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Portsmouth Coppers with Pauline Rowson and Graham Hurley

Portsmouth Coppers audience with Pauline Rowson, Diana Bretherick and Graham HurleyA highly successful event in 2017, long before Covid-19 reared its ugly head.  On 4 March in 2017 I was sharing the stage with fellow crime writer, Graham Hurley at Portsmouth Coppers at Portsmouth Central Library being quizzed by fellow crime author and former criminal barrister Diana Bretherwick about why we set our detective novels in the waterfront city of Portsmouth. 

Portsmouth Coppers was part of Portsmouth BookFest organised by Portsmouth City Library Service and supported by the Hayling Island Bookshop.

I was raised in Portsmouth, a city which I share with my flawed and rugged sailing detective, Andy Horton, who appears in fifteen crime novels.  It is my love of the sea and in particular the Solent, that has led me to use it almost as a character in my crime novels.

Since this event took place in addition to fifteen in the Inspector Andy Horton series, there are four in the Marvik mystery thriller series - Marvik is an undercover investigator for the UK's Police Marine Intelligence Squad - and there are two in my 1950s set mystery series featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ryga who is sent out to investigate baffling crimes in DEATH IN THE COVE (the Isle of Portland, Dorset) and DEATH IN THE HARBOUR (Newhaven, East Sussex) with number three in the series DEATH IN THE NETS (Brixham, Devon) to be published in October 2021.

Pauline Rowson answering a question at Portsmouth Coppers eventPortsmouth city is one of contrasts, which appeals to me. It is very diverse, modern life rubs shoulders with the historic.  It has a high level of deprivation sitting not quite cheek by jowl but close to a great deal of wealth and it has the seafront, a busy commercial international port, historic dockyard, fishing fleet and is home of the Royal Navy. It is one of the busiest harbours in the world, and the surrounding areas and the Isle of Wight across the Solent provide some great variety of locations for putting a body. I can't pass a boatyard, beach or cove without thinking there must be a dead body or a skeleton there somewhere.

Graham Hurley is well known in Portsmouth for his DI Joe Faraday and DC Paul Winter crime novels set in the rough and busy city. For him the Portsmouth setting for his crime novels was ideal because it is the kind of place where you are what you are, not what the aspirational label on the box says you want to be. In the self-contained island city he said there was life in the raw that a crime writer could successfully draw on.

Graham Hurley answering a question at Portsmouth Coppers with Pauline Rowson and Diana BretherickWe were quizzed by Diana Bretherick on the subject of research. We both said we had researched for our police procedural crime novels with the Portsmouth Police. Graham having spent many days working closely with detectives in researching his first crime novel to feature DI Joe Faraday and he continued to work alongside them while developing the series. Graham explained that the inspiration for Faraday came from a detective he met at Portsmouth's Kingston Police station, while  the inspiration for my detective, Andy Horton, was a combination of many of the fire fighters I have met during her husband's career as a fire fighter.

We all agreed that characters had to be well drawn and believable and that both Graham and I had got so close to their main characters that they had become a part of our lives, a family member.

Pauline Rowson at Portsmouth Coppers with Diana Bretherick and Graham HurleyI also said that in creating villains I found that those who weren't obvious baddies attracted me when writing her crime novels. People can appear to be one thing on the surface but often when you dig deeper they can be something completely different. Fraudsters for example can be charming and highly plausible on the outside but are manipulative, callous and greedy and care nothing for their victims. Baddies don't always go round with it tattooed on their foreheads.  

When it came to plotting we all had the same approach. Quiz mistress and interrogator, Diana Bretherick, author of The City of Devils and The Devil's Daughters set in the northern Italian city of Turin in the late 1880s said she has the outline plot idea for the beginning of a novel and the ending but often has no idea what happens in the middle and that often the endings change, a sentiment I shared by Pauline.  I, like Graham, spends minimal time on plotting but am always keen to get down the creative writing as soon as possible.

Book signing at Portsmouth Coppers, Pauline Rowson, Diana Bretherick and Graham HurleyAfter Diana had completed her interrogation she opened the floor to the audience where a lively question and answer session took place. This was followed by a book signing.

If you'd like to read more about and see a map of where Graham and I set our crime novels then visit the Portsmouth Literature intriguing website created by the English Literature Department at the University of Portsmouth.

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