Interview with Jan Edwards, author of the "Bunch Courtney Investigates" historical mysteries

The Indie Crime Scene is pleased to interview Jan Edwards, author of Winter Downs and the upcoming In Her Defence in the Bunch Courtney Investigates series of historical mysteries. This interview was conducted by Dennis Chekalov.

How did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?

It sounds corny but I have to be honest and say I don’t recall a time when being a teller of tales wasn’t an aspiration. I spent one summer holiday, aged around eight or nine, speaking in the third person because I was imagining my world as a book. To be fair I didn’t know what ‘third person’ was at that age but I had a whole raft of characters who got up to all kinds of things. These were characters in my  book and not imaginary friends I hasten to add! So when did I realise?  Apparently at some point before my ninth  birthday.

Why did you choose WWII as your historical setting?

I have always loved Golden Age crime and having written some Sherlock Holmes shorts, as well as some diesel punk set in the 1920s/30s it somehow seemed a natural progression.

Where I was brought up in Sussex the landscape is – or at least was back then – littered with remnants of the defences thrown up in haste between 1939 and 42. Pillboxes and dugouts  that were supposed to be secret rendezvous for a small army of resistance fighters in the event of the expected invasion were our playgrounds. Being born in the decade following WW2 it was part of the psyche as I grew up and simply rose to the surface when I started out with Winter Downs.

How do you conduct research for your books?

Ooh – don’t start me on research! It’s a favourite subject. Love it! I can and do spend many happy hours chasing down small facts, either among my books or online,  which quite often will appear as a single sentence in the finished book. I strongly believe that a writer needs to get it right. This is valid whether it is contemporary or historical fiction. Small details may seem inconsequential but they build up a picture.

In researching Winter Downs the subject of gasmasks springs to mind. I was asked at a reading why my characters did not carry gasmasks. The person asking me this was convinced that it was an offence not to do so. Fortunately I had done some extensive research on the subject and knew that masks were issued for every adult and child during 1939, by January 1940 it was estimated that less than 20% or the population were bothering to carry them. The rest had apparently hung them on the coat stand in the hall where they remained until 1946. 

I read (buy) a lot of books on the subject. These can be biographies of ordinary people as well as those historical volumes that concentrate on specialist areas. There are many manuals of the era available. E.G. Land Girl handbooks, pamphlets on ration book cookery, SOE training manuals.
The internet is obviously a huge resource, though I always try to find at least two unrelated sources to confirm any facts. It is amazing how many times the same facts will appear verbatim on a dozen or more sites, which is fine of those facts are accurate but I have sometimes found that not to be the case. Yes the internet is a fabulous resource but it can also be terribly misleading. The same thing applies to relying on your own memory.

Tell us please about your main character, Bunch Courtney.

Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney has grown up with the best things in life. Bunch is her nickname in a slightly dysfunctional family. Her parents who were often away so that she was raised largely by outsiders.
Then, in 1939, her family home, the one stable element in her life, is requisitioned by the MOD. She struggles to cope with its sudden removal so that when a close friend apparently then kills himself she immerses herself in proving he was, in fact, murdered, and did not shoot himself everybody else insists.

Will your series include a cast of supporting characters, or will Bunch Courtney solve detective mysteries solo? What about Chief Inspector Wright — will we meet him again?

In Bunch Courtney Investigates #2: In Her Defence, and the provisionally titled #3: Bruised Lilacs, Chief Inspector Wright figures large. I love delving into the dynamics that is developing between them and think there is a story still to tell there. I have two more in planning with every intention on having the Courtney/Wright still working in tandem and ideas for several more. For now DCI Wright is a fixture. But Will Bunch ever go it alone? Who can tell... 

When will we see the next book about Bunch Courtney? What will it be about?

In Her Defence is due out later this year with Bruised Lilacs hopefully following in early summer 2019. IHD deals with the problems of enemy aliens and how they were perceived by the general public and starts with the poisoning of a Dutch refugee on market day in a crowded hotel/pub where Bunch is having lunch with her sister Daphne. Bruised Lilacs looks at the problems that arise as the Blitz forces many to flee into the countryside every evening to avoid the bombings. These people were called Trekkers (long before Kirk was boldly going :-) )

Dr. Who is one of the most popular sci-fi series; please introduce to us Olive Hawthorne. What’s her role in the Dr. Who Universe? 

Olive Hawthorne was a witch who realises that the village is in great danger but is initially dismissed as a crank. I found her a fascinating character. Possibly one of the few strong female characters of the Dr Who era, and I would include many of the doctor’s companions whose sole function often appeared to be getting themselves captured for the Doctor to rescue. To be fair some of the male companions were much the same, but Olive was that rare thing, a woman in those older shows who stood up to the Doctor. She was even able to resist the mesmeric gifts of the Master. A strong female all round. I had great fun helping to bring her to life for The Daemons of Devil’s End DVD and the Telos book of the same title, whicht came out shortly afterwards.

Other famous characters with whom you are well acquainted are Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, Dracula. Who is your favourite? Why?

I have a soft spot for Holmes, and in the books and also the Jeremy Brett TV  era, for Watson. I get quite cross with TV and Film versions who insist in portraying Watson as the comic buffoon. And though I know many will disagree with me I would include the writers of the most recent BBC Watson in that.

Why do I like Holmes? I suppose he was the father of the whodunnit. Agatha very expertly fleshed out that construct, but in essence Poirot is Holmes’s direct descendant.

Please present us your other short fiction.

I would have to direct you to my blog and let you look for yourself. Most of my 50 odd short stories are either supernatural or folk horror.  I have written several Holmes stories, including one for The Mammoth Book of Moriarty and of course a part of the The Daemons of Devil's End – which is the book from the DVD.  My next short in print, ‘A Small Thing for Yolanda’ will be out later this year in Into the Night Eternal: Tales of French Folk Horror, with Lycopolis Press, which is based on the famous unsolved crime of the murder in the Metro, so crime but with a fantastical twist.

Many of my short stories can be read in my two collections, Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties and Fables and Fabrications.

 Please tell us about your awards and nominations. What do they mean to you?

My first award was the Slim Volume prize for Sussex Tales, which was a prize gathered at the Winchester Writers Conference. I have had several short stories nominated for awards and one, ‘Otterburn’ short listed for a British Fantasy Award. The Alchemy Press gained a best Small Press award which I won co-jointly with my husband a BFS award for Best Small Press and last year I received a Karl Edward Wagner Award for body of work. My Alchemy Press Ancient Wonders and Urban Mythic 1 & 2 anthologies with Jenny Barber all gained nominations and/or were shortlisted for awards as was the Wicked Women antho that we edited for Fox Spirit. Full details on my blog site.

The most recent award is the Arnold Bennett Book  Prize for Winter Downs, a golden age crime novel, which was reviewed on this site a few months ago.

All  of them mean something to me because they are a sign that my work is getting out to the readers. And more to the point being read and enjoyed.

About Jan Edwards:

Jan Edwards is a Sussex-born writer now living in the West Midlands with her husband and obligatory cats. She was a Master Locksmith for 20 years but also tried her hand at bookselling, microfiche photography, livery stable work, motorcycle sales and market gardening. She is a practising Reiki Master. She won a Winchester Slim Volume prize and her short fiction can be found in crime, horror and fantasy anthologies in UK, US and Europe; including The Mammoth Book of Dracula and The Mammoth Book of Moriarty. Jan edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Press, and has written for Dr Who spin-offs with Reel Time Pictures.