Two of my favourite historical fiction authors have jumped genre into the mystery and thriller world, and are storming the blogosphere on a joint book tour. I managed to catch up with Helen Hollick and Alison Morton long enough to find out more about their fabulous new books and the inspiration behind their writing. BTW, I have read both of their novels and *****Highly Recommend! Before we pour ourselves a cuppa and sit down for a chat, take a look at their new books:
HELEN HOLLICK – A MIRROR MURDER
The first in a new series of cosy mysteries set in the 1970s.
Will romance blossom between library assistant Jan Christopher and DC Laurie Walker – or will a brutal murder intervene?
Eighteen-year-old library assistant Jan Christopher’s life is to change on a rainy Friday evening in July 1971, when her legal guardian and uncle, DCI Toby Christopher, gives her a lift home after work. Driving the car, is her uncle’s new Detective Constable, Laurie Walker – and it is love at first sight for the young couple.
But romance is soon to take a back seat when a baby boy is taken from his pram, a naked man is scaring young ladies in nearby Epping Forest, and an elderly lady is found, brutally murdered…
Are the events related? How will they affect the staff and public of the local library where Jan works – and will a blossoming romance survive a police investigation into murder?
A Mirror Murder can be bought here:
ALISON MORTON – DOUBLE IDENTITY
Deeply in love, a chic Parisian lifestyle before her. Now she’s facing prison for murder.
It’s three days since Mel des Pittones threw in her job as an intelligence analyst with the French special forces to marry financial trader Gérard Rohlbert. But her dream turns to nightmare when she wakes to find him dead in bed beside her.
Her horror deepens when she’s accused of his murder. Met Police detective Jeff McCracken wants to pin Gérard’s death on her. Mel must track down the real killer, even if that means being forced to work with the obnoxious McCracken.
But as she unpicks her fiancé’s past, she discovers his shocking secret life. To get to the truth, she has to go undercover and finds almost everybody around her is hiding a second self. Mel can trust nobody. Can she uncover the real killer before they stop her?
A stunning new thriller from the author of the award-winning Roma Nova series, fans of Daniel Silva or and Stella Rimington will love Double Identity.
Double Identity can be bought here:
All ebooks and paperback retailers
Now let’s chat! Pour a cup of tea, help yourself to a crumpet, and tell me more, ladies!
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Helen: I don’t base any of my characters on real people, but I do ‘borrow’ mannerisms, speech patterns and such, and gather ideas, so real people are immensely valuable. There’s a saying that is often quoted for aspiring writers: ’Write what you know about’, it’s good advice, except, as I haven’t actually committed a murder (or for my other novels, sailed in a pirate ship or fought at the Battle of Hastings,) the knowledge about accurate detail is a little limited. However, I have based a few of my nasty characters, in A Mirror Murder and my other novels, on people who have either upset or annoyed me (with identities well disguised!) There’s another saying that makes me giggle: ‘Never annoy a writer – you might end up as the victim in the next novel!’
What about you, Alison? Have you based any characters on real people?
Alison: Forming a character is a complex business. I take a skeleton (not literally!), a basic type, and then flesh it out with physical characteristics, temperament, back history, emotions, conflicts, desires and ambitions. Then I pinch elements from different living people. I know who I’ve based them on, especially for the two main characters in Double Identity, Mel and McCracken, and also the tough but urbane Stevenson who heads the unit they end up working for, but no wild horses or even dragons would drag the names from me!
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Helen: Don’t laugh! Male clothing – eighteenth century breeches to be precise! I hit a problem when it came to mens’ breeches and er… calls of nature (or ‘pump ship’ as my Captain Jesamiah Acorne terms the need to pee!) I have seen finely made gentleman’s breeches of the period, where the buttons are placed and such, (no zippers in those days!) But how do you ask a chap, even if he is a solid re-enactment enthusiast: “Excuse me, could you show me how you urinate wearing those breeches?”
I rest my case.
How important is working with your editor or beta readers, and how would you describe your relationship?
Alison: I use a critique writing partner who I’ve worked with for over ten years. We know each other’s’ style and ways of working very well now. She writes historical sagas; I write thrillers. But as you know, Liz, it’s all about the characters and story. Her first read through of my draft is absolutely crucial as she is a) a writer b) brutally honest c) constructive.
My copy editor has been with me for the past four books and saves me from not just typos and inconsistencies, but from plot bloopers and generally making a publishing disgrace of myself. I wouldn’t dream of publishing anything without these two vital people.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Helen: Most definitely! Although more probably it is writer’s lack of self-confidence, rather than block. This is particularly a problem for indie and self-published writers, I think, as traditional mainstream authors have their assigned editor or an agent readily available to discuss those blank moments. Lucky indie authors have a writing buddy (see Alison’s answer above!) others haven’t, (I haven’t I’d love one!) so when you hit that brick wall – there’s no one there to mull possibilities over with.
How to get round it? There is only one answer: bum on seat and write. Even if it is a load of rubbish, just write (it can always be deleted later.) Write anything, just words if necessary, think of it as like using jump leads to get a stalled vehicle started. Once the engine is running… don’t stop. Write.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Alison: Ha! Research – you could spend your entire life doing it. Research dogs the steps of every historical fiction writer and it’s only a little less for the conspiracy thriller writer. It’s not just facts and figures, but how long it takes to pursue a bad guy from the moment he steps off a London Tube train to the station exterior. Or on a covert operation, what would you see from point X or Y? Lines of sight are very important in thrillers! The military scenes are much easier thanks to my six years in uniform although the most intriguing was researching French military voice procedure when using walkie-talkies!
About your latest books:
How do you select the names of your characters?
Alison: I needed a high-status French name for my main character that could be shortened to something more ordinary when used in English. This resulted in ‘Mélisende’ which becomes ‘Mel’. Her surname ‘des Pittones’ originates from the Pittones tribe which inhabited the Poitou area of France after the Romans left. Descent from antiquity is very rare, but the idea of a family hanging in there for centuries appeals to the historian in me!
McCracken sprang to mind spontaneously; he’s a prickly character and I wanted a name with a harsh cracking sound in it. I have the same approach to all character names, but here’s a tip: always check via Google that your character name isn’t a serial killer, rockstar, politician or any combination thereof.
What did you edit out of this book?
Helen: you mean apart from the bloopers, typos, incorrect grammar, missing punctuation and an entire scene which didn’t work? *laugh*. That’s what editing is, of course, going through again, then again, then again, to pick up the errors or even take a deep breath and hit the delete button where necessary. It takes courage to do the latter, especially if we are talking pages or chapters.
For A Mirror Murder the difficult editing came with the cover design – and here I thank my designer, Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org. The story is set in the 1970s. First challenge was to find a stock image with typical North London suburban houses. I managed that. Then we had to remove anything that was not compatible with the ‘70s. No satellite dishes. No attic extensions with roof-top windows. I checked the street light – yes, it was near enough to a photograph I’d found of the area taken in 1970. Removing the parked car would have been tricky, so we blurred it enough to conceal the make. I think we managed everything OK!
What was your hardest scene to write?
Alison: The moment of betrayal. I’m not going to tell you where, when and to whom that occurs 😉 but it was gut-wrenching for me. High emotion, especially a flood of negative emotion where trust is sliced into shreds is a terrible moment to experience, let alone write it in fine detail. You, Helen and I found that when we all contributed our stories to the recent Betrayal anthology.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Helen: Honest reviews are important, especially on the buying platforms such as Amazon. It is a great shame that more readers do not add their comments after enjoying a book, because a positive review can, genuinely, help an author. It is also a good way of saying ‘thank you’ – if you go to a play or concert you show your appreciation by applause, so think of a review as the equivalent of clapping your hands for a tale well told.
Feedback from readers is useful for an author to know why a novel was (or wasn’t!) enjoyed. What is unhelpful are the sort of comments that are destructive rather than constructive. It is disappointing to receive poor reviews, but maybe the reader didn’t like the book, it was too long/too short, too romantic/not romantic enough etc, that is all a matter of opinion and taste. If a novel is littered with typos, then fair enough, say so, but the sad thing is, most authors only take the negative comments to heart, not the positive ones. It is not easy to shrug and ignore deliberately nasty comments. If you get a bad review read it carefully, is it making a valid point? If so, remember it for your next book. For the nonsense ones… ‘I didn’t like this author’s other book.’ (so why read this one?) sigh, ignore, move on. Believe me, intelligent prospective readers will easily spot those ‘troll’ reviews. And don’t worry because you have four stars not dozens of glowing fives. Fours are fine. Honest.
Give a shout out to a writing buddy or fellow author; how did they help you with this book?
Alison: Conn Iggulden, who said of INSURRECTIO, one of my Roma Nova thrillers, ‘You clearly have the knack for fast plotting tension. I kept coming back to see what happened next.’ He suggested I recast one of my alternative Roma Novan heroines as a member of a modern day European organisation and run the story as a crime thriller. So I did.
And I must mention the indefatigable Denise Barnes (a.k.a. novelist Molly Green), my critique writing partner of ten years, for casting her eagle eyes over the first version I dared to show anybody and giving all my work ‘brutal love’.
There are many others, of course, but Helen supported me wholeheartedly from our first days together as indies nearly ten years ago. [Helen: gasp! Really that long ago?] She has given me professional confidence to pursue my own path, celebrated generously with me and administered a bracing ‘talking to’ when necessary. We’ve not done some bad work together over the years…
Helen: I have several author friends who ‘beta read’ for me, thank you to them all, but there is one I especially want to thank, and that is my co-partner for the launch of our books – Alison Morton. Without her A Mirror Murder would have still appeared, but not so efficiently, promptly or beautifully! Alison formatted it for me and talked me through the process of uploading to Ingram Spark and Amazon. Her kindness, patience and expertise deserve a huge hug – which I fully intend to give when we are Covid-19 free and able to hug again! Thank you, Alison, from the bottom of my boots to the top of my hat!
ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK
Helen and her family moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farmhouse through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown – and it was love at first sight. She adores her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including hens, ducks, geese, dogs, cats, Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers. She is hoping to raise a couple of pigs soon.
First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages.
Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of Glaucoma, she is now branching out into the quick-read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her new venture, the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant in a north London suburb branch library.
She has contributed to two anthologies, 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative stories relating to that fateful year, and explored the possible reality behind the myth of female pirate Anne Bonney and her lover, Captain Jack Rackham, in an anthology entitled Betrayal.
Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, a news and events blog for her village and the Community Shop, assists as ‘secretary for the day’ at her daughter’s regular Taw River Equine showjumping shows.
She is currently writing more Voyages for the Sea Witch series and the next in the Jan Christopher Mysteries series. She has other ideas for other tales – and would like the time to write them!
Amazon Author Page (Universal Link) http://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
CONNECT WITH HELEN:
Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick
Discovering Diamonds Historical Fiction Review Blog :
ABOUT ALISON MORTON
Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers series featuring tough, but compassionate heroines. She blends her deep love of France with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical, adventure and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.
“Grips like a vice – a writer to watch out for” says crime thriller writer Adrian Magson about Roma Nova series starter INCEPTIO. All six full-length Roma Nova thrillers have won the BRAG Medallion, the prestigious award for indie fiction. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. The Bookseller selected SUCCESSIO as Editor’s Choice in its inaugural indie review.
Now Alison continues to write thrillers and drink wine in France with her husband.
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: https://alison-morton.com
Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton
Alison’s writing blog: Alison’s Writing Blog
Newsletter sign-up: Newsletter Sign-up
Thanks Helen and Alison! It’s been great chatting!