Neil Lancaster on writing DC Janie Calder in Dead Man’s Grave

Well, hey dudes.

Today is a day I never thought I’d see when I first opened my laptop three years ago and began writing my first book. 

IT’S HARDBACK PUBLICATION DAY !!

Yep, Dead Man’s Grave is coming out in hardback. I’m looking at a copy now, and I can tell you that it looks absolutely gorgeous, and the cover designers at HarperCollins can really be proud of how it turned out, I know I am. It makes ME want to read it, and I know what happens already!

As it’s publication day I thought I’d take the opportunity to give you some insight on one of the characters in the book, so you get a better feel for what they are like, their motivations and perhaps why they act as they do in the story.

Initially, I started typing out a little bit about Max Craigie, but then I thought that was maybe a little obvious, and there was plenty of time for me to write about him.

But Dead Man’s Grave wouldn’t be the book it is without the relationship between Max and his sidekick, DC Janie Calder. One common thread from the reviews (stacks of them, almost all brilliant, thank you all) is that readers just love the synergy and relationship between Max and Janie.

In Dead Man’s Grave, I really wanted to represent some of the relationships between some of the cops I worked with during my 25 years in the Met Police, because I’m not sure it often gets accurately reflected in fiction, whether that’s books or TV and films.

It really isn’t like Line of Duty, with constant angry exchanges, turgid silences, constant acronyms and moody glances. It’s a far more informal atmosphere, and definitely more collegial. When you work extended, long periods with a small group of people you have to form a decent bond if you are to be effective. It really does take all sorts, and there are all types of characters in the police and some working partnerships are better than others.

In this story, Max and Janie bond pretty quickly and much of this is down to elements of a shared backstory and a few similar interests, but much is down to personality. They just click. Anyway, I typically digress, as normal, so I’ll get on.

DC Janie Calder.

Janie is in her mid-twenties, she’s from Edinburgh and from a fairly wealthy family. She suffered a significant loss as a child as both of her parents died within a few months of each other and she was raised by a rich, but uncaring aunt. Janie was therefore shipped off to private school at a time when she was at a most vulnerable stage in her life, being decimated by grief. She never really forgave her aunt for this, and as such is a little slow to trust others and sometimes can be a little introspective.

Janie is fiercely intelligent, and threw herself into her studies at school where she was a high achiever in all areas, but particularly history which she studied at university in Edinburgh gaining a first-class degree.

After university, she travelled a little, before joining Police Scotland and soon after her probation, she was accepted onto the accelerated promotion scheme. This can be something of a blessing or a curse, many older cops are very suspicious of these schemes, and it probably hasn’t helped Janie’s cause in being accepted by some of her colleagues.

When she was just an adult, her aunt died, leaving Janie, essentially alone. This has left her feeling somewhat rootless and rudderless, hence throwing herself into her studies and sport. Janie is highly competent in martial arts, mostly Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which gives her physical confidence and an outlet for stress.

Janie found some elements of the teamwork requirement in the police something of a challenge, being as she is incredibly self-reliant and self-motivated.  She can’t understand why others need constant supervision and is somewhat intolerant of incompetence and the occasional boorish nature of some of her older colleagues.

She doesn’t fear any physical confrontations but is not always comfortable with verbal conflict with colleagues or supervisors.

To others, Janie has some quirks and is viewed as a little eccentric.  She is obsessively tidy. Janie can’t even get into a car without cleaning and vacuuming it first, much to the amusement of colleagues. She can seem shy, and possibly awkward with people she doesn’t know and is fairly slow to trust, probably because of the tragedy she suffered as a child.  

Despite all this, Janie is self-aware and knows how she is perceived by some. The reality is that get past her shyness and hesitancy and Janie is fiercely loyal to those she comes to trust. She’s brave, committed and has a strong moral compass, and will not be averse to bending the rules if she feels the situation merits it. She has cast iron morals, and an acute sense of right and wrong and will go to the wall to defend her values, and to aid those she makes a connection with and trusts.

As she and Max work together, there are a number of incidents that cement their friendship, and she quickly gains his trust with some incisive policing and physical and emotional bravery which helps bond them into a formidable partnership.

Janie is a music enthusiast, primarily obscure Jazz, and prog-rock, all of which Max teases her about incessantly. She is also proficient at playing the saxophone, although she is terrified of playing it in public. She lives alone in a Tenement in Stockbridge, an affluent part of Edinburgh where she lives a fairly solitary existence, although she is beginning to dip her toe into the waters of internet dating.

As I’ve continued to develop Janie I began to wonder about her sexuality.

I didn’t want any romance between her and Max. That feels too obvious and too clichéd. The hero getting the girl always seems a little sexist to me, and I wanted Janie to be notable for her courage and ability, not for falling for Max.

 Is she gay or bi? I’ve decided that I’m not even sure myself, to be honest. There doesn’t always need to be a label, and she has as much right as anyone else to be experimenting, or on a voyage of self-discovery.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s kind of none of my business. As I continue to write her, I think she’ll maybe decide and she’ll tell me when she’s ready.

What’s really important and notable about her are her qualities. Her intelligence, her loyalty, her bravery, her spirit. She’s a wonderful person to spend time with, and I’m really proud of her.

Dead Man’s Grave by Neil Lancaster is out now in hardback. Buy it from your local bookshop, bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones and Amazon.

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