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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Interview with Elizabeth Bailey

Historical crime novels are a genre that is relatively new to me - I think I have only read one that would sort of fall into this category.  I had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth Bailey for the release of her first historical crime novel, set in England's Georgian period.  Please help me welcome Elizabeth to The Maiden's Court!  Also, stay tuned at the end of the post for a giveaway of her new novel.

You have written several historical romance novels in the past – what inspired you to now begin writing historical crime novels? Do you incorporate any of the skill you have acquired from romance writing into your crime writing, or is it a very different style of writing?

I'd had the basic idea of the first book for a long time - years in fact. It was originally intended as a sprawling big historical series, but the genre wasn't doing well at the time so I shelved it. I think my brother was the one who suggested it could be crime and I liked that idea and jotted notes about it, but never did anything about it. I wasn't sure I could do it, to be honest. I've always loved the mystery crime novel - Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Ngaio Marsh were favourites - and I didn't think I had the skill to emulate them.

I started thinking about crime again when I found I was getting stale with romance. The genre changed a lot and I just wasn't enjoying it as much any more. It was a conscious choice to use the same historical period. I love late Georgian, when most of my romances are set, and of course my research knowledge was already extensive. Because of that, there is a lot of my romance style in the crime novels in terms of behaviour, language and giving a flavour of the period.

What's different is the freedom to build the Georgian world more, with lots of peripheral characters and sub-plots concerning the lives of the victims. With romance you have to keep the story primarily to the hero and heroine. This is the main reason I am enjoying it so very much. Also the crime aspect is new to me and that is fascinating.

Being rather new to the genre myself – how does a historical crime novel differ from a contemporary crime novel?

I suspect the main difference is in the policing and the interference of authority. In contemporary crime you can't avoid police involvement, and I imagine it's a lot more difficult for your amateur sleuth to operate around the crime scene. There wasn't much of a police force in the Georgian era, and crime and punishment was much more rough and ready, so your sleuth has a freer hand. You also don't have much forensic help, and although medical knowledge went some way to understanding the condition of a body after death and what that meant, the detective has to rely heavily on witness evidence and supposition. It certainly stretches the writer's ingenuity to find ways of revealing physical clues to help!

Why did you set your new series in the Georgian period?

I seem to have covered this earlier. I would add that the Georgian world offers even more to me as an author of crime than of romance. I've got a society with enormous economic differences in its various layers, from the criminal underworld and the many aspects of the man in the street, through domestic servants, the middle classes, "gentry" and the aristocracy. This offers so much opportunity for diverse characters and allows Ottilia to delve into any social arena to find out what she needs to know.

Are there any characteristics of your heroine, Ottilia, in you? Are you one that likes to watch crime shows and try to figure them out?

Oh dear, I am sure there are! Writers of necessity use a lot of their own understanding of ethics or morality to inform the minds of characters. And your heroine, although flawed, has got to be at heart a person of integrity or the reader wouldn't be sympathetic. I can't think of any fictional detective who isn't, which I believe is why some writers can successfully make rather unpleasant heroes somewhat likeable. And of course, if Ottilia can work it out, I've got to be able to as well. Though I suspect she is cleverer than I am! Characters do tend to run their authors ragged, and boss them about.

Yes, I love crime shows, but chiefly mysteries. I find TV adaptations easier to figure out than the original books because the medium is so different and it's hard to include everything. We have a great tradition of TV mysteries here in the UK and you'll find me glued to Poirot, Midsomer Murders and Cadfael. I'm also very attached to Angela Lansbury's sleuth in Murder She Wrote.

What types of books do you like to read when you have some spare time?

I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, and a couple of years ago I discovered Terry Pratchett and read everything voraciously. I enjoy romance as well as crime, and I used to read lots of historicals. But I can also settle to a classic like Dickens or Jane Austen, perhaps Daphne du Maurier, and I dip into the occasional literary novel. If it's well written and grabs me, I can read pretty much anything. Does that say I'm a writer? Oh, and I love Shakespeare - no surprise since I have a strong theatre background.

An avid reader from an early age, Elizabeth Bailey grew up in colonial Africa under unconventional parentage and with theatre in the blood. Back in England, she trod the boards until discovering her true m├ętier as a writer in her thirties, when she fulfilled an early addiction to Georgette Heyer by launching into historical romance. Eight years and eight books later, Elizabeth joined the Harlequin Mills & Boon stable, fuelling her writing with a secondary career teaching and directing drama, and writing plays into the bargain.

With 18 historicals published, she began to concentrate on the mainstream and in 2005, Elizabeth’s novel Fly the Wild Echoes was released in both the UK and the US simultaneously by Unlimited Publishing. The novel was a contender in the Booker list for that year. A mystery – a whodunit of the mind, as one reader has it – the book explores the interwoven lives of three women and investigates the possibility of past lives.

Now retired from teaching, Elizabeth directs for a local theatre group where she lives in West Sussex. Recently, however, even this foray into drama has had to take a back seat as she changed direction to enter the world of crime.

You can find more about Elizabeth and her books at her website.

Now for the giveaway - I have one copy open to those of you living in the US.  Giveaway ends September 17th.  Just fill out the form below.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I must admit, anything other than Historical Fiction is a little new to me. I'm no gumshoe, but I do enjoy a little mystery and who-done-it!

  2. How fascinating--anything that can use the words "historical fiction" and "Agatha Christie" in the same description has my attention.

  3. I love historical mysteries for the reasons Bailey cites: the challenge of a compelling mystery when forensics/police were so different puts great pressure on the writer -- and when it's done well, yum!!

  4. I enjoy historical mysteries much more than contemporary ones. Maybe its the freedom from police involvement, the secrecy, the horse chases...I love it all. Congrats on a new series and thanks for the contest.

  5. Allison - I'm in the same ballpark - I think I have only really read one historical mystery.

    Faith - me too!

    Audra & Jenny - I really do like seeing what they can do without all of the forensics and such. Like that method where they were measuring and recording bumps on the head and statistics to figure out who were criminals - crazy!

  6. This sounds great! The Georgian period is my favorite. Great interview questions, Heather!

  7. Jenny - I haven't had too much exposure to the Georgian period. Thanks!

  8. There are some good historical mysteries out there. Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series is good. Tony Hays has a series out which takes place before Arthur becomes king. I have his first book on my TBR shelf and hope to get to it soon.
    Thanks for making me aware of this book.

  9. Librarypat - I have heard good things about both of those series, but haven't read them. Will have too tho!


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