Today I have the privilege of chatting with one of my favorite authors and people, Charlie Cochrane. Charlie has a new book out, Lessons in Following a Poisonous Trail, and it’s excellent.
Charlie’s Cambridge Fellows stories were some of the first LGBT+ mysteries I ever read, and they have a special place in my heart. I’m also a big fan of the Lindenshaw mysteries. In addition, Charlie is one of the organizers of the biannual UK meet, which, if you haven’t experienced, you really should.
JF: Hi, Charlie! Let’s get started with Five Fast Fun Facts about you. Go!
I’m eccentric – some might say mad as a hatter
I once fed a Polo mint to the famous racehorse Red Rum
I can write backwards – joined up, as well
I once nearly took my eye out with a French stick
I got a double first from Cambridge University
Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? What other jobs have you held? Have they influenced your writing?
Not a paid job at present, but I am a director of a small charity. That’s never influenced my writing, although a previous career – being a freelance trainer of school governors – has given me many an inspiration. For several reasons, the Lindenshaw Mysteries (of which there’ll be a new one out next month) would never have happened had it not been for the training courses I delivered or sat in on. If you read those books and think, “People in education would never say that!” chances are you’re wrong, because they do and have and I’ve squirrelled them away.
Everything. I have a magpie mind so I’m always noticing what people are doing or saying and I’m storing it away for later. (Like I did with some of the school governors on courses I ran.) I also get inspired by locations, wondering what it would be like to put my characters here and see how they’d react. Or it may be a simple thing I read: a true tale I came across of two Agincourt veterans going on a pilgrimage together made me want to write a story about two soldiers in WWI doing the same. Promises Made Under Fire grew out of that idea.
JF: Haha. OMG What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Watch sport, either live or on the telly. (You have no idea how much I miss that at present.) I also like theatre, music and historic locations. In fact, I have an interest in lots of things – variety is the spice of life as they say.
JF: Yes, your famous love of sport has made it into a lot of your work and I, for one have learned a lot! Another thing I enjoy is “visiting” scenic locations across the UK through your books. Are there any particular places that give you inspiration?
The island of Jersey, where we go on holiday every other year. For a small island – roughly nine miles by five – it’s got a wide variety of scenery, beaches, wildlife, thousands of years of history, great places to shop and even better places to eat.
I’ve only set one story there but the grandeur of the scenery and the amazing sense of history always fires my imagination and I come home with fresh story ideas. If I haven’t already succumbed to writing a new tale while we’re still there.
JF: As a writer, I’m always curious about other writers’ processes. Can you describe yours?
I’m an absolute pantser. It feels like I’m discovering the story as I write it – almost as if I’m listening to it as a weekly serial on the radio or watching it on the telly and recording what I see of hear. I’m always amazed at how many relevant clues my sub-conscious has sneaked into the first draft that I don’t discover until I go back over to make sure all is in line with whatever the denouement has turned out to be.
JF: Well, it certainly seems to be working, if your fan base is anything to go by! But speaking of, do you read your reviews? And, in the unlikely case that you get one that isn’t so great, how do you handle it?
Usually I read only the good ones. The bad ones would only wind me up and if the reader didn’t like the story, they’re perfectly entitled to that opinion. I agree with EM Forster, who said, “Some reviews give pain. This is regrettable, but no author has the right to whine. He was not obliged to be an author. He invited publicity, and he must take the publicity that comes along.”
JF: What is the one thing you wish you’d known about writing before you started doing it seriously?
Honest answer? How much bitchiness and hypocrisy there is in some quarters. I find it so depressing and wearing – often I simply stay off social media when it’s all kicking off. Having said that, there are lots of lovely, supportive people as well. To almost flip the question on its head, the real bonus I’ve found in writing is the truly nice friends I’ve made.
JF: That is for sure. Our writing community has some of the kindest and most supportive folk! But now on to what a lot of people have been waiting for. You have a new book out! Tell us about it!
Lessons in Following a Poisonous Trail is a romantic mystery, set in Cambridge in 1911, released on April 6th 2020. It’s the latest Cambridge Fellows mystery, featuring Jonty and Orlando who are lovers, dons and amateur sleuths.
Central premise is simple – take Jonty, confine him to bed with a rugby injury and see what ensues when there’s a series of apparent poisonings to investigate. Add an eccentric colleague who has to take the injured man’s place conducting witness interviews, a frustrated Orlando who just wants life to return to normal and a villain who might be lacing dinners with laxative…
JF: Poor Jonty! Where did you get the idea to torture him like that? (Although I must say I liked seeing the emergence of another character’s detecting abilities, and I would love to see a spinoff series, hint hint.)
I genuinely have no idea. This may sound potty but I sometimes feel like I’m the official biographer for Jonty and Orlando and am simply relating their adventures as they tell them to me.
JF: That does sound familiar. Now, as regards this story, is there any central idea you’d like readers to take away?
That they might want to read the rest of the series? Actually, what I’d really like them to take away is wondering what the eccentric colleague mentioned above got up to when he was involved with the secret services. Which is often implied but never detailed.
JF: I’d like to re-read the series now! But you’re so prolific, I don’t think there will be time before another book comes out! (*jealous*). So, what is next for Charlie Cochrane?
Writing wise, I’ve got a first draft to finish, a second draft to complete and some submissions to make. Like many authors, once project is put to bed, another starts.
Life wise, I have to devise some more puzzles (word, number, etc) to send out to my family while we socially isolate. They love their daily challenge.
JF: Charlie, thank you so much for joining me today!
And if you want to get straight to the books, you can find them here.