Ain’t I lucky? I am honored to host my favorite author Victoria Dowd on the blog today. Victoria’s the author of the Smart Woman mystery series. Written in true Golden Age Detective Fiction style (with a dash of dark humor), Smart Woman series has received a lot of praises – many from my GAD blog buddies. Having read the first book in the series – A Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, I could not wait to read the latest book in the series – Body on the Island. Shipwrecked and stranded on an island with a murderer in their midst – doesn’t this sound like an exciting plot?
Hello Victoria and welcome to my blog The Book Decoder. Please tell me and my readers about yourself.
Hello and thank you for having me here. I’m a crime writer and I write the Smart Woman’s Mystery series. The first book was The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder which was out last year and the sequel, Body on the Island, is out on 23rd February. Which is all very exciting!
I was originally a criminal defence barrister, for many years, appearing in the Old Bailey. But I hung up my wig to write full time after I started to have a little success with short stories being published and then I was lucky enough to win the Gothic fiction prize. I’m concentrating on the crime books at the moment but I also write the Adapting Agatha series about adaptations of Agatha Christie novels, which is great fun and I appear at various literary festivals talking about this. Aside from writing, I’m a very keen gardener which I think many writers are as it gives me a lot of time to think and work out difficult plots. I also enjoy sea swimming, when it’s not too cold, and have swum around Burgh Island in honour of my heroine Agatha Christie. It’s the island that inspired her to write And Then There Were None and Evil Under the Sun.
What is Body on the Island about?
It’s a classic whodunit but with lots of dark humour. The Smart women decide they actually weren’t very good at surviving after the Slaughter House in book one, so decide to embark on a survival course and end up on an uninhabited island with no way to escape. The Smart women are the characters who survived book one, Ursula Smart, our somewhat unreliable narrator, Pandora her mother, Aunt Charlotte, Mirabelle and Bridget. But the promised gentle weekend of foraging and camping swiftly turns into a desperate battle for survival. Their boat capsizes and leaves them washed up on the wrong island. The Smart women face starvation, freezing conditions and — worse — no Wi-Fi. Then the murders begin. Someone is killing them off one by one.
You are an ardent fan of Golden Age Detective Fiction. Who are your favorite GAD authors?
I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie, of course. But I also like many other GAD authors such as Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, John Dickson Carr and Ngaio Marsh. The wonderful thing about having a terrible memory is I can re-read them all and I’ve often forgotten the ending. I do like new authors who write in this tradition as well such as Martin Edwards and Stuart Turton. I’ve also recently discovered a wonderful series of books written by Brian Flynn and re-printed by Dean Street Press. I found these on the Puzzle Doctor’s fantastic In Search of the Classic Mystery blog.
What is the inspiration behind writing The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder and Body on the Island?
My love of Golden Age Detective fiction was the inspiration to write this series but also I wanted to update that with really strong female characters. I’m from a Yorkshire family that was heavily populated with very strong women and they were huge characters. I was very inspired to write something with genuine characters at the heart of it and watch the impact of these women being caught in such life threatening situations. Sometimes that can be very raw but also, I think, sometimes it can be very funny. I love writing comedy that happens at very inappropriate, awkward moments. That really inspired me to inject some dark humour into murder mystery books and these ladies provide a lot of opportunity for that. I wanted to show real women who are very close, some related, and how that dynamic works when a great tragedy has affected them. Grief is a very powerful theme in the books. I really wanted to put death at the centre of the books which, although it’s always there in murder mysteries, isn’t very often dealt with.
Ursula Smart is not her real name… what is her real name? And why is she keeping it a secret?
Ah, now that would be giving too much away! Really, she is a very normal, fragile young woman. Ursula Smart is a pseudonym she adopts to portray herself as a bigger, more exciting version of herself. Everything in the books is through her lens. This is Ursula’s idea of who she is, not the very tame, pale reality. She’s telling her own story with lots of embroidery. She doesn’t want the world to know she’s not quite as fascinating, deep and interesting so she’s created the Smart women to tell her story. By book three, her mother is basically using it as branding and even has a blog where she too is writing about their near death experiences called Death Smarts. It gives Ursula a front, a kind of damaged super-hero persona, to face the public and tell their story. The reality could never be as big. Also, there’s a large amount of self-preservation about Ursula. She needs her anonymity so she can have some semblance of normality in her real life.
What’s next for Slaughter-House Five?
I’m very excited for book three! This one is set in a village on Dartmoor, one of my favourite places. It’s a magnificent landscape filled with myths and old folklore. The Smart women are invited on a safari supper party, which is something I experienced one New Year’s Eve! Basically, they move from house to house in the village for each course of the meal. When I went on one in my little village, it struck me how people appeared and disappeared at various points in the evening. We were wandering from house to house with very little light. Obviously, the writer in me saw this as a fantastic setting for a murder mystery. No one could be sure who was where and at what points. I’ve also been working on a locked room scenario for this book. I love these kind of settings but they take a lot of plotting. I think I’m there but we’ll have to wait and see!
What does a day in Victoria Dowd’s life look like?
I try to be very strict about my working routine. I work in my study, with ear plugs in! Sadly, I find it too hard to work with any distraction so there’s no music or background noise. I will usually deal with emails, social media and website posts for an hour and then I get to work. I write for about five hours a day and lunch is often at my desk. I stop at about 5pm as I’m often exhausted by then and I find forcing myself to write at that point is counter productive. I settle down with a glass of wine, a good book and my family.
Blogging about her experiences, a Safari Supper party and another secret (which I purposely choose not to reveal), I cannot wait to read book #3. If you haven’t read A Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder and Body on the Island, drop whatever it is you are doing and grab your copies of these books. ASAP!
Many thanks to the lovely Victoria Dowd for agreeing to an interview. Like I said before, I am lucky to having gotten a chance to interview you. 🙂