Write about what you know, they say, and that seems to be broadly true. Yet, knowing something can be more subtle than one would think. Sure, an author writing about medieval castles and goblins might not have much experience dealing with them – especially goblins, which are so hard to find these days. And knowing a bit about murder might be useful when you’re writing a detective novel. But these stories are never just about goblins murder, are they? They are about people.
From the most difficult piece of literary fiction to a Hunger Games online fanfiction, stories are always about human nature. They have to be. Who’d care for the kids in Lord of Flies if they didn’t act like real kids? And would we be rooting for Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon if it wasn’t for the character’s strong, undefinable magnetism?
Knowing human nature is the author’s strong asset, and that’s especially true for the crime writer. Otherwise, why would this sort of literature be so filled with quirky, charming, eccentric, charismatic characters? Putting the pieces together isn’t nearly as fascinating as watching an interesting character putting them together for us.
There are many kinds of detectives, and it’s hard not to repeat something that already exists. I’m not the first crime author to use an old lady as the protagonist – and you could argue that nobody will ever beat Agatha Christie at that. Yet, writing a novel about old age is something that I always wanted to do. I’m twenty-nine years old, but there are certain things I believe I understand about that age. The angst for the things you’ll never had the chance to do again. The physical impairment that hinders you from fulfilling simple tasks. And especially the loneliness.
With so many novels and movies about how sad and bitter it was to be old, I didn’t feel I had anything to add to that. I wanted this book to be a tender and sweet love letter to that age. And, being a crime writer, I didn’t feel the need to switch genres to accomplish that.
It was hard creating such a character without evoking the eternal Miss Marple, and it took me a while to find the right way of doing it. It was as I watched the film Billy Elliot, that I found out what I wanted to do. When Billy says goodbye to his grandmother and leaves to fulfill his destiny, I decided I wanted to write a book where the grandmother was the one who embarks on a journey. A journey that would continue in lots of sequels, but which had to start with an origin novel.
At that moment, Grandma Bertha was born – and she was already seventy-years old and living in a garden shed on her son’s backyard. She was funny and joyful, but also very lonely. Grandma Bertha has three dogs, lots of horror film DVDs, and the occasional company of her family. That’s not enough. She needs something to put her life back on track, something to spend her energy in. And that comes in the form of a murder to solve.
The Convenient Cadaver, the first volume of Grandma Bertha Solving Murders, is your typical cozy mystery, where a quirky amateur detective solves a murder using his intelligence and wits. The structure of a cozy mystery book was perfect for the way I was trying to say what it means to be an old person, and I don’t think I could represent this better with literary fiction. You get to know these characters as Grandma Bertha goes on in her investigation, against the wishes of her family. Grandma Bertha is a detective at heart, and if there’s one thing that defines this dear old lady it’s that she always follows her heart, wherever it takes her. And I can assure you, she’s going places.