How Baldock author Rachel Lynch went from army wife to full-time novelist
- Credit: Millie Lucas
One cold morning, the butchered remains of a woman are discovered. DI Kelly Porter knows this is the work of someone who has killed before – and will kill again...
Before you think there is a serial killer on the loose in Hertfordshire, rest assured, it’s an extract from Baldock crime author Rachel Lynch’s new novel. Her eighth in the detective inspector Kelly Porter series, the 48-year-old’s gripping stories have sold almost half a million copies.
As a child Rachel ‘always had something to say’, writing stories and poetry and losing herself in books. She continued her love of literature while studying history at the University of Lancaster. But it is the wild, rugged scenery of the Lake District that inspires her atmospheric crime novels.
‘I grew up in the Lake District [in Dalton-in-Furness] and it never leaves you,’ she says. ‘I make a few things up but generally the lakes, the towns, the mountains, the little places, they are all real.
‘I don’t know who said it but I read, “you’ve got to write the crap out of yourself before you are any good”'
‘I go there every year and I just have to be on the water or climbing a mountain and a story just comes to me. It’s so inspirational because it’s so desolate and isolated you just can’t help think of what people might get away with in that environment.’
After teaching history in London at Wanstead High School, she followed her army officer husband Mike around the world for the next 13 years. It was during his posting to Argentina in 2011 that she finally found time to write.
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The Dependents is about three army wives, charting their lives when their husbands are sent to Afghanistan. She describes writing the book as a learning curve. ‘I don’t know who said it but I read, “you’ve got to write the crap out of yourself before you are any good”. I think people generally say it’s a million words before you learn your craft.’
She returned to civilian life in 2013, moving to Baldock with her husband and two children and two years later decided to ‘have a go’ and write about crime, the genre she loved.
After sending her first three chapters to agents, she waited, receiving rejection after rejection. But in 2016 that elusive email popped into her inbox from agent Peter Brockman saying, ‘you have drawn me in’ and asking to see the full manuscript.
The repeated rejection Rachel describes as soul destroying but that you can’t take it personally.
‘It’s so subjective, you are talking about somebody reading your words and saying, “no, don’t like that”. But that’s their personal opinion. A big agent might get sent 70,000 manuscripts a year and might take on five writers. At the end of the day if there’s a professional saying that this is not quite right, chances are it’s not quite right and you need to just keep working at it.’
Her first crime novel, Dark Game, focuses on people trafficking; exposing a dark underworld in a beautiful location. ‘I think what people loved about it was the juxtaposition of those tea shops in Grasmere and what my baddies get up to.’
Having no background in police work or forensics, Rachel researches investigative procedures and has contacts on the force that she goes to. She also credits a less likely source: her time as a personal trainer which she took up after her children were born.
‘For my sports therapy in particular I had to be very specific about anatomy and physiology, so that really comes in handy in the forensic scenes like the autopsies.’
Now she admits it’s so much easier to research topics thanks to the internet. ‘You would go to a library 20 years ago and have to get out a three-inch-thick book but now you can Google an autopsy.
Hertfordshire readers may recognise the cover image of her latest book, Lost Cause – St Mary the Virgin church in Baldock
It’s all about how you use that information really and how I use my imagination. As long as it’s feasible, it’s believable.’
Hertfordshire readers may recognise the cover image of her latest book, Lost Cause – St Mary the Virgin church in Baldock. The photo was taken by Rob Scahill, a friend and the landlord of The Orange Tree pub in nearby Norton Road and it was this image that sparked the idea for the novel.
‘Rob went for a walk one night with his dog and put the photo on Facebook. I said that looks like the cover of a crime thriller and he replied: “It’s yours if you want it”. That day I created the story in my head of this young boy who goes and watches a man in a cemetery. It was all based upon that photograph.’
Is she inspired by other crime writers? She loves John Grisham and Steven King – ‘the guy doesn’t seem to have any limits’ – but says reading other crime novelists is a double-edged sword: ‘I feel as though sometimes I am scared to read crime because it might put an idea in my head that is not mine, or I might start comparing myself.
‘It was my agent that advised me to put away my notes and just write from instinct. Don’t think about what people might think, write it and just see. It’s the best piece of advice I’ve had.’
Surprisingly, she says she tends to read more comedy these days. Ben Elton is a favourite and she enjoys reading history. She does read about forensic and real-life crime however, and body language, which she incorporates into her books.
In 2018 Rachel was offered a contract with Canelo and began writing full-time, joining the likes of Richard Curtis, Dick Francis and Josephine Cox at the British publisher.
So what does a day in the life of a full-time novelist look like? ‘It’s like anything, you don’t really want to sit down but you have to. I’m a faffer – I can easily find things to distract me. But once my computer is open, off I go.
‘I don’t tend to use a lot of notes but do keep a note of what chapter I am on, because I might forget things like a character’s girlfriend or what colour that cat was. I just let it flow and aim for around two to four chapters a day, around four hours’ writing.
‘It’s really interesting talking to other writers online, everybody is so different. Some writers have these spreadsheets of every detail and cut and paste – it’s like a scientific experiment.’
If she were to sum up the core of her books, what would it be? ‘Our capacity for compassion but also brutality is what intrigues me,’ she says. She adds that this intrigue began in her days as a history teacher.
‘I had to explain to children why world leaders, who are supposed to be people we look up to, do despicable things. Children find it really hard to get their head round that. Delving into the dark side of human nature and what drives people to do horrible things is what I find fascinating.
‘We all have choices and we could put the brakes on at any time but some people out there don’t. They carry on until that woman is breathing her last breath – it takes a long time to strangle somebody.
‘It’s the contrast between the antagonist and the protagonist that I absolutely love. DI Porter is the one that encompasses all that human compassion. She really feels for her victims and she won’t let up until she’s got justice for them.’
Rachel’s new novel Lost Cause is out now, priced £8.99
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