The Lily Cafe is thrilled to welcome author Sahlan Diver, here with a guest post and for an interview! He is the author of 3 mystery and thriller novels: The Secret Resort of Nostalgia, For the Love of Alison (which is fantastic, by the way), and Sixty Positions with Pleasure.
Many people love reading cozy mysteries. I write “uncozy” mysteries.
Does that mean my mystery novels are “uncozy” in the sense of being full of violence and other unpleasantness? Absolutely not. There’s enough violence in the world without needing to add to it, especially at the present moment. No. My novels are “uncozy” in the sense of lacking the usual cozy mystery traits: the inimitable and often eccentric amateur detective, the familiar setting, like the village high street or the country house garden party. Nothing wrong with any of that but I didn’t want to create imitations; I wanted to innovate.
My central characters are always “person in the street”, someone the reader can identify with. The protagonist starts off in a seemingly harmless situation, then finds themself sucked deeper and deeper into a web of intrigue.
In The Secret Resort of Nostalgia, recently graduated Mike Denning lands a plum job documenting a utopian community on an island ninety miles off the coast of Ireland. His first impressions are positive, until he starts to notice things that don’t add up. When he begins to suspect former friends of acting against him, even to the extent that his life may be in danger, he realises he has a problem – he’s stuck on the island with no way of escape.
In For the Love of Alison, left-wing journalist, David Buckley, is contacted thirty years on by former student friend Alison Tindell, whom he had an obsession over in his youth. Alison is now married to a right-wing solicitor, a political opponent of the journalist. She invites Buckley to visit them at their home. When the solicitor husband ends up murdered, the journalist naturally becomes the prime suspect. Alison could have provided Buckley with an alibi, except that all trace of her existence has disappeared. The novel follows Buckley’s escape from custody and his desperate country-wide search to find Alison, while at the same time evading capture by the law, who are only one step behind.
In my third novel, Sixty Positions with Pleasure, set in Ireland in the year 2050, twenty-something computer engineer, Charlie Gibbs, is caught up in a mystery concerning the death of his boss in a hit and-run incident. If the circumstances of his boss’s death weren’t strange enough, replacement boss, Dutch cougar Ilse Teuling, co-opts Charlie into helping her with a sex guide she’s writing for “the older woman”. And, to add insult to injury, the political leaders in the town decide to declare its independence from Ireland and the EU. Charlie somehow has to navigate his way through the complicated web of political pantomime, murder conspiracy and hyper-sexed boss, and still come out of it intact.
Have my attempts to innovate in the mystery genre, been successful? Sefina Hawke of Readers’ Favourite, said of The Secret Resort of Nostalgia, it was “ … unlike any other mystery novel I have ever read.” LoveReading.co.uk said of For the Love of Alison, it was “… very different from the countless other crime/thriller books that I have read…” And Literary Titan gave my third novel, Sixty Positions with Pleasure, a 5-Star Review and Gold Book Award, saying “Ultimately, considering its level of complexity, it was executed beautifully… a provocative and thrilling novel that will leave you
with plenty to ponder.”
If you like mysteries and are looking for something a little bit different, check out my web site at https://www.unusual-mysteries.com.
What made you want to write uncozy mysteries? What drew you to this kind of story?
More a kind of accident. In my first novel, the setting is an experimental utopian society on a remote island, so I couldn’t incorporate any of the regular cozy mystery traits, due to the unusualness of the setting. And the resolution of the plot happens to be quite different from the cliché direction in which the reader thinks they are being led. Plus I abhor violence in novels, Instead, I rely on menace, threat and uncertainty, the latter characteristic causing more than one reader to remark my story lines have an almost supernatural creepy feel. Because it all came together in the first novel, it felt natural to carry on writing in that style.
I’m so glad! It’s so unique, but a lot of fun to read. As For the Love of Alison is the only one of your novels I’ve read so far, what made you want to write it?
Of my three novels, this is the one with the most uncertain path from creation to completion. In fact, considering the unpromising nature of the original material, it’s amazing it managed to work out well in the end. The story started as a political-protest stage-play entitled Here Be Clowns. I had a great opening scene, involving a weird clown turning up at a private house, but I couldn’t think of any narrative climax that would work well on stage, though I could think of several good endings for a novel. So, the stage play, Here Be Clowns, became the novel, For the Love of Alison, except that I did keep the scene with the clown.
That’s one of the scenes that’s really stuck with me. It’s weird, but really got my attention. For the Love of Alison has so many fun twists and turns. Was it difficult to plan them out? What was the hardest part of adding every twist and turn?
I add the twists and turns as I go along, any time that I spot an opportunity to further obfuscate the plot. Most twists come with their resolution already attached. The most difficult are those like a few chapters into the Alison novel, where I realised I could add a fantastic twist, the problem being I would thereby dig myself a very deep plot hole that it would take considerable ingenuity to get out of. I’m not going to give spoilers but the clue is in the opening lines of the novel: “Question: What’s the perfect way to commit murder? Answer: Get someone who doesn’t exist to do it for you.”
That opening line hooked me right away! Let’s branch away from For the Love of Alison now. Which one of your characters is your favorite?
Although I write mystery thrillers, I am very much into humour, so my favourite characters are usually the humorous ones. In my first novel, there’s an Irishman with the nickname “Fierce Hot”, because he’s always complaining about the heat as a hint to be offered a beer. He’s based on a real person who used to cut our lawns. In the Alison novel, there’s the college porter who always gets his opposites the wrong way round – for example, he accuses people of being
“reactionaries” when he really means “revolutionaries”. He is based on a college residence porter I knew when a student. In my third novel, there’s the robot, “Sidney”, who thinks he’s French, He speaks English with a bad French accent, sings “Non! Je ne regrette rien!” and so on. Sidney has a robot twin, “Clarence”, who assumes the character of the perfect English butler, except he has the technical fault of always making sexual insinuation when serving dinner: “I have taken the liberty of cutting the parsnips to a length of seven and three-quarter inches precisely!”
Sounds like a lot of fun characters! Of your three published novels, which one would you say is your favorite? Which one did you have the most fun writing?
I would have to say the latest novel, Sixty Positions with Pleasure, was the most fun, because in it I take precise and vicious aim at various religious and political shysters, powermongers and charlatans.
Turning now to you, how have you done during the pandemic? Has it inspired any part of your writing?
My former career was as a freelance computer programmer, working mainly from my home office, so as regards work the pandemic has made zero difference to my lifestyle.
Sounds convenient! What’s your writing routine? How long does it take you to write a novel?
As a freelance computer programmer on hourly rates, I’d always give myself a two-hour lunch break so I could get a good hour’s writing done each day. My first novel was developed over four years, because I started as a complete beginner and had to learn how to write. I speeded up to eighteen months for the second, but the third took two years because of the increased complexity of four separate narratives running parallel to each other.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Because I write mystery thrillers, I have to start with the plot, especially the big twist that will have people gasping, saying “I wasn’t expecting that!” Then I have to find a setting which will be a place of interest. In the first novel, the setting has similarities to the seaside town of my childhood. The Alison novel is partly set on the extensive English canal network, because that gave me the opportunity for many varied locations. Lastly, I add the characters. The protagonist is always male. There’s always a romantic interest, but the female characters are strong women, not just there for romantic interest, always playing key roles in the plot.
I had no idea there was an English canal network, but had a great time learning about it. Which author or authors would you compare your novel or your writing to? Are there any authors or books in particular you love?
Of course, I am hugely influenced by Agatha Christie, her skill in misdirecting the reader away from the real culprit, but also for her cleverness with the many sub-plots, which are often additional mysteries in themselves.
My favourite Agatha Christie endings are not those classics where the suspects are gathered together ready for Poirot or Miss Marple to tell them “whodunnit”, but those endings where she springs the solution on you out of the blue, when you’re least expecting it. In one particularly baffling novel we think the murder is going to remain forever a mystery, until a scene where there’s a man looking at a newspaper photograph of a foreign street. What he sees there tells you instantly how the murder was planned and done. I tried to emulate that technique in my novel, For the Love of Alison. You think I’ve tied up all the loose ends but then, in the middle of a seemingly irrelevant scene, almost as a throwaway line in a conversation, I show you the key fact you could have guessed, but didn’t!
For some, taking the leap to publish is a huge one. Was that true of you?
No. I write for people to enjoy reading my work, so naturally I am keen to get each book published as soon as ready.
About Sahlan Diver
Born in a small town on the south coast of England. Studied microbiology and philosophy at university. After variously working as a shadow puppet theater manager and prospective jazz saxophonist, became a freelance computer programming consultant. Started writing in protest against a religious movement I once belonged to. The experience provided much useful character study for my writing, as did my permanent move to live in the Republic of Ireland thirty years ago.
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Thank you so much, Sahlan!
Pin this! (mostly a reminder to myself, but also an invitation to you!)
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