Murder mystery writer Amanda Taylor stumbled upon her latest plot purely by chance, she tells Jenny Needham

Amanda Taylor believes she was destined to write about crime, and no wonder. “The first house we lived in was near the site of the discovery of a woman’s head in a hedge,” she says. “My father – a crime reporter – saw the For Sale sign when he was covering the case and thought, that’s the place to start family life!”

Writing is definitely in the genes. Both her parents were journalists and Amanda was formulating plots and putting pen to paper from a young age.

Today, novelist Amanda writes murder mysteries in a small room overlooking a grouse moor between Wharfedale and Nidderdale. Her only distractions are an abundance of wild birds and the call of the grouse. It’s a rustic scene, tranquil even, and full of history.

“Burnt Moor is an extremely ancient moor, once heavily wooded,” says Amanda. “I believe its name derives from charcoal-burning used in kilns for smelting iron ore. Small cottage iron industries were common in this area, certainly during the medieval period and possibly going back to the Iron Age itself.”

It is here that she penned her latest book, Aram, based on a true murder mystery that has fascinated her for most of her life. She first came across the name “Aram” when she was looking up the Yorke Arms, at Ramsgill, in Leeds Reference Library. She understood one of her family names was Ramsgill and her interest was piqued: could this coat-of-arms be connected to her?

“But far from any fine aristocratic heritage, it turned out my ancestor’s name had been Ramskill and he was a Pontefract miner,” she laughs. “I soon got over the disappointment of choking on my silver spoon, and with all the adaptability of the noble working class, I realised I had found something greater. I had stumbled on Eugene Aram.”

His story, which took place 300 years ago in Yorkshire, is one of murder, fraud, religious bigotry and incest, a gift for an author in search of a plot. “While researching Aram, I could almost hear the conspirators hatching their fraudulent plot in the alehouses and down the alleyways of 18th Century Knaresborough,” says Amanda. “What exactly did happen when a young shoemaker, and a historically ignored travelling Jewish servant-boy, simply vanished into a snowy northern night?”

With the help of extensive research and a lot of luck, she set about doing her very best to solve a cracking puzzle that has intrigued not only Amanda, but generations.

Amanda has always had a passion for history. Educated at the City High School, Leeds, her first published magazine piece was written when she was about 13 and appeared in The Dalesman magazine. It was about the Battle of Towton during the War of the Roses. “Towton was one of the bloodiest battles in English history – a strange story for a young girl to write about, but then I was never one for the mould,” says Amanda. “I started writing mystery stories from the age of eight or nine, and although my stories showed imagination, my dyslexia was often the cause of friendly amusement, especially when I decided to produce my own newspaper for the village charging a penny per issue. ‘Make the beast of yourself’ and ‘Don’t go in the sea if it’s cold coming out’ were some of my more memorable lines.”

It didn’t hold her back, though. In her late teens, she went on to win a national poetry prize run by Coca Cola – “Far from blood and gore, I seem to remember it had something to do with ecology and oranges running down hills” – and had quite a few historical articles published in magazines.

Despite getting a London literary agent, Amanda tired of being the “nearly girl” with top publishing houses, so in 2009, she self-published a novel which turned out to be a critical success, before being signed up by Jeremy Mills, who produced her recent Cairn Mystery Trilogy. The first, Dangerous Waves, is a traditional murder mystery set in Staithes in the Victorian era; the second, Mortimer Blakely is Missing, is a murder mystery with serious political undertones which confronts the early rise of nationalism (later to be called fascism); the third novel, The Vigil of Rain, is an Edwardian whodunnit that takes place in the Yorkshire Wolds. “It should keep readers guessing until the final pages,” says Amanda.

As well as crime and writing, Amanda’s other passion is sport. An early turn as a dancer, faltered. “Much to the chagrin of my mother – who was a dancer – Who’s-Bumping-at-the-Back Amanda's attempts to master ballet lessons were a total failure,” she says. “Perhaps I did eventually gain a little more grace, balance at least, on the squash court although mine was a power game for nine years playing for Yorkshire and going on to come third in the National Club Championships.”

Her real love, however, has always been water. “I swam from an early age and I think it was compensation for the educational problems I had with dyslexia.” She was the youngest child in West Yorkshire to get an advanced swim certificate and as a junior swam competitively in Leeds, but she was always much better at the longer distances. During the summer holidays, she worked as a lifeguard at an open air pool in Leeds, where she first met husband Paul.

Later, the couple joined the British Long Distance Swimming Association and are still members. One of Amanda’s favourite swims has always been Coniston Water in the Lake District. “During the first few miles, I might think out my plots, or think of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons on Peel Island, or Ruskin’s old home, Brantwood, down the lake near the finish. But as time goes on you just become a giant lung without thought—a trance-like state takes over,” she says. “Not to everyone’s taste, I know, but at the end of a swim the physical tone and exhilaration you feel is wonderful.”

In 1990, the couple were spotted at Ilkley Lido, where they train, and were invited to take part in a relay swim of the English Channel. “The Channel is something else again,” says Amanda.

"The rest is history. Well, not quite… there are the memories left of the quarter mile long tankers for which you had to tread water; the feeling of sensory deprivation in an ocean where you can see nothing but the fishing boat you are totally dependent on as if joined by an umbilical cord; the open toilet bucket on deck which you have no qualms in using because this is survival; the struggle to get into the French shore because the tide has turned; the Sangatte locals who rushed down the dunes, and loved it when our team shouted “Vive la France”, and invited us for showers and food, but we could not stop because a storm was brewing out there in the Channel and we had no passports.”

It all sounds like the perfect setting for a murder mystery… You could easily lose a body or two in there somewhere.

Amanda Taylor is signing copies of Aram at Guisborough Bookshop on June 17 between 11am and 1pm. Paperback £7.99, ebooks £4.99, limited availability hardbacks £12.50.