with Stephen Booth
We are delighted to welcome crime novelist Stephen Booth to Omnimystery News, courtesy of Partners in Crime Tours, which is coordinating his current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find his schedule here.
Stephen introduced his detective team of Ben Cooper and Diane Fry back in 2000 in the traditional print formats of hardcover and paperback. The first in the series, Black Dog (Witness Impulse; October 2013 ebook formats), is now available as an ebook for the first time.
We asked Stephen to tell us more about the series, and he titles his guest post today, "Rural Darkness: The World of Cooper and Fry".
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Photo provided courtesy of
I'm often asked these days how old I was when I started to write. The truth is, I really can't remember, because I was so young when I put pen to paper and began to create stories. In fact, I wrote my first novel when I was twelve years old, and I knew straightaway it was what I wanted do when I grew up. From that age, I dreamed only of being able to hold a book that had my name on it as the author. With thirteen titles now published in my Cooper and Fry series, it's still a thrill to see my name on a cover. I know how lucky I am to have achieved that childhood ambition. Although I've been a full-time novelist for the past thirteen years, in many ways I'm still that twelve-year-old kid, excited by the prospect of being published!
So I'm delighted that the new HarperCollins digital imprint Witness Impulse gives me the opportunity to introduce my series of British mysteries to a whole new audience in the USA. My books feature two young Derbyshire police officers, Detective Constables Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, who operate in England's beautiful and atmospheric Peak District. The first book in the series, Black Dog, tells the story of a village ripped apart by the murder of a teenage girl. It explores the lives of its rural inhabitants, as well as of the two detectives thrown together in the police investigation.
Since the original publication of Black Dog in the UK, these two characters have pretty much taken over my life. The increasingly complex relationship between Ben and Diane attracts a lot of interest from readers, and Ben in particular has many fans around the world.
I think one of the reasons for this is that when I set out to write that first book, my aim was to make my characters real and believable. I want readers to feel they might walk into a police station in Derbyshire and actually meet Ben Cooper. I was helped by the fact that I'd known a lot of police officers during my career as a newspaper journalist. I knew they were just ordinary human beings with their own strengths and flaws, and a life beyond the uniform. I've been trying to draw out the human side of the police in these books, and the result is that many readers anxiously await a new title to find out what happens next to Cooper and Fry.
As an avid reader, I'd been fan of crime fiction myself for many years by the time I wrote Black Dog (I grew up on the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, P. D. James and Ruth Rendell). I didn't have a publishing contract at the time, so I simply sat down and wrote the sort of book I would have enjoyed reading myself. When it did get published, it was a huge bonus to find that so many other people enjoyed reading the book too.
But I also decided to do a couple of things which weren't happening much in crime fiction back then. For example, I'd noticed that any mystery novel set in a rural area tended to be quite ‘cosy' in its feel, whereas all the darker and perhaps more realistic crime fiction was set in the cities. I felt the distinction was too rigid and artificial, and I wanted to break it down as far as I could. So I chose to write a novel with a rural setting, but dealing with darker themes and contemporary subjects. This idea was expressed many years ago by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, when he had Sherlock Holmes tell Dr Watson in "The Copper Beeches": "Watson, there is more evil in the smiling and beautiful countryside than in the vilest alleys of London". That pretty much sums it up!
Yes, the Peak District is a very beautiful area on the surface, but I'm turning over the surface and looking for the darkness which I can sense lurking underneath. That's very often to do with the history of a place. And the Peak District has thousands of years of history, much of it visible right there in the landscape, as well as many fantastic locations for me to use. Of my two central characters, Ben Cooper is the local boy, who grew up in the area and knows everyone. But Diane Fry is the outsider from the city, who doesn't understand the strange ways of rural folk. This gives me two contrasting pairs of eyes to explore the setting, and of course creates conflict between the two.
There was one other thing I'd noticed as a reader. Like many mystery fans, I like to get involved in the lives of characters over a series of books. But it struck me that in a lot of the series I was reading, the central character seemed to be a world-weary, middle-aged, alcoholic loner with relationship problems. He was always a man too, and at least Detective Inspector rank. There were scores of them around, and they'd been done very well by other authors.
So that was why I decided to make my own characters young and junior. Ben and Diane are both in their twenties in Black Dog, and they're both detective constables, on the bottom rung of the ladder. This was not only more realistic (in real life, it's the junior officers who do all the work), but it also allowed Ben and Diane to age and develop over the course of the series.
The Peak District has proved to be inspired choice of location for the Cooper and Fry novels. From the fractured, insular village of Moorhay featured in Black Dog, I've been able to expand onto the bleak expanses of moorland in the Dark Peak, and into the cobbled alleys of my fictional town, Edendale. The range of settings is extraordinary, and the Peak District continues to inspire me with every book.
I'm thrilled that the Cooper and Fry novels have done their bit to introduce Britain's first (and best) national park to readers all around the world. Many people tell me they travel to the region to visit the locations I mention in the books. And I think the stunning setting is one of the reasons the novels have been picked up for development as a TV series here in the UK — along, of course, with the characters of Ben Cooper, Diane Fry and their colleagues in Derbyshire Constabulary's ‘E' Division.
The first title, Black Dog, was the book that changed my life, and made into reality the dream of that twelve-year-old boy. So I hope people enjoy reading it as much I loved writing it. I hope, too, that it provides an irresistible introduction to the world of Cooper and Fry, and their beautiful, darkly atmospheric Peak District.
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A newspaper and magazine journalist for over 25 years, Stephen Booth was born in the Pennine mill town of Burnley. He was brought up on the coast at Blackpool, where he began a career in journalism by editing his school magazine. He wrote his first novel at the age of 12, and knew from the moment he finished it that he wanted to be a novelist when he grew up.
After graduating from Birmingham Polytechnic (now the City of Birmingham University), Stephen moved to Manchester to train as a teacher, but ended up doing freelance work with rugby reports for national newspapers and local radio stations. In 1999, his writing career changed direction when, in rapid succession, he was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger award for new writers, won the Lichfield Prize for his unpublished novel, reached the finals of the Dundee Book Prize, and signed a contract with HarperCollins for a series of crime novels set in the Derbyshire Peak District.
For more information about the author and his work, please visit his website at Stephen-Booth.com or find him on Facebook and Twitter.
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A Ben Cooper and Diane Fry Mystery (1st in series)