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 is a Londoner. Her first crime novel A Kind of Vanishing won The People’s Book Prize in 2010. The Detective’s Daughter is a number one bestseller and Sainsbury’s ebook for 2014. Ghost Girl, the second in the The Detective’s Daughter series (2014) went to number one in Sainsbury’s e-chart and is another bestseller. The Detective’s Secret was published in 2015. The Runaway, an ebook short about Stella Darnell (the detective’s daughter) came out in July 2015 and the fourth in the series, The House with No Rooms in 2016. The Dogwalker, another case for Stella and Jack, comes out in April 2017.
Lesley lives in Sussex with her partner and her dog and is working on The Detective Daughter sixth in the series featuring Stella Darnell.
My Q&A with Lesley Thomson
Please tell my readers a little bit about yourself and your publishing journey.
Hi there, here’s a bit about me. I was born and grew up in West London. Although I’m a Hammersmith girl at heart – the River Thames flows through my veins (Yuk, you may say) – I’ve always craved open space and fresh air. This sent me to Australia in my twenties and I now live in Lewes, a town within the Sussex Downs. My publishing journey has been a zig-zag path littered with boulders (rejections). I was first published in my late twenties (1987), my editor was the wonderful Jeannette Winterson. Then I embarked on a series of career jobs and family stuff. The two novels I managed to write remain in my attic. A Kind of Vanishing was published in 2007. It won The People’s Book Prize for fiction in 2010. My next novel The Detective Daughter became a best seller as have the subsequent novels in this series. The road of writing fiction, of being published and then being read is ever a rocky one. However, it’s also very rewarding to engage with my readers.
I’m frequently the guest of book groups around the country. I find it a deeply rewarding and interesting experience. Book group members are lively and engaged and I often hear ideas about my plots and characters that I hadn’t thought of before.
Describe yourself using three words?
Inquisitive. Quirky. Imaginative. (These qualities can serve me well and get me into the deepest trouble…)
What inspired you to write your first novel?
I was inspired to write A Kind Of Vanishing after hearing an item on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours about helping primary school-aged children deal with the death of a classmate who was a friend. Then they moved onto discussing how to support children who hadn’t liked the dead child and secretly might not be sorry that they were dead. I remembered children I hadn’t liked at school, (one actually, who bullied me) how would I have felt if that child had died. I suspected I would have been privately relieved as I dreaded going to school at one point. I was making lunch when the programme was on and. I stopped cooking and grabbed my writing notebook.
What time of day do you like to write?
I write from about 8.30am until 1pm with a break for coffee around 11.am. I can rarely write new material in the afternoon, my brain isn’t nearly as inquisitive or imaginative as in the mornings. Although I can redraft and correct existing text.
What is your favourite book and why?
Our Mutual Friend came instantly to mind you when asked me this. It’s full of characters who go on personal journeys and gain from experience. It’s packed with mystery and starts with an vivid and unsettling scene steeped in atmosphere. The Thames at night. It drew me in and I can still picture the scene now. (I reread it regularly). It has a happy ending that makes sense with the development of the characters. I. have Dickens (and indeed Wilkie Collins, another favourite) to thank for my constant return to the River Thames in my own fiction. The Dog Walker is set on the towpath at Kew in the present day, but it – and my series – owes much to my love of Charles Dickens and this particular novel. The places I describe in my stories are, to my mind, gas-lit with glistening cobbles of the nineteenth century.
How did you pick the title of your book?
It picked itself. The novel features people who regularly walk their dogs early in the morning and last thing at night. As II do – one of the characters is not what they seem. One dark morning while out with Alfred my scruffy poodle, I was struck with how a harmless and enjoyable activity (I solve a lot of knotty plot problems when out with Alfred) could be sinister and threatening. And so I came up with The Dog Walker.
Are the characters in your book based on real people?
No. I’d find it limiting to use a real person as a model and be unable to bring them to life. I invent my characters from scratch, although some share a couple of my own qualities, Jack is quirky and draws conclusions about life from personalized number plates he spots as I tend to do. Then again Stella possesses a quality that I definitely lack, she’s passionate about cleaning. Seated at my desk I can resemble Dickens’ character Miss Haversham, and be shrouded in cobwebs. Having said that, when I do clean, I deep clean like Stella, just not as often.
What’s your favorite word?
Contentment, a state I dream of. I’ve been lucky as I get older I experience this more often.
If you were a colour what would it be?
Blue. It’s a calm, positive colour in many shades that I like: aqua marine, royal blue, slate blue, turquoise. (Electric Blue is a fave Bowie track). This despite blue being used to express unhappiness.
Do you plan your story beforehand or go with the flow?
I plan it in detail, but I’ll change scenes along the way as the story demands. Or, as characters develop I might think, ‘Oh they need to do that, or would never do so and so.’ I always know the last scene of any story I write before I begin.
Who is your favourite Author?
I don’t really have one. But Dickens is right up there. Barbara Pym is wonderful. In crime fiction, I always look forward to the next Elly Griffiths.
You are attending a dinner party with four fictitious book characters who would they be and why?
Lucy from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – she’s feisty, adventurous (quirky and imaginative). I’d love to have known her when I was little and still would. Ruth Galloway from Elly Griffiths’ series, Ruth might express some of the shy ambivalence I’d feel about attending a dinner with strangers, I suspect we’d bond over that as well as my long held interest in archeology. I’d like to sit opposite Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. He’d be intriguing, challenging, scary and fatally alluring. (I’d have Lucy and Ruth to protect me). Finally Count Fosco from Wilki Collins’ The Woman In White, he’d hold court, be cuttingly amusing and a match for Tom Ripley.
What book are you reading at the moment?
Tana French’s The Secret Place. I find French’s novels utterly absorbing.
Where in the world is your happy place?
On the Sussex Downs on a spring day with the sea shimmering on the horizon.
If you had one superpower what would it be?
To have a really good memory. I read a lot, but however good the book is, a few weeks later I’m left only with impressions. I love to remember detail.
If you could give any literary villain a happy ending who would you chose?
The White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lucy would help the witch mend her ways and live happily on in Narnia.
Are you working on a new project?
I’m writing the sixth in the Detective’s Daughter series. In this one Jack and Stella move to the country to solve a case. They are city people so the roaming cattle, barbed wire fences and pitch black nights are is a challenge.
Do you have any upcoming events our members can attend?
I’m launching The Dog Walker along with the new books from three crime writers, Elly Griffths, William Shaw and Susan Wilkins at the Brighton Waterstones on Thursday 27th April.
I’ll be at Bristol Crime Fest on Friday 19th May talking about obsession with four other crime writers including the wonderful Stave Sherez.
In July I’m heading to Harrogate for the Crime Writing Festival to teach a Crime Writing workshop on Plot with Greg Mosse (Creative Thursday, 20th July)
I’m hosting a table at the Digging Up The Past Dinner on Saturday 22nd July.
Thanks to Lesley Thomson and Blake B, @HoZ_Books I am very grateful to be on your tour.
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