I began by asking her:
Although you had a career with the Diplomatic Service, it seems that the vast majority of your working life has been spent in the Music Industry. You've written stories based on those times - did you know at the time that you would take inspiration from your experiences, or was writing something that you came to later on?
I have always wanted to write. I had an offer when young to join The Times in London, via a friend’s father who was an editor, to apprentice as a journalist. I fancied being a War Correspondent, but my family was unhelpful - being a girl and wanting to do this was unthinkable. Girls went into nursing or became secretaries and then mothers. My parents were moving overseas and didn’t want to leave me behind to study or work in London; they turned his offer down. Eventually I needed to escape from Germany and applied for the FCO – in the Office for Information – but after my interview board it was decided I was ‘full-on’ FCO material.
With the background of the Cold War, Russian Spies being expelled, ours being caught, and with various Terrorist groups around the world becoming more active, this was fertile ground for someone harbouring writing dreams. I met a young musician whilst still at school, after many trials and tribulations we married and eventually after years on the road he decided to call it a day, and we went into the management of recording artists and record producers; a wealth of experiences and material ready to be tapped in to. At the time I never thought I’d have to wait half my life to be able to write.
|Jane's husband on the set of a commercial for a phone app|
I'm intrigued to know a little more about the White-haired Man. Have you been to Mumbai and where you there at the time of the attacks?
The White Haired Man: Gosh, this is dangerous. My husband was in Mumbai at the time of the terrorist attacks on the railway station and hotels and just missed being killed. Although he’d been in one of the restaurants a few minutes before the terrorists struck, he’d altered his plans for the evening, and had to leave suddenly. A friend was killed and others injured. A character who’d been introduced to him a few hours before, offered his assistance in light of hotel problems caused by the bombing. This person turned out to be a Gangster, the Indian Mafia, and I have woven my book around him. Mafia does figure a lot in my writing. Unfortunately in the international entertainment business there are always ‘unsavoury’ types swimming close by. I hope to complete this novel next year.
|Jane's husband with one of the highest-paid Indian superstars|
Where did Ms Birdsong come from? Can you tell us a little bit more about her?
Ms Birdsong Investigates: I wanted to write a crime series based in The Vale of the White Horse, where we lived when not in Los Angeles, and I imagined my protagonist would be like Ms Marple but more modern.
She’d been floating around my brain for a long time. But, when I came to write her, I felt she was far too soft, too predictable. I’d almost completed the first book, still unhappy with it, when I went to a family wedding in the most amazing country house on 6000 acres. To cut a long story short I noticed the house had a massive collection of art on loan from HM Government. This struck me as odd, because only Government buildings received art on loan, as a far as I knew. I started a conversation with one of the receptionists who, it turned out, was employed by the FCO. The penny dropped and I told her I’d worked at the FCO and we discussed buildings and people and I asked her about the house. I was right, the house is what is known as a ‘Safe House,’ where spies and so forth are often taken to be debriefed, or top level talks are held there - think G8 or some such similar meetings. Everyone working there, including cleaners, gardeners and cooks, were FCO employees. Oh manna from heaven. Inside one of the suites there was a bathroom with a ‘panic room.’ I came away from there with Ms B. going in a whole new direction. She’d be former MI5, involuntarily retired after a failed mission with her now former lover, MI6 officer, Michael Dante.
She’d live in a rural setting, going nuts with boredom, so she begins surveillance on the locals. Eventually when a woman goes missing, she helps investigate and this leads her to Russian Mafia people traffickers (they had to pop in somewhere) and Ukrainian gun-runners. Oh, and there is murder. I have three books on the go for her.
And whilst we're on the subject of crime, I'm sure writers in all genres would love to know: how easy is it to kill someone, and how easy is it to bury a body?
Oh yes, hiding the bodies. Last year I decided I needed to better inform myself about all things Forensic; technology and science change so rapidly and I felt I had huge gaps in my knowledge about crime scenes, what happens to dead bodies and how an investigation is run, now so many agencies are involved. I signed up for a course on Forensic Anthropology (think Bones/CSI) and soon learned that these TV shows misinform/mislead us badly. So forget all TV has taught you.
How easy is it to kill someone? I would say very difficult. So many factors need to be in the killer’s favour and if accidental, the killer has to improvise and that is where they make their mistakes. Everyone at a crime scene, killer or victim, leaves something of themselves behind or on themselves. DNA can now be traced back over decades if the samples are left in the right conditions. If premeditated, the killer has to have a plan and that plan has to work completely, but, even so, they cannot possibly cover every eventuality and traces will be left at a scene and taken away from a scene with the killer. Moving a body, a dead weight, undetected, is a major nightmare for a killer. That is why so many victims are dismembered – convenience and ease of disposal. No-one notices someone carrying a small bag or case to a car, but humping a huge carpet wrapped body for example, is going to be another matter. You’d have to kill someone in a selected place, near a disposal site, to make life easy for yourself. But not too many people are going to stand by an open grave, willingly, whilst you bump them off and roll them into it.
Burying a body. This is a major task. Forget digging a few feet down and rolling the body into it. How much time do you think you’d need to dig even a shallow grave? A shallow grave is often found by a dog being walked. Fido finds a bone, often a few feet from the grave, where animals have scavenged the body. Fido can smell a rotting corpse, or even where one has been. You have to find a remote spot, off the beaten track, to dig your grave. As soon as you begin digging, you leave forensic evidence. Try digging a shallow hole and see what happens to the earth, leaves and other debris as you dig. It falls back in. So all plans of a deeper grave go out the window as you realise the longer it takes, the more chance you have of discovery. Most killers don’t have time or equipment to dig down far enough – about six feet – to fully bury a body which won’t be found easily. You might leave a footprint inside the grave, a fingerprint on wrapping for the body, your hair might fall in.
How do you bring an earth mover to the burial site in order to dig deep enough? Nope, burying a body is a major problem for any murderer. I am in the midst of writing up my notes from my course, for my blog, so anyone interested in the identification of bones and a clandestine burial, keep an eye out for it. I am about to begin another course, Criminal Justice and Forensics. So I’ll be blogging about that eventually.
You've been in the Diplomatic Service, the Music Industry, you're heavily into photography and you write crime novels. Is this a salutary lesson for us writers not to pigeonhole our characters, or do you see a common thread running through all your interests?
My stories do centre mainly around my life experiences, it’s true. Although I’ve written about Pirates and Ghosts (all with a twist) and I am working on a comedy series. I’ve co-written a book with an award winning author (she was fan club secretary to my husband’s band) due out in the spring sometime, which features music, fashion, world events and a love triangle, set in 1968/1969. So I do dabble in other genres. I use photos to fix my locations – visual notes – quite often, but so a far I’ve not discovered any shallow graves.
Any new direction you want to go in?
Crime writing is my greatest love, with a twist, possibly espionage or organised crime, but I shall continue to write it.
Thanks so much Jane, for sharing your amazing stories with us.
and at her Amazon Author Page