One of the unwritten rules of writing is: never write about writers. Publishers have told me this, my agent has told me this - so why then did I go ahead and write about the murder of a critic at a literary festival?
Perhaps because for so many years I’d been writing about other peoples’ worlds - South Africans, Australians, the Irish, Asian women, Reality TV participants, rock stars, adventurers - but never about the community I exist in, of writers and critics and literary parties and festivals. And once I’d had the idea of describing this strange little ecosystem in a whodunnit, I couldn’t shake it off. I found the fictional world of Mold-on-Wold quietly taking me over, and even as I told myself that this was a terrible project, which I really shouldn’t be doing, my fingers carried on tapping.
I knew early on that it would have to be the critic, Bryce Peabody, who bit the dust. And that several of the suspects would have to be writers, some he had personally attacked. I had also decided that to make things more interesting, Bryce should have a complicated personal life: besides the mother of his children, not just a long-term girlfriend, but a new squeeze too. Was that realistic? A survey of the people I knew in the literary world suggested it was.
What surprised me, though, was how the story unravelled. I had quite carefully planned the first half, but once I got going, characters and situations took me over. I’d had no idea that there was going to be a second murder, and when there was, I was shocked by who it was – or perhaps had to be. By the same token, until I got really quite close to the end, I didn’t know who the murderer was going to be. There were three serious suspects in the frame, then two, and either of them had excellent reasons to do it. Only right at the end did I realize who it had to be.
There was then the fun bit of going back and putting in clues and red herrings, so that when you got to the end, and realized who it was, it all made sense. This seems to me essential in a whodunnit, that everything is clearly there in the text, motives and all. You can’t just suddenly pull a culprit or a motive out of the hat at the last minute.
I enjoyed the process of constructing the puzzle so much, in fact, that I decided fairly quickly I wanted to write another …