Published by Zaffre on April 20, 2017
Thank you for joining me for an interview on the blog.
The Body in the Ice, book two in the Hardcastle and Chaytor mystery series, will be published by Zaffre tomorrow. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a story of divided families and mixed loyalties and bitter conflict, set in the cold heart of winter in a country at war. It opens on Christmas Day, 1796, with the discovery of a body of a young black woman frozen into the ice of a pond outside New Hall, a big house near St Mary in the Marsh. Her companion, seen travelling with her, has disappeared. Soon after, the Rossiter family, the owners of New Hall, return to the Marsh after an absence of many decades in America. The Rossiters, or some of them, had fought on the American side during the recently concluded War of Independence.
So why have they come back to England now? Can there be any connection between their arrival and the discovery of the body? Just what secret is New Hall hiding? There are plenty of twists and turns, an unexpected visitor for Reverend Hardcastle, the return of an an old foe and the arrival of some new adversaries, before what publishers like to call ‘an explosive ending’.
The series is set in Kent and in the 18th century. What inspired you to write about that date and location?
It’s a combination of the time and the place. Romney Marsh is a fascinating place, quite different from the rest of Kent. One resident of the Marsh later wrote that the world is divided into five parts: Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Romney Marsh. In many ways it is an enclosed community, one that is suspicious of strangers and has a strong sense of local loyalty.
And the time is the 1790s, when France and Britain are locked in warfare after the French Revolution. You can see the coast of France clearly from Romney Marsh. It’s a strange and sometimes eerie place, and a violent and dramatic time. We have tried to capture that drama and eeriness in The Body in the Ice and in its predecessor, The Body on the Doorstep.
What do you find most appealing about writing historical novels?
L.P. Hartley famously said that ‘the past is a foreign country’. But we love travelling there, and we love being tour guides too. We enjoy bringing a period of history to life, taking readers into another time and helping them to sense what life was really like there. So, if you fancy an immersion in smuggling, espionage, politics and village life in Georgian England, grab your passport and join us.
How much do you enjoy any research you do for each book?
Research is fascinating. As well as the Hardcastle and Chaytor books, we’re working on a couple of other projects at the moment, so today, for example, one of us is reading about the mutiny on the battleship Potemkin while the other is digging into French property law. We’re essentially curious people – probably in both senses of the word, come to that – and we like learning things.
For a historical novel, there’s three kinds of research. First, there is reading up on the background, in books or online sources. Maps are an essential part of this type of research, in order to get a sense of space and topography. Then, we always try to get out and drive or walk the ground, look at the places where events take place, see what features of the landscape we can use and what we need to change or invent. We spend a lot of time staring at empty fields and river crossings, which really worries passers-by. And then there is character research, building and developing our characters until we really know them as people. The last is particularly enjoyable because we can let our imaginations run free.
How does the process of writing as a duo go? Are there any aspects you find particularly challenging, that authors not writing as a duo don’t experience?
The film-makers Joel and Ethan Coen once described their writing collaboration as ‘a conversation’. We’re a bit like that. We talk and discuss ideas, bat them back and forth, help each other solve problems, rein in each others’ wilder flights of fancy. The books sort of evolve out of that process, somehow. We’re both pretty busy, and the main problem we experience is finding enough time to sit and work together.
Do you have any plans to celebrate publication day?
If the weather holds, a nice walk on the beach in north Cornwall, or on Dartmoor. One of us has a school governors’ meeting in the early evening but after that there is a possibility that alcohol may be consumed.
Do your feelings ahead of publication day for the second book in the series differ to how you felt before The Body on the Doorstep was published, now readers have already been introduced to Hardcastle and Chaytor?
The feeling when you see your first novel published and hold it in your hand can never be repeated. This time, with The Body in the Ice, there’s a little trepidation too. This is the ‘difficult second album’, and we’re very keen to know whether people will enjoy this story as much as the first one; or even, hopefully, more... We also wonder how they will react to the changes and developments in our two lead characters, Reverend Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor. So, yes, looking forward to it, but just a little bit scared…
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
When not writing, we think about writing... But we do have a life outside of writing. As well as other work (teaching and examining) and volunteering, music looms large in both our lives. One of us sings (a lot) and writes music, while the other listens to music (also a lot). We’ve been to six live music events already this month, all locally in West Devon.
Can you tell us one thing we would be surprised to learn about you?
1. Marilyn has just set Yeats’s poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree to music,as a birthday present to a friend who sings with her in an a capella trio. They sang it the other day, busking in Exeter city centre.
2. Morgen owns two acres of land on the moon, in the Flammarion crater. We’re not giving out the address, though. We like our privacy.
3. We had a five-month-long honeymoon in an ancient motor caravan driving across northern Europe in the dead of winter – and we’re still married.
If you could choose one book published during the past year that you would recommend we read, what book would that be?
Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged. It’s a very forthright, funny, well-written and moving book. Definitely worth reading. Ayisha's second book The Other Side of Happiness will be our treat to read on a short holiday to France later in the month.