I recently had the pleasure of attending a literary event at the Word Independent Community Bookstore in New Jersey. The event was advertised as an evening with three mystery writers, Sherry Thomas, Juliana Gray and Deanna Raybourn in which they would be discussing their new books, A Conspiracy in Belgravia, A Strange Scottish Shore and A Perilous Undertaking; A Veronica Speedwell Mystery, respectively. As an avid reader I knew that it would be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the process of writing a book, creating a story and developing characters. I walked away with a new book in hand and inspirational advice to share with budding authors in the Knee Deep in Creativity community.
Where did these mystery writers seek inspiration for their stories and characters?
All three writers explained how the concepts for their stories were born and why they were set in particular historical periods.
When Sherry Thomas saw the BBC programme Sherlock, based on the detective stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a question popped into her head; What if Sherlock Holmes were a woman? Sherry recognised that Sherlock Holmes, due to his gender had a number of freedoms and wondered; if he were a woman would he have had the same freedoms in society and would he have been able to carry out his sleuthing in the same manner? This was the beginning of the idea of a female Sherlock Holmes.
Deanna Raybourn shared that she had been fascinated with Victorian female explorers. She was particularly interested in the story of Margaret Elizabeth Fountaine who studied and collected butterflies. She also wrote diaries which, per her instructions, were unsealed 100 years after she had started writing them. Margaret’s diaries showed that she was an extremely courageous and adventurous woman, who travelled around the world and formed relationships with a number of men. Deanna used her inspiration to create the protagonist, Victoria Speedwell who is also a butterfly hunter.
Juliana Gray explained that she was interested in the historical period in which she set her book. Juliana wanted to write about the period from 1900-1910 because these were the years leading up to the First World War. This was a period of significant change and development, technologically, scientifically and in terms of gender relations. Juliana wanted to write about women’s experiences during this changing period and in particular, she wanted to focus her story on a woman who navigated society at this time.
Why did they choose to be mystery writers?
Juliana Gray’s journey from writing romance novels to writing mystery novels began because she had already told the stories that she wanted to tell and now she wanted to tell a story over a longer arch. Mystery writing allowed her do to so.
Sherry Thomas, who also wrote romance novels, explained that she initially wanted to write science fiction romance novels but found that it was too small of a market to serve. This is an important insight for any aspiring authors; as much as you may desire to write about a particular topic, that topic has to serve a large enough market and be commercially viable. Sherry shared that she likes to write books that she likes to read and she finds it hard to find a plot that pleases her. She had wanted to write a mystery novel for some time and when she saw the BBC Sherlock programme, she was inspired to write the book to answer the question that presented itself to her.
How did they develop their characters?
Juliana Gray explained that the most important tool in creating a character is developing the voice and characterisation. You have to think and talk like the historical character, which takes real in depth research and understanding of the time that you wish to set your story in. It is important to capture a real sense of who the characters were, although of course it cannot be 100% exact as you did not live in that time.
All three authors shared the deep research that they did to really understand the time period that their stories were based in and what the main influences would have been at the time including the sights, sounds and smells which help to transport a reader and immerse them in that period of history.
The authors reminded the audience that writing fictional novels is about capturing and effectively depicting the human experience as readers ultimately relate to the humanity of characters.
I hope that you have been inspired by these three mystery writers and use their insight and experiences on your journey to becoming or further developing your skills as a writer.
Please leave a comment and let me know if you found this article helpful. As always, I would love to hear about your own experiences in your creative endeavours.