The Darling of Detectives

Mag North gets the scoop from retired journalist Lesley Tither, who created a successful Mancunian crime series from her rural French Home.
April 6, 2022

Detective Inspector Ted Darling is a Stockport policeman, the popular creation of writer L.M.Krier, and star of no fewer than 18 punchy and realistic crime novels, with book number 19 in the offing. The stories are strong on local flavour and local character; the locations are recognisable, the crime scenes very typically South Mancunian. But all this fiction is created far away in a remote cottage in the rural Auvergne where the writer– real name Lesley Tither – has lived for the last 15 years. How does her imagination stretch from rural France to such a different world? Mag North asked Lesley to tell the story herself.

I’m sitting at my writing desk in Central France, watching a vivid sunset over a chain of more than 80 volcanoes. Not all of them extinct. But in my mind’s eye, I’m staring at a distinctive 22-arch redbrick viaduct and plotting murder most foul in its shadow.

That’s because, although I thought I’d hung up my pen (computer, actually, these days) when I retired from journalism and freelance copywriting, to my own great surprise, I found myself embarking on a new career nearly eight years ago as a writer of crime fiction. And the reason for such a sea change is so cheesy, you know it must be true. Because it all started with a dream.

Like most journalists, I’ve always written. I made my first proper sale when I was sixteen. A storyline for a TV western series, bought for a decent sum of money by a film studio in California. So decent, in fact, that my newspaper editor father (Stockport Advertiser, later Wilmslow Advertiser) complained it was more than he’d ever received for a single piece of writing throughout his career. Not bad at all, considering that much of it was written on the sly during geography lessons at school.

The reason why I’m writing this from Central France is that in 2007, is that having had bad experiences with our mother in the UK care system, my brother and I decided to make a new start for us all in French. Inevitably, I wrote a book about the experience. It was certainly different from the average story of husband, wife and two point four children moving to France. My mother was 89 and had vascular dementia, and my brother was a bi-polar alcoholic. Both are since deceased.

The book was called Sell the Pig, under one of my pen-names, Tottie Limejuice. Yes, honestly. Readers liked it and asked for more, so I promised them a trilogy. The trilogy morphed into six books – maths was never my strong point – but I never consciously decided to write fiction. Until the night of the famous dream.

I have a good friend in Italy. She’s originally from Yorkshire so is very blunt. As I write each chapter, I send it to her for feedback. I don’t get praise – not from a Tyke – but I get firmly told if she thinks it’s ‘shite’

I was born in Nantwich but moved to Stockport when I was tiny so regard it fondly as my hometown. The dream was like a full-length crime fiction book or TV drama, complete with characters, plot line, twists and everything required. Unsurprisingly, it was all happening in Stockport. At least, the Stockport of my youth, which was very different to how it is now. The old police station is now posh flats, for example.

Crime fiction is my preferred genre to read and to watch on TV and I had become somewhat jaded with the old trope of the Gene Hunt, Life on Mars, type of copper. Foul-mouthed, rule-breaking, hard-drinking, free with his fists, usually divorced or heading that way. The senior officer of my dream broke the mould completely and was intriguing because of that.

I woke the following morning with all of it still fresh in my mind, so I thought I’d type it up, to see where it would lead me. I had just collected a new rescue dog, Rosie, who was very nervous. So much so that I couldn’t yet get a lead on her. My garden is securely fenced so I simply let her out with my other dog, Fleur, and let them get to know one another while I cranked up the computer.

The first chapter flowed. I was seeing old familiar landscapes from my youth. My lead character, Detective Inspector Ted Darling, pretty much created himself and seemed to be very much in charge. I had him living in Offerton, where I grew up, so I could use familiar locations. He’s in along-relationship with his partner, Trevor, and they have a family of seven cats.

I have a particular routine when writing my own stuff. I have a good friend in Italy. She’s originally from Yorkshire so is very blunt. As I write each chapter, I send it to her for feedback. I don’t get praise – not from a Tyke – but I get firmly told if she thinks it’s ‘shite’. On this occasion I got ‘I want more’, which is her highest praise setting.

So I wrote more. I finished the book then decided to self-publish, rather than go the mainstream route and risk having a publisher change everything about Ted Darling which makes him unique. I launched him on the unsuspecting public and got some great feedback and demands for more. I kept writing. I even wrote a prequel as I was constantly asked by readers about Ted’s earlier life. There are now 18 books in the series, and draft ideas for the next one are well under way.

Through the course of the series I’ve acquired some terrific help in the form of Team Ted Darling, the essential second eyes who bring specialist knowledge I don’t possess to help keep it realistic. Karen is a retired Greater Manchester Police Officer. Hilary is my eyes on the Stockport ground, going out with her camera to check sites for body dumping, or killing grounds.

I’m a proud sponsor of Stockport Pride with the series, and was able to attend the event in 2019 on my first visit back to dear old Stockport since 2007. I’m also booked to give a series of talks to various different groups there in October at the recently opened French bistro in Underbank.

The ultimate dream, of course, is to see Ted on TV, especially as Stockport seems to be in favour to use as a location for various dramas, notably, of late, The Stranger and Peaky Blinders.

The Stockport I write about isn’t completely accurate. I still tend to base the nick in its old Lee Street location, and I picked the name The Grapes for the coppers’ local, although the real one is nowhere near the old station. I chose the name because my brother and I used to go to The Old Grapes in Manchester, round the corner from Granada Studios, to see what newsreaders or characters from Coronation Street would appear there.

I use well-known Stockport landmarks like the viaduct, the market square, the old cotton mills for the book covers and use actual photos which a friend takes for me, to keep the authentic local feel.

Stockport is currently twinned with the town of Beziers in southern France, so perhaps my next speaking engagement over here might be at their library. Meanwhile teetotal Ted will continue drinking his Gunners at the non-existent Grapes pub round the corner from the long defunct Stockport Police Station in Lee Street.

Lesley Krier Tither grew up in Stockport where she attended Stockport High School before studying journalism at Harris College, Preston. She began her career in journalism with the Bolton Evening News Group, based at Urmston. She later became a freelance copywriter/copy editor.

She now lives in the Auvergne region of Central France with her two rescued border collies, Fleur and Rosie. Her interests include walking and camping with her dogs and she’s often to be found sleeping out under the stars in unexpected places.

She writes crime fiction, the Ted Darling Crime Series, as L M Krier, travel memoirs, the Sell the Pig series, as Tottie Limejuice, and is currently working with a friend on a project to produce a French/English version of her book for all ages, The Dog with the Golden Eyes, written as L M Kay, to help learners of either language.