Write what you know is a piece of advice often handed out to novice writers - and Linda Regan has certainly taken it to heart.
She’s been a professional actress all her working life. “My family is theatrical, my husband Brian Murphy is a well-known comedy actor and I’ve been in the business since I was a child,” she says.
In the 1980s Linda was on TV every week, playing April the lovestruck Yellowcoat in the hugely popular holiday camp sitcomHi di Hi - but other aspects of her acting career have done a lot to prepare her for a life of crime. Among other things she has played eight different characters in The Bill, parts in Bergerac and a Lynda la Plante series, and murderess and armed robber Lynda Calvey in the docu-drama The Black Widow. The day after that was screened, someone refused to serve her in a post office, telling her they didn’t serve criminals. So she borrowed a nun’s habit from her father’s fancy dress shop and received a warm welcome in the same post office!
But working actresses don’t just appear on TV. Linda has also worked extensively in the theatre - something which is proving very useful as she prepares for the launch of her debut novel Behind You! , published by innovative indie Crème de la Crime at the end of September.
“I’m completely at home in front of an audience, so I’m finding that promoting the book is easier for me than for many writers.
“It’s a murder mystery set backstage in a small provincial theatre during the pantomime - something I can claim to know an awful lot about! I’ve been in pantomimes galore up and down the country, and can tell a hundred stories about the things that go wrong.”
The book certainly brings the unique ambience of small-town pantomime to vivid life - the seediness, the penny-pinching, the professional rivalries, all kept well hidden from the audience, who see only the glitter and allure of the make-believe world.
So why did she turn to crime?
“My head is full of crime fiction. I’ve always wanted to write it down - and now I’ve gotthe chance.”
But a few years ago Linda was ready to abandon her ambition, when she received a damning critique of an earlier crime novel from a reader for a well-known appraisal service.
“I was in pieces. The critique as good as told me I’d never make it as a writer, and I should give up.”
A good friend came to the rescue. Established crime writer Lesley Horton, author of the acclaimed West Yorkshire-based Inspector Handford series, saw potential in Linda’s writing which the appraisal service had missed.
“Lesley picked me up and dusted me down, and told me to ignore the critique. She said if I really wanted to write I should go ahead and do it. So I gave it another go.”
Then in 2003 Linda spotted the Search for the Crème de la Crime, an international hunt for new writing talent launched by the then-embryo publishing house. She entered without revealing her background, and reached the final twenty.
“At that stage I hadn’t finished the novel I submitted, so the next step was to get to the end. When I had a complete manuscript Crème de la Crime gave me an editor to work with. I learned a huge amount from that process, about giving my characters a life outside the plotline, ensuring there’s plenty of action to drive the plot along, and making the most of my knowledge of theatre.
“My detective inspector is the strong, silent type, but he has a tragic past which he’s still coming to terms with. He has a will-they-won’t-they relationship with his sergeant, who has troubles of her own. And of course Behind You! has a large cast of suspects, some of who might just strike a familiar chord with anyone who knows the theatre… ”
The desire to write is still burning fiercely in Linda’s creative soul. “I’m already halfway through the follow-up, which Crème de la Crime want to publish next year. This one’s called Passion Killers, and it’s set in a Soho strip club.
“Don’t ask how I know what goes on there!”
Crème de la Crime
Published Sept 2006