Interview with Cenarth Fox, author of The Detective Joanna Best Mysteries
Today it gives the Indie Crime Scene great pleasure to interview Cenarth Fox, author of The Detective Joanna Best Mysteries and much, much more!
You are a prolific writer, having written not only crime fiction for adults and children, but also plays and musicals. How did it all start for you?
As a teenager I wrote. I didn’t think about being a writer, I just did it. I meet students when I give talks in schools and some say they want to be a writer. I had no such thoughts, plans or ambitions. As a teenager, I’d write an article for a newsletter and include a poem. I didn’t think about it, I just did it. At Teachers’ College and University I performed in plays and music theatre and, again without planning, I started writing for the stage.
When creating a new sleuth like Joanna Best, are there any tropes to avoid - or invoke?
People will read something I’ve written and ask why I favour or oppose such and such. I have no idea why they have that opinion. I wasn’t even thinking of the topic they raise. With political correctness and woke culture alive and well, I don’t consciously promote or avoid tropes. I prefer the Noel Coward philosophy of helping audience members in the theatre to forget their daily routine for two hours and immerse themselves in the story. Educating the reader is good but my goal is always to entertain. I want readers to want to turn the page.
As an Australian writer of crime fiction, what special themes or subjects do you want to tackle, as opposed to someone in the US, or a Brit?
I think crime fiction is universal and I tackle universal themes, all found in the US and the UK. Online fraud, gangsters, corruption, family disputes, revenge porn, serial killers, international crooks, drug dealers, cold cases, kidnapping and homicide are found in everyone’s backyard.
Is the Australian crime fiction very different to those others, or are there many similarities?
Writers are unique and language varies but crime fiction has the same ingredients – the crime, the culprit and the cop. In my Jo Best novels I have a page at the front of each of the 8 novels with a mini dictionary explaining certain terms. Readers in the UK would know about a Glaswegian Kiss but perhaps not so in the US. And any reader in the Northern Hemisphere might be gobsmacked if a drongo ever became PM.
I read their work then found interest in the creator as much as their creations. Mrs Christie and Doctor Doyle led fascinating lives. The plays Agatha Crispie and The Real Sherlock Holmes became the novels Almost Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes – Playing the Game. Because the plays were so successful, I turned each into a novel. I’ve done the same about the Reverend Patrick Bronte and the Bard. The play Saucy Pat became the novel Cassocked Savage, and the play Shakespeare in Saigon became the novel Noodles for Shakespeare.
Are there any particular challenges when writing about a pre-existing character like Holmes?
Get it right. For Ben Elton to write the TV series Upstart Crow, he needed to know the period, the personal lives and of course the plays inside out. My novel about Holmes deals with the many mistakes Dr Watson (Conan Doyle) made in the 60 stories. Writing about real people or famous characters means you must research until it hurts.
What do you think of recent versions of Holmes on the small screen, such as Sherlock and Elementary?
Love Sherlock and enjoy Elementary. I thought perhaps having a female Watson as in Elementary would put a dampener on things but then I’ve done the same in my five books for young readers with The Schoolboy Sherlock Holmes. Nicholas Twit (Sherlock) is almost 11 and Felicity (Watson) is 14. It’s Nick ‘n Flick.
You have written eight novels in the Detective Joanna Best mysteries series. Will there be more?
Ah, the sneaky question. Spoiler alert! Each of the novels states, “To be continued” at their end with Book 8, The Covid Killer being slightly different. I don’t wish to spoil the reader’s enjoyment and if I told you, I would have to put out a contract on you.
It’s very important. A sidekick gives the writer the opportunity to reveal/expose the main character. Are the characters colleagues, friends, lovers, or enemies? Do they teach one another skills, complement one another? Do they help or hinder? Sometimes the relationship between the crime-busting partners defines how the crime is investigated and even solved. I have the cop, the doc and the geek. Jo Best is the detective, Doctor Gabrielle Strange is the chocoholic pathologist, and Michael Chan is the ABC (Australian Born Chinese) computer genius with a cat called Alan (Turing).
What made you choose a young woman protagonist, and can you tell us a bit about Best herself - described as “brilliant at cracking cases and rubbing people up the wrong way”?
Because she’s young and good, not perfect mind, some more experienced officers grow to hate her, and even try to ruin her career. As characters, I find females far more interesting than males. I have three stage shows – Scrubbers, The Merry Widows and Stage Mothers – each written for five females. To best explain Ms Best, I have two free publications: Who Is Jo Best? and Somebody Murdered Maggie. The first is a PDF revealing Jo Best’s childhood, family, education, boyfriends, hobbies and early career. The second is a novella, a prequel to the Jo Best Mysteries. Both are available by request to email@example.com. The first novel in the series, The Code of Monte Christo, is also free from www.cenfoxbooks.com
Not cosy or cozy. The crimes are closer to Dr Tony Hill than Miss Marple and humour and irony play a biggish part. The novels are gritty without being gory. It has been said Agatha Christie didn’t chose the character “who done it” until the penultimate chapter. I like to make it a challenge for my readers many of whom guess the wrong character as the killer.
Tell us a bit about the series so far.
In the Victoria Police, a uniformed officer cannot become a detective unless they have attained the rank of Senior Constable. This is where we begin. Senior Constable Jo Best is a uniformed officer off to an interview in the hope of joining the Homicide Squad. Her elderly grandfather, the retired Detective Chief Inspector John ‘Robbo’ Robertson once ran the Homicide Squad. Does nepotism count for anything? No and having her uniform and French bun wrecked making an arrest while waiting for her train, meant she fronted the interview looking like a slapper. Fearing the worst, Jo is stunned when offered the chance to follow in her Pop’s footsteps. But as she starts her first case, a double homicide, she discovers her divorced mother has been fleeced of her savings by some Internet gigolo. It’s the story of Jo’s new life; juggling family disasters, fighting off amorous males and solving murders. Go Jo.
Carefully. Doing two things at the same time is dangerous. I was editing Book 8 of Jo Best while writing Book 2 of the Louise ‘Plum’ Wellesley WW2 thrillers. Not a good idea. Once I saved a Best file in the Plum folder. Juggling is not recommended especially at midnight.
What are you reading at the moment and do you have any favourite authors within or outside the crime genre?
Many favourites. I’m giving a talk in February 2021 at the Dickens Fellowship on Dickens and Doyle so have been catching up on some of their classics. I’m a DI Rebus fan and can’t believe Ian Rankin is still turning out books in that series: 20 something. The Australian novelist Jane Harper has written several novels with The Dry hugely successful. There isn’t a wasted word in her writing.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing a play, As Farce As You Can where the actors will lose weight because there are so many entrances and exits. In 1990 I started a novel with a working title of Barnum Was Right and wrote 30K words. The title is from his quote, “There is a sucker born every minute,” but no-one is sure he actually said it. So with a new title, I hope to finish the novel 30 years after starting. On and there’s A Plum Jig (Book 3) to go with A Plum Job and A Plum Jam, and possibly more from Jo Best. Possibly.
Have coronavirus and the various related restrictions made any difference to your writing practice?
None. I quit teaching in 1985 and have worked from home ever since. I’ve been in lockdown for 35 years.
About Cenarth (Ken) Fox:
Cenarth is a Welsh name pronounced Ken-arth. As a writer he has created the following material.
The Invisible Radio Show, The Story of Jazz, The Elements of Music and The History of Rock ‘n Roll broadcast on ABC radio.
A trilogy of plays, a novel and a series of five children’s books about Sherlock Holmes.
Plays about famous people including Shakespeare, Dickens, the Brontës, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.
Fifteen novels including the World War 2 thrillers A Plum Job and A Plum Jam, Cassocked Savage, a fictional account of the life of the father of the Bronte sisters, Tricky Conscience, a medical thriller and Noodles for Shakespeare, a tale of Vietnamese refugees in a retelling of Pygmalion Down Under, and eight books in the series, The Detective Joanna Best Mysteries.
His non-fiction titles include The Stage Musical, How to Write and Sell Your Plays, Staging Successful Shows, Play It Again Ham, Drama Skits ‘n Tips, 48 Mini Plays, 25 Mini Musicals and Poetry in Motion.
Paperbacks from bookshops via Ingram Spark
Paperbacks and eBooks available from Amazon