Every writer has influences. In some cases it can be style, in others, on the way a writer approaches their work. I have several, but one of the most lingering is the historical crime novelist Candace Robb.
I first came across her work about 20 years ago. I was still living in Seattle then, and came across a couple of her books at my local library. They were set in York, always one of my favourite cities, and in the 1300s, a very interesting time. I borrowed them, devoured them, and after that devoured the rest of her Owen Archer series, followed by her three Margaret Kerr books. In terms of language they were spot-on that I assumed they were written by someone local, someone who understood the place and its people in her bones.
Fast forward quite a few years. My partner came across a book about Alice Perrers called The King’s Mistress and raved about it. I read it, curious because Perrers had been a minor character in one of the Owen Archer novels. It was as good as she said. A little digging online showed that the author, Emma Campion, was…Candace Robb. And she didn’t live in York at all. She lived in Seattle. More than that, she’d grown up in Cincinnati, where I spent a decade before moving out to the West Coast.
It was kinda weird.
By then I had a few historical crime novels of my own out on the shelves, the first volumes in my Richard Nottingham series. And the way Candace made family relationships such an important part of her novels had affected the way I put together my books. I owed her a debt.
I dropped her an email. She replied. And out of that, we’ve become good friends. We’ve never met, although we’ve been in the same cities at the same time before. I’ve continued writing, and so has she: first another big historical, A Triple Knot, about Joan of Kent, and last year The Service of the Dead, the first in a new series set in York, featuring Kate Clifford, a young widow (that will see UK publication this year, while the second will be published soon in the US). I’ve read it; it’s every bit as good as her Owen Archer novels, which are my favourites.
She’s an academic, a scholar with a very deep knowledge of the Middle Ages and especially of York, a city that seems to run in her blood. Everything detail is impeccably researched, but the scholarship is always in service of the story. It’s finely woven in – another influence she’s had on my work (well, I hope I’ve succeeded). And, most importantly for anyone writing about another time and place, she takes you there. When you read, you’re moving through York (or other places) in the 14th century. You can smell it, you can taste it. That’s a rare, precious quality.
This June, Candace will be in England. She has an event – maybe more – in York. But happily she’s also going to do an ‘In Conversation With…’ in Leeds, on June 8 at the Leeds Library, a pop-up event by Leeds Big Bookend. I feel especially lucky, because I’m the one who’ll be asking her the questions.
For those who enjoy what I write, come along if you can, and discover one of the best historical crime writers. Or, if you’re a fan of hers – discover her if you don’t already know her work – this will be a treat.