Today I'm happy to welcome Frances Evesham to Journeys With Jana. She's going to talk about her novel DANGER AT THATCHAM HALL. Hello Frances!
Thank you so much, Jana, for welcoming me so kindly to your blog, and asking such interesting questions. I’m really looking forward to reading your latest story, One More Second Chance
and I love that we share a publisher, the Wild Rose Press.
I'm very happy to have you here. Where did you get the idea for your new novel?
Danger at Thatcham Hall
is the second in my series of Thatcham Hall Mysteries
. It follows on from the first novel, An Independent Woman, although it stands alone as a story.
I’m fascinated by the stories of strong women. Olivia, my heroine, lives at a time when convention dictated poor but “genteel” ladies should confine their activities to the home, or become companions or governesses. What a dreadful prospect! The real lives of women were often much more interesting and adventurous.
Several women dressed as soldiers, and fought in the battle of Waterloo. The Bronte sisters wrote under male pseudonyms in order to find a publisher. Fanny Mendelssohn wrote songs that Queen Victoria loved, even though she had to publish them under her brother’s name.
It’s that resourcefulness and refusal to give in that my heroine Olivia shows. She’s a clever, talented pianist and composer, and won’t submit to spending life as a governess.
Why did you choose this genre?
I’m intrigued by history, crime, mysteries and romance. I love to lose myself in another world, living the upstairs glamour and downstairs intrigue of an English country house.
I also adore the challenge of the twists and turns of a mystery plot. Who has a motive? What’s the secret everyone tries to hide? I live in a state of excitement when I’m writing, desperate to read the next chapter even though I haven’t written it yet!
A writer has to enjoy the process of writing since she spends so much time with her story. If she doesn't think it's exciting, no one else will either! What do you want readers to come away with after they read your book?
I once went on a training session where, in groups of four, we each told a very short story to the others. One told of opening a bag of marbles and drawing out each glass globe. Another spoke of a day in the playground with her child. A third of walking down the road and seeing cracks in the pavement.
Afterwards, the trainer asked which story we liked best. We found it impossible to choose. Every single story told us something, opening our eyes to new ways of looking at the world. To me, that’s the wonder of storytelling: everyone can take something from the experience.
I hope every reader finds something for him or herself in Danger at Thatcham Hall
. When you finish the story, I hope you’ll feel moved by their struggles and satisfied that Olivia and Nelson have tried their best to overcome difficulties and discover what truly mattes. I hope you’ll feel a little bit better about the world.
Did you always want to be a writer?
As a child, I read stories about horses, and longed to write my own. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a horse, had only ridden a handful of times and knew less than nothing about them. Those stories are, fortunately, long lost, but I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom, scribbling in a notebook, losing myself in the joy of another world.
I never thought it possible to write for a living. Writers, I imagined, were special people, not ordinary like me. Instead, I channelled my love of words and language into becoming first a speech and language therapist and then an intermediary. I worked with people with communication problems who have the misfortune to appear in the criminal courts, whether as victims, defendants or witnesses, helping them understand what was going on, and showing the lawyers how to put together clear, simple sentences.
It feels as though all this, plus the blessing of three healthy, happy children and four blossoming grandsons, has led me full circle toward my current career as a writer. I’ve never been happier.
What comes first for you – plot or character?
I have an idea for a plot, first. I know what will happen at the end. Then, I round out the characters of the people it will happen to. What is it about them that leads to unhappiness and mistakes, and what character strengths do they have that enable them to come through their adventures?
Olivia envies her richer, prettier friend, Selena. Haven’t we all had friends who seemed to own all the gifts and advantages of life in one golden package? Oh, how jealous we feel. It’s so good when we look back over our lives and realize how little looks, money and influence really mattered.
Nelson, the soldier-turned-lawyer, grapples with demons, living with dreadful memories of war, injury and rejection by a heartless woman. How it must hurt to have your future torn away like that. No wonder Nelson struggles with his feelings, just as we all battle with feelings of injustice and sorrow.
Once the characters have become real, well-rounded people, I plot out the detail of the story, outlining each chapter, making sure the structure of the book works. Then, I start typing and of course, everything changes. The people in the stories constantly surprise me, just as people do in life, and they write their own story.
I know exactly what you mean, Frances. No matter how well I think I know them, my characters always surprise me, too. Name two authors we might find you reading when taking a break from your own writing.
I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie, who seems to have thought of every plot in the world, and of Jane Austen. I love to savor Austen’s wonderful, elegant sentences, and the real passion her people hide under their carefully correct manners. I cry every time I read the story of young love allowed to escape in Persuasion, and watch it rekindled as a grown-up, true emotion.
What are two (or more) of your all-time favorite books in any genre?
Just recently, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy: fiction set in the 20th century, taking us through both World Wars to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’m so impressed by the way he manages to place his characters at important events, while remaining true to historical facts.
I also have a very soft spot for The Grand Sophy, one of Georgette Heyer’s most intelligent, feisty heroines.
But then, I also love a nice, juicy crime or police procedural: Kathy Reichs or Mark Billingham…
Tell us a bit about you. Where do you live, and how long have you been writing?
I’m so lucky to live in Somerset. My husband was in the Royal Air Force, so we travelled around every two years. Then, when he left for a civilian life, we could choose where to go. Not many people have that freedom. We decided to find a place we wanted to live, and worry about finding work afterwards.
I can walk to the sea, eat ice cream sitting on the sand, and take the grandchildren down to make sand castles, or I can walk in the other direction, across the fields of the flat Somerset Levels, meeting nothing but cattle and sheep.
I has such fun writing the first chapter of Danger at Thatcham Hall
, where Olivia, a town-dweller, takes a walk in the countryside near the Hall and encounters something she hadn’t expected…
What do you like best about your hero?
One of the pleasures of writing is the opportunity to draw a hero just as I’d like him. He’s intelligent, maybe a bit too clever for his own good. He’s flawed: at the start of the novel he’s so disillusioned he’s just out for what he can get. As the novel goes on, he has a few of his rough edges knocked off. He’s also tall. I do like a tall hero!
What do you like best about your heroine?
I love Olivia’s determination not to give up. She’s thoughtful and kind, but she’s also competitive and argumentative: she wants to solve the mystery before Nelson does, and she likes that she’s better at persuading people to tell the truth and part with their secrets than he.
They sound like wonderful characters. How do you choose the names and physical characteristics of your characters? Do you base them on real people?
Finding great names is a challenge. Nelson, a military man before the story begins, is named after Admiral Nelson, the English naval hero. I try to keep the names appropriate to the time of the story, and they have to fit the picture of the person I have in my head.
Epiphanius, a tramp, is named after one of my husband’s ancestors, a sculptor, and Theodore is the name of a late Victorian vagabond who lived near my mother’s family, out in the Cotswold countryside.
I don’t use real people as physical models for the characters, because their personalities are in place before their physical appearance. Their hair color, body shape and features then arrive, fitting their flaws and qualities until I can see them, walking, talking and arguing in my head.
I feel the atmosphere of place in the same way. Thatcham Hall is a real building to me, with an old disused chapel. I imagined the chapel and shivered, then decided what it was that gave me that feeling of disquiet. Was it the old, cold stones, or the draught that whistled through gaps in the windows, or the way a door slammed shut in the distance?
Tell us a little about your current work in progress.
I’m writing the third novel in the Thatcham Hall Mysteries series. I’m still planning it, and getting more and more excited about it. I’m hoping it will be out next summer.
What’s your tagline? Why did you choose it?
I’d love some help from readers on this. In England, we have a brand of cakes called Mr Kipling’s, with the tagline, “Mr Kipling makes Exceedingly Good Cakes.” My mouth waters every time I hear it.
I’m liking the idea of “Frances Evesham writes Extremely English Mysteries.” What do you think? Any better ideas?
I like that tagline! I'm curious to hear what others think. How can readers reach you or find you online?
Oh, how I love to Tweet. It’s my favorite social media. Here are a few contact details.
Thanks so much for being here today, Frances. I enjoyed meeting you!
Here's the blurb for Danger at Thatcham Hall:
Ambitious lawyer Nelson Roberts, jilted by his fiancée and embittered by war, trusts no one. He jumps at the chance to make a name for himself solving the mysterious thefts and violence at Thatcham Hall, a country house in Victorian England.
Olivia Martin, headstrong and talented, dreams of a career as a musician. She’ll do anything it takes to avoid a looming miserable fate as a governess.
The pair stumble on a body. Is the farmhand’s death a simple accident, or something more sinister? Who attacked the livestock at the Hall and why are the villagers so reluctant to talk? Can Nelson and Olivia overcome their differences and join forces to unravel the web of evil that imperils the Hall?
Aghast, Olivia slid to a halt, half-lying in the stream. Water seeped into both boots, chilling skin, bone and muscle. Her woollen skirt mushroomed, the dress absorbing moisture until damp fabric outlined every curve of her body.
The stranger watched, eyes widening. Oh! He was staring at her—at her—no, Olivia could hardly even think the words. He could see her—her shape. Shame drove out the chill, reddening her chest, and heightening the dreadful humiliation. Oh, if only the earth would open and swallow her whole! She gulped, strove for words, but none came.
Wait. The stranger wasn’t watching her at all. His gaze travelled further, coming to rest beyond Olivia. He stared, the knowing smile fading, and Olivia’s insides turned to horrified pulp. What could he see? Something terrible? Slowly, heart hammering inside a tight chest, she twisted, awkward in the flow of water, to peer over one shoulder.
A brown boot, heavy and cracked with wear, wavered in the stream, barely an inch from Olivia’s fingers. She gasped. A swollen leg bulged from the battered leather, the pale stretch of waxen flesh exposed through torn brown trousers. Olivia snatched back her hand, biting the knuckles to stifle a scream.
The man’s body lay on its back, head half-submerged, as the current stroked wisps of black hair across a pale cheek.
Frances Evesham can’t believe her luck, spending her days writing and collecting grandsons, Victorian trivia and stories of ancestors. She’s fascinated by the Victorians, especially the women in England, so complex and human, hiding longings, ambitions and repressed passions under society’s stifling conventions.
Cooking with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other, Frances devours books full of mystery, murder and adventure, pages spattered with olive oil and scented with rosemary and garlic, spines propped up on piles of lemons and oranges in the kitchen.
Writing the Thatcham Hall Mysteries leaves just enough time to enjoy bad jokes and puns, and wish she’d kept on with those piano lessons.
Buy links for Danger at Thatcham Hall: