This week I found myself transported to the place I grew up – the fair shores of Cornwall. Only this was a little more sinister. Karen Taylor takes the beautiful setting of Penzance and furnishes it with a sinister set of murders by an image-obsessed man.
I don’t often read crime fiction, but I absolutely couldn’t put this one down. The combination of impressive character creation and a plot that kept me guessing until the end made it truly entertaining. It was also lovely to see snippets of the gorgeous setting alongside the unfolding of the tale.
The striking Cornish coastline is given a sinister edge.
I wanted to find out about the creation of her compelling central character, how she crafted her plot and why Cornwall was an inspiration to her book. Read on to find out more!
There was a real sense of genuine care and compassion in Brandon, your central detective. You also brought in lots of other characters who I felt real empathy for. What was the inspiration for your main character and how did you go about creating him and your other characters?
To me, Brandon represents all the nice, caring, brave and selfless men in the world. He’s a detective and you’d like to think they are good people who work hard to keep us safe. He is also flawed – has a bit of a temper and impulsive tendencies – but he’s basically a good man with emotional intelligence.
I didn’t really go about creating him –he presented himself subconsciously. The other characters were mainly organic creations too. Once again flawed, as we all are, but also with very human characteristics. As far as the captive ‘creature’ is concerned, I wanted to present a strong and clever woman, who would use all the (limited) powers at her disposal to survive. I know women like this – my sister, for example, is a resourceful person and a survivor. I also put myself in the character’s shoes … what would I do in the circumstances?
Karen’s book launch in Kingston-Upon Thames
As far as the father-daughter, mother-son relationships are concerned, I used my own personal experiences to develop them. The antagonist was very much a figment of my imagination, but also influenced by an essay I researched and wrote for my MA in Crime Fiction at UEA called Sympathy for The Devil. In it I explored how circumstances and family history can trigger terrible crimes.
I don’t often read crime fiction but I’m always impressed by the construction of plot, especially in your book which has lots of twists and turns. When you were writing it, how did you manage to keep hold of all the threads that you wanted to reveal, and what you wanted the reader to find out at different points in the book?
I didn’t have a plot plan. My professors at UEA would be horrified! However, I knew instinctively that I had to introduce new intrigues and elements to keep readers guessing as the story unfolded. I thought that my main antagonist wouldn’t be so hard to identify, so I placed timeproof red herrings here and there. Music is one of the themes of the book and I used rhythm to pace the action. Every now and then I realised the tempo had to rise – and so I gave what musicians call ‘the money note’. Something stand-out.
I remember having impossibly gorgeous views like this just near my house
One of the reasons I loved this book is because I had a soft spot for the setting. I grew up in and around the areas you use in the book and it was great to see it used so vividly. Why did you decide to use Cornwall as the setting and how important was it in the development of the book?
I have a place in Cornwall and I love the county. The landscape, the seascape, the history, the industries and the people are unique and have inspired writers and artists for centuries. Two of my favourite books and films have Cornish roots. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was a huge influence and, of course, Julia Trenowden’s stately home Hartington Hall gives a nod to Manderley, as does Diana Chambers to Mrs Danvers! When you listen to the Cornish seagulls you can clearly hear where du Maurier got her idea for The Birds from. But, more than anything, the ever-changing weather, and its impact on the environment, is so evocative as a backdrop to a novel – particularly a crime novel.
What was your route to publication like?
Challenging, exciting, hard work, and ultimately rewarding.
I had written quite a few books before Fairest Creatures. I started off when I was in my late twenties when I wrote a work-related thriller and a psychological romance. I went on to write children’s books as my son grew. I had a bit of success with them, but they didn’t get picked up by a publisher.
We will hear more from Karen and her dark tales in the future…
In 2017, I managed to get on the UEA Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) MA and that’s where real progress was made. I learnt a lot about my craft and my genre. The book I wrote for my MA – Dark Arts – was the first in the Brandon Hammett series. Although it got me an MA, an agent, and some interest, it didn’t get me a publisher. This could have been partly about timing; the book was submitted during the first lockdown. But I had started on my second book, Working Title: Grim Fairy Tale, and this got me longlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger around June 2020. This encouraged me to work flat out on the book, which I finished in October the same year. My agent got some interest in it, but nothing solid.
My luck changed in early 2021, when I won the Leamington Books Crime Fiction competition – the prize being publication. From March until October 2021, I worked with the Edinburgh-based publisher and his team to produce Fairest Creatures. It was a steep learning curve – the editing, finding the right title and cover, getting advanced reader copies out there, and proofing the book (it was decided at typesetting stage to introduce hard dates for each chapter – that took some working out!). But I loved the publishing process. And I’m already planning another book and hope that the first in the series, which gives more backstory to the characters, will be a prequel at some stage.
What advice have you received or learned that you’d like to pass on to other writers?
Don’t give up if you truly believe you are a writer and you feel the need to write. It can take years to get published – as it took me – and your early attempts might not be right at certain times and need to be shelved. But move on to other projects. Listen objectively to feedback and, if it strikes a chord, act on it. When I was pitching Dark Arts, I was advised by agents and publishers that they loved the writing, but couldn’t see how to sell it. It didn’t seem to fit a niche and one big publisher said although he really liked the writing, the book was too quiet in a crowded market. To make my sequel stand out I gave it a pretty loud opening! And, also, a sensational theme … but I didn’t lose my own voice or my characters.
Finally, enjoy your talent and writing and the community. If Fairest Creatures hadn’t found a home, I still got so much out of creating it.
Before turning to crime, Karen wrote a series of children’s books and short stories. Her middle grade Sci-Fi novel Turbulence was shortlisted at the Winchester Writers Festival, alongside a novella and a short story. Her YA thriller Off The Rails won her a place in the Dragon’s Den at the London Book Fair in 2016.
Born and based in London, Karen is also a journalist and editor with wide ranging experience, covering anything from business to lifestyle. She’s worked on trade, corporate and association publications, run international news teams, and contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Financial Times, The London Evening Standard, The London Magazine, The Independent, and The Far Eastern Economic Review. Her first thriller The Trade, published by Endeavour Press, was inspired by her globe-trotting years as a commodity markets reporter.
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