Monday, February 28, 2011

Scene of the Crime with Author Judith Cutler!

I am thrilled to introduce you to this week's author on Scene of the Crime, Judith Cutler, one of the best crime fiction writers in the UK.  She really didn't start writing until she was in her thirties. After catching the chicken pox from her son, she found that the best way to avoid scratching was to put a pencil in one hand and a block of paper in the other. Once she got started, she was well on her way to writing her first novel.

Judith Cutler
Now no longer living in Birmingham, Judith Cutler is the author of at least five different mystery series and some standalone novels as well. I have dipped into four of the series, the stars of which are Kate Power, a single female detective in Birmingham; Josie Welford, the owner of a pub in the West Country; Lina Townend, a young antique dealer; and Fran Harman, a Detective Chief Superintendent nearing retirement in Kent. All of them are excellent.

The reviewer who called Cutler's books "effortlessly readable" hit the nail on the head. There is a flow and a grace to her writing that's not common. She also has a wonderful knack of characterization.

In reading about Kate Power, you really get the feel for how difficult it is for a young woman to have a career in the police force and try to have any sort of personal life.

The books starring Josie Welford are filled with humor as this middle-aged pub owner deals with life on her own.

Lina Townend is an orphan with a history of self-harm who's trying hard to do the right thing and become known as a respectable antique dealer.

Fran Harman is a woman with some rank in the police force. It has come at some cost to her personal life. She has the knack for getting the best out of her team while shielding them from some of the higher ups-- even though there's no one who can shield her from police politics.

The only series I haven't tasted yet is the Sophie Rivers series about a college lecturer and amateur singer. I am pleased to announce that I now have the first two books in that series, so I really have something to look forward to!

Ring of Guilt is Judith Cutler's latest book, the third in the Lina Townend series. Here's what Booklist has to say about the book:

British antiques dealer and restorer Lina Townend spots a body in a field while on the way home from an estate sale. Because she is alone, she doesn’t stop, but she does notify the police. When the police arrive, however, the body is gone. Soon she is accused of stealing a pair of Anglo-Saxon rings, and it looks like someone is trying very hard to ruin her reputation in the antiques world. With the support of her partner and mentor, Griff Tripp, she investigates, solving the mystery of the missing body as well as figuring out who is trying to sabotage her career. Along the way, she draws the romantic interest of two men and cares for her reclusive father. Lina, who grew up in a string of foster homes, is an endearing but tough character with a great deal of integrity. Her first-person account includes details of antiques restoration and the world of British antiques. 

It is my hope that all of my fellow crime fiction readers will pick up one of Cutler's books and read it. I am positive that most of you will be looking for more, just like I did! To learn more about Judith Cutler and her novels, here are some links:

Now, on to the interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

Tiptoes the Mischievous Kitten, I think, though probably it was read to me.  It was one of those dear old-fashioned Ladybird books – do you remember the series, in which boys were Boys and girls were – well, boys’ adjuncts.  I loved them all, not knowing I shouldn’t because they were sexist and not PC, and that I shouldn’t revel in Enid Blyton for the same reason.  I loved Tiptoes because I was too ill with allergy-induced asthma to have a cat, though eventually I was given a toy cat who still lives with me 60 years later.  The first book I recall reading for myself was Susan, Bill and the Ivy-Clad Oak, by, I think, Malcolm Saville.  By this time I realised, I suspect, that if I was too ill to run round having my own adventures, I’d better have them in my head.  And then I started inventing adventures in my head, and the rest is history.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

I am passionate about classical music, cricket and tennis.  Alas, I never did master an instrument, so I had to be content with listening.  As for cricket, in my days girls weren’t encouraged to play, so I became an armchair expert, eventually coaching kids at the village school.  As for tennis, I do play, but frustratingly badly. I didn’t start till my fifties, as therapy after a serious back injury.  I get so much out of it now I’m almost glad I was hurt.  Ironically I was assaulted by a student at the college where I’d more or less set my first published novel, Dying Fall, with my assailant using the escape route I’d described in the book.  I don’t flatter myself that she’d read it, however.

I also have a very close relationship with my organic vegetable patch.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

Where I live now, Cirencester, is absolutely part of the tourist trail, so I shall take you back to my childhood home, the Black Country, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution.  It’s not pretty, but has a special sort of ugly beauty.  In particular, I’d take you to the Soho Foundry, where Matthew Boulton and his younger disciple James Watt worked miracles of engineering.  It’s pretty well derelict at the moment (see Dying in Discord) but I’m delighted to say that at last the local politicians and industrialists have committed to restoring it.  Then it’ll be an international Must See.

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren: she’s so tall, slim and elegant. Actually, she might not LOOK the part, but who cares?

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

I’m very fond of Peter Pascoe in Reg Hill’s wonderful Dalziel and Pascoe novels.

Before your very first published mystery, what else had you written (short stories, articles, unpublished manuscripts)?

I started writing in my teens, winning prizes and getting published. I thought it would be SOOOO easy to get a novel published.  But before you get it published, you have to write it, and I got writer’s block at University.  In my later thirties I wrote a romance.  When I sent it to my then agent he returned it with a curt note saying that while he recognized my typewriter (those were the days) he couldn’t see my talent anywhere.  In a huff, and with something to prove, after all, I sent a short story off to the BBC, who broadcast it.  That was followed by numerous others, varying from the commercial story for women’s magazines to the odd literary effort, one of which won a major prize.  Soon I’d written two more novels, neither of them finding a home.  By now I was both teaching and studying writers’ courses, and was a member of a wonderful writers’ circle.  In other words, I was doing exactly what I now recommend to other aspiring writers.  And I never gave up. To my delight, when I had half a dozen other novels in print, I revamped the first two rejects and they immediately found a publisher.

What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore? How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

I celebrated the news of my first publication by going off to teach my evening class, a writers’ course.  Then I had a sup of champagne when I got home.  Unfortunately, I was on some medication that reacted furiously with the alcohol, and I was so ill …

As for the previous question, holding and smelling your own books is wonderful, far better than breathing the finest perfume.  There were lots in local bookshops, which was lovely.  But I finally knew I was a real writer when I saw them in Heffers, the world-famous Cambridge book store.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?

The worst was turning up for a signing with two far more distinguished crime writers than I to find mountains of their books (rightly so) and a big round zero of mine.  Fortunately years of teaching had taught me how to deal with a crisis and instead of putting my head down and howling, I persuaded the store to sell my books at discount to any disappointed punters who’d turned up and placed an order.  As you do more events you get inured to the odd problem, like the time I turned up at a library to find no audience.  The librarian was in tears. She’d even resorted to phoning borrowers who always wanted my books.  And one had said to her, ‘Ah, I like the wench’s books.  I like my new car.  But I don’t want to meet the blokes who made it.’  Actually, he had a point, didn’t he?  How many of us have met our favourite writers only to find them uninspiring as people?  As Toscanini said of Richard Strauss – ‘To Strauss the composer I take my hat off, to Strauss the man I put it back on again.’  Most of the time, I’ve had a wonderful time meeting readers, especially as I now do many events as two-handers, sharing the floor with my husband, fellow crime-writer Edward Marston.  (Such a romantic meeting – he was Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association and I’d become the new secretary…)

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author? 

Personally I’m a technophobe, and would be terrified of wiping the book I’d just downloaded.  Or of ruining the whole device by dropping it while I read in the bath.  There’s nothing like a dear old collection of paper pages is there?  On the other hand, anything that encourages people of any age and background to read can’t be a bad thing.  Keep those pages, real or virtual, turning!

Thank you, Judith, for being so gracious in taking the time to answer a stranger's questions (or should I have said a strange fan's questions?)-- my readers and I certainly appreciate it!

Instead of teasing you with next week's author on Scene of the Crime, I'm going to bid you to go forth and obtain a copy of one of Judith Cutler's books!


  1. I haven't read her books but after reading this interview I absolutely must. She's a delight! I love her Toscanini quote about Strauss. Too funny.

    BTW, I also like the new DeWit painting. Ah the perils of trying to finish a good book late at night, only I don't think I would have my back to the window in that scene.

  2. Wonderful interview!

    And chicken pox - what a wonderful excuse for beginning to write :D

  3. Barbara-- I really really hope you get a chance to read one of her books! As for the painting... having lived next-door to a Peeping Tom for over ten years while I was growing up, to this day, that window would have the curtains drawn at night!!!

    Dorte-- I'm glad you liked the interview and commented upon it. As for chicken pox, I have my own story about that! :o)


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