Pauline Manders was born in London. She trained as an ENT surgeon and moved to East Anglia with her husband and two children, where she worked for over thirty years in the NHS. Since retiring, she lives in a converted barn deep in rural Suffolk and at last has time to write, share her husband’s interest in classic cars and take Otto, her Weimaraner for long walks while thinking up plots for her crime novels. She is an enthusiastic member of a local carpentry group, and is currently carving three diving ducks to serve as legs to support a small table — this is proving quite a challenge!
For those who have not read her books, they are all set in Suffolk based around the fictional Utterly Academy in Stowmarket. They are cosy murder stories and readers will recognise a lot of the locations. Find out more on Pauline’s website and blog.
What inspired you to start writing?
It is said that everyone has a book within them or a tale to tell. I suppose it is part of human nature that we seek explanations for the unexplainable, use our imaginations and communicate. While I was still working, the nature of my work meant that I dealt in and wrote about facts, findings, treatment and outcomes. There was no room for creative flights of fancy. On my retirement from the NHS, I was no longer constrained by my work or time. I was at last free in a writing sense to take to the road and drive anywhere my imagination might lead. Or — one could say — I retired; was mildly bored; my husband couldn’t cope with my continual chatter; put his hands to his ears and said, “You’re doin’ my head in.” And so I started writing. It is quieter!
You have just published Utterly knotted. What can your readers expect from your latest book?
Utterly knotted features my main characters Chrissie, Matt and Nick, friends since completing a carpentry course at the fictional Utterly Academy. Knotweed inspired a thread throughout this book. It first crops up when a body is found near the railway line in Needham Market while Nick, a carpentry apprentice gets wasted at a gig miles away in Rattlesden. The friends follow separate trails stretching from Bury St Edmunds to Woodbridge and Felixstowe, and discover murky secrets from an abusive past. Throw into the mix a turkey farm, winery and French flea market pot and you have the ingredients for a perfect murder. My interest in carpentry, classic cars, scientific medical background and of course the Suffolk countryside colour this novel. The book stands alone and is a good one to start with, despite being a sequel to the previous books.
Are Chrissie, Matt and Nick based on real people?
I hope they appear real. They are each mildly flawed as individuals, but when their characters are combined, have the traits of a complete and complex person. I haven’t met that person yet!
Can you give us an insight into your writing process? Are you a plotter or do you let the story flow freely?
A bit of both. I start with an idea for the means of killing, i.e: fire, explosion, drowning, electricity and see it in the climax ending of the novel. Then I work forwards with a sketch of the plot, combining more than one strand. Next I start writing from the beginning and my subconscious comes up automatically with plot twists and embellishments which link with the main or secondary plot theme.
Suffolk features strongly in your books. Is there anywhere you would like to write about that you have not covered yet?
Suffolk is so rich in material and locations — where to begin? Gravel pits; lime and chalk quarry/pits; wet coastal grasslands; forests; so many rivers and disused airfields — I could go on and on. They all inspire me with plots.
Who is your favourite author and what is it that you like about their work?
How can one be narrowed down to choose a single author? I believe that favourite authors change and jostle for key position throughout one’s life. As a young teenager in the 1960s, J. R. Tolkien vied for my top of the charts with Agatha Christie — superb literary fantasy versus easy to read who-done-it. Living authors develop and change, so that for me early works by Iris Murdoch and A. N. Wilson were favourites. Likewise with early Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell. I think with age I have settled for entertainment, excellent writing, humour and escapism, so I choose Mary Wesley, Alexander McCall Smith and Bill Bryson, and the screen play writing skills of Anthony Horowitz (Foyle’s War). Nothing too shocking — I like to be able to sleep at night!
If you had to describe yourself in three words what would they be?
I suppose a hardworking, resilient, perfectionist.
What are you working on now? Is there anything you can tell us about your next project?
My next book! I have worked out the climax ending with the mode of death/killing. (It would spoil it if I spilled the beans here.) Now I have turned my mind to the plot. Currently I am researching ‘filming on location in Suffolk’ and have the opening chapter in my mind — they use set carpenters, which is perfect for my characters. I now have to think up/work out the secondary threads to the plot. I enjoy this part of the challenge — devising some unusual, whacky, off-beat twists and themes.