By Allison Tait.
If you are a regular visitor to the Australian Writers’ Centre’s courses, a regular listener of our So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, or a regular attendee at our Zoom events and seminars, chances are you’ve come across our amazing director of creative writing, Dr Pamela Freeman.
Writing as Pamela Hart, Dr Freeman is well-known for her historical fiction and, more recently, a mystery series starring TV researcher Poppy McGowan. . The second book in the Poppy McGowan series is the ‘charming crime novel’ An A-List For Death.
So what is ‘charming crime fiction’ or, as these novels are more widely known, ‘cosy mysteries’?
What is a cosy mystery?
In a previous interview for episode 419 of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, in which Valerie and Pamela took a deep dive into the genre, Pamela offered this definition of cosy mysteries:
“The quickest way to [define] it is to say ‘Miss Marple’. An amateur detective, usually a woman, usually written by women, and she’s not a professional detective. They get caught up in crimes almost by accident and they use their connections and their understanding of people and relationships, their perceptiveness, to solve the crime.”
In cosy mysteries, graphic violence and sex happen ‘off the page’, and in the US version, even swearing is unwelcome.
Top tips for writing successful cosy mysteries
In the same podcast episode, Pamela offered these three tips for writing cosy mysteries.
“Cosy mysteries are about series. So when you're creating your main character, make sure it's someone you can live with for a long time, and that readers will want to live with for a long time. I think creating a person with a lot of connections is really helpful. Make sure that your character is complex enough to carry more than one book, and that they have the kind of interaction with life that means that they can go in a number of different directions.”
“Keep [up a] level of suspicion, across a number of different characters. [You want] the reader to think ‘oh, it must be them’. And then think, ‘oh, it could be them… or what about them?’ They might still have their favourite [suspect], but they can't be sure who it is. But always play fair with that, so that you have all the information there.
“A cosy crime doesn't have to have a romance element, but they often do. My preference is to not allow the romance to overcome the story. A lot of cosy crime has a romance element (as Digging Up Dirt does) but you don't want [your story] to be about a romance in which crime happens. Cosy crime is about the crime first and the romance second, and that has to show itself, not only in plot terms, but also just in the percentage of page that is given to the romance element.
“Ideally, you shouldn't be sure whether they're going to get together, for several books. So when you're creating the romance, you should be trying to keep that up in the air as long as you can. You should have obstacles to that romance that come up, as indeed, you know, with [Digging Up Dirt]. I think Kerry Greenwood handled that really well. In that she often has a relationship element that lasts for one book, or two books, and then they go on their way.
Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al is currently working on a cosy mystery for kids. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.