Lesley Thomson talks about plot challenges in her new novel The Dog Walker.
1. Can you tell us more about your novel, The Dog Walker?
It’s a story that might ring true for many readers who walk their dogs at unsociable hours in dark, lonely places where the dog can go off the lead. Often it’s the dog walker who finds a body dumped amongst scrub or in a ditch. But what if the dog walker – jogging along a lonely towpath besides the River Thames – is the victim?
2. How did you come up with the idea for the Detective’s Daughter series?
I wanted my detectives to be ‘unofficial’, outside the police, but with links to them. I made Stella a cleaner who like her detective Dad enters messy ‘scenes’ and restores order. She and Terry work to bring resolution. Jack is a creature of the night, driving through London Underground Tunnels he’s alone in his train cab. Unafraid of the dark, he thinks like a killer, he can anticipate their moves. Between them, Stella and Jack possess qualities that enable them to track down murderers and solve crimes. Stella grows closer – after his death – to her father whose job took him away from his family. Jack wrestles with the loss of a mother who was herself a murder victim. A cleaner and a District line train driver, they make a good team.
3. Where did you get the inspiration for the character of Stella, the detective’s daughter?
Stella is perhaps the antithesis of me. I’ll only clean if the spider’s webs around my desk begin to take over or we have friends coming. Stella however, loves cleaning and deep cleaning specifically. She’s unemotional, unimaginative and literal. Unlike me she’s has only read one novel: Wuthering Heights. She’s grown and changed over the stories (as have I. I do now like to deep clean), she’s more empathetic and aware of her feelings.
4. Did you do any specific research for The Dog Walker?
I did less research for this book than for any of my other novels. It came from the experience of walking with my dog so most of my research was walking the area where the story was set. I spend hours alone on the towpath by Kew Bridge, hearing odd sounds and smelling river mud when the tide receded. I was spooked more than once! I did research the pros and cons of building one of those subterranean basements, visiting countless websites on the subject.
5. What are you most proud of about The Dog Walker?
I think it’s the scariest murder story I’ve written so far.
6. Was there a particular part of the novel that was really difficult to write?
I always find the plot a challenge. I’d be terrible at plotting a crime. With a novel you get several goes to iron out anomalies (how could so and so be in two places at once? Why would X do that if they already have Y?} If I was enacting an actual crime, I’d be caught with the murder weapon on me having forgotten the bit where you must dispose of it. Besides this, with each story there generally comes a point about two thirds in when I think it’s all a pile of poo and I should go and clean the house. But I know to plug on and eventually it comes good.
7. Do you have a set daily writing routine?
I do. I’m at my desk by 8.30. I work until 1pm and then have an hour’s walk with the dog. I often solve gritty plot problems while pacing over the Downs. I return and work until 5.30pm. Sometimes, if on my own, I work in the evening, generally reading for research, sometimes writing although I’m best in the mornings.
8 Who are your favourite authors?
These vary as I read so much. But firm favorites are: Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Harper Lee, Ruth Rendell, Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, Elly Griffiths, Val McDermid, Tana French and Michael Connelly.
9. What’s one of the most exciting things that has happened to you since you became a writer?
I was invited to give the after dinner speech at the Ladies Banquet for The Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners. This was because my detective is a cleaner. It was held in at the Stationers’ Hall in London, complete with wood paneled walls and stained glass. I had to scrub up and look sharp. I sat on the top table with the Master and Mistress of the WCEC who were warm and welcoming. Officials of the company wore the WCEC livery including a Beadle who announced toasts and speeches with a rap of his gavel. It was a tremendous experience. I was just sorry that Stella couldn’t come.
10. Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?
In the next novel Stella and Jack move to Gloucestershire to solve a forty-year-old murder. They are not keen on the lack of pavements, the mud or the wayward cows. Holed up in a large ramshackle house in the middle of a field, as the clues mount up and they come closer to understanding what happened, they realize that the killer is close by…
A haunted house, a broken family and a body that has never been found. Stella and Jack must reawaken the secrets of the past in order to solve the mysteries of the present.
January, 1987. In the depths of winter, only joggers and dog walkers brave the Thames towpath after dark. Helen Honeysett, a young newlywed, sets off for an evening run from her riverside cottage. Only her dog returns.
Twenty-nine years later, her husband has asked Stella Darnell, a private detective, and her side-kick Jack Harmon, to find out what happened all those years ago. But when the five households on that desolate stretch of towpath refuse to give up their secrets, Stella and Jack find themselves hunting a killer whose trail has long gone cold…
Lesley Thomson grew up in west London. Her first novel, A Kind of Vanishing, won the People’s Book Prize in 2010. Her second novel, The Detective’s Daughter, was a #1 bestseller and sold over 500,000 copies.