This summer I purchased nine Inspector Banks mysteries at a yard sale and I read all of them over six weeks. Normally I can manage two, maybe three series books before I need a break from their characters but to my surprise and delight I simply couldn’t get enough of the Inspector. I credit author Peter Robinson’s engaging, versatile writing for keeping me hooked. Using various styles and points of view he makes each book unique. Of the ones I read, I’d have to say my favourite was In a Dry Season. A quarter, perhaps third of this novel is a manuscript written by an apparently famous crime writer. And one of the things this writer addresses is that old adage ‘write what you know’.
This is a truism that I’m sure all writers accept, yet what struck me, for the first time, was the author’s definition of ‘what you know’. In my own writing I’ve made a point to incorporate my medical knowledge as a former nurse, my familiarity with the small-town Canada, and my experiences as pastor’s wife. But Robinson, through his character, expanded the list of knowns to more abstract things like grief, pain, guilt, even madness. Although my writing has touched on one or two such issues, I have to admit writing quirky cozy mysteries has allowed me to avoid deeper introspections. I wonder if that’s because looking back doesn’t come naturally to me.
By the time I turned forty I had called twenty-one different places ‘home’. Not all addresses meant I’d moved towns or schools, but each move meant change. Perhaps that’s why I’ve developed an obsessive mindset that looks forward, wondering what’s going to happen next, rather than a reflective attitude that looks back and analyzes why.
I think for me Robinson’s words could be a break-through concept. As a Christian writer it’s always concerned me that I write ‘fluff’. This criticism is, in a large part, just me being hard on myself, but it’s a concern I haven’t been able to shake. However, my Robinson-inspired epiphany tells me that I can add meaning into even the fluffiest of tales by tapping the impact of my past struggles. The losses I’ve experienced, the questions I’ve worried over, the answers that have or haven’t come.
What a novel idea!
This fall I’m embarking on a new writing challenge. I’m not sure where it will lead, but I’m excited to discover how God will use this new insight to make my work better for Him.
Jayne E. Self's has lived coast to coast in Canada. Her two award-winning mysteries Murder in Hum Harbour and Death of a Highland Heavyweight are set in Nova Scotia.