A Q&A with Joy Kluver, author and creator of Murder in Merton crime writing events and workshops
Joy Kluver has written three DI Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Noel books – ‘Last Seen’, ‘Broken Girls’ and ‘Left For Dead’ The series was shortlisted for Best New Kid on the Block (best new series) in the Dead Good Reader Awards 2022.
As far back as the 1800s the public were gripped by “a 19th-century British publishing phenomenon” known as the penny dreadfuls. Readers could access weekly stories about detectives, criminals, and supernatural entities, all for the price of a penny.
And our appetite for crime writing remains unabated. According to recent figures from Neilsen’s Bookscan book sales in the UK are soaring and there’s no detective work required to know which book genre leads the popularity stakes, sales of crime fiction have increased by 19%.
As part of Wimbledon BookFest’s partnership with Merton Libraries, Joy Kluver, the author of a series of crime fiction novels featuring DI Bernie Noel, will interview three crime authors – Robert Gold (Twelve Secrets), Olivia Kiernan (The End of Us) and Saima Mir (The Khan) – in a free event at Wimbledon Library on 20 June at 7pm.
And hot on the heels of the talk, Joy will co-host an introduction to crime writing workshop with fellow crime writer Biba Pearce on 24 June.
Read our Q&A with Joy to find out more about her work, the genre and what to expect from her Murder in Merton crime writing workshop
1: Where did you get the idea for your books about DI Bernie Noel?
I started attending a writing class in New Malden in 1999, run by author, Elizabeth Kay. No matter what topic she set, my short stories nearly always ended up with a crime element in them. My protagonist, DI Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Noel, started life as a minor character in a novel I wrote whilst part of the class.
By the end of the story, Bernie made it clear to me that she should be the main character. That might sound a little crazy but she was the character who had the best lines. So, I wrote a new novel with DI Bernie Noel as the star and it became my debut novel, ‘Last Seen’.
2: What do you like most about writing about crime?
I’m a pantser writer (a writer without a roadmap) rather than a plotter. And this lends itself to crime. It’s rare that police turn up at scene and know exactly what has happened. I’m doing the police work as I write – discovering the clues, understanding the forensics, searching for the suspects. I’m working out the puzzle in the same time frame as my fictional officers. And that’s what I enjoy about it.
3: How much understanding of police work and forensics do you have to have?
You definitely need to have some understanding. Over the years, I’ve done a few courses on forensics and I’ve recently completed a four-week writing course on how to write authentic police officers, run by a former Chief Superintendent. It’s important not to drown your readers in police procedure but your story should come across as believable.
4: Do you find it hard to write evil characters or about characters you don’t like?
I generally write from my protagonist’s point of view so it’s not often the villains are in my head. Having said that, ‘Last Seen’ starts with the voice of an abductor and we continue to hear that voice throughout the story. With crime, you have to write the evil as well as the good, but I prefer to find a reason for the evil if I can.
5: Do you have to read about crime to write about crime and do you ever have to take a break after writing a tough scene?
Yes and yes! Dealing with the first yes, if you want to write crime then you need to read as much crime as possible. It’s important to understand the genre and all the sub-categories in it e.g. police, psychological thrillers, cosy crime etc., in order to find out what it is you want to write.
The second yes – there have been times when I’ve written a scene in tears. In my latest DI Bernie Noel novel ‘Left For Dead’ there’s a scene when Bernie and another officer visit someone to inform them of a relative’s death. I was bawling by the time I finished writing that part.
6: Who are your favourite crime writers? What’s your favourite clue? And what crime would you like to solve?
I’ll narrow it down to three. Despite the fact that she says she’s not a crime writer, I love Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie’s books. Patricia Cornwell was the first author that introduced me to forensics and their importance in crime fiction. Post-Mortem is my favourite crime book ever. More recently, Chris Whitaker has written the most wonderful literary crime novel called We Begin At The End.
My favourite clue in one of my books is an engraved diamond ring found on a victim. I attended a forensics day a few years ago and discovered that diamonds are great at collecting skin cells, and therefore DNA.
Two real-life crimes that I’d like to solve would be the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh and Claudia Lawrence. It’s heart-breaking that family members are dying without knowing where they are.
7: Why do you think there are so many good women crime writers?
There are, aren’t there? My Twitter bio reads, “Escaping the madness of motherhood through writing crime novels.” Obviously, not all female crime writers are mothers. I think it’s a mixture of looking for an escape from everyday life but also, I think women are acutely aware of injustice. We get to right the wrongs through our words.
8: What can people expect from your Murder in Merton workshop?
The workshop is a beginner’s session and aimed at anyone who wants to try their hand at writing crime. Equally though, if someone’s been trying for a while, this would be a great chance to come along and get some feedback. Another author, Biba Pearce, will be running the event with me, so attendees will get the benefit of us both.
9: Can you give us an example of one of the writing exercises?
One of the hardest things you deal with when writing is starting with a blank page. So, I provide the opening line in our plotting exercise and then see what people come up with
10: And finally what is the tip you’d like to pass on to aspiring crime writers out there.
Just write! Give it a go. You can always edit what you write but you can’t edit a blank page.
To book your ticket for the crime authors talk on 20 June and to find out more about securing a space on Joy’s introduction to crime writing workshop on 24 June please email [email protected]
A bit about author Joy Kluver Joy Kluver has written three DI Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Noel books – ‘Last Seen’, ‘Broken Girls’ and ‘Left For Dead’ The series was shortlisted for Best New Kid on the Block (best new series) in the Dead Good Reader Awards 2022. She’s part of the First Monday Crime team and also runs Murder In Merton, organising crime writing events across the borough. Joy lives in SW London with her husband and three children. You can buy all three of Joy’s books on Amazon here
Find out more about Joy at kluver.co.uk. Follow joy on Twitter @JoyKluver and Instagram @joykluver