Golden Age – Part 4 by Noreen Wainwright
I have spoken a lot about the Golden Age as a genre. When you are immersed in a subject you see it everywhere and in Waterstone’s in Liverpool last Sunday, sure enough, there were just so many re-issues of the crime classics. Now, there is a Detective Story Club series, (from a Harper Collins collection) complete with retro dust jackets. They look amazing and you just want to curl up in front of the fire and lose yourself in a nostalgia trip.
But, moving away from the vintage vibe for a minute, let’s look at the leap from reading to writing Golden Age crime fiction. I one read an interview with the writer Jacqueline Winspear, who describes “seeing” her character, Maisie Dobbs, fully formed in a London street. So, she metaphorically, followed Maisie and joined in her life. I absolutely love this story and the insight it gives to the emergence of a novel – in this case a series. I wouldn’t say that Edith Horton appeared to me as vividly as that but she’d definitely been a silhouette at the corner of my mind for a long time. I knew a little about her, that she was unmarried, in her forties and lived with her doctor brother in a North Yorkshire village – an arrangement which was less than satisfactory to either of them. When people talk about the autobiographical element in writing a novel (especially the first one) it raises complex questions. I think, in my case, what emerged with Edith wasn’t so much autobiographical as influenced by aspects of my own background.
In “Treated as Murder,” when we first meet Edith, she is a patient in a psychiatric hospital – though it would have been called a mental hospital in the 1930s. My background as a mental health nurse definitely informed this. Not that I was doing the job in the 1930s (!) but I did work in one of these big hospitals and a couple of incidents in this novel have their origins in my experiences there. I saw the bathroom where the women would bath without privacy. The disturbance in the middle of the night is something that does happen and it is easy to imagine the effects this would have on other patients. Like many other people, I have experienced anxiety and I used this experience to explore Edith’s lack of confidence and fear which lasts beyond her stay at St. Bride’s.
I hadn’t thought about doing a series and only dreamed of being published in any form. The process from finishing the book to eventual publication and the decision to carry on with Edith is one I love talking about – indeed I could bore for England on this one. As, I suspect, many other avid readers of crime also think about writing their own mystery, maybe my experience will be of some interest. The expression about the learning curve being steep – well, it fits, and how. It isn’t until you start telling others (as I’ve done a few times now) that you truly realise how much you have learned.
When I finished my first draft of Treated as Murder, (though in my poor deluded state, I thought it was the finished novel), I sent it out for a professional critique. The result of this was a salutary report that left me in no doubt that my manuscript was quite flawed. This hurt – so much that I shoved the whole lot out of my sight for a considerable time. Thankfully, I had success from other writing ventures – something that definitely improves your confidence and helps you to keep going. Eventually, I bit the bullet and retrieved the wretched thing. I slowly and painstakingly rewrote it with the main points of the critique very much at the forefront of my mind. These were nearly all related to structure and pace and about allowing a sub-plot to gain too much prominence. I knew in my heart that the rewrite was a lot better.
I had an almost-acceptance by Robert Hale which was disappointing but also gave me hope. Then, I had a fairly rapid acceptance from Tirgearr. At the moment, the Edith Horton series is only available in e-book format but if I sell enough e-books, this will change, so my fingers are crossed.
I love being a published crime writer. Talking to a writing group and a reading group and joining the Crime Writers Association have been high points. Having the opportunity to develop my character is a quieter and more subtle pleasure. I would say that being edited is one of the toughest aspects of having a novel published. But, this is a coin which really does have a shiny other side. It has been fascinating…to recognise that you are writing for your reader rather than yourself, to learn that you really must keep the plot tight and the tension cranked up. It makes you cringe to see your bad habits (or, have them pointed out to you). I over-use certain words and phrases with absolutely no idea that I’m doing it. My editor is American. She is wonderful but as you can probably imagine we have the odd, “separated by a common language” moment. I know a “gotten” has slipped in somewhere! Being edited by someone who has decades of experience might sting a little, at times but it ultimately improves your writing. I think my own editing ability has also sharpened.
For those of us who love writing and/or reading crime fiction little else matches the pleasure and escapism we derive from our slightly macabre but wholly wonderful pastime.
NOREEN WAINWRIGHT is Irish and now lives in the Staffordshire Moorlands with her husband, a dairy farmer. She works part-time as a mentor at Staffordshire University and the rest of her time is spent writing. Many of her articles and short stories have been published and she has co-written a non-fiction book.
She loves crime fiction, particularly that of the “golden age” and that is what she wants to recreate with Edith Horton’s world.