After a twenty year career writing popular television dramas like Eastenders, I’m often asked how I have found the transition to writing crime novels – and my answer is always that it’s a very enjoyable one.
Essentially, I am a storyteller and, like my heroine, Pearl Nolan, I am also a “people person” so for me any story always begins with its characters – the people who will bring that narrative to life.
Whether the plot unfolds on a TV or cinema screen, or within the pages of a book, it’s the characters who drive it by keeping a viewer or reader hooked. It 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, so my starting point is always coming up with characters we can believe in and empathise which is why they’re given their quirks and foibles – like Pearl, the chef, who hates following recipes…
In my Whitstable Pearl Mysteries, 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. She is attractive and brave but ultimately vulnerable in her relationship with the city police detective Mike McGuire who has achieved the status she always wanted for herself but while Pearl acts intuitively, McGuire relies on the certainty of formal procedure. They are opposites but as we all know, opposites attract and this “will they/won’t they” love affair underscores the action of the books. If I ever get lost in my plot, I always return to my central characters and ask them where it is they want to go. To date, they have never let me down.
In my work at Eastenders, I learned to write a hook at the end of every scene and a cliffhanger at the end of every episode – and old habits die hard. In my Whitstable Pearl Mysteries I try to put a hook at the end of every chapter and, though each book comes with its own crime denouement, there is always, hopefully, a question left as to how the relationship between Pearl and McGuire might progress.
Some readers have told me they read my books in one sitting as they feel compelled to read on to the next chapter – others say they can almost almost hear those big Eastenders’ drumbeats sounding as they reach a dramatic plot point.
As a storyteller, that’s always music to my ears.