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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, author and former Detective Chief Superintendent Russell Wate talks about his career, and what inspired him to write his new children’s book, Summer In Somersby.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed Russell Wate about his life and career, what inspires his writing, and the creative writing process that went into his new children’s book, Summer In Somersby.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Russell Wate on The Table Read
Russell Wate

Before retiring, I was the Detective Chief Superintendent for Cambridgeshire. In essence this role was the head of crime for Cambridgeshire, the person with responsibility and accountability for tackling crime. If we were in America, it would be called the Chief of Detectives.

As well as being involved in for example tackling child abuse, domestic abuse, serious and organised crime, the part of the job I found most enjoyable was leading murder enquiries. I did also have the national policing responsibility across the UK for the investigation of child death.

Almost twenty years ago, I was part of the team that investigated the Soham murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.  I would have to admit it was a case of such emotional impact not just to me, but all of those officers involved, let alone Holly and Jessica’s parents and siblings, that it is the case more than any other that will never leave me.

I have been working at various times in safeguarding work for over almost thirty years now. As soon as I got involved in this area, I realised that it was an aspect of policing that really did make a difference to the vulnerable victims you tried to help and support.

This inspired me to continue safeguarding work almost fulltime when I retired from being a police officer, this was not only locally but nationally and internationally and is what I focus my time on doing now. 

When did you first WANT to write a book?

‘Greed is a Powerful Motive’ is my first novel. It is a crime mystery. A number of years ago when my father and I visited the British Library, we went to the India section, where we researched details of my great grandfather, Solomon Kyte. He was a very senior officer in the Baroda (now Vadodara) state police at the turn of the twentieth century.

Whilst doing this research, I came across a case from 1874 involving the attempted murder of Robert Phayre (the British resident), where Malhar Rao Gaekwad (member of the royal family) attempted to poison Robert Phayre by putting arsenic and diamond dust in his sherbet. Robert had twigged that Malhar Rao Gaekwad was emptying the Baroda state bank accounts.

Greed Is A Powerful Motive by Russell Wate on The Table Read
Greed Is A Powerful Motive

I thought what an interesting case to put into the modern day and use modern day investigative techniques. This is what my story is about DCI McFarlane who works for the FCO goes to India to investigate the death of a British citizen.

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When did you take a step to start writing?

I should think it was almost fifteen years before I had an opportunity in terms of time to sit down and focus on writing this novel. This opportunity came during the first lockdown, and I actually wrote the first draft in eight weeks spending about two hours a day on it, as I still had my other safeguarding work to do, this was all of the time I had available. I did though in those fifteen years know pretty much what I want to write about in this story and also have some idea what subsequent stories in the series could cover.

In October 2019, my wife Debbie and I had a chance encounter in a remote hilltop village in the Atlas Mountains (Morocco) with a couple from Melbourne – Professor Anne Buist and her husband Graeme Simsion. They are both authors and were working on a romantic comedy novel together. Graeme wrote the bestselling novel ‘The Rosie Project’.

When I told him, I had a detective crime novel in mind, he proceeded to give me a fifteen-minute masterclass on how to write a novel. Coincidently, both Professor Buist and I were to be keynote speakers at a conference in Melbourne, relating to children who had been murdered by a parent, two weeks later. This chance meeting cemented my thoughts to write the novel I had been talking about for years and I used the plot technique he suggested.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Summer In Somersby?

After having written the first draft of ‘Greed is a powerful motive.’ My two eldest grandchildren (my wife and I have seven) asked me to write them a story. I am not sure how you say no to your grandchildren I certainly am not able to.

The story of a brother and sister (Francesca and Joseph DeLuca) in ‘Summer in Somersby’ was born and I thought through what to write about their adventures in the town of Somersby (In real life only a hamlet in the Lincolnshire Wolds, the birthplace of Alfred Lord Tennyson.)

How long did it take you to complete Summer In Somersby from the first idea to release?

I managed to write the book quite quickly as it is a short story to fit the age group of 7 years to 10 years, but I felt it lacked something. The something was some line drawings of incidents that happen in the book. My daughter Rebecca Craig completed these but as she has four children, she fitted it in doing the drawings with caring for them.

Having printed the story out and seeing family liked it. We shared the book with a number of schools and children of the right age. Somewhere in the region of 200 children read or heard the story and the feedback was wonderful how much they loved it.

More than one teacher who had read the book to their class said as well as the children enjoying the story how very much like an Enid Blyton story it was. In essence I had created children with no magical powers, and it was set in reality and not in a fantasy world.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

I have two protagonists a sister and brother. I was a child a longtime ago, so I have no inspiration from childhood. I did like reading though and some of it might be from then. It is mostly from the things that my children and particularly my grandchildren what they would say and do.

What is the inciting incident of Summer In Somersby?

Summer in Somersby by Russell Wate on The Table Read
Summer in Somersby

There is so much that is interesting and almost acts as a good learning aid for teachers or parents and grandparents to talk through with children between the age of 7yrs and 10 years. For example, the two main themes are a possible environmental disaster in the river in Somersby and discovering the theft of goods from shops. The children also make a den in the woods and enjoy time with their friends.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Summer In Somersby?

The biggest challenge is changing my writing style to fit the different genre and age. The vast majority of my writing is safeguarding reviews for example when children die through abuse, and we need to learn lessons.

Writing crime fiction was a change but as I was writing what I knew about as a detective was less of a major shift.

However, in order to write for children, I pictured my two eldest grandchildren, Jonah, and Florence whilst I was writing and that helped me to keep it perfectly age relevant.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Summer In Somersby need?

Yes, firstly my wife Debbie did a lot of editing, and for the fiction book my eldest son helped. This meant that my publisher, Cranthorpe Milner, although totally helping with editing, would have had a lot more to do. Even so I think we did at least two runs through the books together.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

The method I use which was inspired by that meeting with Graeme Simsion is to plot my story out. I write the books as if they a three-part play. I have a good idea what is going to happen before I write anything. I know some people write by the seats of their pants and go where the story takes them, but for me that would not work. I need that structure to help me create a story with a beginning, middle and end.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you are planning to write?

My second crime novel ‘Missing but not Lost’ is written in this story my DCI goes to Canada to find a missing Viscount’s grandson. This is being published by Cranthorpe Milner in October of this year. The second story in the Francesca and Joseph DeLuca stories has also been written and the line drawings are happening at the moment, so I hope Cranthorpe Milner want to publish it as well and that will be out this time next year.

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment?

I wrote the first book to prove to myself that I could do it. That was an accomplishment, I was proud of. Then visiting Heffer’s book shop in Cambridge and seeing the book on display there. But probably the proudest I have been having people come up to me and say they had bought it for either themselves or a relative and they loved the story and the characters, and please could I write more novels that involve DCI McFarlane his family and his peers. Which of course I am doing.

Having my grandchildren say thank you to me and tell me they enjoyed reading summer in Somersby is without doubt though the proudest I have been with my story writing.

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