Edith here, writing from north of Boston on the Ides of March. This year it’s turning out to be a positive auspicious date – take a look at the guests I’ve lined up for today! Rhys Bowen and her co-author daughter Clare Broyles, along with Jacqueline Winspear, agreed to endure my interview questions and to share their splendid new books with our readers.
Wild Irish Rose is the eighteenth book in the Molly Murphy series, returning Molly to her own arrival on Ellis Island when an eerily similar murder occurs while she is visiting. “The clever and adventurous heroine dissects a complicated mystery while standing up for women’s rights.” Kirkus reviews.
October 1942. Jo Hardy, an Air Transport Auxilliary ferry pilot, is delivering a Spitfire to Biggin Hill Aerodrome, when she has the terrifying experience of coming under fire from the ground. In a bid to find out who was trying to take down her aircraft, she returns on foot to the area, and discovers an African American soldier bound and gagged in an old barn. A few days later another ferry pilot crashes and is killed in the same area of Kent. Although the death has been attributed to ‘pilot error’ Jo believes there is a connection between all three events – and she wants desperately to help the soldier, who is now in the custody of American military police.
Jo is advised to take her suspicions to Maisie Dobbs. As the psychologist-investigator delves into the case, she discovers the attempt to take down ferry pilots and the plight of the black American soldier are inextricably linked with the visit to Britain by the First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt. Maisie must work with speed to uncover the depth of connection, to save the life of the president’s wife and a soldier caught in the crosshairs of those who would see them both dead.
Edith: Rhys, Clare, and Jacqueline, I offer such a warm welcome from the Wicked Authors! It’s Women’s History Month, and who better to invite than the three of you? I have read every book in both series and am hugely excited to host you here today.
A Sunlit Weapon is number seventeen in the Maisie Dobbs series, Jacqueline, and Wild Irish Rose is number eighteen in the Molly Murphy series, which, Rhys, you now write with your daughter Clare. These are impressive records, and both series stay so vital and true to their characters and eras, even as the eras change. What thoughts can you offer on how to keep a long-running series fresh and new?
Jacqueline: I move my characters through time, so they have to grow and change with the years. The events of the day, together with the challenges inherent in the “work” of the characters keeps the series fresh for me – and I just have to trust that a certain level of freshness filters down to the reader.
Rhys: I think the aim is to make every book better than the last. We are lucky because New York in the early 1900s has so many delicious stories waiting to be told—women’s rights always feature in Molly’s life but she can move through levels of society and new immigrants bring their stories with them. I’m also lucky because Clare has breathed new life into this series with exciting new ideas for story lines.
Edith: A Sunlit Weapon takes place in 1942 England, thirteen years after the main part of the first Maisie Dobbs book is set. Wild Irish Rose happens in 1907, seven years after Molly escaped to New York City from Ireland. Both time spans are eras of major change in both England and the United States. Tell our readers how you decided to space out the stories in book time.
Jacqueline: Almost from the beginning – when I realized I had written a novel that could possibly be the first in a series – I thought about what I wanted to create, and that was to take a group of characters (not just Maisie Dobbs), through arguably the most tumultuous time in the twentieth century. I wanted to create a body of work encompassing two world wars, in which readers could witness those characters growing and changing with time and experience, and indeed explore how their growth as individuals is brought to bear in the work, which is chiefly the business of solving a mystery. History is my guide and it’s the lesser known nuggets of historical truth that have inspired each book. Those gems have come to me from various sources – letters archived at the Imperial War Museum, family stories, characters I’ve met, and of course my reading around a broad range of subjects. I’m interested in the human condition under pressure, and that pressure is acute in the archetypal journey from chaos to resolution which is at the heart of mystery (and mystery doesn’t have to mean crime). Spacing out the stories has really been down to intuition and “feel” – as a writer, most of my decisions are not the result of conscious thought, but rather just a sense that something is right for me, be it the choice of year in which a story is set, or the historical events that form a backdrop to the narrative.
Rhys: Molly had been on hiatus for at least four years. Clare felt that we needed to remind readers or inform new readers how Molly had come to America and how the series had started. So we went back to Ellis Island and a murder that mirrored Molly’s own experience. I think each of the books comes from a place and historical experience more than a crime.
Edith: For the newest book, were you motivated by a particular historical event? Was it the germ of the mystery that prompted you to set the latest book where it is in time? Or do you simply follow the protagonist through her life and write down what she does, and this is where she ended up?
Jacqueline: I had always wanted to write about the women of Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary, so that was my starting point. Then I looked for my theme – in this novel, the theme is prejudice, whether it’s a level of discrimination based upon gender, class, country of origin or color. The year in question is 1942 – and at that point everything fell into place, with the cherry on the cake being Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1942 visit to Britain to witness the country’s women engaged in war work.
Rhys: This particular book didn’t come from a particular event, although many of them have done (and the next book does). I think it was the next step in Molly’s life—coping with the demands of motherhood and a teenage ward and yet regretting that she is no longer an active detective. The incident on Ellis Island makes her want to champion a woman who is going through what Molly herself endured and spurs her into trying to solve the case (much to the horror of her husband).
Edith: Jacqueline, Rhys has written other historical series and in other eras. Do you get the urge to branch out from Maisie and her worlds, or is she challenge enough?
Jacqueline: I’ve already written a stand-alone novel (not a mystery), which was published in 2014 – THE CARE AND MANAGEMENT OF LIES. I have another series on the back-burner, and my next novel is a stand-alone involving post WW2 organized crime in London. I also write articles and essays for publication, which are definitely not historical. I love interviewing people. I also believe in “cross training” as a writer – I look for any opportunity to grow as a writer, so I take on other commissions outside my work as a novelist.
Edith: Rhys and Clare, you must have run into a glitch or two working as co-authors. What can you share about that process? And Clare, please tell us what’s it’s been like to write fiction. Is this your first, or have you written other stories drawn from the imagination?
Rhys: Amazingly I don’t think we disagreed over anything. We talked through where we wanted the plot to go, then each chose scenes we wanted to write. (I have to say that Clare came up with the major plot first!) We gave each other comments and suggestions and these always made the story stronger. But Clare and I have had a very harmonious relationship from the beginning. She is sweet-natured and easy-going. When she graduated from high school we went around Europe together for a month and never had one cross word during that time, which is quite amazing.
Clare: I’m not sure I ever wanted to BE a writer, but I have always written—poems, parodies when I was young. Songs, a children’s opera when I did my degree in music . And I have come up with several ideas for novels, just not known where to start. Having read and taken notes on all seventeen of the previous Molly Murphy novels I had great faith in Rhys’ vision for the series. Her characters are so fun to write! My goal was to write this novel to seamlessly fit in with the other Molly Murphy’s. So I was much more likely to ask for advice than to argue. It has been such a gift to be able to work together because we have such fun. We would much prefer to make each other laugh than to disagree about anything.
Edith: What’s next for each of you? Where can our readers find you in the next couple of weeks?
Jacqueline: I’m off skiing next week, then it’s back to work and my usual routine (which is working on my next novel, plus training in the equestrian sport of dressage).
Rhys: I am still writing as crazily as you, Edith. Molly makes it two and a half books a year, so I’m hoping to hand over more and more to Clare as the books progress. I have a big new stand-alone coming out in August called WHERE THE SKY BEGINS. It takes place in England during the worst of the Blitz and at a bomber command base, so quite intense.
Then in November the next Royal Spyness book comes out : Peril in Paris. Chanel, food, Mummy and Mrs Simpson. What’s not to love?
And Clare and I are doing a Zoom interview 1 pm Pacific on March 16 at Book Passage. I’m doing an Edgar best novel symposium at 8 pm Eastern on April 5. Then several panels at Left Coast Crime (Clare will be with me). Then guest of honor at Malice and Edgars banquet. All very exciting to be seeing people in the flesh again!
Clare: I’m currently teaching full time but I do have ideas for a series of my own. I’m particularly drawn to the nineteen twenties. So we’ll see. For now it’s a joy to be writing with my mom. And I’m really looking forward to attending conventions and meeting the rest of the mystery community. Do come up and say hello when I’m there!
Edith: I hope we see you at Malice, Clare! Thank you SO much to all three of you.
Readers: Do you have a favorite historical period to read about? Questions for the authors?
Rhys Bowen is the New York Times bestselling author of the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness mysteries, as well as several internationally bestselling stand-clones. Her work has won twenty awards to date and she is currently nominated for the Edgar best novel award. Rhys’s work is translated into thirty languages and she has fans from around the world.
Clare Broyles is Rhys’s daughter and new co-author of the Molly Murphy series. Clare is a teacher and musician. She has worked as arranger and composer for the Arizona Theater company, winning a Zoni (Arizona Tony award). This is her first venture into fiction and her mother predicts a bright future for her.
Jacqueline Winspear is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Consequences of Fear, The American Agent, and To Die but Once, as well as thirteen other bestselling Maisie Dobbs novels and The Care and Management of Lies, a Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist. Jacqueline has also published two nonfiction books, What Would Maisie Do? and a memoir, This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing. Originally from the United Kingdom, she divides her time between California and the Pacific Northwest.