This week I’m joined by mystery writer Angela Wren (yep back to where I’m most at home – murder mystery!) Her novels are set in beautiful France which is enough to get me wanting to read for a bit of escapism. As always I’m fascinated by why people choose the locations they use and what the connection is to that place.
Tell us the basic premise of your novel?
At its most basic level, the central plot revolves around the death of a woman. That’s were the book begins and there is a short description of the crime scene included below.
‘la fête des morts
It was the tightly scrunched ball of paper that captured the attention of Magistrate Bruno Pelletier. His trained eyes swept around the room, only glancing at the naked body in the bath, and came to rest once more on the small, ivory-white mass, challenging and silent against the solid plain porcelain of the tiles. He stepped over the large pool of dried blood, iron red against the white of the floor, and, with gloved hands, he retrieved the object. Carefully prising the paper back into its customary rectangular shape, he stared at the contents and frowned as he read and re-read the single six-word sentence printed there.
Je sais ce que tu fais
After a moment, he dropped it into an evidence bag being held open for him by the pathologist.
all hallows’ eve, 2009′
Did you take any inspiration from any real life crimes?
No, I’m really not that interested in reading about real-life crime. To do so seems quite voyeuristic to me. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t take inspiration from real life and everything around me. I do. The scenario in Merle uses my extensive business knowledge in order to create the project management team that the dead woman worked for when she was alive. My experience working in that field enabled me to build a whole office organisation to provide the appropriate, and I hope believable, background within which my investigator, Jacques Forêt, had to work. Some of the scenes in the office were built from a remembered remark or conversation, and by asking myself ‘What If?’, I was able to work up a number of aspects of the central plot. Naturally, some of it was also pure imagination. Trying to get the blalance right is difficult but I tend to look at that kind of detail once the story is finished and I’m working through the various levels of edits required.
Why did you choose the setting you chose and do the locations hold any real life significance to you?
The office environment was critical to the central plot, so the plot really dictated the setting. The location of the Cévennes, in south central France, kind of came about by accident. I spend a lot of time in France and I was in the Cévennes when the very first idea for a story came to me. Although it was only September, I woke up one morning to find that it was snowing and the whole countryside had taken on a new white blanket. The idea that snow could cover someone’s misdeeds had taken root in my head and in December 2015, Messandrierre (Book 1 in the Forêt series) was published. Merle follows on from Messandrierre and begins a few months afterwards.
As for significance – yes the Cévennes is very important to me. It’s a fabulous upland area of France. The village where I like to stay is about 1000m above sea-level, so that’s the equivalent of camping at the top of Snowden, but with better weather! The area is sparsely populated and the villages are tiny and few and far between. The principle city of Mende, sits in a valley about 400m further down the mountain and has a population of around 13,000. Over here, we’d call that a small town! The scenery is stunning, the weather can change in a moment and there’s a silence there that I can’t seem to find anywhere else. It’s a location that I will always go back to.
Did it take a lot of research for your locations and story line?
I suppose the truthful answer to that is Yes and Yes. I’ve been visiting France since I was a teenager, and although I didn’t know it at the time, the research about the country began way back then and has just continued constantly. I have a book-shelf full of journals created on my many visits, I have acres of photographs and a whole forest full of leaflets, pamphlets, maps, and books about France, all of which I refer to from time to time as I’m writing.
However, specifically for Merle, I did need to get some expert advice. Luckily I know some very kind people who were willing to put up with my constant questions. The workings of the office IT system was one issue that I needed to research along with the detailed advice that I required from the West Yorkshire Fire Service – my next door neighbour is a fireman!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I announced to an elderly aunt one Christmas that I wanted to be Shakespeare when I grew up. My defence in making such a rash, and now cringlingly embarrassing, statement is that I was very young at the time. And as you can probably work out, I’m still striving to achieve that particular goal!
Oh didn’t we all want to be Shakespeare at some point! If you could choose a detective to go crime solving with who would you choose and why?
Wow! That’s a really tough question. I’ve always been an avid reader and I grew up on a book-diet of Agatha Christie, Conan-Doyle, Wilkie Collins, Allingham, Sayers and many more besides. I think it would be fascinating to go sleuthing with Gordianus the Finder in the Stephen Saylor books set in ancient Rome. That would give me the opportunity to look at Roman life and times first hand. But then there’s Jane Marple isn’t there? I wouldn’t so much want to go sleuthing with her but I would want to have tea with her and quiz her about herself and her life before she became the astute, elderly observer that she is in the books. But there’s also the gutsy Vera Stanhope, she may not have much dress sense but she’s a down-to-earth solid character. I would probably have to tidy her up before we got down to any detective work!
The more I think about this question, the more I realise that perhaps I should just count myself lucky and say Jacques. Afterall, in creating each of the books, I go sleuthing with him at my side every time I sit at my desk to write.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on the third book, Montbel. Jacques has an old case that he’s asked to review and once he starts to look at it, the more unanswered questions he finds. In time, this book has moved on almost 2 years from the previous one and Jacques is living in the apartment in Mende that he bought during the course of book 2. But, he still comes across the villagers in Messandrierre and spends time there. Gaston and his wife still run the village restaurant and bar and Pierre Mancelle, although a little older, is still keen to be a policeman when he’s an adult. It might be a new and intriguing case but there are still some familiar characters around.
A huge thank you to Angela for stopping by….although I kind of need a holiday in France now….
You can keep up to date with Angela and find out more about Jacques Foret and the next mystery he will be embroiled in here –
Buy the series of books on Amazon here