I am delighted to welcome to my blog this week Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of the Forensic Genealogist series of mysteries.
I am not very keen on television programmes that feature ‘celebrities’ but the one I make an exception for is Who Do You Think You Are? where a series of experts help celebrities to trace their family trees and discover their ancestors. (Although I think the programme would work equally as well, if not better, with non-celebrities).
So I was intrigued and delighted when I came across Nathan’s book, Hiding the Past, which had the words ‘A Morton Farrier Forensic Genealogist story’ above the title. What, I wondered, was a Forensic Genealogist? So I read the book to find out.
There are currently eight books in the series and I have stormed through every single one, one straight after the other. I just couldn’t stop reading them! And it was not helped by the fact that at the end of each book there was the opening chapters of the next one!
I loved the mixture of history, mystery and the gradual unravelling of Morton’s own less than straightforward family history so I got in touch with him and asked if he would agree to do an interview for my column in Writers’ Forum and for this blog.
Welcome to my blog, Nathan, and, first of all, thank you for the many hours of reading pleasure you having given me through your Morton Farrier series. I have just finished the eighth in the series, The Sterling Affair, and am eagerly looking forward to the next one. So, how did you come up with the idea in the first place?
Whilst undertaking an MA in Creative Writing at Canterbury Christ Church University, I began writing a story featuring a genealogist who tries to solve a crime in the past using genealogy, a kind of ‘Who Do you Think You Are?’ spin on the traditional detective genre.
The story eventually became Hiding the Past, the first book in what has turned into an ongoing series with Morton Farrier as the main protagonist. Each book is partly set in the modern day and partly set during a different period in history where the crime has occurred. Morton is himself adopted and, whilst trying to solve the crimes (often getting himself into precarious situations during the course of his investigations), strives to discover the identity of his biological parents.
It’s a great idea and I have really enjoyed following Morton’s journey. How would you describe the genre in which you write?
My books sit within the growing niche genre of genealogical crime mysteries, a hybrid of crime, mystery and, oftentimes, historical fiction. When I started writing, there were very few books within this genre, but it is wonderful to see it flourishing with a variety of fantastic authors. It was only during the latter stages of writing the first book, Hiding the Past, that I realised that it had the potential to become a series. It was so well received that I decided to carry on. I’m still going!
I’m delighted to hear it. Your most recent book is The Sterling Affair. I really enjoyed all the twists and turns in this one.
The Sterling Affair – The Blurb.
When an unannounced stranger comes calling at Morton Farrier’s front door, he finds himself faced with the most intriguing and confounding case of his career to-date as a forensic genealogist. He agrees to accept the contract to identify a man who had been secretly living under the name of his new client’s long-deceased brother. Morton must use his range of resources and research skills to help him deconstruct this mysterious man’s life, ultimately leading him back into the murky world of 1950s international affairs of state. Meanwhile, Morton is faced with his own alarmingly close DNA match which itself comes with far-reaching implications for the Farriers.
I enjoy reading the notes at the end of each book where you detail the research that went into each one. What inspires you most when you’re deciding what to write? Is it characters? Settings? A particular moment in history?
I’m most inspired by the nugget of a story—usually with factual elements—that I think I can weave into a fiction story. I just love the moment when the idea takes on a life of its own. For example, with my last book, The Sterling Affair, that moment occurred when I received an email from The National Archives announcing the release of new, previously classified MI5 and MI6 records. Having taken a cursory view online, and then a much more in-depth look at the actual documents held by TNA at their repository in Kew, London, I began to work on a story about a spy network operating in the 1950s. Ideas for characters and settings then begin to form and take shape out of such research that I undertake.
That’s fascinating. And how did you writing journey start?
I’ve always loved writing but never thought that it was something that I could do as a career, until I had my first non-fiction book, Hastings at War, published. It was followed up with three further local history books, which led me to want to explore fiction writing in the form of an MA in Creative Writing.
It was during this course that I first came up with the idea for the Forensic Genealogist series, featuring Morton Farrier as the eponymous character who has to solve a crime in the past using genealogy. The first book, Hiding the Past, turned into a series and since 2015 I have been a fulltime writer.
And what about your future plans? More Forensic Genealogist books, I hope!
I have ideas for several more books in the Forensic Genealogist series, plus others for another series that I have started with The Chester Creek Murders, which was released in January 2021 and is about the use of investigative genetic genealogy to solve cold cases in the U.S. My notes file for future writing projects is huge.
Great. That sounds fascinating. I look forward to that. Finally, tell us three things that we may not know about you.
1. Long before commercial testing was available, I was DNA tested by the U.S Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in a project they were running to identify the ‘Unknown Child’ who had drowned onboard the Titanic. He was successfully identified as Sidney Leslie Goodwin.
2. I collect bowler hats and eagerly await the day that they come back into fashion so I can actually wear them.
3. Before I became a writer I had a range of glamorous jobs, including working in a chocolate factory
eating packaging chocolate buttons, fruit-packing, a gardener’s assistant, fishmonger, delicatessen worker, drama technician and, most recently, a primary school teacher.
Thank you so much, Nathan, for a fascinating interview – and I look forward to the return of the bowler hat.
Nathan Dylan Goodwin is a writer, genealogist and educator. He was born and raised in Hastings, East Sussex. Schooled in the town, he then completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Radio, Film and Television Studies, followed by a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing at Canterbury Christ Church University. A member of the Society of Authors, he has completed a number of local history books about Hastings, as well as several works of fiction, including the acclaimed Forensic Genealogist series. His other interests include theatre, reading, photography, running, skiing, travelling and, of course, genealogy. He is a qualified teacher, member of the Guild of One-Name Studies and the Society of Genealogists, as well as being a member of the Sussex Family History Group, the Norfolk Family History Society and the Kent Family History Society. He lives in Kent with his husband, son, dog and chickens.
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