Monday, 11 October 2010

Dancing With Myself: MARTIN EDWARDS interviews MARTIN EDWARDS

Today we're very fortunate to have Martin Edwards with us. He's a writer of stature and a blogger extra-ordinaire. He's a bit like a pedigree racehorse or a classic wine - sleek and tasty (not sure where I'm going with this - help!). Perhaps I'd do better handing straight over, but do yourself a favour and pop over to his blog (reviews, issues, information, you name it).

1 Do you see yourself mainly as a lawyer or a writer?

A writer, first and foremost!

2. Then why become a lawyer?

I always wanted to be a novelist - and specifically a crime novelist - but of course I needed to pay the mortgage as well, and I was lucky enough to find that I enjoyed being a lawyer, and enjoyed writing about the law. My first four books were on legal topics, simply because it was easier to get published with non-fiction than fiction.

3. Does your legal knowledge help you to write crime?

Criminal law is interesting in theory, but I’d hate to do it in practice. Rapists, paedophiles and muggers certainly have to be defended in a civilised society - but not by me. Employment law is a fast moving field, and has plenty of social and political significance - strikes, discrimination, working conditions, these things are relevant to most people in some way. Above all, employment law involves understanding and trying to solve issues arising in human relationships. This is where the link with the concerns of the novelist comes in, rather than in the technical legal subject matter. Though employment lawyers did feature to some extent in my stand-alone novel of psychological suspense, TAKE MY BREATH AWAY.

4. Do you identify with Harry Devlin in your Liverpool books?

Some people have suggested that Harry Devlin, the Liverpool lawyer who appeared in my first seven novels and later in WATERLOO SUNSET, is a fictionalised version of me. All I can say is, thank God he isn't! But I do enjoy writing about Harry and his misadventures. WATERLOO SUNSET in particular was a joy to write.

5. Do legal themes play a major part in your work?

Justice is important to me, and to Harry, and being involved with opportunities to see justice done is one of the appeals of being a lawyer. But you have to be realistic about what is achievable. You have to act in your client's best interests, whether you approve of your client personally or not. I wrote a novel about Dr Crippen, DANCING WITH THE HANGMAN, which tackles the question of justice head-on, and I found it a wonderful experience to research and write that particular story. It was very different from my other work, but I always believed in the story, and the reviews were tremendously gratifying.

6. What appeals to you about writing a series?

There are plenty of possibilities with a novel for the dissection of society, but perhaps even more if you write a series. My Liverpool series showed a fascinating city in transition over a period of years. My series set in the Lake District deals, perhaps more broadly, with the tensions between urban society and rural tradition, and the pressures on the countryside and rural ways of life in England. This is especially the case in the fourth and latest book in the series, THE SERPENT POOL. I've been interested in the positive way overseas readers have responded to the 'Englshness' of the books. I enjoy this aspect of writing, but I also enjoy the delineation and exploration of character, and creating a complex and unusual mystery. Above all, I like telling enjoyable stories - I genuinely find it exciting to write the last few chapters, when all becomes clear. At least, I enjoy the stories, and I hope other people do as well.

7. How important to you is research?

Of course it's desirable to avoid making mistakes. So if you are going to write about a legal topic, it's sensible to research it (and I researched DANCING WITH THE HANGMAN, for instance, with enormous care.). And it’s great ‘having’ to go to the Lake District to research the world of Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind! But you can write a good novel which skirts round stuff you don't want to research - for instance, police or courtroom procedure, if you find that boring. You can be selective, and focus on subjects you do know enough about to write confidently and without error. But when mistakes are made, it grates, and can lose you readers. I once watched a tv series about an employment lawyer which was hopelessly inaccurate. Though I have to admit that many employment lawyers watched it, simply to amuse themselves at the expense of the actors and script writer.

8. What was the first crime novel you ever read?

THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE by Agatha Christie which I read aged 9. Start at the top!

9. And the most recent you read?

STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson. Really entertaining and very funny.

10. Finally, what have been the highlights of your writing career to date?

Winning the CWA Short Story Dagger for ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice’, being shortlisted for best crime novel of 2006 for THE COFFIN TRAIL and being elected to membership of the Detection Club.


  1. A lawyer with ethics, fortunately not a really rare combination but refreshing when you run across one. A good look at an orderly mind. I'll give the books a going over.

  2. Great interview. A really interesting introduction to Martin's work.

  3. I liked the part about the police and courtroom research. Not a big fan of all the intricate details that are sometimes part of novels. Bogs the story down. I like when the cops are corrupt and are doing bad things. Nice interview and very interesting.