by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Date with Death by Julia Chapman along with an interesting interview with Julia. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Date with Death. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Date with Death: A Dales Detective Mystery by Julia Chapman
Review by Cynthia Chow
It was sadly ironic that just as Delilah Metcalfe launched the online Dales Dating Agency, her marriage collapsed and her husband filed for divorce. A former website designer, Delilah’s mortgage and flailing businesses have her sinking towards insolvency and in danger of losing it all. A sympathetic bank manager, her Uncle Wooly, grants Delilah the grace period of six months to prove that DDA’s new speed-dating events are the ticket to new clients and a profitable business. Delilah is certain that even in tiny Bruncliffe, England, lonely villagers are more than ready to find true their love.
It’s that claustrophobic nature of the Yorkshire Dales village that has Samson O’Brien reluctant to return home after fourteen years away. While awaiting the results of an inquiry may endanger either his job or his life at risk, Samson has come to Bruncliffe to open the Dales Detective Agency. Delilah has never forgiven him leaving and not returning even for the funeral of Ryan Metcalfe, her brother and Samson’s best friend. So it’s a true twist of the knife when Delilah discovers that not only he is Samson leasing the office space out of her building, but that his business shares the same initials as hers. At first, the need for rental payments forces her to share space with the Black Sheep of Bruncliffe, whose drunkard of a father had him fleeing the town and its bad memories in the first place. What has Delilah reluctantly bartering for his services is the growing fear that a number of her clients have been dying by very unnatural means. It leads to the very uncomfortable, but highly in demand, detective becoming Delilah’s latest client in order to determine if she has a femme fatale in her midst.
This novel takes its time examining the lives of the Bruncliffe villagers, and it is time well spent. Delilah’s prickly exterior hides her fear of failure, as the demise of her marriage has made her particularly sensitive to the possible loss of her business. Delilah and Samson both face challenges in forging identities independent of their families and Bruncliffe’s preconceptions. Delilah lost who she was when she entered her marriage, while Samson is facing neighbors who judge him based on his family and a life he tried to escape. The serious topics are balanced by the entertaining exploits of village dating life, as even the most conservative residents have the ability to surprise. The mystery of whether someone is picking off the lovelorn is slowly played out through this consistently satisfying novel that has its share of dry humor and wry observations. This debut series adds a modern twist on the traditional, English village mystery.
Interview With Julia Chapman:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Julia: I was given a diary when I was five, simply because my two older sisters got one so I couldn’t be left out. I filled it with scribbles and doodles. And got the writing bug. I’ve kept diaries and written poetry or fiction ever since.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Julia: My first novel, L’Auberge, was published in 2011 under the name Julia Stagg. It’s the first in the Fogas Chronicles, a series of five books based around a small village community in the French Pyrenees, full of laughter, local politics, and of course, love! The series was published in the UK and translated and published across Europe and South America.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Julia: Date with Death is the first time I’ve turned my hand to crime! Although my Fogas Chronicles, as mentioned above, do have a mysterious element to them. I’m really enjoying this new twist in my writing life.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Julia: I moved to the Yorkshire Dales in 2010, a beautiful part of northern England with fells (hills) and dales (valleys) and lots of sheep! It was crying out to be the backdrop of a series, and the humour that is always present in my books made me turn to gentle mysteries rather than hard-boiled thrillers. And the Dales Detective Series was born.
KRL: Would you tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book?
Julia: The setting is the small town of Bruncliffe, based on the very real town of Settle in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s nestled amongst the hills, a former centre of the wool trade, and it’s populated by people who are direct and call life as they see it. Samson O’Brien, born in Bruncliffe but having left under a black cloud fourteen years ago, has returned to set up a detective agency. But he isn’t about to get a warm welcome from the locals who view him as a reprobate or from his neighbour in business, Delilah Metcalfe. Until people start dying…
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Julia: I was raised in a family that told stories, with Irish parents who knew the art of telling a tale. Writing them down has simply been an extension of that, so I guess entertainment plays a key part. But I also write because I have to. The urge to get ideas on a page is something that drives me even now.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for writing or just write whenever you can?
Julia: I try to keep to a schedule, working week days as much as possible. But when a book starts to roll like a train down a track, then I write all hours. I’ve also been known to scribble when on holiday if an idea strikes me. I never travel without pencil and paper!
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Julia: Hmmmm. I’m not sure I have an idea of what’s going to happen when I start! I know the ending. The beginning is usually simple enough to plot. But the middle tends to take care of itself as the plot develops. So my outlines are very basic at the beginning and become more and more detailed as they go on.
With a series like the Dales Detective, I tend to keep two big notepads with moveable dividers that contain everything pertaining to the series. One is a rough pad, where I write when on the move or sketch out rough plot lines. The other is a record of characters, place names, back stories, etc. They are the first things I would save in a fire. After my husband, of course!
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Julia: In the morning. I like to get my work started early then if the words are flowing and I’m happy with what I’ve written, I head into the dales on my bicycle or go for a run over the fells. All in the name of research!
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Julia: For Date with Death alone I’ve visited a breeder of Weimaraners, talked to members of the local police force, run ten miles across the hills, spent several days on farms in lambing season and eaten a lot of Yorkshire tealoaf (no hardship!). For the Fogas Chronicles, I used to read the French political laws in French, which was difficult, and even passed an afternoon with a tarot reader… Research is essential but luckily I really enjoy it.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Julia: Actually I was very lucky in finding an agent who then managed to get a publisher almost straight away. That said, I do have a novel set in Japan that is languishing in a drawer out of sight…!
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Julia: I always compare trying to get published to the Aesop’s fable of the father, his son, and their donkey… On their walk to market, the father and son get ridiculed for not riding the donkey; when the father rides it, he’s criticised for making his son walk; when the son gets on the donkey, he’s told off for not letting his father ride. In the end, so confused by all the different points of view, they carry the donkey.
What has this got to do with getting published? Simply that you will get lots of contrasting opinions about your work, and you have to be mature enough as a writer to know which ones you want to take. Don’t be coerced into changing things so much that you end up carrying the donkey!
KRL: Do you have any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Julia: Practice. As with any skill, writing needs practice. And be honest with yourself. Honesty is one of the best attributes for a writer. It saves you wasting a lot of time on something that really isn’t up to scratch!
KRL: Do you have a most interesting book signing story—in a bookstore or other venue?
Julia: So far, so normal… although tomorrow I am going to a bookstore in northern England to host a Crime and Cake event. I think that will be very interesting!
KRL: What are some of your future writing goals?
Julia: Ah! Lots! I think Samson O’Brien and Delilah Metcalfe have a lot of life in them, so I’m hoping the Dales Detective series will be a long one. I also have ideas for some romantic comedies and a couple of thrillers, and I’d like to go back to the Pyrenees someday and pen a few more Fogas books… And that’s just for starters!
KRL: Do you have any writing heroes?
Julia: So many. But it was Laura Ingalls Wilder who caught my imagination as a child and made me want to create stories that kept others as gripped as I was by her wonderful novels.
KRL: What do you read?
Julia: Everything. I love thrillers, mysteries, literary fiction, biographies… There’s very little I don’t read.
KRL: What are you favorite TV shows or movies?
Julia: I don’t watch much TV—probably a remnant of having grown up without one. But I am a sports fan, so I do watch important events like the Olympics, the football World Cup, and when I lived in the USA, the World Series! As for the movies, I’m a secret fan of action films but also have a soft spot for French cinema.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Julia: People are always fascinated when they find out I speak Japanese.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Julia: Come and say hello to me on social media. Writing is a lonely occupation, and it’s always a joy to interact with readers!
To enter to win a copy of Date With Death, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “date,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 6, 2017. US residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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