Monday’s Friend: Mary Andrea Clarke

Today I’m pleased to welcome historical crime writer Mary Andrea Clarke to the blog. Good to have you as my guest, Mary.

SJT: Did you always know you were destined to be a writer?

crimson cavalierMAC: No, although I always enjoyed writing.  It wasn’t really something I thought about consciously.  Some of my primary school teachers had suggested I should become an author.  I wasn’t really convinced at that point.  A slow burning flame that came to fruition, or maybe like the maturing of a good wine.

SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?

MAC: Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy L Sayers, Jean Plaidy, although I don’t write about known historical figures, and Jane Austen.  Pride and Prejudice made a direct contribution to The Crimson Cavalier when I named Georgiana Grey after Mr Darcy’s sister.

SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

MAC: Try not to get discouraged by the rejections.  There’s no average time or number of nos a writer will hear before getting the yes.  Go looking for opportunities to write, even if it’s not your preferred format.  Competitions, writers’ groups, evening classes, all are good discipline and set targets.  Even an encouraging letter from a competition organiser where you just missed the shortlist can be the spur to keep going.  Accountability is a good motivator and good feedback is always a help.  It also provides valuable interaction in an essentially solitary occupation.

love not poisonSJT: Have you ever been inspired to put people you know in real life in your books?

MAC: Only twice, both have ended up dead.  In most cases, I have found characters have evolved as a mix of qualities I have picked up subconsciously or something I’ve heard which has to be used.  The last real life inspired character was left face down in a river in my latest work in progress.  I must decide his fate or he will soon become bloated like some unfortunate individual I saw in Midsomer.

SJT: I’ve killed off real people in my books too! It’s quite carthartic. When it comes to your writing projects, would you describe yourself as a meticulous planner, or a ‘seat-of-the-pantser’?

MAC: Neither and both.  I do plan to an extent, but more on a next chapter basis than detailed planning of the manuscript.  Of course things don’t always go according to plan.  The Crimson Cavalier was full of surprises.  One character intended as a passing background figure suddenly appeared on the page, with a very specific appearance and a large part to play in the next book, Love Not Poison.  The latest Georgiana Grey work started as an exercise inspired by Dorothea Brande’s classic work, Becoming a Writer.  I wanted to shake things up.  Her suggestion of keeping a notebook by the bed and writing the first thing that comes into the head in the morning, before fully awake, kicked off a new novel.  I’m not sure yet where it’s leading but that’s half the fun.

SJT: Your series is about an independent-minded young woman in Regency England. Not a time desperately progressive when it comes to women’s rights. What inspired you to create the character of Georgiana Grey?

MAC: In a way, it was the very difficulties women encountered in that era which made me want a female sleuth trying to negotiate the system, if only to see if it could be done.  I always loved the film, ‘The Wicked Lady’, in its original black and white version.  While it may have required some suspension of disbelief, the intrigue and tension mixed with the class distinctions remains riveting.  The role of highway robber gave Georgiana a level of freedom to circumvent some of the rules  We know highwaymen were not the glamorous Robin Hood-like adventurers of fable.  Yet we also know the world is not black and white, the anti-hero has good points as the hero has flaws.  Ross Poldark’s anger at a sick man’s imprisonment for a minor crime leads to him breaking the law but I suspect most of us would not condemn him.  The prison scenes from the original ‘Poldark’ were in my mind when I motivated Georgiana’s anger about her servant’s conviction.

debt not dishonourSJT: Any current writing projects in the works?

MAC: At present I am editing The Body Nursery, which introduces some new characters, two bodysnatchers who discover a dead baby while liberating an old man from his coffin.  One is uncomfortable with treating the child as merchandise and suspects a questionable death which he decides to investigate.  Another lawbreaker with a conscience.  I have also started writing a new Georgiana Grey adventure, in which her cousin and chaperone, Selina Knatchbull, finds a body which subsequently disappears.

SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

MAC: I enjoy spending time with my long distance family when I get the chance, we always manage to do some fun stuff.  I like reading (of course!), going to the theatre and places of historical interest.  Just recently I had a great day out at Hampton Court,  I have been there before but always spot something new!

SJT: Thank you, Mary, for taking time to chat with me today.

If readers want to learm more about Mary’s work, check out her website and follow her on Twitter. The link to her publishers can be found here.

The first book in the Crimson Cavalier series is currently available on Kindle for 95p, so if you want to grab a bargain, hop over there right now (or $.123 if you’re in the US).

 

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