Jan Edwards is a Sussex-born writer now living in the West Midlands with her husband and obligatory cats. She was a Master Locksmith for 20 years but also tried her hand at bookselling, microfiche photography, livery stable work, motorcycle sales and market gardening. She is a practising Reiki Master. She won a Winchester Slim Volume prize and her short fiction can be found in crime, horror and fantasy anthologies in UK, US and Europe; including The Mammoth Book of Dracula and The Mammoth Book of Moriarty. Jan edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Press, and has written for Dr Who spinoffs with Reel Time Pictures.
I asked her about the inspiration behind her new crime novel ...
Winter Downs - Jan Edwards
Winter Downs grew out of a deep affection for the South Downs, and of Sussex in particular. My parents were from Wales and Northumberland but Sussex was the area that I grew up in, on the cusp between the Sussex Weald and the Downs themselves. Perhaps the very fact that I was something of an outsider in a close knit community allowed me to view the place and the people with a dispassionate eye; even though I may not have realised it at the time.
In sketching out a setting for Bunch Courtney to dive into with her amateur sleuthing I deliberately failed to name any specific village. In a city such as London or Manchester a writer can get away with any fiction they choose because no matter how accurately the streets are drawn there will always be a level of anonymity. This is something far harder to do with a small hamlet. Claim that the Squire of "Upper Bottomley" was a total blaggard and the descendants of the genuine squire tend to get upset. I do pinpoint a few local towns to lend a sense of place.
My father's sister lived and worked on a farm on Devil's Dyke, just above Brighton, and I was deeply interested from a very young age by the folklore attached to that particular spot. There are places along the Weald and Downs that have tales of ancient belief firmly attached. The tree rings of both Chanctonbury and Sissbury hills for example, or St Leonards Forest where the last dragon in England was officially reported to have been killed as recently as 1614. Sussex is rich in dragon lore and even has its very own variety of water dragon called Knuckers.
There are almost as many recent myths and legends lurking in the vicinity. Many are attached to the most beautiful of counties. Dark legends such as John George Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer; Christiana Edmunds, the Chocolate Cream Poisoner or the as yet unsolved Brighton Trunk murders. And of course the fishing villages of the Sussex coast have been as rife with smugglers as any Cornish cove.
I was (and still am) an avid listener, and when the adults talked, regaling each other with details of local gossip, I listened. Some of the talk was dark and much was not, but all made for excellent background material that I can always draw on for local colour. Stories such as the vicious bull who wore an iron mask to prevent him charging anything that moved using his senses of scent and sound to follow my aunt across a field. Or the darker report of the local lad who almost blew his hands off making home made bombs to go fishing in the River Arun.
Added to these old tales of course was the spectre of the WW2. With occupied France jus a matter of fifty or so miles across the English Channel tales of that era were often to be heard at social gatherings and those, along with the remnants of pill boxes and bunkers as well as hastily built air strips. The War Department began requisitioning large country houses in 1939. Some as schools and others as rehabilitation centres or just plain military billets. Not all of them survived that allied occupation. Shillinglee Park in Sussex was famously burned to the ground by Canadian soldiers living there - allegedly after a riotous party if local rumour was to be believed twenty years after the event. Shillinglee was rebuilt, but a similar the ruins of Appeldurcombe on the Isle of Wight, which suffered a similar fate can still be seen.
All of these things had an impact on me and when writing Winter Downs I brought together the notions of requisitioned houses and a country waiting and watching for the enemy to strike from across the water, and adding the joys of heavy snow to hamper movements and smother potential evidence, went a long way to weaving an everyday tale of murderous Sussex folk!
Winter Downs is just the first in the series with two more roughed out and ideas for many more. This will not be the last you hear of Bunch Courtney and her nemesis Chief Inspector Wright.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WINTER DOWNS.
3rd June 2017 | Penkhull Press
Paperback £9.99 | ebook £2.99 tbc
In January of 1940 a small rural community on the Sussex Downs, already preparing for invasion from across the Channel, finds itself deep in the grip of a snowy landscape, with an ice-cold killer on the loose.
Bunch Courtney stumbles upon the body of Jonathan Frampton in a woodland clearing. Is this a case of suicide, or is it murder? Bunch is determined to discover the truth but can she persuade the dour Chief Inspector Wright to take her seriously?
Winter Downs is first in the Bunch Courtney Investigates series.
Available in paper and e formats (after 3rd June) HERE.