North Norfolk this weekend will witness the Cromer and Sheringham Crab and Lobster Festival, a grand jamboree of fun and frolics, not all of which are connected with our crustaceous compadres. All three of you will be aware by now that I’ve written – and am indeed the author of – a novel that falls into the sub-genre of what one local publisher has called ‘Norfolk Gothic‘. It’s called By The Sea, and to celebrate the Cromer and Sheringham Decapodyssey, it’s available FREE on Kindle, from now until 21 May. As I expect you know by now, By The Sea started life as a serial on LabLit.com, and got a boost care of Dr J. L. R. of this parish who featured it in FictionLab at the Royal Society. The novel started when Gee Minor opined that she’d like to see a story featuring a detective called ‘Inspector Sheepwool’.
No sooner said than done – By The Sea features D. I. Persephone Sheepwool of the Met, who has fled to seek a new life on the North Norfolk Coast after losing her husband and infant son in a horrific motor accident.
But horror is never far behind, as she discovers when a body is found at a museum in a decaying clifftop mansion whose shadowy staff is dedicated to discovering the secrets of the sea. Investigating the death along with her redoubtable sidekick D. S. Elaine Fitch, Sheepwool finds that some secrets are probably best left submerged. Trouble is, even the most deeply submerged secrets have a nasty way of oozing to the surface.
I wanted to scratch several itches with this book. First, I wanted to do for Cromer what Stephen King did for Maine. The fictional town of Deringland is modelled on Cromer – but not the real Cromer, more the Cromer that would result from the distortion of dreams. Second, I wanted to write some gothic horror, but setting it in modern times. Third, I wanted to explore the classic detective-sidekick partnership. Not so much Watson and Holmes, but more explicitly Morse and Lewis. I’ve always loved Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, and even more so the TV adaptations with John Thaw in the title role.
Like Morse, Sheepwool is cerebral and cultured, though she gets her inspiration from surrealist art rather than grand opera. Like Lewis, Fitch is down-to-earth. Devotees of Morse will remember how Lewis always likes to return to his wife and family and a steaming plate of egg and chips. My Elaine Fitch is a local girl with three children and a solid husband called Jason, a builder, who is head chef in the Fitch household.
There are no crabs in By The Sea. There are, however, lobsters – in the form of a strange pub called the Barking Lobster (another surrealist in-joke). There is also a pub called the Dazed Haddock (another Crox Minor invention.) There’s quite a bit of science confronting the unknown; the machinations of Big Pharma; and – oh yes – there are mermaids. Lots of mermaids. Mermaids real, mermaids fake, and mermaids somewhere in between. I hope you’ll download the book this weekend – it costs nothing – and enjoy.