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On the trail of crime writers

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: March 07, 2013

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FOLLOW the clues to Norton House Hotel, Mumbles, today to find two leading crime writers signing copies of their latest tomes.

Charlotte Williams and Mathew Hall will have pens poised at 7.30pm, with Mathew pleased to get back to his best-known character, coroner Jenny Cooper, in The Chosen Dead.

"I find it a challenge to explore a new aspect of her character with each book, and to keep her interesting.

"Do I like her as a person?

"I like aspects of her character but it isn't good to like your characters too much.

"When I was a lawyer I came across those people who overturned injustices or who pursued anomalies and they were dogged, cussed people. They had to be to get things done. And she is one of those people."

He says making her a woman helped give him, as her creator, a certain distance, which adds to the writing challenge.

"I originally intended the character to be a man but once I began writing she became female.

"I think women have more interesting and more complex lives emotionally, particularly now, when they are juggling so many things."

And that legal background, of course, has helped to give Mathew's novels an authoritative tone of voice.

It also awakened a moral and emotional reaction to our legal processes, which find their way into his work.

"One of the most striking things I found, when working in the legal system, is that the majority of people you are dealing with are young, aged 15 to 25, and 80 per cent of them are male.

"And these are almost all teenagers and young men who have been utterly neglected by the adults in their lives.

"I am not a bleeding heart liberal — I couldn't be further from that — but it is very sad and disheartening to see us lock up these people.

"You notice too that these youngsters are invariably resourceful, energetic and often very engaging people.

"I found myself thinking, 'If only that energy had been channelled properly'. That is something I dealt with particularly in my first book.

A journalist and a scriptwriter too, notably for Kavannah QC and Dalziel and Pascoe, Mathew's journalism tends to delve into personal family experiences, to emotive effect.

And he says being an observer of human behaviour from a young age has been a gift for him as a novelist.

"I think I was an observer.

"Most writers I speak to had no choice in the matter. They didn't decide to be writers, they just had something they had to get out."

And for him it is the writers of the classics whose work he returns to again and again.

"I am very much a country boy so I love Laurie Lee and Thomas Hardy, with those lovely descriptive passages that we aren't allowed to write anymore."

Charlotte will talk about her first book, The House on the Cliff, at tonight's event, organised by Cover to Cover Bookshop.

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