‘Eleanor stood at the cash desk and looked around her empire. The bookshop was empty apart from a Belgian couple in matching beige anoraks examining the postcard rack and an older gent looking at historical biographies.’
A Summer of Surprises/The Bookshop Detective/French Kisses and a London Affair
By Jan Ellis
Published by Waverley Books
The Accidental Novelist
I need to begin this with a confession. Well, two in fact. The first is that I never intended to write fiction; the second – whisper it! – is that my stories began life as computer code. Both things came about when I was approached by a digital publisher to write a history book, but we couldn’t agree on a topic. ‘No problem,’ they said. ‘Why not have a go at women’s fiction instead?’
The first rule of being self-employed is to say ‘yes’ to everything so, ignoring the fact that I hadn’t written stories since the age of about seven, I whizzed over a proposal, contracts were signed and off I went into the great literary unknown.
Fortunately for me, once I sat down and thought about the setting and the basic plot, I was amazed by how quickly ideas flowed. As soon as my heroine Eleanor Mace appeared, the personalities of her sister Jenna and other characters followed on quite naturally. I particularly enjoyed designing The Reading Room – Eleanor’s fictitious shop – because I work for part of the BA and have serious bookshop envy.
My stories are generally described as ‘romcom’, but the emphasis is firmly on the humour of everyday life. I became very fond of Eleanor and her eccentric bunch of friends and family – especially mother Connie and her octogenarian squeeze, Harold – so I was delighted to revisit them in The Bookshop Detective.
When thinking about this book, I wanted to come up with an old-fashioned mystery that would involve the sea-faring traditions of a small coastal town. Eleanor becomes intrigued by a Victorian crime report and sets out to discover what happened to a young lad at the centre of the story. She also becomes embroiled in a mystery much closer to home. I especially enjoyed researching the history and I’m very fortunate to have a learned friend who was able to answer my peculiar questions about wrecking and the Victorian penal system.
It was relatively easy to come up with puzzles for The Bookshop Detective to solve, but I had no idea what the solutions would be. Fortunately, the characters worked them out – phew! Of course, even uplifting stories need tension, so there’s a sub-plot around Eleanor, her new husband and the interfering ex-wife, Freya.
One of my favourite characters to write was an old-fashioned librarian referred to by Eleanor as ‘Dismal Deirdre’. She ended up with a bigger role than anticipated, although this wasn’t entirely my fault. ‘We like her,’ said my publisher at Waverley Books. ‘Can you give her a bigger role?’ So I did, then they said, ‘Oh, no! What if we upset all the librarians and they refuse to stock the book?’
I believe in living dangerously, so Deirdre stayed. (Disclaimer: some of my best friends are librarians and they are still speaking to me. Just about.)
Friends are often the catalyst for some of the funniest events in my books. One kindly allowed me to include an incident she had with an exploding dress and a stapler that I put to good use in a book-launch scene. The pleasures and perils of running an indie bookshop are key to the storyline.
So, dear reader, whether you’re looking for contemporary romance, comedy or mystery, I hope you will find plenty to entertain you.
The Bookshop by the Sea series by Jan Ellis is published by Waverley Books, all at £7.99