Lesley Cookman started writing almost as soon as she could read.
She’s had a varied career as a model, air stewardess, occasional actor and disc jockey.
She has also written short fiction and features for a variety of magazines and achieved an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales.
She taught writing for both Kent Adult Education and the WEA and edited the first Sexy Shorts collection of short stories from Accent Press in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign.
She is the author of the Libby Sarjeant series published by Headline,
of which there are now 24 books and a compilation, and
The Alexandrians mysteries,
set in the Edwardian period with a theatrical background.
Lizzie: You have just published Murder in the Autumn, book number 24 in the Libby Sarjeant series. Can you tell us a little about this book?
Lesley: The story is set partially against a production of Much Ado About Nothing being staged at the Oast Theatre in Steeple Martin, but concentrates mainly on the plight of disaffected tenants evicted from their rental homes to make way for holiday lets. A topical theme, these days!
Lizzie: Where did the character of Libby Sarjeant come from?
Lesley: She popped into my head fully formed as I was driving home through the countryside from dropping my daughter at her friend’s house. I spotted a row of cottages and suddenly knew who lived there. That was in the mid-nineties, but it took a few years for her to emerge into the first book, Murder in Steeple Martin.
Lizzie: You have set your other series in the Edwardian period. What made you choose that time in history? Is it a period that particularly interests you?
Lesley: Indeed, it is! My particular theatrical interests are pantomime and Music Hall, which encompasses the British Seaside Concert Party. I used to be editor of the British Music Hall Society’s magazine, The Call Boy, and, with the encouragement of the society’s archivist, wrote a musical play called Summer Season.
Lizzie: Tell us about Dorinda Alexander? Is she a figment of your imagination?
Lesley: Dorinda appeared in the play Summer Season, which told her story. When I was casting round for a plot for the third in the Libby Sarjeant series, I thought I might use it as the back story. Then I got so enthusiastic about it, I decided to write Dorinda’s own series. Entirely imaginary!
Lizzie: You must have come across countless characters in your career. Have you ever found yourself
re-reading your recent input and realising that you have just described someone who may recognise
Lesley: Occasionally I do it deliberately, usually if someone’s annoyed me. But mainly it’s friends and
family who inform me that I’ve just described them. Which, naturally, I haven’t! (Wouldn’t dare!)
Lizzie: I am aware how much research must be involved when writing historical fiction. Did you find it easier, as forensics were less developed during that period, or more difficult?
Lesley: When I started writing The Alexandrians I thought I knew everything there was to know about
Edwardian Concert Parties. I didn’t. And crime fighting and solving was so very different in the early 1900s, it took a lot of research – which was very enjoyable, but possibly more difficult.
Lizzie: When you started writing were there any particular authors that influenced you?
Lesley: Ngaio Marsh, whom I always credit with being my inspiration, John Dickson Carr, Elizabeth Goudge and Dodie Smith.
Lizzie: What triggers the idea for a new book? Something that you see or read about, or a personal experience?
Lesley: All of the above! Frequently, my eldest son will come up with the kernel of an idea, as he did just last night. “I’ve got another one for you!’ he said. “Artists!” And yes, there’s a brilliantly convoluted plot in there, suggested by his association with a local artist and gallery owner. I’m saying no more!
Lizzie: When you start wring a new book do you know who the murderer is, or does he/she emerge as you write?
Lesley: Sometimes I know, but more often they emerge towards the end and surprise me. In the first book, after I’d submitted it, my publisher told me I couldn’t have my chosen murderer as he was too nice, so I had to go back and insert a character right from the beginning. In two weeks. Still don’t know how I did it.
Lizzie: Are you a disciplined writer i.e., do you write for a certain number of hours each day, or set yourself a target of x number of words?
Lesley: Er – no. I get more disciplined the nearer I get to the deadline, but I do try and write every day.
Lizzie: Both of your series have a theatrical background. Have you any plans to try something
Lesley: I don’t think so. The Libby series can be tailored to fit all sorts of scenarios, and as I have a small but
devoted band of readers who constantly demand more Libby, I don’t think I have the energy to write anything else, although I may be persuaded to continue The Alexandrians.
Lizzie: So, what’s next?
Lesley: Libby 25 – happily enough entitled Murder by Christmas and out in December 2023, followed by
Libby book 26 now being written and due out early next summer. Thank you, Lizzie, for inviting me for this
interview, and I hope to be able to come back and tell you about both of those.
Thank you for talking to us, Lesley. I look forward to you joining us again to talk about Libby 26. It can’t come too soon.
Murder In Steeple Martin
Murder At The Laurels
Murder In Midwinter
Murder by the Sea
Murder in Bloom
Murder in the Green
Murder in the Monastry
Murder in the Dark
Murder in a Different Place
Murder Out of Tune
Murder in the Blood
Murder on the Run
Murder by the Barrell
Muder and the Glovemakers Son
Murder on the Edge
Murder After Midnight
Murder Most Merry
Murder by Mistake
Murder by Christmas
Murder in Autumn
Death Plays a Part
Death Treads the Boards