Morning my lovelies. I hope you’re all keeping safe and well. Today I’ve got another brilliant Meet the Author interview for you that will make you smile. Me and Paula Harmon are talking about dragons, Roman Britain, loathsome characters you’d like to kill and her most recent book, Murder Durnovaria….
Historical Mystery & Contemporary with a fantasy element
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I’m married with two children at university. I work full-time and writing has to fit round that but housework has to fit round writing which may explain why my house is a mess. I was born in London but my family moved westwards soon afterwards, finally settling in South Wales when I was eight. After university in Chichester, I settled in the South West of England and now live in North Dorset.
What inspired you to start writing and where do you get your ideas?
I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember. When I was small, I was always quite pleased to be sent to bed early because then I could talk to myself and make up adventures. My little sister very unreasonably complained about this from when she was old enough to notice until we stopped sharing a bedroom. Ideas come from everywhere – a random phrase, a scene playing out in my mind, something overheard and mostly of course, wishful thinking. Mostly I start from the concept of ‘there I was minding my own business when…’
How many books have you written and published?
Seven of my own (two full-length novels, two novellas, two collections of short stories and a sort of memoir about my father); six novels co-written with Liz Hedgecock (a Victorian mystery series) and one anthology of short fantastical stories co-written with Val Portelli.
Which of your characters would you want to be stranded on an island with, and why?
I’ve had to have a real think about this. I’d need someone who could keep upbeat and be practical or someone who annoyed me so much it took my mind off the situation or someone (assuming the island is habitable and it didn’t really matter if you got rescued or not) I could settle down with. The trouble with the last category is that although I have male characters who could fit the bill, their women would hunt me down and kill me if I suggested it – even the mild-mannered one. But for upbeat and not a potential romantic interest, there’s a character called Fabio in Murder Britannica (who will be back in the third book in the series) who might fit the ‘upbeat’ bill. He’s got a good sense of humour and is also a musician – so he could make me laugh and also make music to pass the time till we got rescued. Lucretia is a contender for the annoying person. She’s a main character in Murder Britannica and Murder Durnovaria and will surely elbow her way in to the third book because, tsk, don’t you know how important she is? I can imagine I’d spend so much time wanting to kill her that the time would shoot past. But probably, a minor character in a soon to be published book set in 1910 might be perfect. She’s called Maude, is one of the best friends of the main character Margaret Demerary. She has a lot of common sense and humour while being practical and pragmatic. If anyone could work out how to make life comfortable, including a way to make wine, it’d be Maude.
If you could get in a time machine and had one chance to travel, where would you go and why? (Backwards or forwards!)
If I could be a safe observer (and able to breathe in the atmosphere and eat the food without perishing), this would be a dream come true. I’ve always been more interested in what day to day life would have been like for ordinary people rather than what kings and queens were doing. If you’re not going to let me have one trip back, stopping off in 1860, 1588 and 1065, I think I’d like to go back to Roman Britain in the early 3rd Century. I’d like to see what life was really like here using Roman technology and infrastructure and how far down society any benefits went, as well as how much the British kept their identity.
Other than writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I also like cooking, photography, dress-making and painting. I’m not a bad cook – the rest of it I’m not so sure about. I haven’t done any dress-making or painting for years but thought I might start again during lock-down.
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
Don’t panic. Maybe now is not your time and you need to live a bit before all the story ideas germinate properly. Just keep observing and writing bits and bobs. Keep reading a wide variety of books.
Describe yourself using three words only…….
Short, stroppy, hopeful.
If you could be, or meet, any mythical creature, what would you choose and why?
Without question, a dragon. Not one that shows any sign of wanting to incinerate or eat me of course, but I feel sure that’s all anti-dragon propaganda anyway.
Do you feel it’s more important to have a) strong characters b) a mind-blowing plot or c) amazing settings?
Personally I like strong character first and the rest falls into place. I like a setting to feel real even when it’s not – the feeling of the weather or the smells and sounds etc. But what I really want to know is what the character wants everyone else to think they are, what they really are underneath and how they deal with a situation that puts them out of their comfort zone and reveals/changes them.
Where did you the inspiration for the Murder Britannica series come from?
I was bored one lunch break and had the idea of a classic golden age murder mystery set in Ancient Rome. You know the type – where there are lots of murder victims but somehow no-one seems to care: ‘oh dear, Daddy’s dead – how will we get into the drinks cabinet?’ Without much more plan that that, I wrote a scene set in Ancient Rome where two women of different generations are sparring. They’re related by marriage but don’t like each other at all. And that was where it stayed for several years. Then one day, I decided to turn it into a novel. As I’ve never been to Rome but live in Britain and my mother-in-law (who shares a love for murder mysteries) lives in Wales, I changed the setting to an imaginary town north of Cardiff and made the older of the two original characters a loathsome but extremely rich Briton called Lucretia. Then I created a sleuth – the local wise woman Tryssa, who’s known Lucretia since childhood and won’t take any nonsense especially when people start dropping dead at Lucretia’s villa. It was huge fun. I didn’t especially set out to write a series but several people wanted more of Lucretia, awful as she is, and so I wrote Murder Durnovaria. I’m planning to release a third book later this year or early next.
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
Unlike Murder Britannica, Murder Durnovaria is set in a real location, the town that is current day Dorchester. It’s set a year after Murder Britannica in AD 191. Lucretia last saw Durnovaria as a teenager when she rejected an arranged marriage. The last thing she ever wanted to do was go back and face the relations she had so offended when she was fifteen. But there’s an inheritance at stake and if anything will make her face them, it’s the chance of making more money. Just to be on the safe side of course, Lucretia takes the wise-woman Tryssa with her. Unbeknowst to Lucretia or her infuriated relatives, a pair of hapless grave-robbers have been digging in an ancient grove and have uncovered something much more recent than Bronze Age treasure. No-one thinks an old ring bought in the forum is important until Lucretia’s cousin is poisoned. Tryssa needs to help local magistrate Amicus discover who would rather kill than reveal long-buried truths before it’s too late.
It can be found on Amazon via mybook.to/MurderDurnovaria
final words from chelle…
Thank you Paula for your interview – it really did make me smile – your sense of humour really shines through. The fact that you used to talk to yourself and get on your sisters nerves made me laugh! I would also love to go back to Roman Britain but always think it might be a bit terrifying – as long as I could hide and observe, I’d be with you! Picking up dress-making and painting again during lockdown sounds like a wonderful way to spend your time, and there’s nothing better than starting up something you used to love. Finally, I love the sound of Murder Britannica and Murder Durnovaria – history, Romans and mystery are three of my favourite things – yet more books to add to my ever growing wishlist!
If you have any questions/comments for Paula get in touch via the links above, or drop a comment below.
Have a wonderful day lovely people.