Julie Wassmer is a television drama writer who contributed for almost twenty years to the popular BBC series EastEnders.
She published her autobiography More Than Just Coincidence in 2010, in which she describes finding her long-lost daughter after an astonishing twist of fate. It was voted Mumsnet book of the year.
The Whitstable Pearl Mystery was the first in her series of crime novels, involving multi-tasking private detective-cum-restauranteur, Pearl Nolan. Julie lives in Whitstable and is well known for her environmental campaigning.
Lizzie: Julie, you have just published the seventh book in your series featuring Pearl Nolan, owner of the restaurant ‘The Whitstable Pearl’, entitled Murder on the Downs. Can you tell us a little about it?
Our geography in Kent means that, as a writer, I have exceptionally rich and varied terrain for my locations - with countryside and orchards only a ten-minute drive away from the town centre, the great city of Canterbury just eight miles down the road – and, of course, Whitstable’s coastline to explore.
Lizzie: How did you become a television drama writer?
In Murder-on-Sea, I was inspired by the image from the famous painting by Millais of the Shakespeare heroine, Ophelia, floating in a lake, her hands upturned as she holds a garland of flowers… In May Day Murder, it was the sight of children dancing at Whitstable’s May Day celebrations which gave me the idea for how the body of a murdered actress comes to be found tied to a maypole during the annual festival at Whitstable Castle.
Julie: Writing television drama requires a screenwriter to produce detailed treatments for TV producers in order to demonstrate the way their episode will unfold. Often these take the form of a ‘scene breakdown’ in which every moment of television action is finely plotted. This gives production staff a good sense of what to expect for production scheduling, but, for many writers, like myself, such premeditation takes all the fun out of what I call the “journey of writing” - and the unexpected twists and turns that often appear out of the blue when we’re allowed to follow our instincts with a story.
For the plotting of the central crimes I know very little when I begin – only the victim and the method employed for their murder but, by building up a clear picture of who this person is and how they might relate to others, I am actually following the methodology of the investigations made by Pearl and McGuire – so you could say I have a bit of detective in me - though as writer I have to remain one step ahead!
Julie: This is a very interesting question because I haven’t really thought about this until now, but as I’m just about to begin writing a new book it would be useful for me to do so…
tactics to distract myself from the task in hand. It’s very easy to go off and do some gardening or some housework (in fact, my home is never so tidy as when I have a book to write) and though I promise myself every time that I will begin writing earlier in the year (so that I don’t spend the summer in a blind panic) I tend to leave things until the last moment because nothing concentrates my mind like a deadline. The tighter the deadline, the harder I work so I tend to take things to the wire. I’ve never been a 9-5 person. But I always meet my deadlines and I’ll write through the night if I have to – but that’s the way I become truly engrossed in my story and my characters.
recent Covid-19 lockdown, I found myself writing something quite distinct - a stand-alone novel – a dark thriller. The main character in that book is male and without saying too much at this point, it’s not a whodunit and there are no detectives – but there is plenty of jeopardy and hopefully lots of suspense. I haven’t yet finished this book but I’m hoping to find time to do so over the summer if I can make good progress with my next “Pearl.” Sometimes, I find that having two quite distinct projects on the go at the same time helps to speed progress on each. It’s nice to have the contrast and to move from one to the other.
Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the Whitstable Pearl series progressing within a new medium – TV. If
everything comes together and Pearl finally steps on to the small screen, I will be very happy acting as consultant on the series.
Books by Julie Wassmer featuring Pearl Nolan
The Whitstable Pearl Mystery (2015)
May Day Murder (2016)
Murder on the Pilgrims Way (2017)
Disappearance at Oare (2018)
Murder Fest (2019)
Murder on the Downs (2020)
Trailer for Murder on the Downs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i2Y5eqC0ww