While author Wendy H. Jones’ Dundee, Scotland based police procedurals are grounded in the present, she’s not afraid to mix in a little fantasy and magic in her Young Adult mysteries.
Wendy has a lot on her plate; she’s written six books in the DI Shona McKenzie series (five published so far with the sixth coming out in August 2017). Now she’s added a young adult series to her repertoire. AND she’s organizing a writing and reading festival at Glamis Castle in Scotland.
We talk about all of this today, and below you’ll find links to everything, including the book festival.
Keep your eyes on Wendy H Jones! She’s clearly a lass to be reckoned with. ;-)
Links and resources mentioned in this episode
- Click on any of the book covers to go to Wendy’s books on Amazon
- Wendy’s home and the location for her books, Dundee, Scotland
- Wendy’s blog post about the launch party for The Dagger’s Curse
- Details about Wendy’s Crime at the Castle writers’ and readers’ festival on the Glamis Castle website
You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcription of Interview with Wendy H. Jones
Alexandra: Hi, Mystery Readers, I’m Alexandra Amor. This is It’s a Mystery Podcast and I’m here today with Wendy H. Jones. Hi, Wendy.
Alexandra: How are you doing today?
Wendy: I’m absolutely fabulous. We’ve got sun in Scotland, so that’s always a bonus.
Alexandra: Yeah, that is a bonus. Well, you know what, I was reading up about you before the show. And there was a, I went to a site about Dundee, which we’ll talk about where you live. And it said that it gets the most hours of sunlight of any city in Scotland.
Wendy: It does, yes.
Alexandra: So, that benefits…
Wendy: It can’t help the rest of Scotland is all I can say.
Alexandra: Oh, yeah, that’s right. Exactly. Goodness me. Okay, well let me give our listeners a bit of an introduction to you.
After a career in both the Royal Navy and the Army, Wendy H. Jones retired as a major, a rank she holds to this day. After working in academia, she gave it all up and turned to a life of crime. She’s the author of the DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. The fifth book of which, “Killer’s Crew”, won the Books Go Social Book of the Year Award 2017.
Her first young adult book, “The Dagger’s Curse”, is shortlisted for the Women Alive Reader’s Choice Award. Wendy lives in Dundee, Scotland, as we mentioned, and that’s where her books are set. She’s also an international public speaker and the founder of the Crime At The Castle Book Festival.
Let’s start by talking about DI Shona McKenzie. Tell us a bit about her and why she’s come back to Dundee.
Wendy: In the first book, she’s recently come back to Dundee because she was living in Oxford. She’s originally from Dundee but left when she was two because her father took a job at Oxford University, he was a professor. And she has come back because her now ex-husband wanted to move back to Dundee, said it would be a good career move for her. So she took up a promotion.
And then her husband walked out the door and left her to it. Now, he just wanted to move back so that the police would pay for the move and he moved in with another woman.
Alexandra: Oh, no.
Wendy: Yeah. So at the beginning of her first book, she’s got a bit of a down on men. But don’t worry, it doesn’t last very long.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s good.
I read in the description for the first book that she’s trying to prove herself. Would you say that’s true?
Wendy: Well, it is. Because even though she’s from Dundee, she’s been brought up in Oxford. So she has an English accent. Which I’m not getting in the English yet but if you’ve got an English accent in Scotland, people look at you a bit funny, you know. And they don’t take kindly to somebody from England telling them what to do.
And, of course, she’s the boss. She’s come in and she’s taken over this disparate team of what was then Tayside Police. But unfortunately, the police went and changed everything and it became Police Scotland, just to confuse crime writers.
So she’s trying to prove that she’s got what it takes really to be in charge of a team and be a good police officer in Scotland. Unfortunately, the team don’t play well together, at least a couple of them spend their entire time fighting. And in some cases, physically fighting because they can’t get on together. So she’s trying to knock their heads together as well as solve a case.
Alexandra: Right. And so tell us a little bit about her personality.
She must be quite a determined individual.
Wendy: Oh, she is. She’s very feisty. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And to start with, she comes across as being quite cross really with everybody and really quite hard but she’s not. She’s got a soft heart but she just has to come in all guns blazing and take charge of this situation and prove that she’s actually the boss and that she can tell people what to do and get the job done.
Alexandra: I wanted to ask if your career in the military had influenced or does influence the way that you write about Shona. Because I imagine that being a woman in a hierarchical, more male-oriented industry like that is a bit of a challenge.
I suspect that Shona might just be a little bit influenced about your experience in the army and the navy.
Wendy: I’m sure she is because I know what a hierarchical society is like. Although I have to point out, I was actually a nurse in the army. So it was a lot of women to start with, not quite as many men. But a lot of the doctors were men but ranking things came into it.
You obviously have to respect rank and that comes through very clearly in the book and to the way that Shona reacts to people. Although, her boss is a bit of a nightmare. So although she’s saying, “Yes or no sir, three bags full, sir, of course, sir and so that sir, …” She spends her entire time trying to think of ways to bump him off because he’s really getting on her nerves and getting in the way.
Alexandra: What made you decide to set the books in Dundee?
Wendy: Well, I’m from Dundee originally and although I’ve been all over the world, I moved back here. And there is not that many crime books set in Dundee, so it was an ideal situation. Also, Dundee is quite a small city so…because it’s so small, everybody knows everybody. It’s hard to keep a secret but it’s not hard to keep a secret either.
Alexandra: Oh, okay. So there’s a bit of a paradox there.
Wendy: Yeah, I said in one book. If you sneeze in Ballumbie which is one end of Dundee, they’ll know all about it in, you know, Ardler, which is another end of Dundee, before you’ve had time to sneeze.
Alexandra: Right. And I imagine, like I read on the web that it’s sort of 142,000 people. That’s not a very big place.
People would know each other and so there must be particular circumstances that arise in a city that size.
Wendy: If there was a serial killer in Dundee, there’d be no push to kill as much people as I’ve killed in my books because there’d be nobody left.
Wendy: Really. But people do keep secrets as well. People don’t easily give out information on their neighbors or people in their same area because there are disparate areas of Dundee and people will look out for each other, yeah, in those areas.
They’re very small communities, so it works both ways. People protect each other but it’s a small place. But being a small place, when you write about it, everybody knows who you’re talking about…or not who you’re talking about because they’re not real people. What you’re talking about and where you’re talking about, so it’s rich pickings, really.
Alexandra:I imagine you have to be a little bit careful to disguise any colorful characters that might be in your own life.
Wendy: Well, there is that. But I mean, to be honest, one of the characters, the Ex Lord Provost, is based on someone who’s long dead. And everybody knows who caused a bit of havoc when he was on the council in Dundee. In fact, he ended up in prison because of it all. And by giving contracts to his own business to knock down bits of Dundee and then rebuild them.
Wendy: Everybody knows about that, so I can say that in the ether, you know, it’s not a problem. But one of the characters is based on him because he was a complete nightmare. He just did whatever he wanted, he was on the council and did exactly what he wanted.
Alexandra: Yeah. That’s a fantastic source of information I imagine, all the trouble he got into.
Wendy: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean he completely wrecked the heart of Dundee and all the really old bits of Dundee which is demolished. He rebuilt them with some monstrosities really.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s such a shame.
Wendy: Dundee is up and coming, it’s being rebuilt. It was a city of great poverty. It was described at one point as a sink hole of atrocity. That was 100 years ago I might add.
Alexandra: Oh, dear.
Wendy: But it’s up and coming, it’s vibrant, it’s getting a brand new museum. The Victoria and Albert Museum, the first one outside London. They’re regenerating the riverfronts, so it’s a real up and coming place.
Alexandra: Okay, oh, that’s lovely.
What changes have gone on in Shona’s life over the course of the five books?
Wendy: Well, she’s gotten over her dislike of men, for a start. And she’s actually having a romance with the procurator fiscal. And it’s getting quite serious but people keep saying, “When are they going to get married?” And I’m like, “Well, they haven’t actually told me yet.” So when the procurator fiscal does, he’s gonna propose, and that’s Douglas Lawson. Then I’ll let you know, you know, your readers will be the first to know.
Wendy: It’s a very small burning romance and a lot of what happens, it happens over dead bodies, you know, because she’s always chasing serial killers and doesn’t get much time off.
And people always say, you have to explain what the procurator fiscal is. You have no such thing in any other city or any other country in the world. And basically, nothing can go ahead or go to the crown prosecution service or anything without the procurator fiscal say so. So he’s very powerful and important in the law in Scotland. So you can’t write a book without him and I thought, “Oh, well, I might as well just include him.” The thing is she’s got a bit softer and her team have gelled together a bit. So she’s got an easier ride, really.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s great, that’s fantastic.
Let’s switch gears then and talk about your young adult book. The first question I want to ask is why the switch to writing a young adult mystery?
Wendy: Well, I was very fortunate in that a publisher…the first five books I published under my own imprint. So I set up a publishing company called Scott and Lawson. And the books were doing really well and a publisher approached me and said, it was Books To Treasure, who are a fabulous up and coming young adult and children’s publisher.
And they said, “Look, we would love to publish your adult books. However, we don’t publish adult books. So we can’t go down that route. Have you got an idea for a young adult book, a series of mystery books?” And I said, “Well, it just so happens I do.” And they said, “Well, could you pitch it to us and pitch the series?”
So I had a 12-hour journey in a car on my own, which gives you 12 hours to think about things. I firmed up the ideas I had and firmed up the ideas for the first book. And The Fergus and Flora Mysteries were born.
Now, Flora is Flora McDonald. Now, for your listeners who don’t know who Flora McDonald is, because there may be a lot of people out there that don’t, the original Flora McDonald rescued Bonnie Prince Charlie in the days of the Highland clearances.
He was a Scottish prince, Bonnie Prince Charlie. She rescued him and rode him over the sea to Skye. It sounds very grand, we’re not talking the Atlantic here. We’re talking, you know, there’s a bridge now so that will show you how thick it is over the sea to the Skye.
But then, and even up until a few years ago, there was no bridge and the only way to get across is by boat. And she rescued him and rode him over to the sea to Skye. So she was a very feisty Scottish heroine. And this is a true story, that’s not folklore. She really did rescue him.
So Flora McDonald is a direct descendant of the original Flora McDonald. So she’s like the original Flora McDonald in that she doesn’t care what scrapes she gets into. She doesn’t care who does what and as long as things get done. So she’s not frightened to stick up for the underdog.
Her best friend is Fergus, Fergus Bernstein, and they work together. And in the very first book…well, I’ve told you how it came about. I’m not going on to tell you more, so I’m answering more than you asked me.
Alexandra: That’s fantastic. I’m thrilled about that.
Do tell us about the first book.
Wendy: Yeah, as you just said, the publisher was thrilled with it all and we signed a contract for three book series in four days.
Wendy: It’s unusual in the publishing world, so quite good really.
Wendy: So the book, in “The Dagger’s Curse”, which is the first book in the series, there’s a dagger on loan to the McManus Galleries in Dundee. That’s the Museum, the biggest museum in Dundee. And this dagger is cursed, it has an Egyptian curse set on it.
The first chapter of the book is about this curse being laid on the dagger and it protects whoever owns it. But some low life steals it from the museum. And so it then lays a curse on Dundee, or so it goes. So Dundee has a cursed laid on it.
And in the meantime, Fergus’ dad, who is huge international archeologist and who discovered the dagger in Egypt originally and it’s him who’s set up the display, he gets arrested for the theft and they’re saying he stole it. So they are there trying to find the dagger, break the curse, and break his father out of jail.
Alexandra: Wow, that’s fantastic. And they’re sort of early teens or mid-teens?
Wendy: Yeah, 14 years old.
Wendy: Caused such a havoc running around Dundee, doing things they shouldn’t be doing. They got locked up in castles, they escape from castles, they get locked up in castles again. They’re following codes, secret codes that are being left. It’s all just a big adventure and thrill really.
Alexandra: What it’s like for you writing for that age group compared to writing for grown ups?
Wendy: It’s so much fun, really. To be honest, you need to remember that there’s some words that that age group won’t understand. However, they also want to be pushed. They don’t want simple language. So you need to use language that they’ll understand without treating them like babies. So that’s important that you actually speak to them more as adults but not adults with a word range.
And the other thing is it’s difficult because you’ve got to think about slang. But slang in some ways, you don’t want to be using up to date slang because it goes out of date so fast. I mean the teenagers change their slang every five minutes, you know. What you’d be using today could be gone tomorrow. So you have no clue.
So you have to try and give a flavor of teenage slang without dating it. And you also need to give a flavor of what they would be doing. So they might be dressed in Skechers shoes. However, in a year’s time, they won’t be using Skechers shoes, so that dates it. So it’s really tricky, you know, to get it all fixed and give a flavor of teenage life without using things that would date it.
Alexandra: I imagine the technology works in the same way in that it can date itself quite quickly.
Wendy: Absolutely. So I mean, to be honest, we’re using iPhones and things because I don’t iPhones are gonna go away in any near future. But if you use it, so that’s fine, as long as you’re saying iPhones that are a bunch of old crock and you need to get rid of the whole blasted lot of them. Nobody cares, you know, you can use that. But I mean, you have to use a certain amount of technology. You could say mobile phone but hey, we might be talking through a microchip in 20 years but what can you do about that? It’s what we’re using.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah, exactly.
Wendy: I mean they’re running around as well using beach buggy type things, you know, they’re not meant to be using because they’re too young but they’re using them on their routes. But you just make it all up as you go along, really.
Alexandra: That’s right, yes, yeah. And then you said you signed a three book series.
Do you have in mind what the next two books are about? Or is it too early? You do?
Wendy: No, the next should be out soon. It’s called “The Haunted Broch“. Now, again, I’m sure people that don’t live in Scotland or even people that live in Scotland will have no clue what broch is.
A broch is an old dwelling and the Scots used it during the Roman times. So you often find them near Roman roads. And they were big dwellings, they were big houses. So it was only people with a lot of money that could afford them. Hence, the reason they were near Roman roads because people that did trade would be able to afford them. And there are a lot of these brochs all over Scotland.
Now, this particular one that is based in is Sterling’s lost broch. What happened was there was a lady–and this is a true story–a lady called Christian McLagen. Now, Christian McLagen was in the Victorian Era and she found the broch. But because she wasn’t a fellow, a man, she couldn’t be a fellow and create an archeology society. So, they went, “No, you couldn’t have found it, you’re a woman.” So it disappeared off the history, they recently found it again and they’re in the process of digging it out. So this is set during the dig. And I’ve been to visit the dig and it’s all great.
Alexandra: Oh, fantastic.
Wendy: Yeah, but the broch is haunted. Christian McLagen was not going to let this lie.
Alexandra: And then so Fergus and Flora then take off from there, solving the mystery of the ghost that’s haunting it?
Wendy: Yes, absolutely. Of course there’s more to it than that, you know? And they’re just still running around causing mayhem. They not staying in one place in this little archeology area, archeological dig. They’re off doing their own thing and causing havoc.
Alexandra: Nice, oh, that’s great. And you said it’s out soon?
Wendy: Yes, it should be out soon. I haven’t quite got a date yet. That was my own fault. I had a relative who was ill. So because of that I got delayed slightly.
Alexandra: I’ll put links to the first book for sure in the show notes and people can carry on. And then are you working on the third one?
Wendy: I’m not quite yet, but I will be. And I haven’t got a title for it yet so I can’t quite tell you but it’ll be back in Dundee.
Alexandra: Oh, good, okay. And how do you spell broch?
Alexandra: You had a really cool blog post on your site about when you launched “The Dagger’s Curse”, and that that was your first young adult launch and you wanted it to be special.
Why don’t you tell our listeners about that?
Wendy: Well, it was absolutely so much fun. When the cover came out, there was a dagger on the front. Now it’s based on an ancient Egyptian dagger that’s in the British Museum in London, so it really is. And one of my friends runs a theatrical armory and he has weapons and things in there. And he sent me a message and he said, “Oh, it just so happens that I happen to have that dagger, the real thing in my armory.”
So he said, “Would you like it for the launch?” I said, “Oh, I absolutely would. That sounds like a great idea.” He said the only problem is it’s live. Now, being live, a weapon is live means it’s capable of being used for real. So it’s really sharpened, this dagger.
It wasn’t plastic, it’s the real thing. So I was like, “Okay, yeah.” He said, “We’ll get permission from the police. We’ll get permission from Waterstones.” So Waterstones and the police, to my utter amazement, approved the idea. But I said, “Yeah, that’s a really good idea as long as my friend came with a stab vest and kept a very close eye on things.”
It was only him that was allowed to touch it. So on the day, he turned up with a chest which was a silver case, which was locked. And had my name on the front. And I was reading out the first chapter about the haunted broch, the trust being laid. And I read out a little poem that I’d written about what was recited when it was laid.
And then I said, “If anybody’s touched the dagger, the curse will be released.” And as I said that, he opened the case. It was polished, completely polished this knife, lying on a pink cushion with my book next to it–which has got pink in the color, in the cover–and when he opened the case, he had lights in it, in the top of the case.
When it opened, the light shone on the fully sharpened dagger and the pink light flew out from the case. As I said, the curse was released and the whole of Waterstones Bookshop gasped, about a hundred people there, including me. It was so much fun.
Alexandra: Wow. Oh, the great theatrics.
Wendy: It was superb, he did it brilliantly. He runs this theatrical armory and his name is Stuart. And he’s amazing.
Alexandra: And so I wanted to ask theatrical armory.
Does that mean that it’s a place where people can borrow munitions and arms if they’re gonna be used in plays or the movies or whatever?
Wendy: Yes, yeah, absolutely, yes.
Alexandra: Oh, perfect connection to have for your book.
Wendy: Yeah, his name is Stuart Archabogen and he runs it in Britain and he’s an absolutely amazing chap.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s fantastic. And so you’re gonna be working on the third Fergus and Flora Mystery, and then do you have plans for another DI Shona Mystery?
Wendy: Oh, DI Shona McKenzie, “Killer Strip”, the sixth book in the DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries will be released on the 14th of August, 2017.
Alexandra: Oh, very good.
Alexandra: That’s great.
Wendy: I have a book launch at Waterstones Bookshop in Dundee.
Alexandra: Oh, nice, so you’ve got a nice connection then with Waterstones?
Wendy: Absolutely. I have to say Waterstones in Dundee have been amazing. Absolutely outstanding, from the first book to the last. They are amazing. They’ve supported me on my books 100%.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s so lovely, it’s great to hear. So we’re just about out of time. I’m gonna ask you two more questions, one is about the book festival that you organize, the books and the castle. Tell us about that.
Wendy: Well, Crime at the Castle, I approached Glamis Castle.
Now very quickly, for anybody who doesn’t know what it is, it’s the most haunted castle in Scotland. The second and really good thing about it is, it’s the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Princess Margaret was born there and the queen holiday there as a child, Queen Elizabeth, our current queen, holidayed there as a child because it was her family home.
So it was like when you’re around your uncle’s for your holidays, that’s where she went. And Glamis Castle, again, have been amazing. It’s going to be huge. We haven’t said who’s going to be speaking there yet so I can’t tell you unfortunately. But it’s the creme de la creme of the Scottish crime writing world.
Alexandra: Oh, nice.
Wendy: The tickets will go on sale in the beginning of August and it’s gonna be amazing. It’s going to be outstanding.
Alexandra: And when will it be held?
Wendy: The 24th of February, 2016.
Wendy: Eighteen, 18. I’m going backwards.
Alexandra: Yeah, that’s right.
Wendy: So book your time capsule, book tickets for February 2018.
Alexandra: I’ll put a link in the show notes for sure to the festival.
Wendy: It’s on the Glamis Castle website so people can see. I mean, again, Glamis Castle have been superb. I approached them and they just ran with it and went, “Yeah, what a fabulous idea.”
Alexandra: Oh, fantastic. And is that close to Dundee where you are?
Wendy: Yeah, it’s very close. It’s about 20 minutes away.
Alexandra: Oh, fabulous.
Wendy: In Glamis itself, which is a small village really. So it’s gonna be amazing because it’s going to be intimate and unique.
Alexandra: Oh, yes. Oh, lovely. Well, if any of our listeners are in Scotland, they’ll be sure to check that out. Like I said, I’ll put a link in the show notes.
Wendy: Well, I know there are people coming from Canada for it.
Alexandra: Oh, goodness.
Wendy: I know for a fact there are people coming from Canada to attend.
Alexandra: Excellent. Oh, that’s great.
Wendy: And America.
Alexandra: Yeah, I’m sure from all over.
Alexandra: Yeah, sounds fabulous. All right. Well, thank you so much, Wendy. This has been amazing. Why don’t you let our listeners know where they can find out more about you and your books?
Wendy: Well, if you go to wendyhjones.com, you’ll find out all about me. If you go to Amazon, my books are on Amazon. You can get them in any bookstore in the world, you could just go in and order it, so you can get anywhere really. You can get them in CLC Bookshops in Britain and you can get them on Kobo, Nook, anywhere you can buy books.
Alexandra: Excellent. Oh, that’s fabulous. Well, thank you so much again, Wendy. I really appreciate having you here.
Wendy: It’s been amazing. Thank you very much for inviting me.
Alexandra: Oh, you’re so welcome. Bye-bye.