From dry science papers to murder mysteries
Colin Duerden has always been fascinated by crime.
As a child he loved his father Floyd “Happy” Duerden's stories of policing Bermuda in the 1940s and 1950s.
He thought of becoming a police officer himself, at one point, but his father said “no way!”.
“I think he saw things in policing that he didn't want me to be involved in,” said Dr Duerden. “He wanted me to leave Bermuda and get a university education.”
Dr Duerden became a biological oceanographer, but never lost his old interest. Today, he lives out his childhood fantasies by writing crime stories in his spare time.
His first novel Bloodwater hits Bermuda shelves this week.
“It is a suspense mystery thriller set in 1980s Bermuda,” Dr Duerden said. “It involves a series of grisly murders of women connected to a fancy hotel in Bermuda.”
The main character, Richard Standson, is a special investigator for Bermuda's special services branch (which doesn't exist in real life).
“Bloodwater isn't based on any particular crime, but it was influenced by my father's old stories,” he said.
Dr Duerden said he has often felt a little disappointed by other thrillers set in Bermuda.
“They tend to only scratch the surface,” he said. “I wanted to go beyond that. Then there are the other ones where Bermuda is always depicted as a fairyland. I love Bermuda, but I love the real Bermuda.”
He said his career as an oceanographer is stamped all over the book.
“A lot of it deals with events that take place in on or under the water,” he said.
He has lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada since the late 1960s and co-runs Duerden and Keane Environmental Inc. The company does environmental work around the world, including Bermuda.
“We have been the environmental consultants for Belco since 1999,” he said.
He started writing while a student at the Berkeley Institute.
“I got a wonderful grounding in writing there,” he said. “We had to take three different writing classes there.”
But as an adult he only had the chance to write the occasional dry scientific paper.
In 2001, longing to try something creative again, he wrote Bloodwater, initially as a short story. Bloodwater, and another short story, Blame it on the Durango Kid, won awards in Atlantic Canada's Annual Writing Competition.
Encouraged, he decided to expand Bloodwater.
“I wanted to see if I had the stamina to write a whole novel,” he said. “When it was finished I showed it to a few friends and they said it was really good and I should get it published.”
Dr Duerden was thrilled when Bloodwater was accepted by a publisher, but his joy was short-lived. Not long after he signed a contract, the publishing company changed hands, and the new owners only published non-fiction.
“They let me keep the advance I got from it, but I had to let the contract go,” he said. “I was very disappointed.”
He put the manuscript away in a drawer, but didn't stop writing.
Fifteen years later, he found himself with writer's block, in the middle of penning an eco-thriller.
“I couldn't face draft three again right away,” he said. “I knew I could do better. I unearthed the manuscript of the first novel that I'd written. I resurrected Bloodwater, made some significant changes and went looking for a publisher.
“I read a story in The Royal Gazette where an author had just published with Moonshine Cove Publishing in the United States. I researched them thoroughly, and went with them.”
One might think a book about grisly murders would dissuade people from visiting Bermuda, but Dr Duerden said not so.
Several of his early Canadian readers told him they loved the book's setting so much they now want to visit Bermuda.
“So I'm doing my part for tourism,” he laughed.
Dr Duerden will be signing books at Brown & Company on Saturday between 12pm and 2pm.
He admitted he was a little nervous about sharing the book with Bermuda.
“It's the fine balance between the desire to be understood and the terror of exposure,” he said. “I want people to read the book. I want people to say it is terrific. I want Bermudians to be proud of it. I am looking forward to the signing.”
He's expecting to publish his second thriller, Hardcore Waste, next year and is also working on Fried White Grunts, a collection of short stories about life in Bermuda.
Bloodwater is available at the Bookmart and the Bermuda Bookstore.
•For more information see colinduerden.weebly.com