Today our guest blogger is Lesley Cookman, an author who is probably most widely known for murder mysteries featuring her amateur sleuth, Libby Sarjeant.
But Lesley also writes in lots of other genres.
Lesley is the author of seven pantomimes, a Music Hall Musical, two romances and sixteen books in the Libby Sarjeant series. She has also written the first in what she hopes will become a new series about an Edwardian Concert Party. In describing her professional life, Lesley says she “writes a lot, reads a lot and occasionally acts a bit.” Sounds like a typically tongue-in-cheek description!
Libertà hive members know what it’s like to keep trying to find new plots for romantic entanglements, but Lesley’s challenge is probably even greater. Her sleuth is established, but how do you find yet another scenario for an unexplained death that your amateur sleuth can solve?
Over to Lesley…
New Ideas for the Amateur Sleuth
New ideas for the amateur sleuth?
“If only,” says the beleaguered writer.
“Can’t wait,” says the eager reader.
Suspension of Disbelief
I sometimes think that, apart from Fantasy Fiction, the amateur sleuth mystery is the one genre in which readers are the most determined to suspend disbelief. Take my own Libby Sarjeant. How could one middle-aged woman actually fall over murders in sixteen novels, one novella and a short story? That’s eighteen crimes she has managed to investigate.
Mind you, Miss Marple allegedly clocked up 32. All unpaid, too. She just kept on asking questions, nosy old besom. Miss Silver, Patricia Wentworth’s creation, actually turned private investigator. What seems to drive my Libby is a combination of curiosity and kindness. And coincidence.
America has wholeheartedly embraced the amateur sleuth. It produces dozens of different sub-genres within what it neatly labels “Cosy crime” — um, that’s British spelling there — where a decent citizen applies experience and common sense deduction. The reader follows the clues while having fun in the company of the sleuth and her (or his) friends. You have Quilting Mysteries, Book Shop Mysteries, Cat Mysteries (very popular) and many more. Even Dog Mysteries.
From the writer’s point of view, this increases plotting problems, though. Find one body pinned to the ground with a crochet hook in your wool shop, that’s unfortunate. Find another, that’s suspicious. A third? Well, that’s simply careless.
My Libby Sarjeant series is mostly set in a traditional English village. Libby has lived there for ever and runs its little theatre. Some of her investigations have been connected to the theatre itself, some connected to her friends and relations, their dark pasts, Dark Ages (yes, really) and village history.
But Libby is a modern woman. She has also encountered people trafficking, illegal immigration, homophobia…
You name it, I’ve dabbled in it.
Finding New Scenarios
One of my four grown-up children — who is auditioning to be my permanent assistant — is my son Miles. He frequently comes up with brilliant new ideas. The book I’m currently writing is one of his. “What’s become one of the biggest current crazes, Mum?” he asked one day. “Running. Everyone’s doing it, and posting their mileage online. They’re addicted.” He was right, and Murder On The Run, was born.
A year or so ago, it was “Ukuleles. They’re all over the place. There’s a band or club in every town and village.” And there was Murder Out Of Tune!
People in general try to be very helpful. I’ve lost count of the suggestions I’ve had to set a book at one of the very popular Murder Mystery events. I actually act for a company that produces these — and do you know how many books have been set in them? Dozens. Including one by the sainted Ngaio Marsh, creator of the Roderick Alleyn novels.
Readers tell me they want to see Libby and her friends solving crime at festivals too, literature, music or otherwise. I am thinking of taking up Miles’s suggestion of a beer festival…
The Bottom Line
As for advice — well. Just pick your favourite activity and stick a murder in. It’s probably been done before but your bassoonist beer brewer will give it his own spin. And the readers will revel in it.
Many Thanks to Lesley Cookman for her Sideways Slant on Scenarios for the Amateur Sleuth
This is the stunning poster for Lesley’s latest book in the Libby Sarjeant series — number 16! Murder Dancing is available from your local Amazon. You can find out more about Lesley’s writing on her website And we imagine we’ll get the first glimpse of the cover for Murder On The Run there. Soon, we hope?