Winona Kent discusses life and her new book Notes on a Missing G-String
Welcome to Canadian mystery author, Winona Kent!
Winona Kent is an award-winning author who was born in London, England and grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, where she completed her BA in English at the University of Regina. After moving to Vancouver, she graduated from UBC with an MFA in Creative Writing. More recently, she received her diploma in Writing for Screen and TV from Vancouver Film School.
Winona's writing breakthrough came many years ago when she won First Prize in the Flare Magazine Fiction Contest with her short story about an all-night radio newsman, Tower of Power.
Her spy novel Skywatcher was a finalist in the Seal Books First Novel Competition and was published in 1989. This was followed by a sequel, The Cilla Rose Affair, and her first mystery, Cold Play, set aboard a cruise ship in Alaska.
After three time-travel romances (Persistence of Memory, In Loving Memory and Marianne's Memory), Winona returned to mysteries with Disturbing the Peace, a novella, in 2017 and the novel Notes on a Missing G-String in 2019, both featuring the character she first introduced in Cold Play, professional jazz musician / amateur sleuth Jason Davey.
The third book in Winona's Jason Davey Mystery series, Lost Time, was published in 2020.
Winona's novella Salty Dog Blues was published in Sisters in Crime-Canada West's anthology Crime Wave in October 2020. Salty Dog Blues was nominated as a finalist in Crime Writers of Canada's Awards of Excellence for Best Crime Novella in April 2021.
Another Jason Davey short story, Blue Devil Blues, is one of the four entries in a new anthology, Last Shot, published in June 2021.
Winona has been a temporary secretary, a travel agent and the Managing Editor of a literary magazine. She recently retired from her full-time admin job at UBC's School of Population and Public Health. She's currently the BC/YT/NWT rep for the Crime Writers of Canada and is also an active member of Sisters in Crime – Canada West. After many decades living in Burnaby, Winona moved to New Westminster in 2018, where she is now happily embracing life as a full-time author.
Tell us about your life outside of writing.
I've been writing since the mid-1970s and back in those days, it was virtually impossible to make a living in Canada as a writer unless you were Leonard Cohen or Margaret Atwood. So I decided a very long time ago that if I had to work full-time, I would never have a job that actually involved creative writing. I wanted to save my imagination for my own fiction. So I was a temporary secretary and a travel agent. I took a little break for three years while I got my MFA in Creative Writing at UBC, and then after that I went to work for Telus for about 18 years--I was in Word Processing, and then in their Learning Services area. Roundabout 2003 Telus decided to downsize and they offered me a massive amount of money to leave--so I took them up on their offer and went to Vancouver Film School so I could learn how to write screenplays. Then I went back to work--this time at my old alma mater, UBC--and I landed a job in their Department of Health Care and Epidemiology (later the School of Population and Public Health)-- where I was a program assistant looking after MSc and PhD students. I stayed there until October 2019, when I officially retired--and now I'm actually (and finally) a full time writer!
Along the way I've also indulged in some of my more imaginative passions. In 1995 I started a semi-official website for the British actor Sean Bean. It was active until 2012, when I archived it. But one of my legacies was the creation of the original "Death by Cow" list--which detailed all of the films that Sean died in. The title came from the movie The Field, where Sean's run over the edge of a cliff by a herd of cows. I was also granted a ground-breaking interview with Sean when he was in Toronto filming Don't Say a Word.
I have a few interesting hobbies. One of them is family tree research. I have a very mysterious great-grandfather whose birth record I can't find and whose parentage is quite murky. I've done the DNA test and plunged into genealogy head-first. The hero of my amateur sleuth novels, Jason Davey, shares that interest with me. My other passionate interest is the London Underground--and more specifically, abandoned Underground stations. A few of my novels and short stories have included current and abandoned stations in their plots.
Do you have a work in progress?
I do! I'm working on the 2nd draft of my
next Jason Davey Mystery, Ticket to Ride. Jason first appeared in a
standalone novel, Cold Play, where he was an entertainer on a cruise
ship in Alaska. Then I brought him back in a novella, Disturbing the Peace,
where I gave him a true mystery to work on in Northern Alberta. After that I
wrote Notes on a Missing G-String, where Jason had to find some money
and a piece of a costume that had been stolen from a stripper's locker at a nightclub
in Soho. Last year, in Lost Time, I sent Jason into rehearsals for an
upcoming tour of his mother's folk-pop band while he tried to find out what
happened to a teenager who'd gone missing decades earlier. And now, in Ticket
to Ride, Jason is actually on tour with the band--and it seems like someone
is out to kill both him and his mother.
What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Hands down it was my second novel, The Cilla Rose Affair. My first novel, Skywatcher, was a tongue-in-cheek spy story which had been a finalist in a first novel fiction contest. Unfortunately it was published in 1989, which was basically the end of the Cold War, and the bottom fell out of the spy fiction market and Skywatcher didn't sell very well as a result. My confidence as a writer took a hit and I found myself truly stuck in writer's block for about two years. One of the main characters in The Cilla Rose Affair shared my obsession with the London Underground but I just couldn't find a way to write about it. Then I saw the film Field of Dreams which is about an obsession and a passion. And I realized that I had to immerse my character in his passion and make the reader experience it along with the character, rather than just write about it. I know that sounds like Creative Writing 101, but it was only my second novel and I was a very young writer and still learning. Once I'd got over that hurdle, I broke out of the writer's block and got The Cilla Rose Affair done. And by the way, anyone who says writer's block doesn't really exist, has never truly experienced it.
What sort of research do you do for your work?
I'm extremely meticulous when it comes to research. I always base my stories and novels on kernels of things that I've experienced myself, but that's usually just the starting point. I love to let my imagination run wild but, because I may not have first-hand experience with what comes next, I have to resort to research. I love doing research and I am so grateful for the existence of the internet. I remember the bad old days when I'd spend days, weeks, months, in different libraries, hunting through card catalogues and microfiche and dusty old stacks of books, writing letters, making phonecalls...the internet opened up the world for me and what used to take three months now takes about 10 minutes. But I'm always conscious that there might be a reader out there who’s an expert and they’ll take issue with what I've written and say, "No! That's not right at all!" So, as a result, I will research something until there is no room for error. One of the greatest accolades I've received recently came from a couple of my writing colleagues who were both absolutely convinced, on the basis of my Jason Davey Mysteries, that I have a background in music, and that I'd either managed a rock band or toured with one. I did take formal piano lessons and music theory for four years... but as for the rest.........
Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author who inspires you?
My favourite authors are Monica Dickens (who was Charles Dickens' great-grand-daughter), John Galsworthy (who wrote The Forsyte Saga) and John Le Carre (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and every other spy novel he's ever written). More recently I've been spending time with English singer Tommy Steele's autobiography, all three Call the Midwife books by Jennifer Worth (upon which the British tv series was based), Roadie: My Life On The Road With Coldplay by Matt McGinn (fascinating and extremely informative) and, believe it or not, The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit. I've seen the film a few times--it's one of my all-time favourites--but I don't remember ever reading the book, which was written for children. It's absolutely charming.
I'd have to say that Monica Dickens is the author who inspired me from a very early age. She was like me--she worked for a living, but she managed to create fiction from all of her work-life experiences. The novel that made the biggest impression on me was The Listeners, which was about the early days of The Samaritans, the original telephone help line for people in emotional distress.
Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
There were a few, actually. One was a high school Lit teacher, Sam Robinson. He recognized that I wanted to be a writer when I was 14 or 15 and actively encouraged me. This was back in the days when writers tended to succeed in spite of what we were taught in school, rather than because of it. There was very little creative in the curriculum back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was lucky that I went to a very progressive high school. Another was my Grade 12 Lit teacher, Mr. Williamson--I never did know his first name!--who actually let me write a novel for my major class project--and gave me an A+ for it when I handed it in.
Later on, when I was at university working on my BA in English, one of my instructors was Canadian writer Ken Mitchell. He taught me the basics of fiction and I'm still using a lot of his early wisdom. I also remember his favourite pet peeve: "There is no such word as gotten!"
NOTES ON A MISSING G-STRING
The first time we met Jason Davey, he was entertaining passengers aboard the Alaska cruise ship Star Sapphire, Eight ‘til Late in the TopDeck Lounge.
Then he came ashore, got a gig playing lead guitar at London’s Blue Devil jazz club, and gained a certain amount of notoriety tracking down missing musician Ben Quigley in the Canadian north.
Now Jason’s back again, this time investigating the theft of £10,000 from a dancer’s locker at a Soho gentlemen’s club. Jason initially considers the case unsolvable. But the victim, Holly Medford, owes a lot of money to London crime boss Arthur Braskey and, fearing for her life, has gone into hiding at a posh London hotel.
Jason’s investigation takes him from Cha-Cha’s and Satin & Silk (two Soho lapdancing clubs) to Moonlight Desires (an agency featuring high class escorts) and finally to a charity firewalking event, where he comes face to face with Braskey and discovers not everything Holly’s been telling him is the complete truth.
As he becomes increasingly drawn into the seamy underside of Soho, Jason tries to save Gracie, his band-mate’s 14-year-old runaway daughter, from Holly’s brother Radu, a ruthless pimp, while at the same time protecting Holly herself from a vengeful Braskey – nearly losing his life, and Gracie’s – in the process.
In 1974, top UK band Figgis Green was riding high in the charts with their blend of traditional Celtic ballads mixed with catchy, folky pop. One of their biggest fans was sixteen-year old Pippa Gladstone, who mysteriously vanished while she was on holiday with her parents in Spain in March that same year.
Now it's 2018, and founding member Mandy Green has reunited the Figs for their last-ever Lost Time Tour. Her partner, Tony Figgis, passed away in 1995, so his place has been taken by their son, professional jazz guitarist (and amateur sleuth) Jason Davey.
As the band meets in a small village on the south coast of England for pre-tour rehearsals, Jason's approached by Duncan Stopher, a diehard Figs fan, who brings him a photo of the band performing at the Wiltshire Folk Festival. Standing in the foreground is Pippa Gladstone. The only problem is the Wiltshire Folk Festival was held in August 1974, five months after Pippa disappeared. Duncan offers Jason a substantial sum of money to try and find out what really happened to the young woman, whose mother had her declared officially dead in 1981.
When Duncan is murdered, it becomes increasingly clear to Jason that his investigation into Pippa's disappearance is not welcome, especially after he follows a series of clues which lead him straight back to the girl's immediate family.
But nothing can prepare Jason for the truth about Pippa, which he discovers just as Figgis Green is about to take to the stage on opening night—with or without him.