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Crime-fiction writers love seaside settings – the myriad ways to kill people perhaps – so, it’s surely not that surprising that Hastings should have its moment in the sun in the Dr Jocasta Hughes’ series. The Literary Shed catches up with writer Candy Denman at one of her protagonist’s favourite bars.

‘This is where it started. We thought it would be a great place for a murder.’

We’re sitting in the garden of Porters Wine Bar in the Old Town, where author Candy Denman and her husband first brainstormed Dead Pretty, the debut book featuring Dr Jocasta Hughes – or ‘Jo’ to her friends. It’s the Indian summer that everyone’s talking about and the woman at the adjoining table to us is unashamedly eavesdropping, her two bug-eyed dogs panting with equal curiosity. Murder, it seems, is irresistible, no matter what your species.

It would be fair to say that Candy’s no stranger to crime. A scriptwriter of some repute, she made her living for many years penning award-winning TV series. She was also, until last year, a practising NHS nurse. Both of these skills have proved invaluable in creating the Jo Hughes books.

‘[Screenwriter] Alan Plater used to say that a writer needs a place to be bad whilst they learn their craft and his was Z Cars,’ Candy says.

‘I would never, of course, admit that any of my episodes of The Bill were bad, but they did help me to find my writing voice and it was whilst working on Heartbeat and enjoying writing a combination of police and medical storylines that the Jo Hughes’ series was born  – in my head anyway.’

Thirty-something Jo is a willowy blond with a keen sense of a humour and a challenging love life. She works part-time as a GP in Hastings, while being on call as Forensic Medical Practitioner for the local police with whom she has a challenging relationship. After Dead Pretty, Jo made her second outing in Body Heat, published in the summer; Candy’s currently working on the third book. Hastings features prominently in all of them, Candy celebrating the beauty, coastline and local attractions, but also focusing on some of the issues and problems here. It is crime fiction, after all. I ask her why she chose this locale.

‘I love the town,’ she says simply.

She’s been coming here since childhood and brought her children to Hastings, too, on family holidays. ‘I would live here if I could.’

‘Hastings is a town made up of many contrasting parts: working fishing port and holiday destination; elegant St Leonards’ villas and rundown council estates; heroin capital of the south and beautiful countryside parks,’ she continues. ‘I wanted somewhere that could be the location of the different events in my books. A place where I wouldn’t run out of stories.’ Hastings is undeniably that.

The town that Jo Hughes and her friends inhabit is a mixture of real and imagined places. ‘After a particularly trying day, Jo would meet [her best friend] Kate for a drink at The Stag or a meal at Porters and talk things through, but failing that a long walk alone along the seafront or across the cliffs is best,’ Candy says. ‘Several places, such as the Vodka Bar in George Street and The Dining Room, were real, but have since closed down. Of course, the stars of the book – the Old Town, the beach, the twittens, East Hill and the Countryside Park, all exist, too.

‘Jo’s surgery and the hospital are deliberately fictional,’ she adds, ‘as well as several pubs and clubs that are described as run down, dirty or otherwise insalubrious.’

As a protagonist, Jo is an interesting character: she’s brave, loyal to her friends and yet also stubborn, a trait that makes her a good advocate for the people, living and dead, for whom she stands up. In that, she brings to mind Temperance Brennan, the lead in Kathy Reichs’ books which inspired the hugely successful series Bones.

‘Tess Gerritsen and Kathy Reichs are writers I admire and who have influenced my work in that they have strong female medical protagonists,’ Candy say. Other sources of inspiration include forensic textbooks and medical books. ‘I have also been known to trawl through real autopsy, post mortem and coroner’s reports looking for inspiration!’

Already receiving great critical attention, the Jo Hughes books are tightly plotted, fast-paced and, unsurprising, very filmic. They showcase the local area beautifully, yet authentically.

 

Candy Denman will be at The Bookkeeper, 1A Kings Road, St Leonards in Sea, 7–9 pm, 19 October 2018.

Competition: Jo Hughes, in great local tradition, is a dog lover. Future books will feature a canine friend. Candy welcomes name suggestions. The winner of the best name will receive a signed copy of Body Heat, the latest Jocasta Hughes book.

Dead Pretty and Body Heat | Crime Scene Books | Candy Denman

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Acknowledgements: Thank you to the author for spending time with us at Porters and Graze on the Grand in Hastings and St Leonards and Sea respectively. A version of this article appears as ‘Death comes to Hastings’ in HOT, 15 October 2018. Thanks also to Anne Cater for first making us aware of Candy’s books.

Select The Literary Lounge Q&As/interviews:Tom Cox: The Literary Lounge Q&A‘; ‘Vanda Symon: The Literary Lounge Q&A; ‘Gunnar Staalesen: The Literary Lounge Q&A’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist; ‘Meet Gina Kirkham: The Literary Lounge Q&A’.

Music:  ‘Gwyneth Herbert’s Letters I Haven’t Written‘;Amethysts and flowers on the table, the beauty of Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell‘; ‘Dreams of love’, Bert Jansch’

Select reviews: ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets‘; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir’; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper – indie publisher Orenda does it again‘; ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; ‘Mallory an old-style hero – It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell’.

Film: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) – a Billy Wilder classic?; Night Mail (1936), changing the face of British film; A Colour Box by Len Lye (1935); The Splendour of George Stevens’ Giant (1956).

The Literary Cook:The unprepossessing Hunza apricot’; ‘Fava me with love – breaking bread with friends’; ‘A little bit of cheese, please, my dear’; ‘Soup love – all about my mother’; ‘The not-so-humble pancake’; ‘Cooking lesson – Master of Hammer Vincent Price makes a daring curry’.

 

This review is © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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