I’m back with another addition to my In Conversation series! Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Bernie Steadman, author of the West Country Crime Mystery series, which include Death in the Woods and Death in Dartmoor.
Before we dive into the interview, let me tell you more about the author herself:
Bernie taught English for many years but only dabbled in short fiction and poetry until a few years ago when she took to writing full-time. She completed her debut novel, Death in the Woods when she escaped the classroom and could finally stop marking essays. This was the first in the West Country Mysteries series featuring DI Dan Hellier and his Exeter-based team. There are now three in the series, Death on Dartmoor and Death on the Coast completing the series.
Bernie lives in a small village in East Devon and her novels are set in and around the ancient Roman city of Exeter, which has seen its fair share of murder and mayhem over the centuries. The books explore the beauty of the area, but demonstrate that even in the most charming of settings, terrible events may occur.
When not glued to the laptop, Bernie is a keen yoga fan and enjoys walking and cycling in the Devon countryside with her husband. They share their home with two large, black cats which came from the animal sanctuary where she is a volunteer and trustee.
Her latest novel, Death in the Woods (previously known as Death and Deception), is a re-introduction to the West Country Crime Mystery series and to DI Dan Hellier and is out now. Here’s the blurb to Death in the Woods:
Meet Detective Inspector Dan Hellier, a man who needs to redeem his career and catch a killer.
Soon after DI Hellier returns home to Exeter under a cloud, the body of a talented young singer is found in the woods.
When her death reveals links to the boss of a recording studio, a predatory gang and a school music teacher, Hellier knows he has his work cut out.
Before any more innocent people are put in danger, Hellier will need to untangle the web of lies and work out which of many suspects are guilty of murder. But can he solve the case in time?
You can also find Bernie on her social media:
Facebook: Bernie Steadman
Now, onto the interview!
Rubina Reads: Let’s start at the very beginning: What inspired you to write Death in the Woods?
Bernie Steadman: I was teaching at a school in Devon with a wood very like the one that appears in the novel. I just wondered one day, when I was on playtime duty, what would happen if the body of a school student was found in the woods? What effect would that have on the community? Who would murder a child, and why? What motivates people to do such terrible things? I had a very long commute so I started writing the book in my head on the journey to and from school. Then transcribing the ideas into notes when I got home.
RR: How did you come up with our protagonist DI Dan Hellier?
BS: Hellier happened organically. Originally I wanted the teacher, Claire Quick, to discover the murderer, but I needed a police officer presence and Dan appeared. He is young, a bit green, but has a good heart and a sharp brain. Most of the time. I soon realised that in order to tell the story, Dan had to take the lead. So I found myself writing a police procedural, even though I have no experience in that field at all! I didn’t want Dan to be a stand alone maverick with a drink problem, so I made the other members of his team, especially the women, into strong, well-rounded characters who help the new DI to grow into a good leader. They train him up!
RR: How did writing this book change your life?
BS: Completely. I took early retirement from my job, and focused on writing. I did loads of courses, joined a writing group and tried to learn the craft, all whilst writing Death in the Woods and the two books that make up the rest of the series.
RR: I’d love to know about your writing process, from conception to publication and beyond. What goes behind the scenes?
BS: Like most people, I watch and read the news, so I look for ideas that are current, then I look for the human angle. Crimes are not committed by people born bad, sometimes good people do bad things. I wanted to explore what happens when a bad thing gets so out of hand that a human being dies.
I start with the main idea, then do a spider diagram, including the police team, the victim(s), the villains, and the people who help and hinder the investigation. Once I have a rough timeline sorted, I do character descriptions and put them onto Scrivener (a writing tool). From there I think up a good starting point and get going. First drafts can be anything around 60k, but a finished book will be up to 90k once I have added in the detail, setting and various sub-plots and red herrings! It takes me up to nine months to gestate a draft that would be ready to go to the publisher.
RR: When not writing, what can we find you doing?
BS: Yoga, mostly! Also, reading, walking, cycling and volunteering at my local animal sanctuary. I also crochet and knit, but it’s probably best if I draw a veil over my efforts…
RR: Since writers are also readers, can you give us your top 3 books which you highly recommend others to read?
BS: Okay, I am no spring chicken, and many books have passed this way and I can’t choose just three! So three series I loved are: Peter May, the Lewis Trilogy; Stuart MacBride, the Logan McCrae novels; Kate Atkinson, the Jackson Brodie novels.
RR: Last but not the least: What are you working on next? What can we expect to come out of your magic pen?
BS: The second in the West Country Mysteries series is out very soon. It’s called Death on Dartmoor and takes Dan and the team out of the city to solve a set of murders that are years old, and where the murderers think they must have got away with them… Also, just in the process of being edited, is the last in the series, Death on the Coast. That will be out in July!
Don’t forget to check out the other blogs who are taking part in this blog tour!