Today Hannah Dennison is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Death at High Tide, her first novel in the Island Sisters mystery series.
Welcome, Hannah. 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.
“Death at High Tide”, the first book in the Island Sisters Mysteries has been described as “Doc Martin” meets “The Durrells in Corfu” with a splash of Agatha Christie’s, “And Then There Were None.” This is my third mystery series, (I write the Vicky Hill Mysteries and the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries), all of which lean toward the lighter traditional mystery side.
I have always been intrigued by the dynamics of siblings and so, when I moved back to the UK after twenty-five years in California, I was over the moon about reconnecting with my sister again. Of course we had been in touch regularly and visited many times, but it wasn’t the same as living just half a mile from each other again.
“Death at High Tide” follows aspiring photographer, Evie Mead and her Hollywood producer older sister Margot Chandler, who unexpectedly discover that a crumbling Art Deco hotel on a remote island twenty-eight miles off the southwest Cornish peninsula has been mysteriously left to Evie in her husband’s will.
Margot surprises Evie with tickets for a weekend away at the Tregarrick Rock hotel, insisting they should go undercover to find out the 5 W’s –“Who, What, When, Where and Why.” Needless to say, murder and mayhem follow.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
The idea came from a good friend who was the HR director for a resort on one of the five inhabited islands on the Isles of Scilly. My friend claimed that seasonal workers often fled to the islands because they were running away from something or hiding from someone. This concept intrigued me and in many ways, it is true of Evie and Margot who are hoping to start a new life there.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
I always find that the theme presents itself after I have finished each book. And, without fail, even though I don’t intend to do it, I always write about reinvention. It’s in my two other series as well.
I’m fascinated by how those (including myself) have to start over following a loss— whether it’s through a death, a divorce or a serious illness, a big move to a new town or country and sometimes, it’s just starting a new job or becoming a parent. I’m interested in how people cope with what life throws at them.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favorite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
Of course writers are usually all their characters so I don’t really have a favorite! I keep telling my own sister that she is not Margot Chandler in Death at High Tide (the sisters are both parts of me). I always start with someone I know and can visualize physically. Sometimes it could be someone I noticed on a train or just someone I spotted when I was out walking my dogs. Often it’s an actor – I just need to see their face. Once I have the visual and maybe a pronounced character trait e.g. a turn of phrase or a pet peeve, I will write a brief character bible with the usual questions that include motivation etc. I always give my characters – even the minor ones – a secret, something that they would hate anyone to know about, as well as what I would expect find in their trash bin. You can tell a lot about a person by what they throw away.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
If it truly exists, even if part of it is fiction, it’s critical that I visit the place. You can only get so much from Google, YouTube and travel shows. When I wrote an early draft of “Death at High Tide” I had not been to Tresco, (my fictional island is a mash-up of Tresco and Burgh Island off the South Devon coast). I had described everything as I had imagined it to be but when I actually got there, the visceral experience of smelling the fresh air, walking the wild northern part of the island (which is like the Scottish Highlands) or sitting in the Abbey Gardens (which is like the South of France), affected me deeply. And of course, who wouldn’t be affected by the history of the place with the dozens of shipwrecks that litter the surrounding ocean floor. The island was also a refuge for Royalists during the English Civil War.
Tresco itself is tiny. It only measures 2 miles by 1 mile wide and there are no cars, no streetlights and no police presence or hospital. There was a sense of isolation and remoteness that I hadn’t felt in my online research.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
I get completely sidetracked by research. It’s a blessing and a curse. I have to know the background to everything I write about. There is an abandoned lighthouse that is featured in the book so I spent ages just looking at photographs and reading diaries of lighthouse keepers! I can’t help it.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
Yes! I must talk about the cat on the cover. His name is Mister Tig. He and I went through a lot during our seventeen years together – the death of my dad, my international moves, my daughter going off to college and of course, the trials and tribulations of launching my writing career. I never intended to put Mister Tig into a book but voila! Now he is immortalized on paper. Mister Tig has his own Instagram page if any of your readers are cat lovers. It’s mistertig_hotelcat.
Thank you for these questions.
It was my pleasure. Thanks for answering them, Hannah, and good luck with Death at High Tide, the first book in theIsland Sisters Mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Hannah Dennison: Hannah was born and raised in Hampshire but spent more than two decades living in California. She has been an obituary reporter, antique dealer, private jet flight attendant and Hollywood story analyst. For many years Hannah taught mystery writing workshops at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program in Los Angeles, California.
Hannah writes the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries and the Vicky Hill Mysteries both set in the wilds of the Devonshire countryside where she now lives with her two high-spirited Hungarian Vizslas.