Cover story – part two
Daniel Raven-Clift’s the designer who creates the amazing covers for my Bev Morriss crime series. His latest – the ninth title – is Death Wish.
In a previous post I asked Dan how he creates such striking images and here he interviews me about my job as an author.
I’m a journalist as well and have to say it felt pretty weird to be on the receiving end of the questions, but Dan’s pretty good at posing them. I loved answering his queries, but (whisper it) not as much as I adore his cover-work.
DAN: Maureen, you’ve brought the character of Bev to life in nine novels now, and you must feel very close to her. What’s it like to have created such a richly complex character and have complete control over her destiny?
Great question, Dan, and you’re dead right with your conjecture that I must feel very close to Bev. After all this time I feel I know her better than some of my closest friends. I love the fact she shoots from the lip and refuses to take ordure from anyone: villains or VIPS, she tells it like it is. She can be pricklier than a cactus convention but she’s also sensitive and caring and it’s this that gives her enormous empathy with the good guys and gals.
Ironically, when I started writing Working Girls, I envisaged that Bev would very much play third fiddle to her boss, Detective Superintendent Bill Byford. I gave her a walk-on part but every time she appeared on the page and I put words into her mouth, she stole the scene. Then I got to thinking, it’s about time crime fiction had a young female cop taking the lead role. Back then they were pretty thin on the patch considering how many curmudgeonly male detectives were around invariably carrying a back story crammed with emotional baggage. Bev was an antidote to all that and though I do put her through some dark and difficult mills, I’m always cognisant of readers and listeners who’ve taken her to their hearts. If they think I’m giving her a really hard time, they let me know in no uncertain terms. It gives me a rosy glow that Bev is as real to them as she is to me.
DAN: Many people have said that your Bev Morriss novels would make a great TV series (and I concur!) Have you ever thought about who would be good at playing Bev?
Bev on the box? Wouldn’t that be great? Like zillions of other books, the series has in the past been optioned for TV but it’s currently what’s known in the trade as ‘parked’. The idea might be revived at some point in the future and that would make my day but realistically only a tiny proportion of proposed new crime series make it onto the screen.
Having said that, I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to discuss with producers our dream cast list. I’d love Jenna Coleman to play Bev. I’ve thought that since I first saw her in Dr Who. She has that essential feisty side but also real warmth and a twinkle not just in the eye but in the voice. Oh yes, and I’d like Olivia Colman to play Bev’s mum. And Adil Ray to play Oz. And Greg Wise to play Byford. And . . . you get the picture.
DAN: Your novels contain some hard-hitting and emotional issues — how do you avoid carrying those feelings over into everyday life?
You’re right about the novels dealing with some pretty grim and gritty issues. In my book – and books – crime is never cosy. Its impact on victims and the fallout on their families and friends is often devastating. I try and portray crime realistically and, therefore, seriously, but I do leaven the mix with humour mainly through the dialogue, banter between detectives that sort of thing.
Gallows humour is the clichéd way it’s described but, believe me, it happens in real life at actual crime scenes. As a TV journalist and producer I witnessed it, took part in it, and to my mind as much anything it’s a way of coping; a way of lightening the dark times. I’m sure this carries over into my crime fiction and helps give the necessary distance.
DAN: Who would you say has had the greatest influence on your work?
I suppose it depends what you mean by ‘influence’. I’ve always read voraciously and admire a huge number of authors but I guess as far as my decision to writecrime fiction goes, I guess that would be down to Ruth Rendell. I remember years ago being absolutely blown away by the first line of one of her standalone novels, A Judgement in Stone.
It goes, ‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.’ What an opening! Thirteen words – but such resonance, such power. The book was definitely one of the springboards for my crime writing career. So yes, Ruth Rendell has a lot to answer for!
On the other hand, if you mean who’s had the greatest influence on the way I write, unless it’s subliminally, I don’t think anyone has. I do know some writers won’t read books in their genre when they have a work-in-progress but I couldn’t imagine not reading. The way I see it, if an author’s developed a sufficiently distinctive ‘voice’ he or she has a style all their own and is immune from picking up anyone else’s writing traits.
DAN: In Stephen King’s Misery, Paul Sheldon enjoys a cigarette and a glass of champagne when he finishes a book. What does Maureen Carter do?
I remember finishing writing a Bev book and immediately going out to get my eyebrows threaded, but that’s so uncool. Have to say that apart from breathing a huge sigh of relief, I mostly catch up with friends over a glass or three of Prosecco. What I definitely DON’T do is drive to Los Angeles through the mountains in a snowstorm.