My guest today in the Comfy Chair – for the second time, no less – is Charlie Cochrane, best known as the author of the “Lessons” series of murder mysteries, but also for her contemporary and historical romances and as a passionate observer of sports and the men who play them [just not football].
Welcome, Charlie. Take the weight off. Ready? Here we go.
Elin: With the Lessons series edging, in story chronology, into the third decade, can you see a time where Jonty and Orlando might take off their sleuthing specs and settle down to enjoy their professorships? Or once an investigator, always an investigator?
Charlie: I don’t think Orlando could ever let the investigational element go. It’s his equivalent of doing Sudokus or crosswords or playing Fifa 13. Jonty’s less bothered (although he likes sleuthing more than he lets on), but he likes to see Orlando happy. So I guess, like Bryant and May, they’ll just carry on… (And as long as they keep whispering ideas in my ear, I’ll write them.)
Elin: As relationships mature, partners get more alike. True or untrue?
Charlie: Um. Not sure. I’ve known Mr Cochrane since 1977 and I’m not sure we’ve grown any more alike in tastes, opinions or appearance. (Except that, at my age, I’m beginning to learn how to grow a moustache!) Maybe we just grow more tolerant of each other’s eccentricities.
And there’s no risk of Jonty and Orlando growing alike. Too like chalk and cheese, they exist in a state of mutual tolerance fostered by them still being dotty about each other, even as they grow more crumbly.
Elin: Is there one story in the Lessons canon that you would like to write but have declined to tackle?
Charlie: Do you want the honest truth? What really happened to them in WWI. I know that canon says they both survived (even if in complicated circumstances), but at that point canon deviates from what I think happened. (Does this AU nature of my own writing thoughts make any sense? It does to me, but that’s not saying much.) Anyway, I think that the lads both died on the same day, within hours and miles of each other, probably at the Somme. Jonty would, at least, have appreciated the irony of being so near Agincourt. Far too sad to write any of that, or to have had one of the lads survive and not the other.
Elin: I think it’s as well you didn’t. I’m choking up just thinking about it. Quick change of subject – I loved your book “Tumble Turn” about swimming ace Ben Edward’s quest for love and Paralympic gold. Have you ever written about disabilities in an historical setting?
Charlie: I’ve been racking my brains and I don’t think I have. One of my minor characters, Rex, in the Cambridge series lost his lower leg in a riding accident and wears an artificial one. I also have people who’ve been injured in WWI but I think that’s as close as I get. Maybe I should rectify that!
Elin: Have you got any recommendations for us bookwise? What are you reading at the moment? Works of reference? Funtime reads?
Charlie: I’m about to tackle “Mr Brigg’s Hat”, which is an account of Britain’s first railway murder. Will let you know what I think of it when I’m done. My reading is always eclectic, so recently I’ve been devouring some cosy mysteries and having my regular re-read of “The Charioteer”. If you want a recommendation, I’d say “Unravelling Piltdown” by John Evangelist Walsh. Great if you like any or all of history, science and the follies of human nature.
Elin: Could we please have an excerpt of something – either in the can or soon to come?
Charlie: Of course. This is something a bit different. It’s from my short story “Music in the Midst of Desolation”
Blurb: Old soldiers never die — they get whisked straight back to earth to take part in angelic “manoeuvres”. Patrick Evans has no idea why he and Billy Byrne, who fought their wars a century apart, have been chosen for this particular “op”, nor why it seems to involve fixing up the man Billy left behind with someone Billy’s always hated. When Patrick realizes his old lover also has a connection to the case, will the temptation to refuse orders become too great?
“About your job. Got a good memory or do you want to make notes?” Neville produced a notepad and what was evidently a modern version of a pen.
“Both.” Patrick smiled, taking the notepad but using the little propelling pencil he’d found in his dunnage. “Belt in the brain and braces on paper.”
It seemed like he’d given the ideal answer. “Excellent. There’s a file of information for you, of course, but that’s never like your own notes, is it? Right, first thing you need is a name. Billy Byrne.”
“Spot on. Lieutenant William Byrne, The Countess of Wessex’s Regiment, recently returned from Iraq and run down by a lorry first day in civvy street. Ironic, eh?” Neville dunked a biscuit in his tea, consumed it, then carried on. “Barely any time to process him at HQ—he’s got a job to do down here. Needs a bit of help and you’re the man to do it.”
“Am I?” Patrick sat up with a start. “You know, I’m still no clearer about what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Neville obviously didn’t indulge in eye rolling, like Marjorie had done. Instead, he expressed his disappointment by stroking his moustache. “What do they teach you youngsters? Has no-one briefed you at all?”
Patrick shrugged. “Not that I’m aware of. I was simply told to get myself ready, and almost the next thing, I was being whisked down here and landed at Waterloo Station. Marjorie appeared to scoop me up. Nobody told me why or what was required of me.”
“Communication breakdown.” Neville shook his head and took consolation in another dunked biscuit. “Happening more and more. Enemy forces at work, I suppose.”
Plus ça change? Patrick took another biscuit himself; this was going to be hungry work.
“Nothing for it but to learn on the job. No other choice, really. Plenty of the lads here will help you along.” Neville’s clipped tones were somehow reassuring, redolent of bloody good commanding officers Patrick had known. “Different cases, different techniques, same sort of principles.”
“I’m sure they’ll be very helpful, s…Neville.” Patrick stopped himself saying “sir”. “Exactly what sort of case will I be dealing with?”
“Like most of the personnel here, helping out someone who needs something a bit out of the ordinary. Helping out on both sides, really. Perhaps if you haven’t been briefed, then you’d better start by reading this.” Neville pushed what appeared to be a dossier of information across the table. “I suspect this will keep you occupied much of the rest of the day. Better get up to speed—first rendezvous tomorrow.”
Patrick’s heart sank. First rendezvous? What did that mean, and however would he be prepared for it? Maybe the answer lay hidden in this great big dossier. He turned over the folder, noted the title “Robert Woodward, c/o William Byrne” and began to read.
Many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Charlie!
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