I’m not exactly sure, but certainly well before I left primary school.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Each of the DI Yates novels has taken about a year to write from the development of the original idea to completing the final version. As well as this, I still have a day-job and I work on all sorts of other writing projects at the same time, but I’m not sure that I’d be any quicker at completing the novels if this weren’t the case. I think that the writing needs time to mature properly – and I’m a great believer in revision. I revise each book several times before I’m satisfied with it.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I try to write 1,000 words a day. Sometimes it is much more than this, but, on some days, despite my best intentions – and I’m an advocate of daily writing – I just don’t manage to do it. I’m more interested in the quality of the output than the time that it takes. I revise each day’s writing when it is completed, and I revise it again on the following day before I start the next stint.
How many crime novels have you written?
I’m just finishing the third. It’s called Sausage Hall.
Which is your favourite and why?
That’s a tough question, because I think if you ask most writers they’re always completely absorbed in the book that they’re currently working on. This certainly applies to me. If you think about it, it makes sense; otherwise, you wouldn’t have the energy and self-confidence to carry it through. So at the moment I’d say Sausage Hall. However, I shall always have a soft spot for In the Family, the first of the DI Yates series, partly because it was the first, partly because I do think that it’s ‘different’. Several reviewers have said that it breaks new ground.
Where do you get your ideas?
The first idea for each book usually comes from a memory, an event or something that I see when I’m out – it could be a conversation or just the view from a train window. This idea builds and grows in my mind for quite a while, until I’m ready to write an outline and, eventually, quite a detailed plot.
Who is your favourite character from your own work and why?
That’s a really difficult question, particularly as I’m trying to develop the ‘regular’ characters in the DI Yates series all of the time. Setting them aside, I like Peter Prance in In the Family, because, although he is intended to be both sinister and destructive, he is also amusing. I also like Alex Tarrant in Almost Love, because she is an imperfect character. She faces many of the moral dilemmas that all modern women have to tackle and she doesn’t always handle them very well; nevertheless, I think she is a sympathetic character.
Which character from the work of others do you wish you’d invented and why?
In response to this, I’m not going to choose a character in a crime novel (though I have thought about it carefully and there are several that I admire). But, for a well-rounded, complex, sympathetic yet irritating, intelligent yet sometimes highly irrational, perfectly credible, endlessly fascinating character whom I know I’d delight in if I could meet her, I don’t think that there is anyone to match Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse.
If you could have been someone from history involved in crime (good or bad) who would that be and why?
That depends on your definition of crime! Many actions and events that took place in history were not regarded as criminal at the time, yet would be today. I’m thinking of the forcible removal of children from poor families to be sent to Australia, for example. The converse is also true: in the eighteenth century, there were more than 200 crimes for which those convicted faced capital punishment.
Today, we’d regard many of them as quite trivial. (I was horrified to read in the Sunday Times last week that North Korea still uses the death penalty for minor crimes, or offences that we don’t consider to be crimes at all, such as ‘wasting electricity’.)
I’m very interested in Richard III. I don’t necessarily believe that he was a villain, at least by the standards of his time – I think we have Shakespeare to thank for that particular interpretation of his character. Nevertheless, I should like to have been able to get inside his head and find out what he was thinking during his momentous short life.
Even if he didn’t murder the ‘princes in the Tower’, I suspect that, like many of the heads of large corporations today, he had to trample quite a few people underfoot on his way to the throne.
What are you working on now?
As I mentioned above, I’m just completing Sausage Hall, the third DI Yates novel. Like the first two novels in the Yates series, it is set mostly in Lincolnshire, though some of the action also takes place in Norfolk. Sausage Hall is the name that the locals give the house that is called Laurieston in the novel. It is situated in the village of Sutterton and based on an actual house, which really was nicknamed Sausage Hall, because it had been built by a butcher who’d gone bankrupt in the 1850s.
My grandmother, who worked in domestic service all of her life, moved to Sutterton, which is about ten miles from Spalding and seven miles from Boston, when she was sixty to become companion to a very old lady who lived there. The old lady had been the wife of a gentleman farmer who was twenty years her senior, so he must have been born in the mid-nineteenth century.
The house was frozen in a time warp. It was packed with quaint furnishings; but the most astounding thing about it (though as a child I just accepted it as normal) was that the walls were decorated with many sepia photographs of the old lady’s husband when he’d been on safari in Africa as a young man. These photographs must have been taken in the 1870s or 1880s and in many of them he was accompanied by several black women wearing very little except strings of beads.
It has long been my intention to write about what I think might have happened in this house. When I began researching the period and the district, my plot was given a considerable boost when I discovered that someone very famous had lived nearby in the late nineteenth century. That person appears in the novel, too. The book is set in the present, but the characters and their actions are considerably influenced by what went on at Sausage Hall more than a century ago.
C.A. James was born in Spalding and sets her novels in the evocative Fenland countryside of South Lincolnshire. She works as a bookseller, researcher and teacher. She has a lifelong fascination with crime fiction and its history. She is also a well-established non-fiction writer, under a separate name.