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Saturday 5 August 2017

Charlie Cochrane

Carol Westron talks with Charlie Cochrane

It is a great pleasure to interview my good friend and fellow Deadly Dame, Charlie Cochrane. Charlie is the author of a large number of immensely enjoyable books in the romance and detective fiction genres, all of which have gay protagonists. Many of her books have historical settings, including her popular Cambridge Fellows series featuring Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith, which is set in the first years of the 20th century.
As a fan of this series, I was delighted to hear that a new novella
Lessons in Loving Thy Murderous Neighbour is being published
on 14
th August 2017.
Charlie also writes contemporary novels including detective novels featuring Detective Inspector Robin Bright and his partner Adam Matthews.
She recently contributed to the anthology
Pride of Poppies, which was short-listed for the HNS Indie Award 2016.

Carol: I was really pleased to see that you’d brought out a new Cambridge Fellows novella, Lessons in Loving Thy Murderous Neighbour. In a Facebook post you commented that Jonty and Orlando had ‘stopped speaking to you’ for some time. After so many years of recording their adventures, why do you think that was?
Charlie: Two possible answers. 1. Sheer cussedness on their part, because they were cross at me for concentrating on writing the Lindenshaw stories. 2. Life having bowled the Cochranes an over of googlies over the last few years, meaning that creative time has been at a premium. I leave you to decide which answer is more likely to be the real one.

Carol: I love the adventures of Jonty and Orlando in the Cambridge Fellows mystery and realise that one of the things that draws me in is the sense of community you create. When a new character appears in their investigations, do you know from the beginning exactly what they are like and the role they are going to play, or do you discover it as you write?
Charlie: Well, it’s odd. I discover it as I write, yet I always feel those newcomers have arrived as fully fleshed characters from the start. It isn’t a matter of me developing them so much as finding out more about what was already there in terms of their talents and personality. Very often they surprise me. (Dr. Panesar was always intended to be something on the arts side. Only when he started to take a bigger role did I discover he was a brilliant – if slightly dangerous – scientist.)

Carol: The Cambridge Fellows mysteries turn up lots of fascinating customs of the time. How much research do you have to do for these early 20th century novels?
Charlie: Does the answer “none and lots” make any sense? I’ve always read a huge amount of fiction written in the late 19th and early 20th century, so sitting down to craft a novel set in that era feels very natural. The cadence of the language, the manners and mores, etc. are ingrained in me. But there are always lots of things to check and double check. When did crosswords first start to be published? Was a particular phrase used in 1920? When did Cambridge colleges have telephones installed? I’d be very cross with myself if I got one of those wrong.

Carol: I found the Jonty and Orlando novels set in the aftermath of the Great War very harrowing, as indeed they had to be. How difficult did you find them to write?
Charlie: Excruciating. But from the time I started writing the first book – set in 1905/6 – I felt WWI looming large in Jonty and Orlando’s story. I had to tackle what happened to them during the war and afterwards – I couldn’t cheat by having a repeating year 1912!

Carol: Speaking of the Great War, it is a period you’ve written about a lot in your gay romances. What is it about this gruelling and tragic time that particularly fascinates you?
Charlie: The sheer indomitable human spirit. I have very little interest in which battle occurred on which date and how the different regiments were involved – it’s the story of the people which counts for me. What were their experiences? How did they keep up their morale in the face of such carnage? How did the conflict inspire stunning poetry such as Wilfred Owen's? What made great sportsmen like Edgar Mobbs rush to sign up and lay their lives down on a different kind of field?

Carol: Still on the Great War, you have often expressed your admiration for the poet Wilfred Owen, what other poets and artists of this time do you particularly admire?
Charlie: Sassoon, although I find him a touch too acerbic at times. Ivor Gurney and Julian Grenfell, too and – among the novelists – Jerome K Jerome and EM Forster. I also enjoy some of the writings of TE Lawrence, even though I guess you might have to take them with a pinch of salt.

Carol:               Moving on to your contemporary crime novels featuring DI Robin Bright and teacher Adam Matthews, is it very different to write a detective story where one of the partners is the official police investigator, rather than two amateur detectives with equal opportunities to investigate? Do you think it significantly alters the balance of the story?

Charlie:            It’s very different writing Adam and Robin, not least because there can’t be the freedom of discussion between them that two amateur sleuths can enjoy. All the rules and regulations of Robin’s job have to come into play, so the balance is indeed very different. I also have to try avoiding the “What are you doing here, Cully?” trap, by finding believable ways to involve Adam in the cases, otherwise he’d have a very limited role, and I want them to have an equal presence in the books.

Carol: Speaking of balance, how do you get the proportion of detection and romance balanced so that they both work so very well?
Charlie: Sheer good luck. And very good editors who give me a sharp nudge in the right direction. Actually, some of my favourite detective series – such as Ngaio Marsh’s – have a successful mix of romance and mystery, so I suppose I’ve had some good examples to follow.

Carol: The initial crime in The Best Corpse For The Job occurs in a school, a setting you know well, but did you have to do a lot of research to bring your forensic and police procedural knowledge up to speed from the Edwardian period to the 21st century?
Charlie: Yes, yes and thrice yes. And not just from watching cop shows on the telly. There are some great resources online, including police websites that, for example, specify clearly the roles of CSIs. It also helps to know people who are in the business, to pick their brains and listen to some of their work stories. I recently heard a fascinating one (from an Assistant Chief Constable) about a death abroad that turned out to be murder, which I might have to keep for a future work.

Carol: You have a very impressive out-put of books in the romance, adventure and crime genres and you are very active on social media. How do you fit it all in? Do you have a set routine and dedicated hours for writing?
Charlie: Set routine no, but (flexible) dedicated time yes. Believe it or not, my word target for a day is only 500, but if I hit that every day, that’s two novels a year. And I always say they’re 500 good words, so don’t need lots of reworking at the next stage.

Carol: Tell us a bit about yourself and your hobbies.
Charlie: I describe myself as mad and middle aged. My respectable cover hasn’t yet been seen through, so I’m a chair of governors at a primary school and a charity director. I’m potty about watching sport, particularly rugby and cricket, although I only play indoor bowls and a bit of croquet. I enjoy walking, reading, visiting historical sites, and doing number puzzles. If I can find the time…

Books by Charlie Cochrane

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries:
Lessons in Love (2008)
Lessons in Desire
Lessons in Discovery
Lessons in Power (2010 Lessons in Temptation (2010)
Lessons in Seduction (2010)
Lessons in Trust (2011) All Lessons learned (2012) Lessons for Survivors (2012)
Lessons for Suspicious Minds (2013)
Lessons for Sleeping Dogs (2015 Lessons for Idle Tongues (2015)

Lindenshaw Mysteries
The Best Corpse for the Job (2014)
Jury of One


Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her latest book The Fragility of Poppies was published 10 June 2016.

Read a review of Carol’s latest book
The Fragility of Poppies

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