How To Write A Cozy Mystery

From The Creative Penn:

Excerpts from an interview with cozy mystery author Debbie Young:

Debbie: That’s the way to be, isn’t it, especially at the moment? You want to be upbeat and look for the bright side of things. Definitely the ‘glass half full’ person.

I’ve always been quite jolly and upbeat and cheerful, and I like reading happy books with happy endings. They have to be convincing happy endings, not just sort of neat and happy for the sake of it. So, it was fairly natural for me to go into writing upbeat fiction.

I’m also ever so suggestible. I scare very easily, have nightmares at scary things on the telly. I’ve got a teenaged daughter, and for some years now we’ve had role reversal, where she’s told me when to look away from the screen so I don’t get frightened, or get too sad. And, I like cheerful things.

I’ve always loved writing, since I was a child. Spent a career in journalism and PR, writing business-y things. And when I decided, some time ago, to start focusing more on writing fiction and writing what I’d really wanted to write when I grew up, I started writing short stories, and found myself writing mostly humorous ones, funny ones. I do like a laugh. I like a joke. I like jolly things. I’m interested in eccentric and unusual characters, as well.

As I built up my confidence, and competence, I suppose, as well, in writing funny short stories, I decided that I really wanted to move onto novels. And, because I’ve always loved upbeat, traditional mysteries, which I guess you would call cozy mysteries now, the Agatha Christie kind.

Cozy mysteries is more of a newcomer as a category, compared to the golden age of mysteries, when my heroes, like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham were writing. So, it was quite natural for me to sort of go in that direction.

Also, this is about, 10 or 11 years ago I was deciding what I should be writing long term, and at that point, I had lived in my little Cotswold village for 20 years. I’ve now lived here over 30 years. Been part of village life, really from day one.

I’ve served on just about every committee in the village. My daughter’s been through the village school. I’m now in the church choir. I’ve joined the bell ringers. Been on the village show committee, all this sort of this thing.

So, there’s endless amounts of material there, but also, I love community life. I love this village life. Having grown up in a London suburb, where you didn’t know all your neighbors, you didn’t speak to all your neighbors, here, where everybody knows everybody else, it’s a lovely way to live. It suits me. It wouldn’t suit everybody, but it suits me very well. And, I wanted to celebrate that in my fiction.

We’ve never had any murders here…we have the odd mystery, but no murders. I’ve been found out. So, it was natural that I choose that setting for my first series of novels, which are the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. Writing about somewhere that you know very well, that you’re very fond of, and that you like very much, I think makes the whole thing more enjoyable and easier. And, I think it should be enjoyable.

When I came to diversify into a second series, which is set in the same parish as the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, but just up the road in a private girls’ boarding school, quite an eccentric boarding school, I drew on the 13 years’ experience I had working in the offices of a girls’ boarding school. So, that was another community that I knew very well.

Now, with both of these kinds of communities, with both the village and with the boarding school, they are classic settings, really, for a cozy mystery, and you’ve got a clearly identifiable little world of its own. So, you can do a lot of world building.

You’ve got finite borders, really, to that world, so you’ve got your cast of characters, pretty much staying put. So, there’s almost something sort of theatrical and stagey about it, you’ve got your own little world, that makes a very good setting for this kind of book.

So, I felt that I had two very good sets of experiences which would allow me to make those worlds. I’ve got another one that I’m thinking of doing later on, when I’m a bit further down the road with my second series, which will be set in the world of commerce.

I worked for PR consultancies for a few years, and they are also a very interesting setting. So, that’s another one, but that might not be quite as cozy. I haven’t quite decided.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn