Diana has been a good friend of mine for a few years now, but as she usually writes traditionally-published historical romance fiction it would’ve been a little incongruous to have featured her on this blog. However, she’s recently independently published a murder mystery novel, Murder Now & Then, which I read prior to its publication and can heartily recommend.
I spoke to Diana just before the launch of her book and asked her a bit more about the book as well as what inspired her to write her historical romance books based on the island of Alderney.
What first drew you to the island of Alderney and sparked your fascination and passion for the area?
Family holidays on Alderney when in my early teens are filled with happy memories, but it was not until we visited as adults that my father began to talk of my great-grandmother Harriet, who was born on Alderney in 1865. I stood looking out from the Butes — the very place my blog photo is taken in fact, and tried to imagine her life at a time when the island had 5,000 inhabitants (there are only around 2,000 today). This included military personnel and workers on the various forts which are dotted around the coastline. Intrigued, I spent a summer of intensive book research which eventually led to the writing of my debut novel Riduna, a name that Alderney is also known by.
How much research and preparation goes into writing historical romances before you finally sit down and type ‘Chapter 1′?
My research for Riduna was spent with my head in often dusty tomes, whereas for Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home, its sequel, I reached out to experts in their field: archivists at the Shuttleworth air museum — an authority on early flying boat development and the Schneider Trophy, who lives in Calshot; the curator of the Hampshire Regimental Museum in Winchester and also, more unusually, to a fisherman, well known on Alderney, who gave me a fishing lesson and checked through the relevant chapters. Several of the above people kindly read the whole manuscript prior to print to check for authenticity. The research led the plot, rather than the other way around. It was also professionally proofread and edited.
I was in touch with GreatWarCI, the Channel Island Great War group whilst researching for Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home and one of them sent me a ‘did you know…’ email. It was regarding a lass from Jersey in 1919 who was murdered in Haynes, Bedfordshire, only three miles from where I live. Although there were rumours at the time and one man stood trial, there was never a conviction. I visited the grave in Haynes and this sparked the plot of Murder Now and Then. I don’t think any author can explain where the ideas come from as their novel evolves. The story is set in 2019, the anniversary of Lucille Vardon’s (not her real name) death, with flashbacks to the original story. I already had an idea of a murder mystery for a short story and these threads merged quite naturally.
How different was the process of writing, compared to your usual style of work?
Writing the murder mystery was far more complicated in many ways. In order to have ‘red herrings’ and subplots to disguise the truth (although there are hints along the way) I tried a linear time line but ended up with a large board of post-its for each of the key characters on one axis and time on the other. I had an idea of where each chapter was heading but, if there was something not quite right, I’d sleep on it or go and do something completely different and invariably the solution had come to me by morning.
How much research went into looking at policing procedures?
I read a great deal of crime novels over the last couple of years which follow a pattern of procedure and I was also put right on a couple of key issues by my beta readers, but I had the advantage that I was projecting into the future. I reasoned that procedures may be quite different in 2019. I had to predict enough change to make it believable without it being sci-fi, which it was never intended to be. Unlike many crime novels, the police are not the key characters in the novel but I did want them to be thought of as real people with their own issues.
Of course my novels are to entertain, but I hope, too, that readers find they gain a greater awareness of the events and social history explored in the Riduna series. These novels are also about issues pertinent to today, for example displacement and that powerful magnetism of the place of our family roots (also reflected in Murder Now and Then). Murder Now and Then, however, explores the unexpected consequences of our actions and those of our ancestors, decision and the cards life has dealt us. I don’t see any of my characters as inherently evil. Neither is it a tale of two cops solving a murder mystery — far from it. The story unravels as you get to know the characters and their vulnerabilities and strengths.
A nice fun one — If your books were adapted for TV or film, who would you see playing the main roles?
In Murder Now and Then I would love Penelope Wilton to play Joanna, the farmer’s wife. I could certainly see her being a bit bohemian and can imagine her assuming a believable role of the accused.
I would also choose the less well known Rene Muren, who’d be great to play Anna Beret because she actually comes from Jersey. With make-up and costume she could also play the part of Lucille Vardon, her distant relative who was murdered in 1919.
Diana’s books can be found on Amazon and other good retailers (please note that the Kindle version of Murder Now and Then sports a different cover to the paperback), and more information can be found on her websites: