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The mysterious Lesley Cookman…

I’m delighted to welcome author Lesley Cookman to my blog today. Born in Guildford, Surrey, Lesley spent her early life in south London, before marrying and moving all over the south-east of England. Lesley fell into feature writing by accident, then went on to reviewing for both magazines and radio. She writes for the stage, she has written short fiction for women’s weekly magazines and is a former editor of The Call Boy, the British Music Hall Society journal. Her first Libby Sarjeant novel, Murder In Steeple Martin, was published to much acclaim in 2006.

How did you get started? I began by writing interminable pony stories in Woolworth’s exersise books as a child. Like many writers, I have written all my life, but again, like most novelists, I never considered I could do it for a living!

What draws you to your particular genre? My parents let me loose on their books when, at the age of about nine, I ran out of books of my own to read. (Between visits to the library.) So I began on Ngaio Marsh, John Dickson Carr and Rex Stout, all crime writers, and that was it. Mind you, they also let me read Thorne Smith who, at the time, was very racy. I think they assumed the naughty bits would go over my head.

How was Libby Sarjeant born? Was she a character running round in your head that you always wanted to write about?  No, she just appeared in my head fully formed. Funnily enough, the particular setting changed when I began to write the first book, so obviously that first one wasn’t where she really lived.

What makes such a heroine e.g. sleuth, police detective, so attractive to readers? The writer makes the character attractive, and if she/he doesn’t, then there’s no chance for the series – because that’s what readers are interested in – the series. Readers tell me reading my books is like relaxing with old friends, and that’s exactly how I felt when I first began reading crime. I couldn’t wait until a new book by one of my favourite authors came out because I liked the regular characters. The difficulty is maintaining the interest with new plots, which, for an amateur sleuth, is just a tad awkward…

To plot or not to plot? Are you a planner or do you just dive in? Dive in. I know a rough idea, but rarely do I know the murderer, the murderee, how it’s done or anything else about it. Then the pictures start to form and I plough ahead. This frequently lands me in hot water, like the time my editor told me I had to find a new murderer because the current one was far too sympathetic. Or in my current one, where, a few chapters in, I’ve discovered my murder method, on which the whole story hangs, is impossible. Cue complete rewrite, putting me somewhat behind!

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you? Keeping it going. And keeping myself motivated to sit at my desk day after day.

Do you enjoy research, and how do you set about it? I do most of my research on the internet, usually as I come across a problem in the story. I also use social networking sites to ask questions, and usually there’s someone out there who can help.

How do you develop your characters? I don’t, I’m afraid! They all appear fully formed, just as Libby did. I occasionally have to find out back story for them, but they’ll usually tell me. I know what they all look like, sound like and think like. I was delighted when at a recent library event the audience started telling me what my characters would and wouldn’t do – and what I could and couldn’t do with them!

How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing? Writing’s the day job rather than an interest. I read mostly, watch documentaries, nature and history programmes on television and occasionally perform at my local theatre. I also go to as many gigs played by my children as I can.

Are you into social networking, and in what way do you feel it helps your career? I was pushed into it by my publishers, but now love it. I use Facebook for keeping up with the family and non-writer friends and Twitter for the writerly stuff. I’ve found new readers, been stocked by new bookshops, had events organised for me and made new friends through Twitter.

What is your latest book? Murder At The Manor, the ninth Libby Sarjeant adventure, out on November 7th in paperback and ebook.

Can you tell us something of your work in progress? Murder By Magic, the tenth Libby and Fran adventure, to which I’ve already referred. This is the one where I’m have to completely rewrite what I’ve done so far – not good when it’s due out on June 7th 2012!

And finally, what advice would you give a new writer? Read, read, read. Make sure you know what’s being published in your preferred genre. Established writers may be allowed to take risks, new writers rarely so. And don’t make the mistake of self-publishing your first finished novel, even if the stories of self e-pubbing tempt you. Serve your apprenticeship first.  Oh – and read.

Thank you, Lesley, for being such a great guest and for your insights about writing. Good luck with Murder at the Manor.

Find out more from Lesley’s website

4 comments to The mysterious Lesley Cookman…

  • What a lovely interview, although I think Lesley’s being very modest about her ‘fully-formed’ characters! There’s a lot of talent involved in creating characters who you feel you can relax with, like Libby and Fran who do feel like old friends.

    My parents let me loose on their books at a young age too – with the result that I, also, had that ‘oo-er, I don’t think I should be reading this’ feeling from time-to-time!

  • Liz Harris

    An interesting interview, Alison and Lesley. Thank you for it.

    It brings back memories – I used to love Ngaio Marsh, and also Leslie Charteris and Earl Stanley Gardener. My all-time favourite, however, was Agatha Christie.

    Liz X

  • Alison

    I know what you mean, Chris, about reading what we naively called slightly risqué passages in books!

  • Alison

    Liz – Leslie Charteris. Yes! I was half in love with Simon Templar. But I always wanted to be the Saint and thought ‘Steve’ was a bit wet.

    Now we have great female sleuths and crimebusters now, of every variety, no little thanks to writers like Lesley.