Geraldine Evans is a multi-published author who writes the popular Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series. She also writes the Casey & Catt mystery series and has published historical and romance novels, plus articles on a variety of nonfiction topics.
Geraldine is a Londoner but now lives in Norfolk, England where she moved, with her husband George, in 2000. Deadly Reunion is her eighteenth novel and number fourteen in her humorous Rafferty & Llewellyn series. She is currently working on her next mystery in this series.
How I set about creating my first, Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series.
How on earth do you set about creating an original crime series? All I can tell you is how I went about it.
This bit will mean more to the Brits amongst you, though I know a lot of Americans also enjoy British cop and comedy shows. Anyway, having a love of both, I decided to meld the cop and the comedy. I suppose you could describe my Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series as Inspector Frost meets Del Boy Trotter and Family. So if you’re looking for the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes, type of crime novel – steer well clear.
The Rafferty family’s leisure pursuits are far from Sherlock Holmes’s, far from Adam Dalgliesh and his poetry writing or Morse and his Wagner. They’re into back-of-a-lorry bargains and other diversions of questionable legality. And Rafferty’s Ma, Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in such pursuits, using emotional blackmail to make Rafferty feel guilty when he upbraids her. Having far more than her fair share of Blarney Stone baloney, she always wins these little arguments.
I think you can see where I’m going with this. I used a cop who, although male, wasn’t a million miles away from me and a family who, although not my family (!) were certainly reminiscent of some of the families on the south London Council estate where I grew up. Ma Rafferty has a bit of my own mother in her as well as a casserole of all the other Dublin ladies I used to know when I was a kid when we used to spend the summer holidays in Ireland with my maternal grandmother.
Alongside the main story runs a humorous sub-plot, in which Rafferty is ensnared in the first of the series’ many family-induced problems. Deadly Reunion, my fourteenth Rafferty novel (UK 24 February, US 1 June 2011), like the previous thirteen, has Rafferty embroiled in more family trouble than a Victorian lady of the night sans the morning after pill.
To return to similarities, I thought if Rafferty shared class and education with me, he might as well have other elements of similarity. Why not? Other writers do. Would a non-classical music lover have created Colin Dexter’s Morse? Would someone who knows little and cares less about poetry have created the poetry-writing Adam Dalgliesh of P D James? Well, possibly, I suppose. But it’s far more sensible to make use of elements from your own life. I wanted a lead character I could empathise with, one who was as near me as I could get. Believe me, it helps!
My background is Irish-Catholic working-class. So is Rafferty’s. I was educated (sic), in a bog-standard Catholic school. So was Rafferty. All these similarity help to give the writer a ‘feel’ for a character and their lives, something I regarded as essential when I hoped to carry him through a series of novels. There are a lot of working-class police officers out there, just like Rafferty, who have risen up the ranks, perhaps leaving behind them the less savoury habits of youth and family. But just because our police character has found it necessary to change doesn’t mean that his family would be so obliging as to do likewise. He would have parents, siblings, nephews, nieces and so on, all with their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong, and all beyond the lead character’s influence or control. Imagine such a family. They’d be only too likely to embarrass your lead character. He could even have his career put at risk by them.
Okay, we’ve got our lead character, but what about his past? Maybe elements of your own past would help flesh him out? When it came to my character, I decided that if Rafferty was going to be working-class like me, he might as well have other elements of ‘me’. It not only makes life easier, it also helps me relate to him and to the past which has helped to shape him. Rafferty lost his father when he was around twelve. In a way I had ‘lost’ my father, too, although he hadn’t died, but was a rather distant figure.
So – his past. In order to have a ‘past’ he’s got to have memories. And the best memories, from the point of view of believability, are one’s own memories. For instance, in Down Among the Dead Men, the second novel in the Rafferty series, I had Rafferty reveal – just as I remember doing – that as a schoolchild, he and his classmates would attend Friday afternoon Benediction at the local Catholic Church and sing Latin hymns without –as they had never been taught any Latin – having a clue what they were singing about. Not much, perhaps, in the broad sweep of a novel, but I believe that it’s little touches like that which help to bring a character to life.
Once I had Rafferty down on paper, I gave a lot of thought to his side-kick. Now opposites always provide conflict. A genuine conflict, stemming from character, background and upbringing.
So Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn was born. The intellectual, university-educated, only child of a Welsh Methodist minister, who thought the law should apply to everyone – even the mothers of Detective Inspectors. Llewellyn is a side-kick pre-ordained from birth to look with a jaundiced eye on Rafferty’s outlook on life, his theories and conduct of cases, and his less than law-abiding family. The words Duty and Responsibility feature strongly in Llewellyn’s life, though his character is leavened with a sense of humour so dry that Rafferty isn’t sure it exists at all. Given what I said earlier about finding characters as much like oneself as possible, I thank God every day that I spend all my time in Rafferty’s head!
Once I had the basics of Rafferty, his family and his sidekick sorted out, I had to place Rafferty in his environment. And after all I’ve said about his background, I felt there was only one place I could use as a setting for such a character. Essex. Non-Brits won’t understand the resonance. But perhaps you will after reading a couple of ‘Essex’ jokes. Like these.
Q What’s the difference between Essex and Mars?
A There might be intelligent life on Mars.
Q What is an Essex Girl’s idea of a really classy meal?
A A wooden chip fork with her takeaway. (Any Americans out there
will know chips as French fries, or just fries).
Get the picture? People from Essex are regarded as always able to put their hands on ‘dodgy’ (ie stolen) gear. They’re also regarded as not being too bright.
Anyway, after describing Rafferty’s background and his family and their little hobbies, I felt that Essex was the only place I could use as a setting for such a character. But unlike the stereotyped depictions of the working-classes in ‘Essex’ jokes and many of the older British crime novels, as chip-eating, adenoidal and terminally stupid, I wanted to show that there is intelligent life, not only in Essex, but among the working-classes themselves. Okay, Rafferty’s not exactly deeply intellectual or highbrow, but intelligence, like most things, comes in different guises. His background has given him a street-wisdom of a kind that’s often far more valuable in police work than the more academic intelligence.
There was another reason why I chose to locate my Rafferty and Llewellyn novels in Essex. And that was that Essex has lots of interesting historical connections. Many of the towns and villages in Essex are associated with the early settlers in America. And, because of its port links, the entire area has always been close to the religious dissent stemming from Europe. A bit of a dissenter himself, having been force-fed Catholicism from the cradle, it’s no wonder he feels so at home in an area with such strong dissenting traditions.
So, one decision about a character helps you make other decisions, not only about the lead character himself, but also about the other characters who will populate your series and about where in the world they’re going to play out their roles.
Anyway, all this furious thinking produce Dead Before Morning, a crime novel which features a prostitute bludgeoned beyond recognition, a suave, social-climbing doctor and an idle hospital porter who had a few ‘nice little earners’ of his own. In this first novel, Rafferty has just been promoted to the rank of inspector in the CID. His beat is Elmhurst, a fictitious town based on Colchester, the old Roman town where that original ‘Essex Girl’, Queen Boadicea, used to hang out and harry the centurions.
Whatever the critics made of it, I must have done something right, because on only its second outing, that first Rafferty & Llewellyn crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile and published. It was also published in hardback and paperback in the US.
So far, I’ve had seventeen novels published, fifteen of them crime, two of which form the first two novels in my Casey & Catt crime series, with the eighteenth, Deadly Reunion, another Rafferty book, coming out this year.
I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read, but rarely found, the kind of mystery where, along with a murder investigation, the writer makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me wait, even. But most of all, makes me care about the characters. Admittedly, that’s just my preference. You might prefer your crime novels to concentrate firmly on stimulating the brain rather than the funny bone. But I didn’t see any reason not to try to do both.
This approach provided the bonus that I had far more fun with Rafferty than I imagine the more high-minded writers have with their characters. And writing’s meant to be fun. Isn’t it? It’s meant to be enjoyable. If it isn’t, why do it? After loads of dead-end jobs in my youth I was determined that I would end up doing something I liked.
There’s no reason why, just like me, you shouldn’t ‘Do your own thing’ and attract a publisher who goes, ‘Mmm, this is different.’
So, go and have fun. And give me another crime series that provides the occasional chuckle. If you do, you’re guaranteed one fan.
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Geraldine’s website: http://www.geraldineevans.com
Geraldine’s blog: http://www.geraldineevanscom.blogspot.com
Detective Inspector Joe Rafferty is barely back from his honeymoon before he has two unpleasant surprises. Not only has he another murder investigation – a poisoning at a school reunion, he also has four new lodgers, courtesy of his Ma, Kitty Rafferty. Ma is organising her own reunion and since getting on the internet, the list of Rafferty and Kelly family attendees has grown, like Topsy. In his murder investigation, Rafferty has to go back in time to learn of all the likely motives of the victim’s fellow reunees. But it is only when he is reconciled to his unwanted lodgers, that Rafferty finds the answers to his most important questions.
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