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Interview with Rosie Sandler

Rosie is (now) a cozy crime writer, having started out writing the successful children's detective series 'Agatha Oddly', as Lena Jones. I first met Rosie through Writers of Essex and when we launched the Brightlingsea Literary Festival earlier this year, we invited her to come along and take part in our author panel, where she revealed she was in the early stages of publishing the first in a new series for adults about a gardener turned detective. I was delighted to be accepted to read it in advance of publication through NetGalley and my review of it can be found here. (Spoiler alert - I thoroughly enjoyed it!). I had a chat with Rosie about the book and about her writing life in general.

What made you choose cozy crime as a genre to write in?

I didn't intentionally choose cosy/cozy crime. However, I don't like reading or watching violence, and I abhor the way the way there are so many dead (often naked) women in books and TV series. So, the book just evolved into the cosy crime genre.

How did your lead character come about? A gardener, although popular on TV, is less common in books as a detective, particularly such an exclusive one as Steph is, so what made you settle on that as her career?

Steph was always going to be a gardener. That was the first part of the inspiration. Years ago, I worked (as a sub-editor) on various gardening magazines. I love gardens, and I'm a keen armchair gardener!

You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you had to do a lot of research about horticulture for the book. Can you talk us through the process of this - e.g. did you do the research before you started writing or was it something that you looked up as you went along and needed plants etc to fit into the narrative?

I have just enough knowledge on the subject to sound more proficient than I am - very dangerous for novel writing! Luckily, I have two actual experts in the family: my sister-in-law, Christina Erskine, runs her own garden design business (The Urban Hedgerow), so she very kindly went through an early draft of book 1 ('Seeds of Murder') and pointed out errors. I'm about to send her book 2 (though she doesn’t know this yet!). My mother-in-law, Susan Erskine, is a keen amateur botanist, so she's very helpful for her knowledge about wild plants and native trees. I am also lucky enough to have worked with garden historian (among many other things), Tim Richardson, and he very kindly answered my questions about a historical landscape gardener for book 2.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to the beginning of your writing career?

Hmm. That's a tricky one, as I think I followed it! It boils down to: 'Don't give up, and be sure to take any opportunity that comes your way.' The latter part is also the main advice I give to other unpublished authors. Before The Gardener Mysteries for adults, I co-wrote the 'Agatha Oddly' children's crime novels. This opportunity only came about because I entered the Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize. I got nowhere, and thought no more about it - until I received an email from Tibor Jones, saying they'd liked my writing, and would I like to be mentored by them? I jumped at the chance. The first book turned into a three-book deal with HarperCollins. If you can afford it, I think it is also worth investing in your writing career. After 'Agatha Oddly', I signed up to bestselling author Sophie Hannah's 'Dream Author' mentoring programme. Sophie was a fantastic mentor; The Gardener Mysteries wouldn't have come into being without her. It's also important to keep sending out your manuscript. My wonderful agent, Jenny Todd at The Literary Office, took me on when she was just setting up her agency. She was the first agent to like the fact that I write in a lot of different genres. I'd been rejected by a lot of agents before that...

What do you look for in a book when you view it as a reader?

I want to be kept guessing. If I can work out 'whodunnit' early in the book, then it's a disappointment. I also love beautiful writing. I've just finished Ruth Ozeki's 'The Book of Form and Emptiness' and it's one of the best books I've read: full of beautiful phrasing and imagery. I'm a poet as well as a novelist, and the cosy crime genre doesn't allow for a lot of whimsy, but I still try to keep my writing up to a certain standard. I think good writing is a pleasure to read.

If people enjoy your book, which others would you recommend they try?

Without wanting to sound too obvious, Richard Osman's 'The Thursday Murder Club' books are great fun. I haven't yet read the Dr Nell Ward series by fellow Embla Books author Sarah Yarwood-Lovett, but they're next on my list. Sarah's an ecologist, and her main character is an ecologist-detective.

Finally, can you give us any hints, clues etc as to where Steph’s next mystery will take her?

Steph finds herself staying in an actual tower, attached to a 'small' (think twelve bedrooms) stately home in Derbyshire. There will be intrigue (and murder, of course) amongst the family and staff.

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