Auntie M recently had a chance to interview Cambridge author Charlot King. She’ll tell readers about her two series, The Cambridge Murder Mysteries, and Animal Tales.

Auntie M: You write the Cambridge Murder Mystery series but just brought out a new series, Animal Tales, very different. What prompted the switch?

Charlot King: Stories pop into my head, and I write them. I reckon it’s more of an addition than a switch. I’m still writing a lot more Cambridge Murder Mysteries if I’m spared, as I enjoy writing them. But sometimes, it’s nice to try something different, and the two series could not be more different. I hope that those readers of the Cambridge Murder Mysteries who try the Animal Tales will enjoy them. I don’t have a long-term plan; the strongest story or character at the time gets my attention.

AM: The covers on both series are wonderful, very eye-catching. Who designs them for you, and do you have input?

CK: I’ve commissioned Robin Howlett to illustrate all my stories so far. I have initial ideas of how I’d like each of the covers to look. I then give Robin a brief, and he brings each one to life. I wanted to find an illustrator who could draw art deco well. I struck lucky with Robin. I found him by spotting his poster illustrations and only afterwards discovered that he lives really near me. We have since been to the pub together on more than one occasion, and I count him as a friend!

AM: The mysteries give readers a great setting in Cambridge. Was it always on your mind to set them there?

CK: Places leave a strong impression on me, like they’re a living character or someone I know. I’m sure lots of people feel the same way. I write about other places in other books that I love, too, but the Cambridge Murder Mysteries are an homage to the city I live in that’s captured my heart. Cambridge is a very beautiful place, and there are so many little streets and alleyways, perfect for setting a murder or two. I don’t think I’d ever run out of places to stage the next murder mystery.

AM: You do a series of photographs of Cambridge taken on walks with your dog, Moobear . I keep telling you they should be made into notecards or postcards; they’re that good. Is your photographer’s eye something you call on when writing the mysteries?
Charlot King and Moobear:

CK: That is kind of you, I’m a total amateur, and all the photos are on my iPhone. Just snaps. I like to capture moments, steal them for later. I’m in awe of beauty generally. Who isn’t? I don’t set out to photograph Moobear either, she just mostly walks into the shot! I find walking more than therapeutic. It is part of who I am. Wherever I am, if I’m indoors for too long I get a strong urge to get outside. I don’t mean that I’m a mountain climber, but if I had all the time in the world, I’d love to walk from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. At rambling or wandering pace. With lots of stop offs for tea and cake. Perhaps it’s something about slowing down? Chatting to people through happenstance? The photographs are just something I do when I’m out walking. If I had to give up one of them, it would be the photography.

AM: The Animal Tales showcase your affinity for animals. Have you always loved animals?

CK: Wouldn’t it be a boring and strange planet without them? If they could talk, everything would be so different… When I was younger, the family always had dogs and cats. We mostly lived in towns, and when I was very little, I wanted a pony, mainly from reading the Norman Thelwell books. I also wanted a lion, after watching Daktari on Saturday morning television. I suppose as I grew older I realised that would be a bad idea. But I’ve always wanted to share my life with animals as I think they teach us so much. They are humbling and awe-inspiring. And they deserve better than they get from humanity.

AM: Elizabeth Green is the professor who does the sleuthing in your Cambridge Murder Mysteries. How did you develop her character?

CK: Back in the early 2000s, I was on a walk in Chilham near Canterbury in Kent – of all places. My father had been the head teacher in the village, and I wanted to go back and take my family to see it. While walking, we saw this lady standing outside her back gate. She had such an intelligent face and was engrossed in conversation. Her voice boomed out as we walked by. The idea came to me as I was walking past her. I have no idea who she was, but she inspired me. As we drove back home, I already had the first murder in my head.

AM: There’s a lot of science involved in those plots. Do you do the research yourself or have a good resource?

CK: I studied politics for my first degree, but then for my PhD, I studied public policy and biotechnology. Specifically, I looked at the deliberate release of genetically manipulated organisms and public policy. I am not a biologist, but I did have to read up on an awful lot of genetics, biology and botany. So I draw heavily on memory and books on poisons. I try as best I can to be accurate, but my novels are in no way police procedural. They are just stories, so I’d hope my readers like them for other reasons than for their scientific precision.

AM: Who were your influences to turn to crime fiction when you started writing?

CK: Colin Dexter and Agatha Christie for sure, but I don’t read crime fiction these days. I used to read a lot when I was younger. I think the books that influenced me the most – which I think this question is about – came to me when I studied the Politics of English Literature as a module for part of my first degree at the L.S.E. It covered the whole sweep of political novelists, poets and playwrights. I was in heaven on that course, reading Woolf, Wilde, Shaw, Thomas, Huxley, Yeats, Joyce, Orwell, the list goes on. Our teacher, Professor Black, would take us to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club for some of our lessons.

I also like a bit of poetry. Favourites at the moment include: ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, by Rupert Brooke (there’s a lovely recording of that poem on YouTube by the way!) Also, love listening to Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’, read by Richard Burton. Dylan Thomas’ poem, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ was particularly helpful recently, as I lost my father just last year. Perhaps that’s why I’m going through a phase of reading a number of autobiographies by comedians. My heart belongs to comedy. I’m just not a funny writer. I’ve tried.

AM: What’s a writing day like for Charlot King when you’re working on a manuscript?

CK: I aim to write 1,000 words a day. Sometimes it comes quickly. Sometimes it takes ages. I find writing the first draft the most enjoyable. But, I spend most of the time rewriting a book. Probably 80% is rewriting for me. That is a much more agonising task. I much prefer making up the story in the first place. I like the puzzle. I expect one day a computer will do all the hard rewriting for us. Can’t wait.

AM: Finally, whose books would we find on your nightstand, waiting to be read?

CK: I’ve mentioned I like reading autobiographies about British comics. I’ve just bought Paul O’ Grady’s ‘Country Life’. I don’t tend to read at night, as my eyes are pretty shot and need the rest.

AM: Where can readers find your books?

CK: Amazon around the world, and if they are in Cambridge, Heffers Bookshop. And if any of your readers are on Twitter, please do get in touch. I’m @queencharlot. Or Instagram is charlot_king_cambridge, and my website is charlotking.com.

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