I always enjoy it when I find a new to me author and when that author is in my own genre, that makes me even happier. I recently discovered Anna Penrose’s murder mystery, The Body in the Wall which I enjoyed very much indeed.
Welcome to my blog, Anna, and thank you for agreeing to answer my questions. Let’s open with the one I always start with – and the one all writers are said to dread – where do you get your ideas from?
Ideas are everywhere. I’m always daydreaming and roleplaying scenarios and some of those mind scribbles make it into whole stories. For The Body in the Wall I wanted to write a murder mystery but I wanted it to be engage the reader rather than terrify them.
I love psychological thrillers, but I wanted to spend time getting to know a location and a cast of characters over a period of time. I also wanted to write something positive. If you can class a whodunnit that way. By the same token I wasn’t interested in writing something funny or cute. I just wanted a good old fashioned, murder mystery, in a modern-day setting.
You have certainly succeeded. Congratulations. The location is a delight and so beautifully drawn it makes me want to visit Cornwall again. I’m delighted to discover that the book is the first in a series. Which came first, the idea for the story or the setting?
I started this book with a character and a location. Then I needed a plot and realised I had loads. It felt inevitable to me that it would be a series but only if readers enjoyed it. So far, so good. My only problem is that soon this area of Cornwall will be awash with dead bodies.
Books with a Cornish setting are always very popular. Did this have an influence on your choice of setting?
They say write what you know and as I own a bookshop in a Cornish fishing village, I thought it would be a great location to place a whodunnit. I love reading crime books especially the ones where the location is a character.
So when I decided to write a crime novel it felt obvious that I was going to choose a location that I knew inside out. It was going to be Norfolk or Cornwall, I picked Cornwall as I have other plans for Norfolk.
Having worked out the location, I wanted a character that I would like to spend time with. Writing a book is a solitary task so you may as well enjoy the company of your made-up friends and Malachite (she’s the main character) was a hoot. I was definitely inspired by Joanna Lumley, Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. I don’t know how she comes across to readers, but I hope no one sees her as a little old lady, she is no Miss Marple.
I wanted a character with bite and an interesting background. That meant I needed her to have lived a varied life and of course the older a character the more interesting things I can tuck away in their past.
I absolutely loved Malachite. She’s a great character and certainly is no ‘little old lady‘. (*see rant below) The gradual revealing of her intriguing past makes the story zip along at a fair pace.
Although this is your first crime novel, this is by no means your first novel as you have a very successful series under the name Liz Hurley. What made you switch genres? And is the change going to be a permanent one?
I find it very difficult to stay focussed so jumping between projects is something I do all the time. It means that whatever I am working on feels fresh and exciting to me. I write in several genres as well as writing walking guides, so it just feels natural to switch between genres.
For me, it’s about telling a story, then I need to work out where to place it, crime, romance, historical, science fiction.
Tell us a little more about your murder mysteries.
The Golden Murders are a modern day murder mystery series. There’s no psychological drama, or violent torture, just a good old puzzle to solve and some deaths along the way. The Body in the Wall is the first in what I hope will be a long running series, I have lots of plots and will only stop when the readers get bored or I run out of ideas.
The story starts with a woman in her sixties moving to Cornwall. She has a past that marks her as different and possibly the worst person to get involved in a police investigation. However, when the renovations begin in her bookshop and a body is found, she soon becomes a person of interest.
I won’t say anymore but it all revolves around a very close-knit fishing community and her efforts not to get involved.
I’m delighted to hear you plan more in this series and can’t wait for the next one. What inspires you most in your writing? Is it characters? Settings? Maybe even books you have read?
Inspirations comes normally from things I have read or places I have visited. I know a story is on the way when I start to hear a character talking in my head. From there I have to decide if I’m listening to the mumbling ravings of a half-wit or if I have a whole book on my hands.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who has characters chattering away inside my head. Tell us a bit about your writing journey. How did it start?
I try relentlessly to keep a diary but the tedium of daily life knocks the urge out of me. I’ve always kept a travel journal though, but that makes sense, travel is about exploration and reflection.
My first published piece was for a lifestyle column for my local newspaper about a decade ago. I wrote it every week for two years and then noticed that it was becoming cyclical and stopped. If I was bored I was sure others would be as well. There’s only so many times you can complain about traffic on the A30.
As I said earlier, you have a very successful series of novels under your Liz Hurley name. What made you change genres?
Boredom is an issue of mine, or not boredom as much as the inability to focus on something. It just works better for me if I can jump between things, and so many things interests me that writing in a different genre feels natural. I have a few other stories in other genres just biding their time. Well, not biding as much as screaming for attention, but I need to focus on my current projects. I write in four genres currently and that’s enough to be going on with!
It certainly is. Thank you so much, Anna/Liz for such a fascinating interview and for a great read. I look forward very much to meeting Malachite and friends again.
*Afterthought. If you read the interview I did with Anna in Writers’ Forum, there was a bit of editorial interference that has left me very uncomfortable. I usually let them go as once the article is in print there is nothing I can do about. But this is one I feel quite strongly about. I would never, ever use the expression ‘old maid’ which is what appeared in the magazine. For one reason, it is very dated and for another, I find it very distasteful.
Rant over and thank you for reading this far!
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