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Meet Ealing author Mark Eccleston who talks about crime novels, Ealing inspiration and why Warren Farm needs to be saved from Ealing Council

EALING.NEWS talks to local author Mark Eccleston about his best-selling Astrid Swift crime novels, finding inspiration in Ealing and why losing Warren Farm to development would be a loss for everyone.

Tell us about Astrid Swift, the amateur detective heroine of your books?
When we meet her at the beginning of the first book, The Trust, Astrid is working as an art conservator at the National Gallery in London. She has it all – the job, the luxury riverside apartment, the designer wardrobe. But then her perfect marriage implodes and she ends up moving in to a leaky boat in the backwaters of Dorset.

There she gets a job at a local stately home and starts investigating a murder mystery after a visitor is found dead at the bottom of the ice house. I’ve always thought art conservators would make great amateur detectives. They have a ‘unique set of skills’ , as Liam Neeson might say, to solve crimes – a knowledge of chemistry and forensic tests, a painterly eye for detail and amazing patience. Slowly, like repairing a painting, Astrid peels back the layers to find a clearer picture of the truth.

It’s taken a long time for you to write these books – why is that?
I guess it’s because I have the attention span of a wasp at a picnic. I’m not great at getting things completed. There’s some skirting board in my kitchen I’ve been planning to fix for over ten years. The books have taken much longer – nearly 30 years since I began thinking about giving it a go. Working as a freelance journalist and bringing up a family, there’s always something else to do. Then the Covid pandemic turned up. Out of nowhere. And it was mind-frazzling and grim. But for most of us it was a chance to reassess our lives and do the thing we most wanted to do. I knew there would never be a better time to concentrate on finishing a novel. The Trust was written over the first year of lockdowns and picked up a publishing deal for a series, pretty much straight away. The skirting board remains untouched.

Do you think that Ealing is a good place for literary inspiration?
There are certainly a lot of writers who have lived or visited here. My favourite crime writer, Agatha Christie, used to visit her aunt, Margaret Miller, who had a house at 99 Uxbridge Road. It has since been knocked down. It’s believed that Miller was the inspiration for her Miss Marple character. My second favourite crime writer is Janice Hallett who’s from Northolt. Her novels, The Appeal and The Twyford Code have been wildly successful. Other Ealing authors include spy writer Alex Gerlis and thriller writer Susi Holliday. So maybe there’s something in the air. I live in Northfields, which isn’t exactly a hotbed of crime. On the surface, at least. I mean, who knows what goes on behind all those plantation blinds? You only have to go on Facebook to realise how worked up people can get about the slightest things… bad parking, missed bin collections. As a crime writer, I’m going to imagine a murderous undercurrent to the suburban dream, whether it’s there or not.

The Trust was chosen as one of the recommendations for last month’s World Book Night. How did that happen?
I’m not sure really, but I’m thrilled it did. The event is aimed at encouraging everyone to read – because there are so many hidden benefits. If you read for just 30 minutes a week your likely to feel greater self-self esteem and social inclusion. Reading is good for your mental health too. This year World Book Night gave away nearly 70,000 books including titles by Anne Fine, Jojo Moyes, Roddy Doyle and Joe Wickes. It was amazing to be up there with these better-known authors, especially Joe Wickes as I’ve been gasping my way through his workouts since January.

You’ve recently become involved with the campaign to save Warren Farm. Why is that?
I’m appalled by the council’s plans to develop a sports complex on the meadows of Warren Farm. This is somewhere so many Ealing residents treasure – whether they’re going there to jog, take the dog a walk, or spot wildlife you just don’t expect to see in London. Where else can you see skylarks? Or watch hawks hunting? Unfortunately the council are hellbent of destroying the site with private football pitches despite all expert advice from naturalists and environmentalists.

Despite 21,000 people signing the petition. Despite hundreds, maybe a thousand people turning up out outside the town hall to protest. I can’t work it out if it’s arrogance or ignorance – they just can’t see how precious this green space is, and what it means to people. Who knows? We seem to have a council that won’t listen to sense or consensus. Good luck to them. But they should know, Ealing residents aren’t going to give up their fight – for every blade of grass.

So where will Astrid be heading to next?
I’m not too sure, to be honest. In the second book, Death on the Isle, she heads over to the Isle of Wight to solve a murder mystery during the Cowes Week Sailing Festival. Then for the third, Death Comes to the Costa del Sol, it’s off to the south of Spain to crack the case of an on-line troll who’s rattling the Brexpats of Estepona. Her boat is still afloat. She’s still got her conservator’s art work case. So, she can go wherever she wants. I’m just waiting for next killer idea, and she’ll set sail.

Mark Eccleston is on twitter. Click here to find out more.

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