Today Dianne Freeman is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder, her latest novel in the Countess of Harleigh mystery series.
Welcome, Dianne. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
I write the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series set in late Victorian London. The central character, Frances Wynn is a former American Heiress, now widow to the Earl of Harleigh. When the series begins, Frances has just finished her mourning period for her late husband and moved to a posh neighborhood in London to start a new life for herself and her young daughter. The ghosts of her old life follow her however, and she finds herself a suspect in a case of murder.
In A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder, the third book in the series, Frances is planning a simple wedding in the countryside for her sister, Lily. Everyone is having a lovely time until the servants, the wedding party, and even the guests begin to fall victim to mysterious “accidents.” The injuries are bad enough, but when someone dies, Frances is driven to find out if someone is trying to put an end to this wedding—or just to the groom.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
A Victorian house party personifies the British upper-crust for me—all those aristocrats at play and behaving badly. What better place to set a murder mystery? Even with a murderer on the loose, it would be an egregious breach of manners to leave before the designated date, so the only choice is to find the killer.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
When she was eighteen, Frances married the man her mother chose for her. It was an exchange of money for a title. Now, ten years later, her mother is interfering with Lily’s choice for a husband, so their mother/daughter relationship and how they come to an understanding plays a role in the story.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
My characters come to me pretty well formed. I learn to understand them by examining their pasts. I don’t write biographies for them. I rely on one or two experiences that shaped their lives. Frances plays the leading role because she’s my favorite. She has so much to learn and so much to give and she’s always willing and eager to do both. She adopted the British “stay calm and carry on” attitude, so even when everything is chaotic, she remains unflappable.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
I don’t enjoy a lot of description myself, so I tend to stay away from it. However, letting the characters interact with the setting will let readers experience it through the character’s eyes, or ears, or nose.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
Historical fiction requires a lot of research. I spend much of my time in the pages of the British Newspaper Archive. The news stories let me know if any major event took place during the time of my story and what interested the people of that time. There were newspapers that dealt specifically with crime so I can learn not only what type of crime the people of London were dealing with, but how the police managed to solve and prosecute the cases. Even the classified ads help in determining things like where my characters can afford to live and how much their servants can expect to earn.
For A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder I needed to learn about the leisure activities of the late Victorian era—the types of pastimes one might find at a country house party. I also needed to find a country house, something I could use as a model for Risings, George Hazelton’s family seat. Fortunately, I enjoy research and hope these details transport the reader to another time.
Thanks for answering my questions, Dianne, and good luck with A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder, the latest book in theCountess of Harleigh Mystery series.
Readers can learn more about Dianne and her writing by visiting her website and her Facebook and Goodreads pages.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Dianne Freeman: Dianne is the acclaimed author of the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series. She is an Agatha Award and Lefty Award finalist, as well as a nominee for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award from Mystery Writers of America. She spent thirty years working in corporate accounting and finance and now writes full-time. Born and raised in Michigan, she and her husband now split their time between Michigan and Arizona.