N R Daws – Q&A

N R Daws is the author of the Kember and Hayes series, starting with A Quiet Place to Kill, published by Thomas and Mercer on 1 September 2021.

He kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about A Quiet Place to Kill.

In this tense thriller set on a WW2 airbase, a female pilot faces danger in the sky—and a murderer on the ground.

July 1940. As the Battle of Britain begins, the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary carry out the dangerous task of ferrying warplanes to RAF airbases. But for the ATA detachment sent to the base at Scotney, it’s not only in the skies that they’re a target—it seems a killer is stalking them on the ground…

On the day pilot Lizzie Hayes arrives in the quiet village, one of her new comrades is found murdered. One of the few women in Britain with a psychology PhD, Lizzie thinks she can use her skills to help identify the killer among the military staff and local villagers, but DI Jonathan Kember isn’t convinced. When a second pilot is murdered, Lizzie’s profile of the killer comes into sharper focus—attracting anonymous threats against her own life.

With Kember’s investigation stalling and events at the airbase becoming ever more sinister, Lizzie’s talents are given a chance. But can she and the still-sceptical Kember work together to find the killer before Lizzie becomes the next victim?

2. What inspired the book?

The character of Kember had emerged from working with many cops over several years, but the woman who was to become Lizzie had a different evolution. I had two cuttings: ‘Top Girls’ about women flying fast jets in North Africa; and another about Joy Lofthouse, who ferried warplanes for the Air Transport Auxiliary in WW2. After meeting Joy at a museum, I remembered a lecture I’d attended as an Open University psychology student, given by flamboyant psychologist and criminal profiler Dr Julian Boon. Those encounters and my own interest in WW2 and crime stories inspired me to make Lizzie a criminal psychologist who becomes an ATA pilot. It was a short step from there to a story about investigating a serial killer terrorising a village and an RAF air station during the Battle of Britain, a task made harder by the misogyny, bureaucracy and constant threat of death of that period.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

I can’t really work without a plan. I need to have a starting point to kick off the action, a destination in mind so I know the general direction I’m travelling, and a few key events along the way that have to happen for the book to make sense, although these may change as the novel progresses and I have more ideas. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet, populated initially with the key scenes, showing the timeline down the left and the main characters along the top. That way, I know where my characters are and if they are hogging the limelight, whether the pacing is too slow or scenes need reordering, and can make sure I’m not losing track of subplots and important clues.

4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

Probably how much more work is still to be done after delivering the manuscript. Having invested so much time, effort and creativity to craft a story, you really can’t see the wood for the trees. Editors ferret out the plot holes, inconsistencies and character flaws, and pick up on tiny details that ultimately make the finished book so much smoother.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I love hiking and try to join my pals at least every month for a countryside walk, largely in the south-east where we live. I like baking and cooking recipes new to me, and watch all the cooking shows, especially the Great British Bake Off. Organising car-based treasure hunts for my friends and family has also been a feature of each summer for many years now.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

Bear Island by Alistair Maclean would have to be up there, but would it be cheating to say the collected Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle? If really pressed, I’d probably go for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which contains many of the stories that forged the enduring character of the great detective.

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Having already had a career, what drives you to write?

After all the effort of putting words on the page day after day, it’s the thrill of knowing that I’ve produced something tangible that people the world over can read if they want to. Seeing my book in a shop, online or in a library always makes me smile because I stood in so many bookshops for so many years, looking at other authors’ books.

The second book in the series, A Silent Way to Die, was published on 26 April 2022 and the third book, A Perfect Time to Murder is due in February 2023.

About the Book

July 1940. As the Battle of Britain begins, the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary carry out the dangerous task of ferrying warplanes to RAF airbases. But for the ATA detachment sent to the base at Scotney, it’s not only in the skies that they’re a target—it seems a killer is stalking them on the ground…

On the day pilot Lizzie Hayes arrives in the quiet village, one of her new comrades is found murdered. One of the few women in Britain with a psychology PhD, Lizzie thinks she can use her skills to help identify the killer among the military staff and local villagers, but DI Jonathan Kember isn’t convinced. When a second pilot is murdered, Lizzie’s profile of the killer comes into sharper focus—attracting anonymous threats against her own life.

With Kember’s investigation stalling and events at the airbase becoming ever more sinister, Lizzie’s talents are given a chance. But can she and the still-sceptical Kember work together to find the killer before Lizzie becomes the next victim?

About the Book

December 1940. With the Blitz devastating Britain’s cities, Lizzie Hayes and the women pilots of the Air Transport Authority are more crucial to the war effort than ever before. But when the relative peace of the village of Scotney is shattered by the disappearance of the Chief Inspector’s niece, it’s Lizzie’s training as a psychologist that draws her into another disturbing police case alongside DI Jonathan Kember.

Events threaten to overtake the pair when a local shepherdess is found murdered – and there’s something strange missing at the scene of the crime. As more bodies turn up, each bearing the same hallmark, Kember realises the campaign of terror will only escalate unless they can use Lizzie’s training to get into the killer’s mind.

With Kember’s superiors set against Lizzie’s involvement, he risks his reputation and his career – but it’s Lizzie who risks everything by putting her own life on the line in a desperate effort to unmask the murderer. With war raging around them, can they halt the killer before it’s too late?

About the author

Neil Daws retired from the civil service after thirty years, twenty spent in security and counterterrorism. Enthralled by adventure and exploration, he became a lover of hiking, skiing, travel, history and maps, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Following the deaths of his father and uncle, he became a volunteer fundraiser, being awarded an MBE in 2006. An alumnus of the Curtis Brown Creative writing school, he achieved Highly Commended in the BPA First Novel Award 2019, where he met his agent, Nelle Andrew. He is using his psychology degree and interest in WW2, to write historical crime.

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