From IP practitioner to murder mystery author: Roz Watkins and "The Devil's Dice" (a pity about that patent attorney in the opening scene)

This Kat has long dreamed of writing a mystery novel, but IP seems to have always gotten in the way. Not so for one-time patent attorney Roz Watkins. Having studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and later working as a partner at a firm of
 patent attorneys in Derby, Watkins decided to leave the patent profession, ultimately in favor of becoming a writer of mystery novels. On March 8th, her first book, “The Devil’s Dice,” was published by the well-known publisher, HarperCollins. 

The book (to be published in German in 2019 and with a television option by ITV Studios) is intended to be the first of a series featuring Detective Inspector (DI) Meg Dalton. Reviews, including by the Sunday Times, have been uniformly enthusiastic. This Kat takes the opportunity to offer his thoughts about the book as well as to share with Kat readers an interview with the author, as she tells her story of moving from patents to fictional murder. 

Kat Review

This Kat has just finished, to his great reading pleasure, “The Devil’s Dice”. It is difficult to believe that it is Roz Watkins’ first published mystery novel. The plot is intricate but coherent, replete with the many surprises and twists that mark a quality mystery novel. No loose ends are left dangling, the bane of too many mystery stories. Watkins has an elegant writing style together with a sardonic wit, with full-bodied descriptions of persons, places and events, so much so that the reader feels as if he or she is on site as the story unfolds. And to boot, already in the first pages of “The Devil’s Dice”, a patent attorney meets his untimely end in an eerie cave with an overlay of a possible decades-long curse. What could be a more auspicious way to begin. [Later discussions by the victim’s surviving patent partners about how to fabricate prior art is an entertaining interlude.]

For a novel of this type to succeed, it must offer the reader a compelling main character, someone whom you wish to encounter again soon (think Adam DalglieshJohn Rebus, or Bernie Gunther, whose creator, Phillip Kerr, tragically passed away on March 23rd). DI Meg Dalton has all the makings of such a character. She is at once resourceful, doggedly determined, and intelligent, but with a vulnerable personality extending over multiple dimensions. The reader feels her joy and shares her pain. Most of all, the reader wants to read more about her in the books to come.

Against this backdrop, IPKat was pleased to have the opportunity to conduct a written interview with the author, Roz Watkins, as follows.

Question 1: The first question must be: how did you decide to switch from being a patent attorney to an author of mystery books?

I enjoyed my time as a patent attorney but there were always so many things I was fascinated by, and that I never had the time or energy to explore. It sounds like a huge cliché and possibly a mid-life crisis, but I came to the difficult decision that, having only one life, I would make time to follow my interests.

I’d always wanted to write, but I had never really considered it as a career. After I left my patent job, I went on a learning frenzy, studying everything from psychology to animal training. I also bought two holiday cottages with my partner and we renovated and rented these out. When I was bashing out concrete mortar that should never have been used on original stone walls, and dealing with recalcitrant builders, I found my mind turning to murder… And I kept coming back to my long-held dream of writing a novel.

Everyone had told me it was practically impossible to get published by a mainstream press, but if you had a little talent and enthusiasm, surely this was a learnable skill? I decided I’d give it a go. I would try to learn how to write a publishable novel, by reading books on writing and studying published novels. I expected this to take at least five years, but I actually got a publishing deal within two years of starting. 

Question 2: How much has your science training at Cambridge and your work as a patent attorney helped you in your writing?

I think I approached the task of getting published quite strategically (see above). Many writers advise aspiring authors to write from the heart and keep persisting, assuring them that eventually they’ll write something that somebody wants to publish. This can happen, but many writers produce several books before getting published. I wondered if there was a quicker way!

Of course, you do have to write from the heart, and I include subjects in my books that fascinate or even anger me because that keeps me going when things get tough. But your technique can’t necessarily come from the heart – it probably has to be learned. (Unless you’re capable of writing an astoundingly original work of genius, which I decided I wasn’t.)

Question 3—You have mentioned how you developed your writing skills, at least in part, via an on-line course for aspiring authors. Could you share more about this experience and this ecosystem. 

I didn’t do an online course as such, but I joined a website called Scribophile, where writers critique each other. I learned a huge amount from reading and analysing other people’s writing, and I put my whole first book through the process, so each chapter had been read and commented on by several people. I also made friends on this course who later read my second book and gave me feedback on that. (I didn’t have time to put the second book through the whole process because I was on a deadline by then.) 

The internet has made so many things possible. I hunted out websites by literary agents and published authors, and I subjected myself to potential humiliation on websites devoted to first pages or synopses or agent submissions. And by joining Kindle Unlimited, I could read numerous books on writing craft for very little outlay. 

Question 4—What did you find the easiest and most difficult parts of writing “The Devil’s Dice”?

I love coming up with ideas, and I also love editing and fine tuning, so in that respect I’m lucky. Actually sitting down and writing the words is hard work, like drafting a patent specification. But the most challenging thing was trying to get the police procedure right. And that doesn’t necessarily mean completely accurate. 

My agent tells me drama always trumps realism, and of course you only have to watch an episode of Midsomer Murders to see that this is true. However, it pains me (and maybe this is my patent attorney nature) to get the facts wrong. So I had many long conversations into the night with a detective and Scenes of Crime office (over a drink or two). I try to add authentic details whilst accepting that my overall murder investigation process is inaccurate, because in reality it would involve hundreds of people sitting at computers scouring number plate data! 

Question 5— “The Devil’s Dice” is set in the Peak District in England, where you live, and includes patent attorneys, both dead and alive, as characters. Do you anticipate that your next books will also rely on settings and circumstances of which you are familiar? 

I threw my entire life into book 1! When I was writing, even though I wanted to get published, I never quite imagined it happening and I certainly didn’t envisage getting a three-book deal, so I didn’t worry about keeping anything back for future books. The setting of books 2 and 3 is still the Peak District, but the other aspects are not so familiar.

I obviously used and abused patent attorneys in "The Devil’s Dice", and it also has a lot of doctors. My mum was a doctor, so I knew about that job too. In book 2, the victim is a social worker, and my dad worked in that field, so I had a head start. My brother was a pilot so there may be some scope there. Book 3 is set in an abattoir, but I’m happy to report that none of my family have ever been involved in that profession, so I’m having to conduct some rather gruesome research. 

Question 6 —Are there mystery writers that you would consider models, or at least literary inspirations, for your own writing?

I love the way Sophie HannahTana FrenchLionel Shriver, and Kate Atkinson write. In terms of plot, Agatha Christie was incredible. As a child, I was a huge fan of the literary giants that are Enid Blyton and Dick Francis – you can learn a lot from them. 

Question 7—Can you give us any hints about the next two books in the series? At the least, will there be any more unfortunate events involving IP lawyers?

I’m so sorry to disappoint, but in books 2 and 3 there are no dead patent attorneys or unfortunate events of any nature involving IP. Possibly in book 4....

In book 2, out in March 2019, a ten-year-old girl is found running through the woods, barefoot and wearing only a blood-soaked nightdress. She has no memory of what happened to her, but her father is found stabbed to death in their nearby house. At first, DI Meg Dalton blames an intruder, but why had the girl's murdered father been so obsessed with the creepy statues in the woods, and with the girl's recent heart transplant?

In book 3, a young woman disappears from a night shift in an abattoir. He car is still there, but there is no sign of her. Disturbingly, a group of pigs kept overnight in the abattoir refuse their breakfast, and blood is found in their trough. Analysis of the blood shows... well, you’ve have to read the book to find out!

By Neil Wilkof 

Picture on lower right by PookieFugglestein, who has dedicated it to the public domain. 
From IP practitioner to murder mystery author: Roz Watkins and "The Devil's Dice" (a pity about that patent attorney in the opening scene) From IP practitioner to murder mystery author: Roz Watkins and "The Devil's Dice" (a pity about that patent attorney in the opening scene) Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. Science training at Cambridge must have been more valuable than science training at any other institution? Apart from Oxford, of course, subject to jolly inter-Uni rivalry.

    Personally speaking, my science training would be more appropriately described as science self-learning, which is what makes me a scientist. An assumption, or presumption, may be made regarding the University I attended. I wouldn't assume anything, or presume too much, however.

    The legal profession is protectionist in its old boys and girls club attitudes. Self-labelling as "Oxbridge" to define who you are is valuable for career advancement, so is to be recommended to the individual. It is the short-sightedness of the professions that applies too simplistic a CV-filter and is blind to the alternatives, that causes a lack of diversity and social progress.


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