After working for years as a BBC journalist, university lecturer and creative writing mentor, Barbara Henderson, or Bea Davenport, as readers of her debut novel will come to know her, has recently fulfilled a childhood dream: to write stories and have people read them. In Too Deep is a thrilling crime novel, so suspenseful that, speaking from experience, it'll have you poring over its contents until 3am. Based in the fictional town of Dowerby, loosely based on Alnwick and its quirky heritage, the plot follows lead character Maura as she flees from her old life in Northumberland following the death of her feisty journalist friend Kim. Unfortunately for Maura, her past has an odd way of chasing her wherever she goes.
'I told the basic plot idea to the first ever writing workshop I went to, which was at Durham University with Shelley Weiner and the late Alice Thomas Ellis. They both said, in unison, "What a good idea!" so I felt that I really had to stick with it and make it happen. In Too Deep was inspired by a traditional event in Northumberland, and around that central event, which I fictionalised and turned into something very nasty, I wove the characters and the sub-plots. Alnwick was a big inspiration for Dowerby because of its old summer fair and the infamous ducking stool. I’ve changed a great deal in order to create a fictional setting; Alnwick’s a very nice place and Dowerby really isn’t! I wanted Dowerby to be almost like another character. I mapped out the town, very roughly, so that I had an idea of where everything was in relation to everything else.'
As with any monumental task, putting pen to paper in the initial stages of novel writing can be a somewhat daunting prospect. 'Like many writers, I’ve written stories ever since I was a child. It just took me a long time to get round to showing my work to anyone. In many ways, starting is the hardest part because it feels as if you have such a long way to go to get to the end point. You may have heard it said that many writers envisage the literary equivalent of the Taj Mahal when they’re writing, and then find that what they have actually created is more like the garden shed. That’s how first drafts of any story tend to feel.'
After overcoming the first hurdle of simply starting, Barbara began to build her central characters into believable personalities. 'Obviously, with a work of fiction they’re invented people and not just a version of someone I know, but I do think with any writer that little elements of real people probably sneak in, even if that’s an unconscious act. I find that when I am writing, characters change as I go along. For example, I started off with the character of Kim as someone who was quite deliberately destructive, but as I was going along, she became much nicer and there were reasons for her doing some of the more feckless things that she did.'
For Barbara, who graduated from Newcastle University with a PhD in Creative Writing in 2012, it's been a worthwhile process. 'One of the highlights was when In Too Deep was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Award, one of the biggest competitions for unpublished authors in the UK, as was the moment when Legend Press decided to publish it. The response of the readers who liked the book has also been wonderful. It’s a fantastic feeling if people who you respect enjoy a novel that you’ve created. It’s a very strange and double-edged feeling. On the one hand I am really pleased and proud that it’s out there. On the other, I’m still spotting little things that I wish I’d done better or that I would probably change if it wasn’t a finished work.'
Even though it's taken a while to get the publishing ball rolling, Barbara's gathering momentum and channeling her energy into her second novel. 'I dithered about for far too long with In Too Deep, so I’m writing this one a lot faster. It’s another crime and suspense novel, and although one of the central characters is a journalist again, it is going to be very different for a number of reasons. One is that it’s set in 1984, with the miners’ strike as a backdrop, although that’s not the central part of the plot. I reported on the miners’ strike and my memories of that time are very vivid. The plot involves the death of a child and there is another central character who I am hoping will take readers by surprise.' If it's anything like as subtly tense as the last, it's doubtful her readers' nerves will be able to cope.
From here on in, this Woman in Business plans to make up for lost time. 'I just want to keep writing and having my work accepted. If I have one regret it’s that lack of confidence prevented me from getting my work out there earlier, so I feel that I have a lot of ideas I want to turn into completed works and perhaps a limited time to do it in. New writers: let that be a lesson! Get your work out there and read as soon as you can.'