Interview with author Julia Chapman whose latest book in her Dales Detective series is published this Spring

It was while running a small auberge in the French Pyrenees with her husband that author Julia Chapman wrote her first novel, but writing had been a passion for her long before then.

The Settle-based writer’s ninth book in her Dales Detective series of novels, Date with Justice, is scheduled for publication in early April and she is already working on the tenth. The novels, which are charming, expertly-crafted whodunnits all set in the Yorkshire Dales in and around the fictional town of Bruncliffe, have deservedly attracted a huge following of loyal readers. Since the series launched back in 2017, Chapman has published roughly a book a year, which is quite a prolific output.

“It is such a joy writing them, it is work but it often doesn’t feel like it,” says Chapman. “I absolutely love what I do and I have been really lucky. I grew up in a family and an economic situation where being an author just wasn’t something that was considered possible. Trying to get published wasn’t a risk I could afford. But I come from an extended family of Irish heritage who were all storytellers and our house was always full of books from the library or second-hand ones my parents had bought. My father was a natural storyteller so I picked up the way to tell a story and how to construct a narrative. By the time I was 11 I knew I wanted to be a writer but I ended up doing a degree in English and then teaching English as a foreign language which allowed me to fulfill my creativity in a different way. But the urge to write was always there in the background.”

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Her writing career began in earnest in 2011. Having settled in France, learnt French, got the auberge established and up and running, she found some time in the off-season to work on what became a series of novels known as The Fogas Chronicles. She had actually by that time already completed the manuscript for a novel set in Japan which she had sent out to publishers. There was some interest from one publisher but they required a substantial rewrite. “I just couldn’t face rewriting it and then I looked around me and thought ‘I could write about this’,” she says. “I planned the series and wrote the first two books which were about a British couple who bought an auberge in a small town in the French Pyrenees and how the community responded to that. The books were taken up by Hodder and sold really well around the world, apart from in France – but they love the Dales series, it is very popular there.”

Author Julia Chapman whose latest novel in her Dales Detective series, Date with Justice, is published in April.Author Julia Chapman whose latest novel in her Dales Detective series, Date with Justice, is published in April.
Author Julia Chapman whose latest novel in her Dales Detective series, Date with Justice, is published in April.

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The inspiration for the Dales Detective novels came when Chapman and her husband moved back to the UK and settled in the Yorkshire Dales. It was at this point that she decided to make the switch to what is known as ‘cosy crime’, although Chapman prefers the phrase ‘crime without the grime’. “The Fogas Chronicles had some crime elements which I always enjoyed writing and I like the crime genre as a reader,” she says. “Originally, I was planning something much darker and set in a city but then while I was out running – which is when I do most of my thinking about my writing, it is definitely part of my creative process – I kept being interrupted by a curlew or a lark or a crocus and it made me think that I would set something here and make it softer and not so dark. I find it so inspiring here.”

The books very quickly took off, with sales in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Estonia and America, and in France, of course. “France is the only place where I can say I outsell Richard Osman,” says Chapman, laughing. “They call me ‘la Reine de cosy’.” In fact, the TV rights were sold there, bought by the production company that made Call My Agent with the stories and setting relocated to Brittany. “It was first broadcast on French 3, their equivalent of Channel 5, and it got 4.1 million viewers. It has been a phenomenal success.” The TV rights have also been optioned here in the UK by Saffron Cherry, the production company that makes The Madame Blanc Mysteries, who have been putting it out for commission. “These things can take a while, but fingers crossed something might happen,” says Chapman.

In the meantime, she is looking forward to the launch of Date with Justice. “I’ll be doing lots of publicity, visiting independent bookshops around Yorkshire which I love doing,” she says. “It is such a joy to meet and talk to readers, otherwise I’m just spending time with the characters in my head.”

Date with Justice is published by Pan Macmillan on April 4.