An interview with… Jane Bettany

For this month’s issue of Writers’ Forum #249 30 Nov 2022 I interviewed Jane Bettany about the research she does into murder and forensics when she has no police background.

Although Jane enjoys reading crime novels and watching TV police dramas she is not an ex police officer, nor has she worked in the legal profession To write her crime novels with no career background or experience to draw on, and no friends in the police force, she had to rely heavily on research.

Her debut novel In Cold Blood won the Gransnet and HQ novel writing competition in 2019. It features no-nonsense, 56-year-old Derbyshire detective, DI Isabel Blood, who is called to investigate the discovery of a body in the garden of her childhood home (the house in which she last saw her father four decades earlier). It the first in the DI Isabel Blood crime series. Book 2, Without a Trace, followed in 2021, and book 3, Last Seen Alive was published in the spring of 2022. She revealed over the course of her three books, she has learnt a lot about police procedures.

Before starting the research Jane will begin by making a note of what she needs to know. She told me that it’s easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed by researching too much information, so rather than taking a scattergun approach, she tries to be specific. To do this she creates a fictional scenario, and ask what facts she needs to check to make that scene authentic.

“I’ve found information online through websites such as, which is the national website for policing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The site has a section called Policing in the UK, where you can learn about crime investigations in action. There’s also a site called, which has frequently asked questions on topics such as road traffic offences, criminal damage, and court proceedings.”

Jane Bettany

Jane owns a large collection of reference books for crime writers. These include The Real CSI by Kate Bendelow, Criminal Poisoning by John Harris Trestrail, and Crime Writing: How to Write the Science by Brian Price. She also owns all of the Straightforward Guides by Stephen Wade and Stuart Gibbon. Jane explained the series co-author, Stuart Gibbon, is a former UK senior police detective. As well as writing books, he also offers a crime writing consultancy,, providing authors with information to help them write authentically about police procedures.

She now has a useful store of knowledge she can use for future books. Jane said one of the most significant things she discovered was police officers and detectives can’t just go around arresting people willy-nilly; there has to be sufficient evidence against a suspect to justify an arrest. A more likely scenario is a ‘person of interest’ will be asked to attend the police station voluntarily to be interviewed under caution. Anyone brought in for a ‘voluntary interview’ will be told in advance they aren’t under arrest, are free to leave at any time, and are entitled to have a solicitor present during the interview. Each of her books includes at least one ‘interview under caution’ scene.

Jane explained a real murder investigation can involve hundreds of people (detectives, uniformed officers, civilians, forensic teams, custody officers, profilers and so on). It would be impractical (and confusing for readers) to weave all of those characters into a novel. For dramatic and pacing purposes, it’s better to focus on a detective protagonist and his/her core officers. Whilst not strictly realistic, allowing a small team to solve the murder makes for much better reading.

Jane told me ensuring this authenticity has brought all sorts of research challenges. In the opening chapter of In Cold Blood, a skull is discovered. For the purposes of the story, it was important to quickly establish whether the skeleton (which hadn’t yet been fully unearthed by the CSI) was male or female. The only problem was, she knew next to nothing about human bones.

“I searched online for the difference between male and female skeletons. The results provided plenty of diagrams and information, including how to differentiate the sex of a skull based on the slope of the forehead, the prominence of the supraorbital ridges, and the shape of the eye sockets – information I was able to use in my novel.”

Jane Bettany

The setting for the DI Isabel Blood series is the fictional town of Bainbridge, which is based loosely on Belper, the Derbyshire town Jane grew up in. The reason she chose to fictionalise the location was to avoid having to adhere rigidly to the confines of a real place, which Jane found limiting. A fictional town allowed her narrative license and gave an opportunity to embellish the setting for dramatic purposes.

Although the main location of my books is fictional, her detectives travel to plenty of real places within Derbyshire and the East Midlands in the course of their investigations. In one book, there’s a scene where they drive through Matlock Bath – somewhere she has visited regularly all her life. Her first instinct was to mention only the obvious details of the place, but she decided to include some of the features of its topography to give a better feel for the location.

“To refresh my memory, I drove to Matlock Bath and walked its main street – but instead of concentrating on the things around me (the shops and cafes with which I was already familiar), I tried to take in the bigger picture. I gazed up at the hillside above the main parade of shops. I studied the flow of the river, and noticed the way the road followed its curve. I looked for the details the average tourist might miss.”

Jane Bettany

Crime writers are constantly on the lookout for new crime scenes, or mulling over innovative ways to investigate murder (and new ways to kill people!). Jane’s tip to writers planning to write a crime novel is to join one of the short criminology or forensic science courses on

If you search the site for ‘forensics’ or ‘crime’, you will find lots of courses on offer. Created by UK universities, these short courses can be joined for free with time limited access), or you can subscribe or buy a one-off course if you prefer. It’s a great way of learning online from academic experts. Who knows… one of these course might inspire your next crime novel?

You can find out more about Jane on her website and follow her on Twitter: @JaneBettany and Facebook: @JaneBettanyAuthor

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #249 30 Nov 2022 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

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