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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Very novel setting

‘Barrow-in-Furness, Fletcher. It’s not Cannes, but it is beside the sea. Ever been?’

Fletcher shook his head.

‘Longest cul-de-sac in the world...’

Whenever Barrow gets a mention in popular literature or culture, it tends to be a negative one.

But author Rick Lee, who references the town in his second novel, Frost of Cares, set to be published later this year, makes it clear these views of Barrow are purely those of his character, a cynical secret service agent, not himself.

Unlike some commentators on the town, Rick is well positioned to write about Barrow and Furness – for over a decade he lived and worked in the area – initially as a drama teacher at Park View School and latterly for Education Action Zone as an education consultant.

Despite moving to France with wife Dorothy Jackson in 2006, he still has strong ties with the area and is a regular visitor.

In fact, he was back in Ulverston recently for a book signing to mark the launch of his first novel – a suspense thriller, Daughter of the Rose – which is self-published through Burton-in-Kendal publishers, 2QT.

Both novels owe a debt to the time he spent in Furness – most obviously in their titles (both were the names of plays he developed and performed with pupils at Park View) but also in location and characters.

As well as inspiring story ideas and the titles of some of his novels, Rick says that his years as a drama teacher have proved invaluable since he started writing novels two years ago.

“I find it relatively easy to get inside the characters’ heads, as I am used to working in role,” he explains.

Unlike some writers, Rick, 63, who is now retired, does not treat writing as a ‘job’, he does not have set hours when he writes, or even a dedicated office for writing in.

“Some people say ‘you must be very disciplined to be a writer?’ But I always say ‘no, just obsessed’.”

He decided to write his novels after “four years of hard labour doing DIY in France” while completely renovating his house outside Limoges. He says that since then the stories have just flowed: “It was like turning on a tap.”

The prolific author is not exaggerating, while only one of his novels may be in print so far, he has four others in the pipeline (including Frost of Cares).

“I was given some good advice when I started writing – just to write the story and then go back and edit it.

“I did about 17-18 drafts of Daughter of the Rose and really enjoyed the editing process, for me that is the crafting part – being able to make the book and story work in the form it has to be in.”

For Rick it was an easy choice to write detective novels: “Detective novels make up a large part of my own reading, it’s what I enjoy reading myself. For me thrillers feed my natural curiosity, I always want to know the answers to crimes.”

The literary detective that most inspires him is George Simenon’s creation Inspector Maigret. He explains why: “Maigret is a very complex moral character, he does not seek to catch criminals in order to punish them, simply to understand them and their modus operandi.”

In contrast he says his own detective Mick Fletcher is interested in crime and punishment, to the extent that on occasion he even acts out vigilante-style retributions himself.

“He’s a flawed hero, a vigilante, someone who lives outside the law at times, an outsider.”

Born in Teeside, Rick confesses that over the years he has been something of a nomad (“I’ve wrecked a lot of address books!”) and, therefore, an outsider himself, regularly moving towns and jobs.

He is adamant that Fletcher is not based on his own character: “Fletcher is an outsider, he is constantly being sent to places and tends to ruffle feathers when he gets there.

“Some people may say it is autobiographical but it’s not!”

In fact it was not a person at all, but an animal, his pet cat, that inspired both Fletcher’s name and his character – even his physical appearance.

He says: “My cat has one blue and one green eye and so does Fletcher.” In fact, he says all of his characters come purely from imagination. When my friends realised Frost of Cares is set in Furness, they asked if they were in it.

“ But I reassured them that they were too boring!” he laughs.

But he says, it is ordinary people that do inspire his work: “I am always fascinated by people you see regularly getting the bus each morning, by their lives.

“You don’t know if, in the future, they are going to be connected to you in some momentous way.”

l You can buy a copy of Daughter of the Rose, priced £8.99, at www.attheedge.eu

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