When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and why do you write?
As I get my narrator to say in my very first book, The Herring Seller’s Apprentice, I have always been a writer. I can’t really remember a time when that wasn’t what I wanted to do, though it then took me a few decades to actually produce a publishable full length novel. What keeps me writing is people saying that they enjoy reading the books. If they ever stopped doing that, then I’d find something sensible to do with my time.
What kind of relationship do you have with your protagonists?
Ethelred and John Grey couldn’t be any different could they?!! Ethelred is a rather conservative, pessimistic, middle aged, mid-list author. He wishes it was 1957. John Grey is young and idealistic. He’s happy with modernity, though modernity to him is of course 1657. I think it’s difficult to write any character, or any main character, who isn’t, deep down, a little bit like you; otherwise, how can you understand what they do? But you draw on different aspects of your own personality for each one. Personally, I’d be quite happy living in 1957 or 1657.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
The sort of person that it takes at least two sentences to describe.
How long did it take you to write A Masterpiece of Corruption and did you find it different from writing your first historical novel A Cruel Necessity?
About a year. Books always seem to take about a year. The first book in a historical series tends to be fairly research-incentive. You’re constantly having to check whether petticoat breeches were in fashion in the 1650s or what people ate for breakfast or indeed whether they ate breakfast at all. And you want to show people you’ve done your research – you make sure you describe petticoat breeches in detail. You never stop researching of course, but later you feel you have to put less of it in the actual book. You and the reader now know stuff like that.
If you could send one person to a remote desert Island with no internet access, mobile phones or email who would it be and why?
Me. I might get some work done.
What do you wish you’d known when you started writing?
I wish I’d understood that you need to keep in mind both the plot of the book you’re writing and the story arc of the series. It’s all too easy to create problems for yourself two or three books down the line. Of course I had no idea that the first book would develop into a series so, even if I’d understood all that, I wouldn’t necessarily have done anything different.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
P G Woodhouse. How to make your prose sound effortless, even when it clearly isn’t!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing A Masterpiece of Corruption?
Until I started to read up on it, I’d been unaware that there was a theory that Cromwell had been murdered. A Masterpiece of Corruption centres around the attempt to foil just such a plot. Obviously, it’s not much of a spoiler if I admit that Cromwell dies eventually, because a quick look at Wikipedia will confirm that he is dead and has been for quite a while. But was it malaria, as was announced at the time, or something more sinister?
How different is your approach to writing the Herring series and the historical fiction series?
With any historical series, you are working to some extent with actual historical events. So key points in the plot are already mapped out for you. I suppose therefore that I have a better idea of the outline of the book when I start. The Ethelred and Elsie books could go pretty much anywhere they want. I also don’t have Elsie’s sarcastic commentary on events with the John Grey series, though Aminta (John’s sidekick) is beginning to develop her own line in helpful criticism of John’s methods.
Which fictional character would you most like to meet in real life?
What makes you keep picking up and reading books?
Because there are so many great books being written. We’re living through something of a Golden Age.
How has being a published author changed your life?
You no longer get that sense of dread on Sunday afternoon that it is Monday tomorrow.
If you could quote a line or paragraph from your work what would it be and why?
It is early on Tuesday and I am not yet dead (Masterpiece of Corruption)
Friday night in the Tyler home, you get to invite three people to dinner, past or present. Who would they be and why?
Samuel Pepys, Aphra Behn, Lady Castlemaine. They’d have all the seventeenth century gossip …