Deborah Crombie is the author of The Sound Of Broken Glass. She lives in McKinney, Texas sharing a house that is more than one hundred-years-old, with her husband, three cats and two German Shepherds.
"With an abundance of twists and turns and intertwining subplots, The Sound of Broken Glass by New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie is an elaborate and engaging page-turner."
A Texas woman with a British soul, Deb Crombie, deftly weaves wonderfully tangled webs of mystery around Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. Both are employed by the London Police and find themselves solving one complex crime after another while becoming hopelessly personally involved. In The Sound Of Broken Glass, Gemma is challenged by the salacious death of a respected London barrister in a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace. An unsavory accident or murder?
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MaryAnne Kolton: When you were little, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
Deborah Crombie: Such fun to think about this, MaryAnne.
I think the very first thing I wanted to be was a cowgirl. I have photos (somewhere—the childhood album is missing . . .) of me at six in my cowgirl outfit, complete with six-shooter. Then a horse trainer and breeder—I was horse mad. King of the Wind, the Black Stallion books—loved them!
And then came the “ologists.” My grandmother, who lived with us, was a retired schoolteacher. She had a subscription to National Geographic and we read every issue together, cover to cover. I had a rock collection and wanted to be a geologist, then an archeologist, a paleontologist, a marine biologist, a zoologist, a botanist . . . you get the picture. I think “world explorer” figured in there somewhere. And I wanted to climb Mount Everest.
Later, I started college as a history major, finished with a degree in biology. The one thing I never imagined I would do was write novels.
(And Charles Darwin is still my hero.)
MAK: Do you see these childhood dreams resonating in your writing in some way?
DC: Obviously, I liked learning new things, and that’s certainly carried over into the books. Not only do I tend to research new geographical areas, but most books throw me into new subjects, such as rowing in No Mark Upon Her and rock guitar in The Sound Of Broken Glass. You could say that writing satisfies my magpie instincts.
But even more than that, I see the thread of curiosity, and I think that curiosity—about people and places and life in general—must be the driving force of the novelist. We are, most of us, the elephant’s children. We always want to know WHY.
MAK: You’ve said you have felt that the UK is your “real” home for most of your life. So many Americans are Anglophiles to some degree. How did this feeling you have come about?
DC: This is hardest question to answer, and I’m not sure I’ve become any better at it over the years. I no longer trust what is actual memory and what I’ve spliced in, trying to find some logic in my own life. . . . Did it really start with A.A. Milne? I still have my treasured first editions, so perhaps that is true. I’m sure there were other children’s books, and then there were Tolkien and CS Lewis, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, and on to Sayers and Christie, Mary Stewart and Josephine Tey, Dick Francis and James Herriott. But it was more than stories—there was always landscape, even in my dreams as a child.
I’ve said this often, but it remains a lodestone in my perception of my life: I didn’t actually visit England until I graduated from college (my parents took me as a graduation gift.) And on that first bus ride between Gatwick Airport and London, I looked out at the rolling hills and fields and red rooftops of Surrey, and felt I had come home. That feeling was profound, heart-deep, and has never gone away.
MAK: There is such a sense of interiority about your characterizations. It tends to give the reader permission to care a great deal about Gemma and Duncan. How do you do that?
DC: Some of it is instinctive, I think. I heard Duncan’s voice in my head so clearly before I ever began to write him, and that’s how many scenes and characters begin for me — with a line of thought or a line of dialogue.
Then there is that perpetual writer’s curiosity. Even as a child I looked in the windows of houses in the evenings, wondering about the families that lived there — What were their names? Did they have pets? What did they eat for dinner? What did they talk about? So I think this fascination with detail carried over into — or perhaps spurred — my writing. And these details do tell the reader things about the characters.
And the third thing—I’m viewpoint obsessive. I never, never write omniscient viewpoint. I never shift viewpoint within a scene. And I always try to make it very clear at the beginning of a scene whose head we are inhabiting. I think this gives the readers a very strong sense of identification with the characters—and of course we are in Duncan’s and Gemma’s viewpoints most often.
MAK: Are you more like Duncan or Gemma and in what ways?
In the beginning I would easily have said Duncan. I understood how he thought and how he reacted to things. And although I very deliberately made Gemma’s personal situation one that I understood very well—a young woman trying to meet her responsibilities as a mother AND get ahead in a job that she cares passionately about—I saw her as much more assertive than me, and perhaps more emotionally open.
DC: But the characters have grown into themselves, sometimes in ways that surprised me. Duncan turned out to be the more willing to take emotional risks, while it was Gemma who was reluctant to make a commitment. It’s a journey of discovery these days. And interestingly, the character that I identify with most strongly might be Kit.
MAK: It might be helpful here to give a brief background summary of the story of Gemma and Duncan. Then tell a bit about why you identify so strongly with Kit?
DC: Duncan and Gemma began the series as professional partners. I set out with the idea that I wanted to write characters that experience growth and change, whose lives evolve. Even so, I think it was as much a surprise to me as it was to them when Duncan and Gemma’s
relationship moved into the realm of the personal. That’s a very dry way of saying they fell in love . . . but that’s what happened, as it does in real life, no matter how inconvenient.
Kit, who came to Duncan when he was eleven, is now fourteen, and he is so like me when I was that age. (I should say here that I was never a very “girly” girl.) Kit wants to be a biologist. He loves animals. He likes to collect bits and pieces of things, rocks and plants and insects, as did I. Kit is a noticer, very aware of atmosphere and other people’s emotions. He also has a tendency to feel responsible for other people’s safety and emotional well-being, which can be a dangerous trait. And Kit is a dreamer. He sees stories in things, and in people. Who knows—he might even grow up to be a writer…
(Gemma) “Did you ever see any indication that Mr. Arnott was into anything . . . kinky?”
“Vincent?” Kershaw looked astonished. “Kinky? I’d say you couldn’t have found anyone more sexually straight ahead than Vincent.” . . . Kershaw went on, thoughtfully, “I never thought he liked women.”
You mean he liked men?” asked Gemma, wondering if they’d got the whole scenario wrong.
No. I mean he didn’t like women. . . . I learned years ago that he would never make a real effort to defend a woman. It was as if he made an automatic assumption of guilt.
MAK: Your fans are quite anxious to read your newest book, The Sound Of Broken Glass, if their Internet posts are any indication of their loyalty to you and love of Gemma and Duncan. I don’t want to talk too much about the book itself so as not to give away any tense-making plot maneuvers. But I am wondering how far ahead you are plotting when you are writing the book you are working on? One book, two?
DC: I’m usually thinking at least two books ahead with Duncan, Gemma, and their family’s continuing story arc. And with the particulars stories for each novel, sometimes farther back than that. I introduced Andy Monahan, the character who is the focus of The Sound Of Broken Glass, three books ago, in WHERE MEMORIES LIE. He had a walk-on part as a witness to a murder, and I found I couldn’t get his voice out of my head. I gave him very brief cameos in the next two books, and a personal connection to Duncan and Gemma, knowing I wanted to devote a
book to his story.
MAK: Melody is another character that seems to have found a place in your heart and is gaining more page space.
DC: Ah, Melody. One of the most fun things about writing a long-running series is the evolution of characters. When Gemma took that promotion to detective inspector and could no long work with Duncan, I knew they would both need new partners. Melody showed up in the first few books as a bit of an eager-beaver, always bringing Gemma coffee. She still likes to bring Gemma coffee, but she’s a detective sergeant now, and she’s turned out to be a very complex and interesting character with an unexpected background (no spoilers!) She’s a mass of contradictions, very sure of herself in some ways and lacking confidence in others.
Melody’s rather prickly friendship with Doug Cullen, Duncan’s sergeant, is now one of the driving story arcs of the series for me. Neither of them is quite sure who they are, but in trying to build a relationship they learn things about themselves as well as each other.
MAK: In addition to your excellent characterizations, which make the reader want to check in with Gemma and Duncan on a regular basis, the novels also contain a splendid sense of place. How much time do you actually spend in the UK gathering details?
DC: I usually go to England (most often London) a couple of times a year, for about three weeks at a time. That’s about as long as I can manage to be away from home without complete domestic chaos!
I usually stay in a flat in London, most often in Notting Hill. That’s the best way to really get the flow and rhythm of my characters’ lives, and I especially love being on Duncan and Gemma’s “patch.”
MAK: What are your feelings about touring and all the promotional work that’s required in today’s very competitive world of selling books?
DC: It’s a necessity except for the very top of the list authors — and perhaps even for them. In a way, it’s nothing new. Authors have always had to sell themselves. I organized my own book tours with other writer friends in the early days. But the social networking certainly takes up more time than anything we did in the past. On the downside, that’s time that could be spent writing. On the upside, it keeps you connected with readers and the reading community in a way never before possible. And it’s fun. You can’t do everything and I think each author has to find the niche that suits them. I’m better at Facebook than Twitter, for instance.
As for touring, I love it. It’s such fun to meet and visit with readers. And the best thing about touring — making connections with the booksellers, hasn’t changed.