Fleur Hitchcock's latest murder mystery novel, Murder at Snowfall, is now available and is her most sinister yet.... Fleur began life as an author after graduating with a distinction from the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa. She now lives outside Bath and works with her husband, a toymaker, looks after other people's gardens and tries to grow vegetables. In her spare time, she is a bookseller at Waterstones Bath.
Murder at Snowfall (Nosy Crow)
If you enjoy mystery stories with an edge, you'll love Fleur Hitchcock's series of murder / mystery books published by Nosy Crow. Her latest book, Murder at Snowfall, is now available. With the backdrop of a small town in the run-up to Christmas, it's also a perfect winter read. We asked Fleur Hitchcock to tell us more!
Q&A with Fleur Hitchcock
1. It's great to have you back on ReadingZone to talk about your new murder mystery, Murder at Snowfall. What happens in your new book?
One wintry evening, Ruby and her new geeky stepbrother, Lucas, walk home from school, and dare each other to open a metal cabinet that's been dumped on the side of the road. Ruby is the one that opens it, and she quickly wishes she hadn't as it contains something suspiciously body shaped wrapped in black plastic. From that point onwards their lives change, in pursuit of, and pursued by, a ruthless murderer. I daren't say more in case of spoilers but suffice to say, there are added wolves, lions, snow, and ice.
2. Why do you enjoy writing these murder mysteries? What are your top tips for a great murder mystery story?
When I'm writing, I'm trying to reach the point where when I read it back to myself I have to hold my breath and I am genuinely on the edge of my seat EVEN THOUGH I KNOW WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN! I have always enjoyed being slightly scared. Only slightly. I write a kind of cosy crime, all the awful things happen off screen, but because the characters are real, it grips the reader.
3. How carefully do you need to plot these books, or do you add the twists and red herrings later?
I think it's really important, when writing mysteries to plan backwards. To know what the motivation of the criminal is before you begin - shoehorning it in later, or thinking that actually it doesn't add up, means starting again. And red herrings are very important, diverting the reader from the truth is the best fun. I know what the twists will be when I begin, and usually I know who the killer is, but not always. Sometimes it comes together in the writing.
4. Why does the season play such a big part in your murder / mystery stories?
I am perhaps obsessed by the weather - and the season. It's probably something to do with living in the middle of nowhere very much, we really notice excessive weather - drought, rain, snow, it affects how we live and how the countryside around us looks. I also grew up literally living over a river and nothing shows the state of climate so clearly as a body of water. It never burst its banks by our house, but it did up stream, and that found its way into Murder at Twilight.
5. The sleuths in this story are step-siblings Ruby and Lucas; why did you want to explore a step family in this book?
I am always interested in step families. My husband has a step father, I had one, and I still have three step siblings - who I knew slightly as a child but really well as an adult. It's an interesting relationship, somewhere between friends and family, except, of course, you don't get to choose them. Ruby and I are lucky with ours! Ruby calls Lucas her 'step' which is what I call my lovely step sister.
6. What makes Ruby and Lucas work well as investigators?
Ruby and Lucas are fairly different in their interests and, with the exception of singing, they have totally different skills. Ruby is instinctive and interested in people, while Lucas is geeky, clever and really good at computers. Having two characters is great in terms of comparing notes, and their uneasy relationship is also good, as it gives them something to spark over.
7. Can you tell us about the setting for your new mystery, Murder at Snowfall? Is the big house and safari park based on somewhere you've visited?
Full disclosure here, I went to Longleat before Christmas last year and it was such a good setting, I moved it much closer to Bath and put different people into the house. They really did have a hohoho tree in the middle of a courtyard, but it wasn't snowing when we went, it was damp and autumnal and the monkeys tore all the rubber off our car roof!
8. There's also a Christmassy feeling to this story - is it a favourite time of year for you?
I'm big on the pre-Christmas thing in towns. I love lights in the dark, the smells, the indulgence of it all. I also love Christmas music, all types, and the bustle of town centres at that time of year. The moment midnight on Chrismas eve strikes, I want to be out in the country again. Nothing beats a cold stomp through the woods on Boxing day.
9. Where and when do you prefer to write your books?
Anywhere, really. So much of it depends on the available technology. Because we live where we do, the internet is a thing that comes in tiny golden doses. Sometimes I need to research things, and have to sit at the top of the stairs in the hope of some signal, but when I'm speeding through the words, I like to use my old desktop and keyboard - although the desktop is a Frankenstein's monster of parts from other machines, the keyboard is the one on which all my books have been written. In a fire it might be the thing I would rescue above all else.
10. What do you enjoy doing when you're not at your desk / notebook?
Walking, going to the sea, swimming, fossil hunting, museums and eating. I read an awful lot, and I love going to see live music, gigs of all sorts, and I really enjoy train journeys. I stare out of the window and imagine all the stories under the roofs of the houses. Also, and this is weird, I get enormous pleasure out of tidying. It calms my mind, and takes me to another place.