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Crouch End Confidential, the agency started by housewife and mother, Cathy O’Farrell, is failing badly. Hardly surprising when Cathy’s too soft-hearted to charge their only clients, little old ladies seeking lost pets and a school kid searching for his stolen bike.A new case involving a teenager in possession of an unexplained Glock pistol promises to change all that. Quickly Cathy’s in over her head, posing as a mathematics tutor, a subject in which she’s truly clueless. There’s also the tricky situation of best friend and new mother Rosa hiring her to investigate her fiancé, Alec, plus the mysterious sabotage of Cathy’s friends’ cycle shop and a gang of yobbos dealing drugs at her children’s primary school.
Worst of all, an ill-fated trip to rural Norfolk has Cathy’s husband, Declan, intent on buying a post office and transplanting the family to safer climes, threatening to tear Cathy permanently from her beloved North London home.
Pretty soon Cathy’s risking her friendships, her marriage and even her life untangling all these messes. But that’s what you get for meddling in murder.
Q: Aloha, and thanks for stopping by. Tell us a little about your protagonist Cathy O’Farrell.
A: Cathy is a rather disorganized, impulsive, housewife and mother-of-two who has decided to start up a confidential problem-solving agency which isn’t going so well as most of her clients are little old ladies seeking lost pets and she’s too soft-hearted to charge them. She’s full of enthusiasm, very loyal to her female friends, but rather scatty and her logical deductive skills are a long way from Sherlock Holmes.
Q: How much of you is in Cathy? How would you feel about her if you met her in real life?
A: Cathy is a bit of a screwball, and I think both of us can go down that route occasionally. She’s very sociable and she hates hurting people or confrontations, also true of us. I think she’s better at keeping secrets, though – she’s always getting herself in situations where she has to hide unpleasant facts from family and friends, hard for her because she’s a born gossip. She’s also messy and not much of a cook – ah, well, nobody’s perfect.
I think we’d really like her in real life. She’s the sort of friend that everyone wants, that doesn’t always have her act together, looks past the disorder in your house and loves to chat over a cup of tea and a glass of wine. She’s a gossip but not in a hurtful way, it’s more that she’s fascinated by people and their stories. And she has great female friends, The Wednesday Once Weeklies who she meets – you’ve guessed it – every Wednesday night.
Q: Do your characters change and evolve throughout consecutive books in the series?
Cathy certainly has. In Looking For La La she was quite discontented with her role as a stay-at-home housewife yet dreading returning to the workforce. She felt unimportant, unnoticed, and unappreciated by her workaholic husband and even dangerously tempted by the flattering attentions of a young handsome admirer. Her drinking was out of control too. In the next two novels, she’s a lot more sure of herself and her marriage. In To Catch A Creeper she’s on a rollercoaster of starting and losing an incredible job. And by Meddling With Murder, I think she’s a lot more confident and optimistic. There are still ups and downs and emotional crises but there’s a sense that she’s always got a plan, however kooky. Her husband Declan has changed too, from being a workaholic and rather controlling to taking a lower paid job as a postman and seeking quality of life above all else. And best friend Rosa has gone from carefree single girl to Cathy’s colleague and mentor to new mother with post-partum depression. So, yes, quite a lot of changes.
Q: Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean?
Yes. Especially people we don’t like. Cheaper than therapy and less chance of criminal prosecution. In our youth, if we had a romantic disaster, we’d often base a short story on it and give the guy in question his come-uppance, at least in print. We figured that if we were going to obsess over them anyway, we might as well get some benefit out of it.
Q: How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?
A: The Crouch End Confidential series is based in Crouch End, very much its own cool little “village” in North London and we try to stay true to its particular vibe. It’s the same with our other books. We might change a place name or invent a castle but we use our knowledge of location to flesh out the details.
Q: When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?
A: Cathy would be played by Emma Stone – who not only is a great actress, but she’s never too perfect.
Cathy’s husband, Declan, would be Damian Lewis – Brody from Homeland. He has blue eyes and gingery hair, so it fits, plus he’s a bit of alright – and we may get to meet him on the set.
Q: What’s the worst and best advice you’ve heard or received as an author?
Best advice – don’t talk about your brilliant novel ideas. The act of airing them seems to take away the sense of excitement and you’ll be bored with it by the time you get to your computer. Or, before you even get to that stage, your friends will kill them – it only takes a luke-warm reaction or a baffled response to make you think again.
Worst advice – everyone has a story in them. That may be true but unless you’re a secret agent or have lived an extraordinary life, few people are interested in reading a thinly-veiled rehash of your autobiography. It’s a logical place for new writers to start but most fiction is larger than life and we’ve learned that unless you want to lose friends and readers, we’ve found it essential to put that creative imagination to work.
Ellie Campbell is a pseudonym for sister writing team, Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell. Running wild as tomboys in Scotland, playing imagination games, they couldn’t dream that one day they’d co-author novels despite an ocean between them. From boring clerical jobs in London to a varied life of backpacking and adventure travel, both started almost accidentally as short story writers, Lorraine when working in publishing, Pam as a fun hobby while an at-home mother of three.
By the time each had 70 short stories published internationally, Pam was settled in Surrey, England, and Lorraine had finally taken root in Boulder, Colorado. Long telephone chats about life and fiction led to their current collaboration. They have produced five acclaimed novels – How To Survive Your Sisters, When Good Friends Go Bad, Looking For La La, To Catch A Creeper, and Million Dollar Question. They write contemporary women’s fiction laced with humour, romance, and mystery.
When not hunched over computers, Lorraine, a certified ROTH ‘horse whisperer’, can usually be found messing about with her four rescue horses and Pam on a fund raising bike ride, madly cycling over mountains to Paris, Barcelona or Gibraltar on the back of her husband’s bone-shaking tandem.
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