My featured read this week is the mystery thriller Cause of Death by Anna Legat. This is the third book in The Shires Mysteries series. Cause of Death was published by Headline Accent on 14th April. Anna has dropped by to tell us all about the book, and her writing life. So grab a cuppa, get comfy and let’s get chatting. 😊
All is not well in the village. The local meadows have been the pride of Bishops Well for hundreds of years, but now they are facing the sharp blades of developers. The landowner is a rich and reclusive author who is happy to see them destroyed, but the villagers – including Sam Dee and Maggie Kaye – are fighting back.
Until, that is, someone decides to silence one of their number permanently.
As Maggie and Sam soon discover, there is more than a quick buck to be made in the developers’ plans. There are age-old secrets and personal vendettas that could have deadly repercussions in Bishops Well today.
With Sam’s legal expertise and Maggie’s… well, Maggie-ness, they delve into the past, determined to unearth the truth. And, as sparks begin to fly, could there finally be something more between this sleuthing duo?
Welcome, Anna. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Always, or at least, since I can remember. As soon as I became a reader, I decided that the natural progression from reading would be to write. While my friends dreamt of becoming film stars, I was busy writing scripts and sketches for them. As they performed on the stage of my veranda, I was writing the next episode.
I wrote “books” from an early age, usually shameless and pale imitations of my favourite writers, and I personally illustrated them by copy-tracing pictures from my father’s encyclopaedia. There were a few harder images which I actually cut out and glued into my “books” (sorry, Dad).
Writing has been my escape throughout my extensive travels when I would find myself suspended between my old, familiar worlds and the new, alien ones. When you are a newcomer in a new unfamiliar world, writing about what you know keeps you grounded and sane.
Although I was always planning to be a writer, I actually trained to be a lawyer and spent many bemused years practising law. Originally I dreamt of studying Russian literature, or archaeology, or philosophy, or journalism. My parents greeted all of those ideas with disdain, but they said they would support me if I went for something sensible, like law or education. Indeed, after years in law, I requalified as a teacher and spent another decade doing … something other than writing books. But I never stopped dreaming of becoming a writer.
Has any author inspired you?
A whole succession of brilliant writers left a lasting mark on my authorial psyche.
My earliest influence came from Jules Verne. I loved Jules Verne as a child and read all of his books from my school library. Some of them I read more than once. If I saw a new cover for the title I’d already read, I would try it again just in case Mr Verne had added something new to the story (I didn’t realise he was long dead). When I ran out of Verne’s books, I immediately embarked on writing follow-up stories featuring his characters who I could not bring myself to say goodbye to. I think nowadays you’d call that fan-fiction.
Later, in my angst-ridden teens, I fell in love with Dostoyevsky. Crime and Punishment was my baptism of fire. I don’t think I slept much in the week when I churned through that hefty volume. I was totally and wholly captivated. If I could ever recreate in my writing Dostoyevsky’s depth of psychological insight, I would die a happy author.
In my twenties, I discovered Anne Rice and her Mayfair Witches and Vampire Chronicles. It was long before Hollywood turned Interview with the Vampire into a blockbuster starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Again, as with my previous idols, I attempted to emulate Anne Rice’s style and wrote a rather awful pastiche of The Witching Hour, called Be Gone.
Finally, I must mention Ruth Rendell. I love her suspense and psychological thrillers, especially those written as Barbara Vine. She is a master at getting into the villain’s head without losing compassion for the victim and compromising her wider social awareness. I wish I could write a book or two as good as one of hers.
What do you like writing most?
I like writing what I enjoy reading, so crime fiction, suspense and thrillers are definitely my genre. But I do like diversity and experimentation so I will sometimes stray into new and exciting genres, such as satire and humour or dystopian science fiction. I am now toying with the idea of an alternative history series.
Do you have a special place for writing?
I’m lucky enough to have been able to claim a room in my house as my study. It’s my private space which I keep organised in my own “artistic” chaos. At the centre of it stands my desk surrounded by a multitude of photographs, paintings and illustrations. I have a small bookcase which is groaning under the load of volumes I have managed to squeeze into it, some of them being author copies of my books, but most of them are written by others.
In lockdown I relocated to take residency in the sitting room so that I can keep my dog company (she’s has become rather needy and tends to climb upstairs and hide under various beds if there is no one downstairs to keep an eye on her antics). I am tempted to move back to my study as writing hunched-up over a dwarf-size desk isn’t doing my posture any favours.
Are you a pantster or a plotter?
I am a plotter who invariably becomes a pantser as the story unfolds. My storylines (as tightly-plotted as they are at their conception) tend to go off piste and meander through various detours, gaining unexpected (to me) twists and turns along the way. Usually they end up in the place I originally planned but getting there is another story altogether.
Is your writing ever inspired by your family or real life incidents?
Yes, and in most cases it is probably entirely unintended. I seem to absorb events into my subconsciousness and then they suddenly pop up in my books. Family members turn up in my stories here and there, but I don’t deliberately set out to immortalise them in my books. I also mix and match people’s characteristics so no fictional character of mine is a faithful replica of a real person.
Years ago I wrote a book inspired by my family history – a fictionalised event that occurred during WWII of which I am rather proud, but I am yet to seriously consider having it published.
What are you writing at the moment?
Of course, I am plotting the next instalment in The Shires Mysteries, and I am very much looking forward to writing it. This series provides a lot of entertainment to me as a writer. I’m having tons of fun with it.
I am also writing a trilogy of crime thrillers with a distinctly Chinese flavour, and that means a lot of time spent on research. I am on my second book. The working title for my trilogy is Goode’s Law.
What are your hobbies?
Apart from writing? Hm…
If we don’t count writing and reading, I have very little time left to do much else, but I do enjoy drawing and painting, have recently started dabbling in graphic arts and attempted a couple of craft projects using my sewing machine. And if the weather permits, I do like to hike. And to ramble (although that automatically entails lots of thinking about… yes, you guessed it – writing.
What advice would you give to other writers?
Firstly, I would share Hilary Mantel’s advice which boils down to this five-point plan:
1. Keep your hand moving
2. No crossing out
3. Forget grammar
4. Forget logic
5. Embrace the scary
Can’t argue with Hilary Mantel.
My advice is simple:
3. Write, and
4. Keep reading!
What are your future plans as an author?
I want to continue with my existing crime fiction projects, but I also want to diversify a little into other genres, such as alternative history thrillers or black comedy, and just some genre-defiant writing that I will simply enjoy doing.
You certainly sound very busy, Anna! Thank you for giving us such an interesting interview. I hope your book flies!
Anna Legat is a Wiltshire-based author, best known for her DI Gillian Marsh murder mystery series. A globe-trotter and Jack-of-all-trades, Anna has been an attorney, legal adviser, a silver-service waitress, a school teacher and a librarian. She read law at the University of South Africa and Warsaw University, then gained teaching qualifications in New Zealand. She has lived in far-flung places all over the world where she delighted in people-watching and collecting precious life experiences for her stories. Anna writes, reads, lives and breathes books and can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction.