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Poison Pen by PJ Quinn (Stairwell Books, £9.50)
The latest novel by mother-and-daughter crime writing combo PJ Quinn is launched in York later this month, reports STEPHEN LEWIS.
ONE thing you learn when you decide to form a crime-writing duo with your own daughter is that it is possible to sulk by email, says Pauline Kirk.
Poet and novelist Pauline lives in Dringhouses, York. Her daughter Jo Summers, a legal writer, lives in Surrey.
So when they decided to team up a few years ago as ‘PJ Quinn’ to write a series of 1950s-set crime novels featuring DI Paul Ambrose, it naturally involved a great deal of emailing back-and-forth.
“We live 300 miles apart and most of our work is done by email and telephone, with occasional writing weeks together,” Pauline says. “It is possible to sulk by email. But we’ve learnt not to be precious about our own contribution. What matters is the end result.”
Foul Play, the first in a planned trilogy of DI Ambrose novels by PJ Quinn, was published in 2011. Both she and her daughter had always enjoyed reading crime thrillers, Pauline says. “And my daughter challenged me ‘to have a go’ at the genre.”
Before long, Jo was involved as well. “She says I was suffering from writer’s block. She challenged me to write a crime novel, and somehow ended up writing it with me.”
Mother and daughter discovered there were benefits to working as a team: sharing ideas, sparking off each other; working plots and characters out together; and having fun.
But there were some disadvantages, too – and not just the distance, and the email sulks.
“Jo is a legal writer; I am a poet,” Pauline says. “Our styles are very different, so we do sometimes disagree professionally (not much privately). But our collaboration has grown easier as we have found PJ Quinn’s style, which is different to either of our own.”
Foul Play was a classic sleuth novel, set in a run-down, bomb-damaged theatre in the 1950s.
Now the pair’s second DI Ambrose novel, Poison Pen, has been published. Like Foul Play, it is set in the 1950s. And it, too, features DI Ambrose – an ordinary man, with a raft of wartime memories and problems at home.
This time, unexpected illness and death strike at a group of writers and painters taking part in a course held at a decaying old house. Is there a poisoner at work among the aspiring authors and artists assembled at Chalk Heath Hall? And if so why… and who is it?
Pauline has gone on record as saying she wants to avoid creating the kind of shock-horror violent crime that characterises so much modern crime drama on TV.
“Some recent crime writers, especially for television and film, seem to be trying to outdo each other in the shock and horror they can induce. The body count gets higher and stories more unrealistic. We wanted to create believable characters and plots, and to involve our readers in the intellectual pleasure of working things out themselves as a story unfolds.”
If you want to call the DI Ambrose novels ‘cosy’ crime, she’s not going to argue, Pauline says.
“‘Cosy crime’ is a label applied by bookshops, to distinguish from the more violent crime novels. “‘Cosy’ is a misnomer really, as no murder would be cosy. We didn’t set out to write any particular style of crime novel, but would probably be put on the ‘cosy crime’ shelves. It’s a popular genre.”
And why the 1950s setting? “We decided to set our novels in the past as we knew we couldn’t keep pace with modern forensic developments. The 1950s are an interesting period, between post-war austerity and the ‘Swinging Sixties’. They also predate many developments in criminal investigation, enabling us to draw on our characters’ powers of deduction.”
And there was one other reason. “I had also inherited many family photographs that we could use to create a sense of period.”
As good a reason as any, that.
• Poison Pen by PJ Quinn is published by Stairwell Books, priced £9.50. The book will be officially launched at the Hotel Du Vin in York on February 21 as a preview event for this year’s York Literature Festival, which runs from March 19-24. Tickets for the event are £5 from York Theatre Royal on 01904 623568.
• A STRING of big-name writers – including poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, journalist and novelist Will Self and Round Ireland With A Fridge author Tony Hawks – will headline at the main Literature Festival from March 19-24. For full details of events, visit yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk