I was lucky. Most writers didn’t earn enough money to keep body and soul together, let alone feed, clothe, and educate four children as I did. Not that it was plain sailing all the way, and one year, 1997 to be precise, it required some very nifty improvisation. My wife decided that we would ‘do bed and breakfast’, assuring me that it would get us out of our financial difficulty of the moment. She was right. Within months, two small barns had been converted into guest units and were up and running and an incredible mix of people were coming from all over the world, for all manner of reasons.
Then, of course, I was offered more television work, this time in the shape of helping to set up Midsomer Murders and then writing for it. I was all for slimming down the B & B, perhaps even shelving it, but my wife, being a canny Northerner, wasn’t so keen. The guest units stayed, the business prospered, and these days we could fill the place every night of the year if we chose to.
As far as Midsomer Murders goes, I’ll cut to the chase. Fifteen years, 230 countries, and 208 bodies later, none of us who worked on those early stories can quite believe that they've been seen by one billion people worldwide. I have to repeat it to make sure I’m not dreaming. A billion people have watched it, and they all have one thing in common. They believe that the fictional county of Midsomer represents the true England, with the murder and mayhem being nothing more than a touch of colour. How do I know this? Because 15 years after we opened our B & B, 15 years after those first Midsomer stories, dramatised from Caroline Graham’s novels, people come to see the locations, and it just so happens that most of the series was made within a stone’s throw from where I live. Which means that many of them stay with us.
In general, people can’t believe that me writing for the series and helping to run a B & B in the thick of the locations is a happy coincidence. If anything, they imagine that British television works by a producer picking a location and then knocking on local doors to see if anyone would care to try their hand at a script. If only it were that simple!
And when I said earlier that we get visitors from all over the world, I wasn’t kidding. We get Midsomer fans from as far away as Estonia, Latvia, Australia, Canada, America, and Japan, to say nothing of our regulars from Europe. One couple from Sweden has been three times! We consider them to be friends. A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk to members of The Midsomer Murders Society, which meets yearly for a four day event, and they too represent all nations. Attending the evening feast, in a gathering of some 80 people, there were Germans, Belgians, Australians, Americans, Canadians ... as well as the English hardcore.
I have, as you might guess, come to know my audience over the past 15 years of the two businesses, writing and hospitality, running side by side, and I’ve discovered something which never ceases to surprise and delight me. There is a thirst out there in the world for all things essentially English - from the landscape and the people who live in it, to the history and architecture certainly, to the murderers, their victims, and the people who solve the crimes. One billion people testify to this fact. Their belief that what they see in a drama like Midsomer is quintessentially English and their desire for it to remain so, both baffles and enthrals me and, I must confess, chimes with my own wishes.
That’s one of the reasons why I created the detective Nathan Hawk book series, because as I looked round our one-billion audience, I saw that they didn’t have a huge variety of fundamentally English detectives to move on to. Plenty of Americans, yes, plenty of female sleuths, far too many professional policemen who seem to become very samish in their work! What I grandly thought the world was lacking was a rogue, English detective, with attitude and wit, who would open up for those of the one billion who want to read him, a place which already delights them - England.
It’s been a tough learning curve for me, however, because whereas when I wrote a script for The Onedin Line, say, or Poirot, or Howards Way, I needed to persuade only one person to like it, and then millions would watch the result whether they wanted to or not, now I have to persuade one reader at a time. And it’s taken me to the far out world of Facebook, Twitter, and running my own website. All highly enjoyable stuff, but I little thought, as I submitted my first script to the BBC that one day, I’d be able to reach everyone in the world in theory and the things I’d written would be seen by a billion people. All I ask now is that one percent of them buy a copy of Haggard Hawk, Easy Prey, or Scattered Remains. If nothing else, they are just about as English as it’s possible to be.
If you want to know anything more about me, Douglas Watkinson, or the Nathan Hawk series of detective books, or other things I’ve written, let me point you to this link:
If you’re looking for a B & B within easy reach of London, Oxford, and the murderous, fictional county of Midsomer, let me point you to this link:
- UK readers, go HERE
- USA readers, go HERE
- To pre-order the new book in the series, Scattered Remains, go HERE (USA readers only)