Creating Kettle

A country copper with a strange mind, a weary heart and quick fists—what could possibly go wrong?

After returning to creative writing in 2013, I wrote enough short stories, novellas, poetry and song lyrics to self-publish 45 titles online. Initially, I used Smashwords, followed by Amazon, but then I moved my eBooks onto Draft2Digital, a relatively new operator—more 21st-century in its technology and look. Although I was satisfied with them, I recently decided to try KDP Select, which meant several weeks of waiting for my titles to be unpublished from vendors D2D had distributed them to. KDP Select insists on exclusivity.

It had always been my intention to write novels, but I was learning the business of publishing and improving my writing technique, so didn’t rush things. My first thought was to write a literary novel set in modern times and tackling such issues as social media, online dating, surveillance of the population, terrorism, austerity and the recession and Brexit. Thankfully, I hadn’t even got as far as making notes, when I saw advice from several writing gurus, that placing a literary novel with an agent and a publisher was the most difficult of all books. Genre writing was more popular. I changed tack to write crime novels.

After half-a-century of reading crime stories, I know the genre very well. Of course, every genre has sub-genres and I’m more a devotee of psychological thrillers, hardboiled tough guy mysteries, Southern noir and writing that has literary flourishes, including strong characterisation. I’m not a fan of cosies or animal detectives. My favourite crime writers include James Oswald, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin, James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, Val McDermid, Kate Atkinson, Jo Nesbø and Andrea Camilleri.

I wasn’t that commercially aware when starting out, but I knew that Crime is the second best-selling genre after Romance/Erotica. Also, I live in Cornwall, where my stories would be set, which already has several noted authors, such as Daphne Du Maurier (Jamaica Inn), Winston Graham (Poldark), W.J. Burley (Inspector Wycliffe), Dominic Minghella (Doc Martin) and Patrick Gale (Notes From An Exhibition).

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Cornwall is one of the most beautiful places in the world, making it a popular tourist destination. But, beauty goes hand in hand with danger, for people die swimming in the sea and rivers, falling off cliffs or into disused mines. It’s a great backdrop for violent crimes. Daphne Du Maurier was inspired to write Jamaica Inn after getting lost on Bodmin Moor in the fog, whilst out horse riding. I know Cornwall well, having lived here for thirty years. I also know coppers (good and bad) and criminals, victims of crime, social workers and probation officers.

Norwegian novelist Aksel Sandemos stated that: “The only things worth writing about are love and murder.” I’m inclined to agree with him, for both show life at the extreme. Writing about crime allows me to tackle anything in society.

In creating a protagonist for my stories, I wanted to diverge from the usual detective or private eye, who drinks, takes drugs and smokes too much, while gambling his money away, breaking laws and chasing women. Many authors have done well with such rebellious antiheroes, particularly Jo Nesbø with Harry Hole, but I decided to go with a career copper who’s a son of the soil, and also rather weird!

It always helps an author if their hero is monied, and Neil Kettle is a millionaire from the sale of his parents’ sheep farm, following their premature deaths. His wife died in a traffic accident, meaning a life insurance payout. He’s not interested in money, rarely thinking about his savings, but it does give him a reputation for being his own man. He stays a copper for the intellectual challenge and to right wrongs in society.

In those ways, he’s conventional, but he’s unusual in how he’s in tune with nature, which helps him in his rural investigations. Clean-living, he’d rather have herbal tea than a shot of whisky; he doesn’t smoke. He’s more left-wing or green politically. A frustrated artist, he paints, draws, is learning to play the guitar and is growing a wild garden to encourage wildlife. He reads widely and listens to different types of music to help him meditate on cases.

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Neil Kettle has a rebellious streak, riding a long black Big Bear chopper, which was a trophy taken from an evil criminal. He loves being a copper with a chopper, for he gets treated as an ordinary bloke while out riding it. Like his surname, Neil Kettle is content to simmer away most of the time, but he comes to the boil quickly with a violent temper. He’s more a hunter than his laid back personality suggests.

Neil’s persistence and aggression see him triumph over serial killers in Book 2 The Perfect Murderer and the fourth tale Sin Killers, where the predators stalk him.

A loner since being widowed, he struggles with depression in the first two books, but is rebuilding his life and is more content about the future by Book 3 An Elegant Murder. His closest friend is CC, the police force’s forensic pathologist. She’s like a considerate but cheeky aunt to him, offering useful insights into the offender and wise counselling about life.

While grieving, I didn’t give him a love life, though he has an online relationship with a witness who finds the victim’s body in the first investigation Who Kills A Nudist? Mish Stewart is an American photographer, who returns home to Wyoming to decide what she wants to do with her life. There’s a mutual attraction between Neil and Mish, but the timing is wrong.

Their relationship alters for the better when she unexpectedly returns in the fifth story The Dead Need Nobody. It won’t all be plain sailing, for she has a complicated criminal history, which comes back to haunt them in Kissing & Killing. I’ll begin writing Book 6 this summer, hopefully typing The End about Christmas time.

The Cornish Detective novels are based in mid-Cornwall, with Neil operating from the police station at Liskerrett, which is the ancient name for Liskeard. I altered various geographical features in a writerly way, but not so much that they can’t be recognised.

Although Brexit is slowly going ahead, Neil Kettle investigates crimes linked to Europe, for crime is international and Cornwall’s rugged coastline is ideal for smugglers of drugs and weapons and human traffickers to sneak their ill-gotten gains in.

It’s been that way for centuries, and there have always been a few dedicated law officers who track down the criminals. Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle leads a crack squad of officers in the Major Investigation Team. Each of them has their own skillset, but ultimately it’s Neil who gets the job done.

A country copper with a strange mind, a weary heart and quick fists—what could possibly go wrong?