I am going to tell you about the genesis of the main character in my crime series, Jack of All Trades. He’s unusual, and you might be interested how I got to him. In 2013 I made the decision to write a crime series. I read crime (don’t write what you don’t read, as they say) and a series would allow me to develop a reputation (I hoped).
But where to start? I didn’t want to write a police procedural. I don’t have a police record, but cops make me feel I’ve done something wrong, which is not to deny the necessity of a police force. But I don’t need to write about them. Scratch that category. Next in popularity are private eyes who date back to Sherlock Holmes. JK Rowling, under the pen name Robert Galbraith, has her sleuth, the curiously named Cormoran Strike who makes me think of a diving seabird. I might go that way, I thought, but not yet. Then there’s the halfway house, those between the regular cops and PIs. John Grisham has his lawyer main characters, Patricia Cornwell her forensic pathologist. But Grisham and Cornwell were professionals in their field. That’s not me at all.
So that left me with someone whose job would take them to a different place in each book of the series. I researched the crime fiction in my local library. The British writer Rebecca Tope has a florist as her protagonist. She has a shop and does displays at funerals, weddings, hotels etc, giving her a variety of setting for murder. I came across Charlaine Harris who has Lily Bard, a cleaner in the sleepy town of Shakespeare in Arkansas. A good choice, as cleaners go into every room in a house, empty the waste bins and note all the stains. Lots of possibilities for finding clues or bodies. She also wrote a series with Aurora Teagarden, a realtor. Realtors are popular I found: Elaine Orr with her heroine Jolie Gentil, Maggie Sefton with Kate Doyle, and quite a few others have taken this route. Why so many, you might ask. Because it’s easier than pathology or law, and we all live in houses.
You might note, all these examples are from women writers. I suspect they want to concentrate on the story and relationships, without the technical aspects of policing which can so bog a plot down. A male exception I’ve come across is Lawrence Block, whose main character, Bernie, is a burglar in New York. He knows houses too.
You can research until the cows come home. Enjoyable, but it was time to home in on my own main character’s line of work. I came up with a builder. Self employed, so he can go anywhere there’s work, which is just about anywhere there are people. His name is Jack Bell. Four of the series have been published so far. In the first he’s working in a summerhouse for a millionaire couple, and in the others he works respectively in: a tenement block, a school, and a park. He has his van with Jack of All Trades painted on the side – and has heard every joke about his firm’s name. His reply is, at least you’ll remember it.
Of course, a character is not just a job. So I had to fill him out. Jack lives where I live, in Forest Gate, East London. I can walk the streets and imagine what might happen where. Warring couples, money problems, the gamut of human conflict within the walls along the road. Jack is divorced with a 10 year old daughter, trying to shake off an alcohol problem, and always short of cash. His hobby is astronomy and he has a telescope to explore the night skies.
As a builder, he began as a carpenter and learned other skills on the job. At times he’s working on the edge of his skills and hoping he can get away with it. There’s some romance in each tale, complicated by the murder(s), where Jack may be the sleuth, a suspect, involved in the crime or even within a hair’s breadth from being another victim. But I have no intention of killing him off, so long as I have tales to tell.
Derek Smith writes his crime fiction as DH Smith. As Derek Smith he has written children’s books ranging from those for five year olds to young adults. He lives in London but likes to get away from the smoke at weekends to walk in the countryside or by the sea. You can find out more about him at http://www.dereksmithwriter.com.
Jack of All Trade Series
There are four in the series at present, published under the name DH Smith:
Jack of All Trades
Jack of Spades
Jack by the Hedge.
They are all stand-alone novels, featuring the builder Jack Bell.