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Will the real KEITH MILES please stand up?

Written by Mike Stotter

Keith Miles

KEITH MILES

Is he going off the rails?*

Mike Stotter finds out

* Sorry, a bad pun I couldn’t resist

Book Jacket, Excursion Train

Keith, your latest book will be the second in the new “railway” series, The Excursion Train. Are you fascinated by railways?

 

Yes. I come from a railway family and grew up in the age of steam. My father and my uncle were engine drivers so there was constant discussion of railway lore. At an early age, I was lucky enough to be sneaked on to the footplate of a steam train and taught how to shunt. Diesels are bigger and faster but I still prefer the era of the steam locomotive and had always wanted to write a series that celebrated it.

 

Book Jacket, The Railway Detective

Tell us a bit about The Excursion Train.

 

Excursion trains transformed the lives of ordinary people in Victoria's reign. In 1852 - the year in which THE EXCURSION TRAIN is set - only three town in the whole of England lacked a railway station. The novel begins with a rowdy group of Londoners boarding a train to attend an illegal prize fight in Berkshire. When they pour out of their carriages, a dead body is left behind. By using the new telegraph system, Inspector Robert Colbeck, the Railway Detective, is summoned from Scotland Yard to take charge of the case.

 The dead man is a former cobbler who lives under an assumed name because he also has a part-time job as a public executioner. His work on the scaffold has made him many enemies over the years and Colbeck has to trawl through some of his most recent hangings to find suspects. Everything points to a bungled execution in Kent. Before they can find the hangman's killer, they have to solve the earlier crime for which an innocent man was wrongly executed.

 

 

Colbeck and his assistant, Sergeant Leeming, are based in Ashford, Kent, a railway town for the Southern Region. I lived in Ashford for four years so was able to make use of local knowledge. Inside the town library is a separate, well-stocked railway library, invaluable as a source of information.

 

 

As in THE RAILWAY DETECTIVE, trains are not merely a convenient backdrop. They are integral to the plot and they allow the action to shift quickly to various locations.

 

Why did you begin another series?

 

I try to do something entirely new each year and this was the new departure in 2004. I think it's important to keep pushing out the boundaries of your work, taking risks, accepting challenges, going into uncharted territory. Once you have an ongoing series, it's fatal to sit back and switch to automatic pilot. I never write two books in the same series consecutively. Moving to another time period and a different set of characters, keeps you on your toes. Including children's books, I've written twelve different series and I hope to add to that number in future years.

 

Book Jacket, The Vagabond Clown

What is the difference between an Edward Marston novel and a Keith Miles novel?

 

Marston is historical, Miles is contemporary. When the first Marston novel came out, I was still writing golf mysteries under my own name and the publishers did not want to confuse readers. So we invented a different name and persona. Six of the novels by Keith Miles have a first-person narrative, something I've never tried as Edward Marston.

 

What attracts you to write historical fiction?

 

Background and inclination. I read Modern History at Oxford and lectured in the subject for three years. My first venture into the past was a series of radio plays for the BBC about Ben Spiggott, a Bow Street Runner in the 1820's. I found the research fascinating and loved the fact that my protagonist had to solve crimes without any of the technology that assists modern police forces. Spiggott had to rely on a combination of intelligence and sheer tenacity to track down the villains. The same is true for all my other protagonists. No help from DNA tests or psychological profilers. They have to do all the detective work on their own.

 

Book Jacket, The Queens Head

When starting a novel, where do you begin in terms of time period?

 

For my historical novels, I've always chosen periods of time with in-built drama. In the Domesday Books, an Anglo-Saxon civilisation is being supressed and reshaped by the invading Normans. Tensions are sky high. During the late Elizabethan period, the setting for the Nicholas Bracewell novels, social, religious and military conflict was rife. THE QUEEN'S HEAD, the first book in the series, began with the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and the ensuing Spanish Armada. In the Christopher Redmayne novels, which begin with the Great Fire of 1666, we have a nation torn apart by internal dissensions on almost every front. What I try to do in each case is to bring some of the inherent drama of a particular period to the fore.

 Railways changed Victorian England completely but it's easy to forget the enormous resistance that they met at the time or the resentment they created among the landed classes. This was the starting point for THE RAILWAY DETECTIVE. In the novel, Robert Colbeck discovers that not everyone shares his admiration for the railway system and those who work on it.

 

Book Jacket, The Amorous Nightingale

Apart from crime, do you find yourself returning to familiar themes in your novels?

 

War, religion, sport and theatre have a habit of providing me with themes. I tackle other subjects but these are the ones I return to most often. Military conflict is the backdrop to most of my novels and, since most are set during an Age of Faith, religion also has a high profile. I've now written eight novels with a sporting theme and worked sports into a number of aspects of my work.

Like THE EXCURSION TRAIN, one of the Spiggott plays featured bareknuckle boxing and another play was about the 1824 Derby. Having started writing on a full-time basis as a playwright, I have a passion for the theatre. It's the basis for the Nicholas Bracewell series but it also gave me the plot for THE AMOROUS NIGHTINGALE, one of the Restoration mysteries. It was interesting to point up the differences between theatre in the 1590's and that enjoyed at the time of Charles 11 when actresses were first allowed to appear onstage. One of them, the amorous songbird of the title, is the King's mistress. When she vanishes, Charles wants her back on the stage and back in his bed.

 

What are the advantages of writing a series over a stand-alone?

 

Building an audience and being able to develop your central characters. Each novel in a series must, of course, be complete and self-contained so that it provides a satisfying read even if picked up out of sequence. But you can still develop your protagonists and take them into areas that were unimaginable when you wrote the first book. With a stand-alone novel, you only have one shot at the reader. If he or she likes a book from a series, they'll start to search for other titles.

 

Would you ever consider writing a stand-alone historical saga? If so, what period would you opt for and what historical character?

 

Oh, yes. Watch this space.

 

Book Jacket, The Foxes Of Warwick

What has happened to your previous historical series (The Domesday Mysteries and Nicholas Bracewell)?

 

Because I am writing four parallel series, something had to be rested and, after eleven titles, it was the Domesday Books. I'm still writing the Nicholas Bracewell series and delivered the fifteenth title, THE MALEVOLENT COMEDY, only last month. My U.S. publishers also bring out a maritime series, set during the Edwardian period and featuring the great liners of the day. They are written under the pseudonym of Conrad Allen and deal with the cases handled by two private detectives who work for the Cunard and other shipping lines. It's the first time I've used a male / female investigative team and it's been very stimulating. MURDER ON THE LUSITANIA introduced the series and I'm currently working on the seventh title.

 

Book Jacket, Honolulu Play Off

I know you have a keen interest in cricket and you’ve written about some past times that interest you eg golf and boxing, any more up your sleeve?

 

I've written about sports in many guises - a novel about the breaking of the four-minute barrier for the mile, two children's books set in a Sports Centre, non-fiction books about rugby and the professional squash circuit, seven golf novels, a tennis novel and a non-criminous novel about the murky world of snooker. One of my first breaks into television drama was to sell a thirteen-episode drama series, CRIMEBUSTER, about corruption in various sports. My protaganist was a former professional cyclist who became a journalist with a nose for skullduggery.

 Sport will reappear in some form or other before too long. For fifteen years, I played rugby in a team that consisted largely of policemen and that inspired me to write more and more about crime. I now play tennis, badminton and golf on a regular basis. They provide ideal exercise for someone with a sedentary occupation. Playing sports seems to stimulate the imagination. In 2004, HONOLULU PLAY-OFF, my latest golf mystery, was published in the States. The idea for the plot came to me when I was out on the golf course one day. My golfing hero discovers that two villains are engaged in a play-off to kill him.

 

 

No sport is safe. Be warned.

 

Book Jacket, Murder On The Marmora

What’s next?

 

I've donned my Conrad Allen hat to write MURDER ON THE OCEANIC then it's back to Edward Marston and a fifth Restoration mystery, THE PARLIAMENT HOUSE. What I'm really looking forward to is the publication early this year of an anthology of short stories written over a thirty-year period. It's called MURDER ANCIENT AND MODERN and comes out from Crippen and Landru, an independent press in the States. When I looked at all the stories written over that length of time, it was interesting to see how I returned to favourite themes and characters.

 To accompany the anthology, I wrote a new short story that will be published on its own. It's called THE END OF LINE and was the first outing for Inspector Robert Colbeck. Having built a short story around him, I felt confident enough to develop him and his world in a full-length novel, THE RAILWAY DETECTIVE.

This is where we came in.

 

Signature Of Edward Marston
For further information check out Keith's website:

www.edwardmarston.com/

  

 

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Keith Miles



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