Monday, December 21, 2015

Murder She Wrote!

For successful writer Carola Dunn, writing mysteries is more complicated, as it requires more reasoning and less emotion. She speaks about her novels and her popular character, Honourable Daisy Dalrymple.

Writing novels are a tricky business. You need to know the reader’s pulse without losing sight of what you want to write. Carola Dunn, a known name for her historical romances & regency novels, knows how to write such good novels. Her crime novels featuring the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple are interesting cases solved by the charming Miss Daisy. Her loving bourgeois husband Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher at Scotland Yard is reduced to helping his gifted wife, while she also handles a career as a writer. With upto 22 Daisy Dalrymple series till date and the Cornish Mystery Series, she is surging ahead to pen more entertaining books for her fans.

Many writers plan to become writers or at least are in the process of becoming one, despite being in another profession. For Carola, it was entirely an accidental foray into writing. “While my son was small, we moved a lot and I had lots of part-time & temporary jobs. Then we settled down and my husband thought I ought to get a ‘proper’ job. He had said for years that I ought to write a book because I read so much. So, I decided I might as well give it a try. I didn’t expect to complete it, but once it was written I thought I might as well try to sell it. And I was lucky enough to find an editor who loved it.” The good start eggs her to write until date.

Carola happens to be American who grew up in UK. Carola feels English in American and American in England. “Almost all my books are set in England, so most of the time I live in America physically but in England in my head. I have to look up many idioms before I use them in my writing to be sure they are British, not American. Call me a hybrid. However, the two cultures are much more similar these days than they were when I was growing up.”

Regency novels are what connect to Carola as a writer. Indian readers still are on a back foot with this genre. Carola states that Regency happens to be a period in history (1811-1820), after King George III went mad only to have his son take over as Prince Regent. “It’s the time when Jane Austen’s novels were published. In the 1930s, Georgette Heyer, another English author, wrote the first of over 30 romances set in the period. With memorable characters, excellent historical detail, and very varied plots, she set the tone for the genre.”

A layman might think it quite strange to jump genres from romance to mystery. Carola reveals, “Looking back, I’m amazed at how many of my Regencies had elements of mystery. The very first, Toblethorpe Manor, has a heroine with amnesia. No one knows who she is and that mystery drives the story. The Miser’s Sister has a kidnapping and an attempted-murder/suicide. Several have spies or smugglers, and many have villains of one sort or another who have to be thwarted.”

With different genres, one assumes a writer takes different writing process for each. Carola states, “The goal of a romance is to introduce the hero & heroine to each other, have them fall in love, overcome obstacles, and end up living happily ever after. It is a straightforward process. The goal of a mystery is to present a crime, give readers plenty of clues to enable them to solve it, and give them plenty of red herrings to lead them astray; and then to have your sleuth(s) reach the solution logically and/or intuitively, in a satisfying way.”

This, she says, makes writing mysteries more complicated, as it has more reasoning and less emotion. “That doesn’t mean there’s no reasoning in a romance or no emotion in a mystery, but the balance is quite different.”

All this talk leads to her popular & fascinating character – The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple. She is a career woman in the 1920s and a woman detective to boot that. Carola reveals that her first choice was the setting, time (1920s) & Place (England). For her main character, she wanted it to be female. “I made her the daughter of a lord so that she would be able to question anyone from a duke to a street-sweeper. However, I killed off her father in the flu epidemic of 1918-19 and her brother in the First World War, so that she would have to work for a living. Then I made her a journalist so that she would be able to go places and ask questions. She’s interested in people and usually likes those she meets, which makes it reasonable that they’ll tell her things they wouldn't tell the police. She met Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard in the first book, Death at Wentwater Court, and they married at the beginning of the ninth book, To Davy Jones Below. Both their mothers were bitterly opposed to the marriage because of the difference in class. Daisy’s stepdaughter, Belinda, loves her dearly. Though each book is a separate story, the characters develop over the series, as my readers & I get to know them better and see how they behave in various circumstances.”

Carola Dunn
Writing a period detective novel is not an easy cup of tea, as the writer must have the knack of keeping that period alive in every way. Carola has had her share of reading done of mysteries written in the 20s & early 30s. That allowed her to feel the period and understand the people. “The rest is research, which has become much easier since the amount of information available on the internet has increased by leaps and bound.”

A writer loves his/her character like his/her child. It is the same for Carola. If asked about Daisy, she admits that she likes Daisy as a person. “I hear from many readers who think of her as a friend. They don’t even care that much about the mystery aspect, it just gives an excuse to spend time with Daisy and her family & friends! I try to make the mysteries all different from each other. They tend to be light-hearted but also deal with the emotions that lead to murder and those stirred up by the murder. Some of them also deal with serious social issues, particularly those caused by WWI.”

Considering the amount of mysteries she has written, the fan following must be strong & interesting. “I’ve written 22 books in the series, so clearly I have enough readers to make my publishers happy. I hear from a lot of them. The letters/emails I like best are those that say the Daisy books have helped them through times of trouble or illness by distracting them from their woes. That’s a great compliment,” Carola reveals. Since her books are her children, she does not like to keep any favourites.

Fans eagerly await the next book to come from Carola’s writing stable. She reveals that she has just finished a fourth Cornish mystery – series set in Cornwall around 1970. “It’ll be out next autumn. In the New Year, I’ll be starting on another Daisy book. In the meantime, the second Daisy book, The Winter Garden Mystery, will be reissued (March, I think) and the most recent, Superfluous Women, will come out in paperback,” Carola ends.

Creativity (and a thumping good at that) never stops coming to its admirers. One is assured that Carola Dunn never keeps her pen down and allows fans like us to be delighted with more books.

All of Carola Dunn books, mystery and Regency, are available as e-books. Readers can visit her on Facebook and on her website –

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