Flic Everett talks us through the rules of writing cosy crime, and how to dress for writing…
In our Meet the Novelist series Flic Everett, writing as F.L Everett, has just debuted her Edie York cosy crime series with A Report of Murder. And her second novel, Murder in a Country Village, is now on sale.
How would you describe yourself?
I am small, extremely determined, highly anxious, and a very loving – some might say smothering – mother to my wonderful grown-up son. I’m very bad at staying tidy but like to have huge, sweeping blitzes of the house every few weeks, so everything is perfect for 10 minutes, before it all atrophies again.
I love cooking. I’m vegetarian/pescetarian, while my husband basically has the diet of a Paleolithic tiger, so I often cook complex and fancy meals for myself. Although Ottolenghi’s recipes make my brain hurt. I love baking and eating out, but have been on a rolling low-key diet for months, so I’m not doing much of either at the moment – and eating out is increasingly too expensive. And I like crap reality TV and really good TV dramas, and my favourite films are mostly pre-1950.
Can you tell us more about your unique sense of style?
I love clothes. I used to own a vintage shop in Manchester and I still miss it. My greatest treat is a proper rummage in an old-fashioned charity shop and a pile of bargains. I’m quite lazy about beauty though – I’ve just had my first haircut in two years, and I can’t do Botox because I’m too scared of it.
How important are friends and family?
I have a lot of friends who I value hugely, on and offline. As an only child, I have a very small but wonderful family – I go back to Manchester a great deal to see them. I’m married to Andy, my third and last husband, who is very clever and understands me.
Aside from the people I love, what makes me happiest is animals and reading. We’ve got two spaniels and a little black cat. When I’m away, I miss them so much it’s almost physical. Every childhood photo shows me clutching some small animal or other, or cuddling a pony – not mine, I’m not very posh – or holding up a reluctant cat. I wanted to be a vet, but I’m rubbish at science.
Apart from writing, what are you good at – and what are you not so good at?
I’m good at buying presents, finding bargains, listening, decorating, drawing, and arguing in print. I’m bad at parking, concentrating on anything but reading or writing, maths, science and arguing in person because it makes me panic.
Where do you like to write?
I hate writing in cafes. I feel constantly on edge, aware of crying babies and beset by the whacking sound of that little coffee thing they’re always bashing. I feel like I need to keep ordering stuff I don’t want so they don’t chuck me out and I honestly can’t understand why people enjoy it.
Equally, I don’t write outdoors. “Ooh, lovely day, look at me, working in the garden!” Yes, with your pink, peeling nose and the sun glaring off the screen. No, thank you. I work in my house, in silence – I can’t focus any other way. You may not believe I’m fun at parties, but I am.
Any particular spot in the house?
I have a sort-of office in the spare bedroom of our two-bedroom cottage, but the dogs either whine outside the door, or bash their way in and jump about, plus Andy likes to have the news on in the living room so I get distracted by reporters shouting about politics. I prefer to work in the kitchen on a really un-ergonomic bentwood chair piled with cushions, so I can reach the table, as I’m 5’1”. That way, I’m near the kettle, the radiator, the fridge and the dogs. Plus the cat has a box on the table, so I can reach out to stroke her if she’s lying in it. At the moment she prefers our bed, but cats are very changeable.
Are you a handwriting merchant?
Good grief, no. I used to read books by Americans that often mentioned writing in yellow legal pads and they always sounded quite exotic, but I’ve never found one. I have terrible handwriting. If I write Andy a shopping list he has to go through it, translating worries into cherries. I work on a MacBook Air. Occasionally, I make notes in my phone if something strikes me, but notepads really are just for notes. For actual book, it has to be typing in Word. I am that Mac person who the PC people despise.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I have to be dressed properly, I have to be sitting upright and, while I will allow Andy to come in and make bread, and I can cope with the tumble drier being on, any more noise than that is unacceptable to me and my jangling nerves.
So, you’re a creature of habit?
Yes, I must have a boiling hot bath every day, or I feel uneasy. I don’t drink much, after years of drinking quite a lot – or a normal amount for a journalist. I stopped for four years and now I have the odd one, but I’m a Virgo and a health hypochondriac. I don’t want to be responsible for my own death, so I try to be reasonably healthy. I go for long walks where we live in the country in Scotland. It’s my dream to see an otter.
Do you eat and drink while you write?
A great deal of tea with skimmed milk. I don’t really drink much else. I can’t write while I eat, so I have to have a little break. I’ll read the sidebar of shame or a bit of whatever book I’m reading – currently the new Lisa Jewell. I try to have a proper lunch break to give my brain a rest, so I eat leftovers or soup or whatever’s in the fridge.
Do you write to music or do you prefer quiet?
Silence and solitude. Although I was writing a short story for a mag the other day and struggling to get in the mood, so I did play a bit of French accordion music to help me write about Paris.
What’s the strangest thing you do to inspire yourself?
I don’t think I do anything strange, I’m quite boring. Perhaps as a freelance journalist for 30 years, you get over the idea of inspiration very quickly. I’m still a journalist, as well as a novelist. If I’ve got a deadline, I just do it, and the same goes for writing novels. Sit down, bash it out. Some days it’s easier than others, but I don’t drift about by ponds, waiting for my muse to strike.
What if you’re exhausted?
If I’m tired, I favour a very hot bath with a good thriller, and a cuddle with the dogs. And in times of exhaustion it’s nice to have a change of scene – even a visit to the cinema – to immerse yourself in something else for a bit. And I go for a walk nearly every day, so if things just aren’t working, I take the dogs out and go up a hill. See? Boring.
How do you overcome distractions and procrastination?
I don’t even think about them. I started as a journalist when I was 21, working from home. By 22, I had a baby, and by 24 I was divorced. I had to make a living, so that’s what I did – it’s no different from sitting in an office. If I dick about, I’m not earning money and I’m annoying my editors, and they probably won’t use me again. That’s enough to keep me at it. Having said that, I spend a lot of time on social media – it has made life much less lonely for writers.
Are many of your characters based on real people?
None of them. I always find it odd when people ask who they’re based on, as if the whole point of being a writer isn’t making things up. I invent all of them – it’s my favourite part of the entire process. I think all plot should spring from character, even in crime novels. It’s very important to me to make my cast of people believable. Of course, we’re all influenced by who we are, and who we’ve met over the years, and I’m sure there’s a bit of me in Edie – but really, they’re people I’d like to meet, rather than people I know. Although I did borrow one tiny trait of my mum’s in my second book to describe a character and she did recognise it, but nobody else would!
Are there other genres you’d like to explore with your writing?
I constantly have ideas for books in other genres – the only kind that doesn’t remotely interest me is fantasy. Books about elves and kingdoms are in my Room 101. They always seem utterly devoid of humour – “Sire, we shall feast well this night!” – and I find them horrifically dull.
I’m not keen on horror, space, goddesses, futuristic dystopias or books about everyone on Earth suddenly waking up with a new power. I do enjoy witches, time travel and pure science-y sci-fi, though. Blake Crouch does this well. I like thrillers, spy novels, good rom coms, gripping literary fiction – books about real people in real situations. I would happily write any kind, as long as it’s character-led.
I do love cosy crime as it ticks many of my enjoyment boxes, but perhaps one day I’ll try other types too. I did write a psychological thriller during lockdown, but looking back, it was a bit bleak, and a bit too informed by my last, very traumatic, divorce. Best left, I think!
Are there any hard and fast rules you set yourself for your stories or characters?
I try to avoid cliché. Other than that, there are certain unspoken rules about cosy crime. You wouldn’t make your lovable protagonist the killer, for instance – and the ending has to be satisfactory. You can’t just leave all the threads dangling. But beyond that, no.
I’m very careful about dialogue. My books are set during the war, so I spend a lot of time on etymology websites, checking on slang and whether certain expressions were in use. I wish TV scriptwriters would do the same. I’m still not over Downton Abbey describing Lady Edith as ‘feisty.’
Will the internet and people’s shortened attention spans ever mean the end of the novel?
This is an Oxford entrance exam question. I know, because I did the exam, then screwed up the interview by getting drunk the night before with a Goth undergraduate I’d just met.
I can’t answer it, which is probably why I didn’t get in. I can only say, I hope not.
What do you wish you’d known before starting this novel-writing malarkey?
That I’d be extremely skint for a very long time – you get paid after publication with my publisher. Other than that, nothing has surprised me. I love it and it’s everything I hoped.
What would you advise eager new writers?
I’d say don’t get too bogged down in support groups and writing circles, and don’t worry too much about feedback early on. Too much opinion can kill a book stone dead. Write what you want to write, make it as good as you can. Then show the world.
Writing is fetishised and people get overwrought about it, but you’re just putting words down on paper. You don’t need rituals and hashtags and retreats, you just need to have a story you want to tell. Crack on! Nobody will tell your story for you – unless you’re a celeb with a ghostwriter – so you might as well do it yourself.
- To order Flic’s books on Amazon in all their various forms hit this link
- National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) takes place every November. It began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days.
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