Following the publication of REDHEAD, the fourth book in a series of murder mysteries by Stan Jackson, we asked him a little about his background and inspirations. Like the other books, the protagonist of REDHEAD is Perry Webster, a university professor who gets his first taste for detective work when he is wrongly accused of murdering his wife. In REDHEAD, he is older, wiser and remarried, but his inquisitive nature still puts him at risk.
TBF: What inspired you to become a novelist?
SJ: Creativity with words has long been a passion. Having worked in contexts in which my communication was based mostly around factual subjects, writing novels was a like a huge, empty canvas on which to indulge my creative instincts.
TBF: How much does your fiction draw on your personal experiences?
SJ: In terms of context and some experience, a lot, but in other areas, not at all. For example, I write about the area and towns of Yorkshire where I live, and I have based some stories within institutions of which I have experience – a university and an independent school. However, I have never moved in the upper class, wealthy circles that Perry Webster inhabits, nor have I ever killed anybody! In terms of characterisation, not a lot. I am like Perry in that I have a questioning nature and I’m sometimes given to introspection, but I am nowhere near as intelligent, handsome or tall as he is.
TBF: Can you talk a little about your life before focussing on fiction? We understand you worked in education, but also as part of a Methodist ministry.
SJ: Having started out my working life in various office jobs, including the civil service, before retirement I served as an ordained minister in the Methodist Church for forty years. The first twenty of those were periods of looking after Methodist Churches in Southend, Southport and Harrogate. The following twenty years (in which I remained a Methodist minister, but did not have direct responsibility for churches), involved work in education as chaplain at an independent school, and as course director for a national training course for lay people in The United Reformed Church. The Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church are similar Protestant denominations, and the programme for which I was responsible was open to people of other Christian denominations. The courses of the programme could be tackled at different academic levels up to and including degree.
TBF: Your main character is a philosophy professor. Do you think there is any similarity between chasing the truth in philosophy and chasing it in a murder mystery?
SJ: Interesting question. There are similarities as both are pursued through conversations: in philosophy, the conversations that go on in the philosopher’s own mind, with the written word and with other people; in crime fiction, the conversations the investigator has with witnesses, suspects, colleagues and so on. I guess where they diverge is in the tangibility of the basic evidence they examine. A murder mystery would normally offer concrete, material evidence to consider which is always open different to interpretations but not quite as open as the ideas, personal experiences and opinions of other people. Whilst the strategies and techniques of discovery are sometimes comparable, the physical evidence presented in most murder mysteries adds a dimension. Having said that, some psychological mysteries do narrow the distinction.
TBF: Professor Webster keeps his cards close to his chest when it comes to his favourite philosophies. Does he have any?
SJ: If he does, I have avoided delving into them for the sake of the pace of the story. However he is a professor of modern philosophy so I think you can assume he will be more interested in contemporary approaches such as Rationalism and Empiricism than the classical ideas of Stoicism and Cynicism, while acknowledging, however, that the modern would not exist without the work of some of the classical scholars
TBF: What are some of your influences?
SJ: Morris West, Evelyn Waugh, Dick Francis, Donna Leon and Harlan Coben.
TBF: What books are you reading at the moment?
SJ: Icon by Frederick Forsyth, Blood on the Line by Edward Marston, and 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
TBF: Confess! Name a book everyone else seems to have read that you haven’t.
SJ: Ulysses, but they are lying!
TBF: If you were stuck on a desert Island, which book would you like to have with you?
SJ: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh – I don’t now read it, so much as bask in its lyricism.
TBF: What are you working on at the moment?
SJ: Revising my first effort at a novel which is an attempt to explore human physical and spiritual struggles in the lives of two ministers (one a clergyman and one a minister of the crown) living in the Yorkshire Dales. Human passions, animal rights terrorism and the emerging Northern Ireland peace agreement of the late 1990s are the wider contexts of their struggles.
Like all of Stan’s books, REDHEAD is available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.