I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Clara Benson recently. Clara has written two brilliant series of ‘whodunnits’ set in the 1920 and 1930s – the Angela Marchmont Mysteries (ten novels in the series) and the Freddy Pilkington-Soames series of adventures (five novels in the series so far).
I asked Clara what it was that inspired her to write crime mysteries and here is what she told me…
I’ve been a huge reader of them since childhood, starting from Enid Blyton, then moving onto Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and finally to Agatha Christie et al. But when it came to writing my own first novel I didn’t even consider doing a mystery, as I was certain I didn’t have the right sort of mind for it—mine works in an “A to C via B” sort of way, but to write a good mystery I think you need a brain that’s more like “A to C via W and 2.7!” But then I also remembered the old adage “write what you want to read,” and I wanted to read a mystery, so I wrote a mystery! (I’m still working on the W and 2.7.)
Clara, you have developed two series – the Angela Marchmont Mysteries and the Freddy Pilkington-Soames Adventures. Have you enjoyed writing one series more than the other?
I love both my main characters, but the Angela books were certainly easier to write, as I had a lot of momentum, which carried me through ten books very quickly – plus I had the blithely insane confidence of the inexperienced writer, because I wasn’t aware of just how much I didn’t know! Now I’m a lot more experienced and feel more pressure to step up the quality, and that’s slowed me down quite a bit. I hope it’s resulting in better books, though.
Clara’s latest novel – book 5 in the Freddy Pilkington-Soames series
Your novels are set in England in the 1920s and 1930s – how did you approach your research for the stories?
I read a few history books covering the period, and did a lot of perusing of back issues from the Times Digital Archive and other original sources. But I think I got most of my “feel” for the period just from reading mysteries written at the time. I pay a lot of attention to the language I use – ie, I really try not to use anachronisms or modern idioms. If I have any doubt about a phrase I look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary and if I can’t find an earliest date for it I will tend to leave it out.
What genre of books do you like reading and who is your favourite author?
Obviously I’m a big mystery fan, and I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of them over the years. But I’ve dabbled with most genres at one time or another—romance, fantasy, historical, literary, classics. I don’t have a lot of time for reading these days, and I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite author, but the authors I tend to return to when I want to switch off are all the Golden Age mystery writers. I’m reworking my way gradually through the Miss Silver novels by Patricia Wentworth at the moment.
Many thanks to Clara – it’s great to gain some insight into the mind of another crime mystery author! Read more about Clara’s latest novel here.
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