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Kate Ellis

Q & A with Kate Ellis

3 January 2017

Crime writer Kate Ellis has written 20 books in the DI Wesley Peterson series.

She was recently shortlisted for the prestigious CWA Dagger in the Library award. The House of Eyes came out in large print last month and Magna will be publishing a High Mortality of Doves next year. She is married with two grown up sons and lives in North Cheshire, with her husband.

You studied drama and worked in various jobs before you became a writer, can you tell us about your previous careers and how you eventually became a writer?
I started off teaching in a primary school where I used to love making up stories and poems for the children. Then I decided I needed a change so I took a post graduate secretarial course and ended up as PA to one of the directors at my local transport company. As it turns out, learning to type was one of the best career moves I ever made! I began to train as a public finance accountant shortly before I found I was expecting my first child and that's when I decided to seize the opportunity to give up conventional work so that I could pursue the career I'd always longed for - writing. When my younger son was at nursery I entered the North West Playwrights competition and won. Then came around seven years of sending stories and plays off and having them rejected, although this might not have been a bad thing as I learned my craft, together with patience and persistence. It seemed a long time before I eventually had my first book published but I finally made it and haven't looked back since.

Why did you choose to write crime?
I've always loved reading crime fiction - anything with a mystery really - so I was drawn to writing this sort of book.

Have you tried writing any other genres?
As I said before, I wrote children's stories when I was teaching and when my own children were small and I've also written plays. But crime is what I feel most comfortable with.

Your DI Wesley Peterson series is set in Devon, why did you choose Devon?
I didn't want to write about a big city and I knew South Devon really well. I'm fascinated by the contrasts in the area; the wealthy incomers and the people who've been there for generations; the tourists who descend in the summer and the artistic and new age communities. I also find the contrast between the beauty of the landscape and the savage crimes that can take place in isolated communities irresistible.

You’ve written more than 20 books in the DI Wesley Peterson series – how do you find a continuous source of ideas for these novels?
Each of my Wesley Peterson books has a historical story running in the background as well as a present day police investigation. If I have an idea for the historical strand I can usually think of a parallel case that might happen in the present day (and vice versa - sometimes an idea for the modern case falls into place first). I keep notebooks dotted around my house and as soon as ideas pop into my head I write them down. I also keep newspaper cuttings about anything interesting I might be able to include in a plot. When the time comes to start a new book I gather my notebooks and cuttings together and consult them. Fortunately, so far the ideas have never run out.

How do you organise your working day? Do you have a favourite time to write?
I always like to have a walk first thing in the morning to pick up a newspaper and do any necessary shopping. This helps to clear my head and when I get home I deal with my emails and routine matters. I generally start work around 10.30 and finish around 5.00, taking a short break for lunch (and to read the paper - hopefully getting a few new ideas).

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
The fact that you have control over your own working schedule and nobody's looking over your shoulder (okay, I've got an editor who expects my manuscripts to be delivered on time but I'm not supervised day to day). Also you get to meet some really lovely people - both colleagues and readers - at events.

You were elected as a member of The Detection Club in 2014, can you tell us what that is?
The Detection Club was founded by a group of British crime writers in 1930 and its Presidents have included (among other very distinguished names) G K Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie. There are around sixty members, all elected by secret ballot, who have to undergo an initiation ceremony featuring a skull called Eric!

What are you planning to write next?
November 2016 saw the publication of A High Mortality of Doves, the first novel in my new trilogy set in the North of England in the aftermath of the First World War. I've just started the next book in the trilogy entitled The Boy who Lived with the Dead.

What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
To write the sort of books you really enjoy reading. If you don't have a passion for what you're writing, your readers will sense it.

Interview by Nicky Solloway at Magna.