12 minutes with Kim Fleet, author of Paternoster.
How did you come up with the idea of Paternoster?
The previous books that I’ve written have all been murder mysteries rather than straight crimes and someone challenged me to write, if you like, a ‘proper’ crime story set in Cheltenham with a proper detective and clues and red herrings. And I thought I have absolutely no idea how to do this. But then I thought, well I wonder if I could give this a go. I do read quite a lot of crimes, so I thought ‘okay, let’s see how this works out’ and I just started with a huge piece of paper on the dining table and a pack of coloured crayons and I thought of everything that was interesting about Cheltenham. Just to look for places where murky things might happen or places that seem so very very respectable and wholesome and I quite like to subvert things so I write down all sorts of things about Cheltenham and then I thought ‘okay, which ones really excite me’ and I was really interested in the regency architecture and the development of Cheltenham as a spa town. I really liked the idea of all these elegant ladies and gentlemen coming to take the spa waters, and underneath that there might be a bit of murk that I could exploit in a crime story.
I then had to start thinking about what the contemporary timeline would be. I came up with my idea for a detective. She’s a private investigator, deliberately not a police officer because the police have very strict rules on what you are allowed to do and I wanted her to be quite a bit of a maverick and I wanted her to be a rule breaker and I didn’t want her to be hauled up in front of the chief constable every two minutes for doing something wrong.
So, how did you build this character? Eden Grey is very interesting in the way her personality changes from this strong perceptive detective, to someone afraid in their own home after memories from the past come to find her.
I wanted her to have a background, so why has she turned up in Cheltenham and I wanted her to be an outsider because something about the way an outsider sees a new place, they see different things in it to those who live there. I wanted her to be exciting, so I gave her this back story that she was an undercover officer working for customs and excise. She’d implanted herself in a guns and drugs running and people smuggling group. It all goes horribly wrong when someone betrays her and her cover is completely blown and the gang tries to kill her. She survives it obviously otherwise it would be a pretty short story! But then she has to change her identity.
In the process of changing it, her parents are told she is dead. Her family is told she is dead. She has to move to a new place, she has to find a new job so she decides to become a private investigator. Being nosy, poking around in other people’s problems is what she is good at. But she also knows the gang is after her, she keeps on getting messages and mysterious phone calls saying ‘we know where you are, and we’re coming to get you’. She knows that if they catch up with her it’s going to be absolutely horrendous. So I have a scene in the book where someone else in the gang comes out of prison and is picked up. Two weeks later, somebody finds some very nasty human remains. The reason why I put that scene in there is just to say to the reader, this is what will happen to Eden if they catch up with her. She is going to be killed in the most horrendous way. I don’t spell out how that will happen cause I think the reader#s mind can come up with something much nastier.
Well this criminal underground works not only in your modern day timeline with Eden, but also in old Cheltenham with Rachel Lovett. Where did you get the idea of the Paternoster Club? Of course, it is based off of the Hellfire clubs based in London, but where did the idea of one being in this seemingly respectable town, come from?
Basically I thought about Georgian Cheltenham and how it was developing. Areas of land were being bought up and huge estates of houses for the super rich were being built. Where there’s money there is going to be some kind of treachery and some kind of double dealing. Just because there is so much power and influence and money at stake. One thing we do know about the Georgians is that clubs existed for the very powerful and wealthy men. I knew about the Hellfire club and I thought ‘What if’ , what if there was something like that that existed in Cheltenham. And so I created the paternoster club, basically for the wealthy men to divvy up the power and the money between them.
The thing that I like about Rachel, the 18th century prostitute in the story, is her story in many ways reflect Eden’s , in the way that she doesn’t use her real name; she is given a new identity when she is basically trafficked into London to be a prostitute. She is also on the run. In London, she’s been stealing some gloves and the thief-taker is after her. If he catches her, she will probably be hanged, if not transported. And so she is another woman who is running for her life and who is using a different identity.
You have a lot of these mirrors in you story – not just between Eden and Rachel but also between the Paternoster Club in 1795 and when it is continued in the modern timeline. What was your reasoning behind this?
I just thought that if these clubs exist to benefit the wealthy and the powerful then why should they finish just because the Georgian era ended. So it was that really powerful question you have as a writer – what if – and because it’s fiction, you can do anything you like. You can twist history, you can twist story lines and I just liked the idea of it continuing to exist. Just being this absolutely subversive and underground club for men who are extremely bent and dodgy. It was a way of linking the two timelines. I have this philosophy of time that is never really finishes – as you walk down the street in Cheltenham you can see echoes of previous ages. We’re experiencing Cheltenham in ways very similar to the ways the Georgians experienced it.
Throughout the story we see many of the well known areas of Cheltenham, how does it feel to put your town into a story, so people recognise the areas you show them?
It’s really satisfying when people come up to me and they say my street is in your book! And when they say we can really see where the places were. Because I’d been challenged to write this crime set in Cheltenham, and I thought about what makes it interesting and unique and I wanted to actually reflect the landmarks of Cheltenham. So that’s why there are mentions of Eagle Tower, GCHQ and the coffee shops along the promenade. It gives it an authenticity to the story as well. But there are specific things about Cheltenham, so that the story couldn’t be set anywhere else, like the spas and the regency architecture and the fact that GCHQ is there. There are things that don’t exist anywhere else, so I thought well, I’ll use them then.
Do you have any advice for those who want to write a book?
It’s really simple; to be a writer you just need to read a lot, and write a lot. Sometimes people say to me , “I wish I could read more but I don’t have time but I want to be a writer”. Well you can’t be a writer if you don’t read. You have to submerse yourself in reading all sorts of different things. And then to be a writer, just write. That sounds a bit kind of basic really but what I would recommend is don’t think about it too much. Set aside some time every single day – even if it’s only fifteen minutes – and just write. If you like, get an object and make up stuff about who owned that object. Who is that person, what is there hobbies, what are their secrets, what do they dream about at night? Or get postcards of things that inspire you and fill them out about why and stories about them. Even if what you’re writing about you think is just complete rubbish, it doesn’t matter. The thing is all about showing up.
What’s your favourite reading spot?
I have a little garden, and it’s really sunny. I have a little swing chair in my garden and it’s next to some roses and a lavender plant, so it’s lovely and scented. And that is my favourite reading spot, when it’s summer I absolutely adore curling up in that chair – if I can get the cat off it, of course – and I just love sitting there and reading.
A quick thanks to Kim Fleet for spending the time chatting to me about the first book in the Eden Grey Mysteries – Paternoster. If you would like to buy the book go to: