Lesley Cookman, Traditional Mystery Author, is my Guest Author talking about her Writing and Panto.
Traditional Mystery Author Lesley Cookman is my guest today.
I think you’ll find she is a fascinating lady and author.
Let’s get to know her:
Thanks for agreeing to do a guest spot on my blog. It is great having you here. Welcome.
Please provide some background to your life and career for our readers, some of whom may not know anything about you. For example your love of horses…
I grew up in what is now inner London and very expensive! I was an only child, and both my parents worked full time, which was unusual back when Adam was a lad. My mother was a former dancer turned lingerie designer (yes, really!) and my father an actor, half of a night club duo and finally a proof reader in the days when it was a really skilled job. They were both great readers and let me loose on their bookshelves when I was about nine. Dad joined a local amateur dramatic group (PLEASE don’t say am-dram – almost as bad as chic-lit) by invitation and very soon, if there was child’s part, I was involved too. Two of the members bought a riding stable when I was twelve, and my best friend and I became unpaid stable girls. The day the horses and ponies arrived, we were there at six o’clock in the morning getting things ready for them. I loved it. In our part of London, we were between three huge commons, so we had loads of places to ride.
You’ve had a fascinating life, what gives you the most pride and sense of achievement and why?
Golly – I don’t know! I suppose Libby Sarjeant, really, although her start in life was so precarious, she rather took us all unaware. I would have to say, though, that Shirley Valentine was my crowning achievement. Only the audiences could say if she was a success, but I was asked to do it again for another theatre!
You have successfully published so many books: The Libby Sarjeant series and The Alexandrians, various novellas and Pantomime books, is it difficult to switch from writing one long standing set of characters to another – in the Sarjeant/Edwardian Alexandrians series – and do you ever find yourself mixing up the plots and characters and finding yourself having to change what you have written because you’ve got the characters/locations muddled?
I very sensibly chose to use a town and a building and back story I had already invented for the Libby series for The Alexandrians, so I was comfortable with the geography, and to an extent, the people involved. So, no, although I was worried about the mixing-up aspect, it hasn’t happened so far!
Libby Sarjeant has been a great success for you as a character and series. Has she turned out as you expected or has her evolution as a character surprised you at all? If you could change anything about her, what would it be?
Would I change anything? No, I don’t think so. I didn’t, of course, expect her to be a series when she first came into my mind, but when Hazel Cushion bought the first one – unfinished – she asked if it could be a series. I don’t think either of us expected her to be still going after 18 books.
I absolutely loved Murder in Steeple Martin I must add, and I have many of your other books on my TBR pile on my Kindle. Never enough time…
Do you have many more adventures for Libby lined up or do you see her coming to an end, and how far in to the future do you think that might be?
Given my extreme age (!) I think we’ll come to an end together. I have no plans to give up yet – especially as I do that heinous thing – Writing For Money. Libby pays the bills, bless her.
Tell us something about Libby Sarjeant – her background which fans might not know – and what you love about her most?
Libby has, obviously to those who know me, quite a few things in common with me, although I deny strenuously that she IS me. She’s an ex-actor, an artist and theatre director, involved with her partner Ben’s converted Oast House theatre in their home village. She moved from London with her ex-husband and three children to the Canterbury area, and after her husband left her for Pneumatic Marion and the children had left home, her friends Peter and Harry found her a cottage near their home and restaurant. I’m not an artist, I have two cats and Libby has only one, I have four children and I’m a widow. The thing I like about her best is that she doesn’t age. We started out the same age, but now…
Where did the inspiration/idea for Libby come from? Can you pinpoint a moment when she popped in to your head?
Sort of. I had delivered my younger daughter to her friend’s house (and stables!) deep in the countryside and drove past a village green. Why the first few lines of the first book popped into my head I have no idea. The scene stuck, but it was several years before they became anything like a story – minus the original few lines. Libby herself, like most of my characters, popped fully formed into my head.
Is she based upon (loosely I am sure) someone real or a complete figment of your imagination?
Complete figment, although I originally envisaged her as a young Miriam Margolyes.
Tell us more about your Edwardian series, The Alexandrians. Do you plan many more? Where did the inspiration for this series come from?
I have recently been asked to write a third in the series, and the idea came, as I’ve mentioned earlier, from the background story of an early Libby book. This, is turn, had come from the plot of a musical I wrote for The British Music Hall Society called Summer Season. (Still available for performance, folks…) I was the editor of the Society’s Magazine for some time, and my particular love in the theatre was, and is, pantomime and Music Hall.
Tell us more about your love of Pantomime and which is your favourite and why?
Do you know, I have no idea. I loved it in a vague way when I was younger, but it was after being cast as a chorus member in a production of Cinderella that it really got going. Then I was cast in principal parts, mainly wicked, and finally, to direct, which terrified me. After I had rewritten a whole scene in that one (with permission from the author), I decided to write one of my own. Cinderella, of course. I was lucky enought to have it produced, and subsequently bought by a specialist theatre publishing company, who went on to buy all the rest of my scripts, and even to commission a couple.
You are published by Accent Press. Is this your first publishing gig or have you been published before?
I have been writing for money for donkey’s years! I wrote for various trade, business and computer magazines (Which Computer, for one), short fiction for the weekly women’s magazines, the scripts, and a commissioned book on pantomime with a foreword by Roy Hudd, among other things. I always said I was a writing whore.
Tell us how you came to be published by Accent; did you submit to many publishing houses before deciding upon them? Why Accent, what attracted you?
I’m afraid it was nothing like the normal submission process! Hazel Cushion and I met at university doing a Master’s Degree and produced a charity anthology together called Sexy Shorts For Christmas. My late husband designed the cover, and after that, Hazel decided this was the career she wanted. I stayed to become commissioning editor for the second book, then backed down. A couple of years later, Hazel got in touch and asked after a book, of which the first twenty thousand words had been my dissertation at uni. I resurrected it, added a thousand more words and sent it to her, whereupon she offered for it if I could finish it! So, we chose each other and have grown together. It was a gamble on both sides. Now I’m only one of Accent’s authors – and I promise you, I don’t get any privileges!
Do you have a designated writing space and if so, how important is it to have one?
I have an office which is half of an extension on the side of my small semi. The other half is a utility room. Both are messy. But they are very important to me. During a recent illness I tried writing in all sorts of other places, but without success. I can, however, write in my room when I’m on holiday in Turkey. I go every year (royalties permitting) and my routine is breakfast by the pool and, if I’m not going on a boat trip or other jollification, back to my room for a couple of hours writing. I lose momentum if I don’t keep going.
Tell us a little about your writing process (Typewriter/computer/long-hand?) and do you write every day – do you have a set routine? How many books do you write/publish per year?
Straight to screen, and I try to write every day. I write best in the afternoon, simply because I’m lazy and spend most of the morning on the laptop in the kitchen with tea doing emails, social media and anything else which is distracting. Currently I think it’s two a year, but it varies.
All my titles start with “Murder” so I or one of my children will come up with a title. Or possibly a situation or setting, like a running club, a ukulele group, a May Day celebration or a beer festival. Then I have to find a scenario that fits, and as I rarely have that long between books I more or less have to write on the hoof.
How long does it take you to write a book? Which has been the most challenging to write? Which has been the easiest?
Actual writing five or six months, I suppose. And they are ALL challenging and ALL hard to write. Believe me! I’m always saying I’ll give up if I win the lottery, but the children tell me I wouldn’t…
What do you enjoy about writing the most and what do you like the least?
Living in my own world, which is a comfort when the world is in the state it is at the moment, and hate? The self discipline, of course!
If you could be another author, who might that be? Whose career do you admire, envy, or long to emulate?
I don’t. I admire a lot of authors, but I envy none and certainly wouldn’t wish to emulate any.
Who are your favourite authors and name a favourite book(s) by them and why?
Ngaio Marsh, all her books are wonderful, John Dickson-Carr/Carter Dickson – again, all of them. They, and many other Golden Age detective authors have always been my inspiration.
If one of the TV production companies came calling or a Hollywood production company, and they wanted to make a series or movie of the Libby Sarjeant books, who do you imagine might play her, and why? You can pick a modern actor or a favourite from times long gone – just for fun.
Um – if Brenda Blethyn hadn’t already been snapped up, she’d be good! And Miriam Margolyes, of course, when she was younger. Libby aint’t glam!
If you were not writing at this point in your life, what do you imagine you might be doing instead? Do you have interests other than Panto?
I don’t know what I’d be doing. Living from hand to mouth I suspect. Panto isn’t a hobby, though, and I’m not connected to the theatre these days. I occasionally get dragged out of retirement to do a cameo, but it’s rare.
Which of /or any of your careers do you wish you’d started earlier and stuck with, and why?
I wish I’d carried on acting professionally, but that was impractical. Otherwise, I’m quite happy. My many and varied jobs – DJ, model, actor, air crew – have all provided experiences that can feed into my books.
Thanks so much Lesley. I do hope our readers will find out something about you which has whetted their appetite for Libby Sarjeant or The Alexandrians. Lesley has a vast selection of books available to read some of which are shown here.
Lesley started writing almost as soon as she could read, and filled many Woolworth’s exercise books with pony stories until she was old enough to go out with boys. Since she’s been grown up, following a varied career as a model, air stewardess and disc jockey, she’s written short fiction and features for a variety of magazines, achieved an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales, taught writing for both Kent Adult Education and the WEA and edited the first Sexy Shorts collection of short stories from Accent Press in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign. The Libby Sarjeant series is published by Accent Press, who also publish her book, How to Write a Pantomime, with a foreword by Roy Hudd. Lesley is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Society of Authors and the Crime Writers’ Association. Links to their sites are listed below.
Lesley’s pantomimes are published by Jasper Publishing. Have a look at her panto pages.
As always please comment and let Lesley know you have visited today. Your visit is always appreciated.