Thursday, March 28, 2024

Thoughts on Libby Sarjeant and the "Cosy" genre


Well, folks, it’s almost the end of March, and I am awaiting the edits on Murder at The Crooked Horse, due to reach your shelves/Kindle/laptop someyime in June. No cover or release date as yet, but we live in hope.

While awaiting the edits and wondering if my publishers will want another Libby book – it’s all right, I think they do – I thought up an idea for a new series and re-published my three Alexandrians. This necessitated researching the so-called “cosy” genre on Amazon and all its myriad sub-genres, and I made myself thoroughly depressed. There are thousands! Every day when I set off on my quest new ones appeared. It’s quite astonishing.

Libby Sarjeant first came into being in the last World One Day Novel Cup in 1997. I was a finalist, with a brief version of what eventually became Murder in Steeple Martin eight years later. Around the same time, the agent Carole Blake, who subsequently became a good friend, introduced me to the books of Ann Granger and told me I should try writing something along the same lines. There were other writing in a similar genre, Hazel Holt, Mollie Hardwicke, M C Beaton, Natasha Cooper and Simon Brett, to name a distinguished few. Yet others were writing what are now referred to as police procedurals, but were in the same traditional vein. This was the company I joined when Hazel Cushion asked me to write a full length version of the Libby story and the series was born. 

I soon became aware of the flourishing market in the United Stated, where they invented the term “Cozy”. Hazel and I even looked at trying to break into that market, and redesign my covers to fit in with its definitely “cosy” style. However, Libby was building up quite a following, and after a few years was actually topping Amazon charts., so we just carried on doing things the way we had. And then the market in this country began to expand. Some of it was due to the rise of self publishing, and some of it due to publishers recognising the growing trend. There began to be definite tropes (incidentally, another word I hate, along with cosy) – female inheriting house/cafe/bookshop in quirky country village or cute seaside town, female divorcee relocating to same, femal retiree relocating to same – get the picture? And yes, Libby Sarjeant fitted in there. She had relocated after a divorce to a pleasant village, and vary soon, her co-protagonist, Fran, inherited a cottage in a cute seaside town. But now there were hundreds of them.

One wonders why, when Richard Osman wrote his first Thursday Murder Club novel, he and everyone else thought he was doing something so different. No – he was simply reinventing the wheel. It was celebrity culture that made the book the runaway hit that it was. I had hoped it might give those of us who had been doing it for years a boost, but all it did in fact, was to provide fertile ground for the proliferation of look-alikes.

Now, all this might sound like sour grapes, and to an extent, it is. Of curse it is. But Libby Sarjeant is still out there, bless her, and still providing my daily bread, but for how long will she be able to hold her own? She frequently steps outside the confort of the cosy straitjacket and confronts rather nastier crimes and social injustices – in fact, a recent Amazon review asked her to stop doing it – so her particular brand of nosiness might become unacceptable. And what of the new series?

The idea came to me when I realised how prevlent had become the sun, sea and sand location for mysteries, particularly on television. A Writer’s Summer School, I thought, where the tutor solves mysteries. Ah, said one of my clever writer friends, but what about the local police involvement? You’d have to find out all about that. Oh, right. Well, then, set it in this country, at a holiday destination. No, someone else pointed out. It’s been done. And so it went on. Every time I thought up a new twist, it was already out there. So, despondent, I put Anastasia Fox on the back burner. 

And so we return to Libby. She currently has a publisher and a very loyal band of readers, but in today’s compeitive, not to say cut-throat, market, where her ratings on Amazon fall far below many of her competitors, how long will she survive? Promotion and marketing are key, and many of the newer independent publishers do this extremely well, whereas only if you are a “top” author with a more established house do you get posters on railway stations and ads in national media. I now belong to one of these traditional publishers, having been sold, along with all the other Accent Press authors, without consultation. None of us are “top” authors.

My profession, along with that of most other ‘Creatives”, is a precarious one. Those of us who actually mange to make our living doing what we (mostly) love, are extremely lucky. Many of us have to have second jobs – “proper” jobs, as some would call them. All my four children do – the girls both teach singing as well as doing it, my eldest son does small building jobs (currently my downstairs shower room) and my youngest works in media tech. As I said, I’m one of the lucky ones. And Libby Sarjeant and I thank our readers from the bottom of our hearts. We’ll carry on, regardless.

Libby Sarjeant Mysteries


Anonymous said...

I love Libby and her friends and I’ll keep buying the books as long as you keep writing them. I think if Anastasia Fox lives inside you, why not let her have an outing? Who cares if her setting has been ‘done before?’ You will more than likely do it much better. I’m sure I’m not the only one not impressed by celebrity and supposedly ‘top authors.’ I’m always on the lookout for quirky, enjoyable reads with characters that feel real. You are exactly that. Please keep doing it 💕

GailR said...

As a reader from the US, I must say how I appreciate you! I have learned so much about your country from Libby and will continue to buy your books and read her for as long as you choose to write them. Please don't stop.

Anonymous said...

Libby will carry on regardless as her Loonies love her and all of her friends/acquaintances and Steeple Martin. Don’t get downhearted Lesley we all await each new book with impatience.

Anonymous said...

I love Libby and her band of Loonies and will read her exploits as long as you want to keep writing them.
I think the new series idea sounds promising and think if you want, and can get it published, why not give it a try?
The 'cosy' genre is full of lookalikes but I keep reading them, in fact, I think I'm addicted to them! They're like a pair of comfy slippers and a snuggly blanket when you open a new cosy mystery book to read, you know what you're getting and you're indulging yourself. In this day and age, we all need a bit of pampering!
Thank you for all you do Lesley, I'll be forever grateful that you brought Libby into my life! Take care x

Chris Collier -Roberts said...

As long as you keep writing them I will keep buying the Lobby Serjeant mysteries. I like the way that history is often involved as well as current problems like modern slavery and homophobia. The Steeple MArtin community is very real to me, and I appreciate the fact that Libby is neither young or particularly elegant and certainly not without fault.
I like the books because they are not 'body's in the accepted sense but not are they blood-spattered and vicious like so many recent books. Long live Libby and her loonies. !