Welcome to a brand-new feature of the INCspotlight, where I interview independent authors, artists, musicians, and whoever else I feel like. (Yes, I'll still be doing film/comic/etc. reviews.) My first guest is Wendy H. Jones, a crime novelist, radio show host, literary festival founder, veteran, and much more besides! So get comfy in your chair, grab your favorite snack, and enjoy my first ever INCspotlight interview!
WHJ: I am Wendy, a Scottish author writing crime books set in Scotland. I live in Dundee on the East Coast. I came to writing after a career as a nurse in both the Royal Navy and the Army. I retired with the rank of Major, a title I keep until the day I die. I write as Wendy H. Jones. The "H" is important, as you get some strange results if you do a search on Amazon without it.
INC: So I've learned in my interview prep. How did the DI Shona McKenzie series come about?
WHJ: They say never start a book with a dream. My entire series started with a dream, or rather a nightmare. When I woke, I though this would make a brilliant crime book and started writing. Dundee is famous for its feisty women, so I wanted a feisty female lead. Hence, DI Shona McKenzie heads up CID.
INC: Nice. For non-Scottish readers, how else does Dundee - or the Scottish setting in general - influence the story or characters?
WHJ: Dundee is the murder capital of Scotland. Seriously it is. However, it's not as bad as it's portrayed. Dundee is an old whaling city and has a proud history of strong characters. It is built around an extinct volcano and has a mixture of old narrow streets and new areas. Very often, old and new buildings are snuggled up next to each other, coexisting happily. Dundee is known as the City of Jam, Jute and Journalism.
WHJ: When I start, I now who the killer is and why they do it. The books follow two strands, that of the police, and that of the killer. The reader follows the killer's journey and gets a glimpse into their psyche and their motivations. The strands come ever closer together as the book progresses. However, the reader does not know who the killer is until the end.
INC: What kinds of research have you had to do?
WHJ: I had to research Scottish law, which is completely different to English law. Also, I had to research various weapons, etc. I'm surprised I'm not on a government watchlist. My local police sergeant came round my house, and we had a pleasant few hours chatting about all things crime related. I also try to travel to the places I mention in order to ensure that my setting is realistic. That's fun.
INC: I'm sure. Getting back to Shona McKenzie herself, what else went into constructing her backstory and personality, aside from her being a feisty woman of Dundee?
WHJ: Shona is from Dundee, but was brought up in Oxford in England. Therefore, she speaks English and doesn't understand half of what's going on. This leads to some comedic moments. I asked Shona 100 questions about herself and she answered them. This gave me a clear picture of her. She also orders me about - she started of as a wine drinker until she very firmly told me she drank whisky and it had to be Talisker. She's a bit funny, a bit sharp, but can be a right softy at times.
WHJ: She started off not liking men, for various reasons explained in the book. However, a romance with the Procurator Fiscal has changed her mind on this and she is much softer because of it. She did have a say, and sometimes, despite my best efforts she can be right shirty with her boyfriend, Douglas.
INC: What about the supporting cast? How do you decide on how to balance everyone's screen time throughout the series?
WHJ: When it comes to a police team, there is a fine balance. They're all at a crime scene, but who gets centre stage changes at each scene. Also when they go to interview witnesses, or possible suspects, Shon is always involved, but the other team member rotates. However, I need to make sure they all get equal billing, unless there is a very good reason why not.
INC: Do you have more control over them than Shona?
WHJ: Not really. Roy and Jason are always fighting, Russian thugs turn up and refuse to leave, there's an ex-Lord provost who is more criminal than the thugs but measles out of everything, corrupt lawyers. They are always milling around and I can't get rid of them. Seriously, these characters have minds of their own.
INC: You also have a new series, The Fergus and Flora Mysteries. How did that idea come about?
WHJ: I was approached by a publisher who asked if I had an idea for a young adult series of Mysteries. I said yes and pitched it to them. I signed a contract for a three book deal.
WHJ: In many ways, it is similar, but Fergus and Flora are more mysteries than crime books. I try to keep the characters real and to make them act like real teens. One thing which is difficult is the way teens talk. I can't use modern slang, as it could be out of date by next week, never mind by the time the book is published
INC: I'm sure many future readers will thank you for that. I understand you have your own radio series, Wendy's Book Buzz. What made you decide on a radio format for that?
WHJ: Again, this happened much by accident. I went to the radio station to be interviewed about my life as an author. At the end, they said I was good at it, and would I like my own show. How could I say no?
INC: How indeed? Last but not least, can you tell us about the literary festival you founded, Crime at the Castle?
WHJ: I had been long thinking about doing a literary festival at Glamis Castle and calling it Crime at the Castle. A chance encounter with their events manager, Pauline Cowdery, led to a discussion, and the festival was born. The first event takes place on 24th February 2018. Many of the top Scottish Crime Writers, such as Val McDemid, Christopher Brookmyer, Caro Ramsay, Alex Grey, Craig Robertson, Michael J Malone, and Lina Anderson will be taking part, as will many others with a mixture of talks, interviews, and writers workshops. There is something for everyone
INC: Impressive lineup. Anything else you'd like your potential future readers to know about you or your work?
WHJ: I also run Equipped to Write, a coaching company to help writers with both writing and marketing, and I am an international public speaker.