The Crime Readers' Association

Diary of a Debut Author by Fiona Veitch Smith

3rd January 2016

“His name is Arthur and he’s dead.” That’s how I was introduced to my costume for a 90-second film promo for my debut crime novel, The Jazz Files. Arthur – God rest his soul – had apparently once been a live ferret sometime in the 1920s. He now lives in the wardrobe department at Northumbria University. I picked up Arthur and the rest of my Suffragette costume this morning.

I am now sitting with a cup of coffee and my laptop, trying not to look Arthur in the eye. “Do it for your art, darling!” I hear the wardrobe mistress say as I complain that I do not approve of wearing fur. “You simply won’t look the part without it!”

Hmm, has this woman read my thoughts? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether or not I ‘look the part’ or whether or not me and my new book will be accepted by ‘real’ crime writers and readers.

You see, up until now I’ve been a journalist and writer of children’s picture books, with a bit scriptwriting thrown in. And while I love writing for children – and will continue to do so – I’ve always harboured an ambition to write historical crime mysteries for adults. But am I a ‘real’ crime writer, I wonder. Only time – and my readers – will tell. But for now I am having immense fun doing all the marketing and promotions to launch The Jazz Files.

The Jazz Files introduces reporter sleuth, Poppy Denby, who works on The Daily Globe in London in the early1920s. On her first day on the job the senior hack is killed and Poppy is tasked with finishing the article he was working on for the next day’s lead. It involves an investigation into the death of a suffragette seven years earlier – and the powerful people who are trying to keep it covered up. Hence me, Arthur and the suffragette costume. I will be playing a corpse on a railway line. A much younger and more beautiful actress will be playing Poppy Denby.

So what are the jazz files? Poppy’s editor Rollo Rolandson, a New Yorker who won the Globe in a poker game, explains: “It’s what we call any story that has a whiff of high society scandal but can’t yet be proven … you never know when a skeleton in the closet might prove useful.” Indeed, a skeleton or a dead ferret …

But enough of all this drama. It’s time to lay aside my fantasies of being Helena Bonham Carter in Suffragette and tackle the edits of book 2, The Kill Fee, to be released by Lion Fiction next year. The Kill Fee involves the murder of a White Russian princess in the Old Vic Theatre and the unearthing of a Bolshevik Plot. I wonder if I’ll be asked to play the corpse in the promo of that one …

Arthur is looking at me. I cover him with my red cloche hat – the one I wear to readings and book signings – and open the email from my editor. At the end of the list of notes there’s a P.S. … ‘how’s the research for book 3 coming on?’

Not bad, I type in reply, not bad at all. Book 3, yet to be named, will see Rollo taking Poppy with him to New York to do a temporary job swap with the editor of the New York Times. I’m reading into the crazy world of Prohibition, jazz clubs and speakeasies. But, as with all crime novels, there’s a darker side. And nearly a century later, the lives of the young women trafficked into prostitution cry out for their stories to be told. Poppy and I will be their voice. I hope we can do them justice.

Fiona Veitch Smith has worked as a journalist in South Africa where she covered the crime beat for a stable of community newspapers in Cape Town. During the last decade she has worked as a freelance magazine journalist in the UK and is an Associate Lecturer in Journalism at Newcastle University where she teaches during the autumn and winter months. She also writes picture books for children and lectures on the Creative Writing MA at Northumbria University. The Jazz Files is the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates series published by Lion Fiction.

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