of May Day. And as 'Jack in the Green' puts on his impressive costume to lead the parade, the actress's dead body is discovered - tethered to the maypole on the Castle grounds . . . and so it's left to Pearl and DCI Mike McGuire to unravel the mystery of the May Day murder.
More information about Julie Wassmer you can follow her on Twitter @juliewassmer and on Facebook.