Thursday, March 15, 2018

Tessa Arlen Shares What Inspires Her and a Giveaway

Photo by Chris Arlen
Tessa Arlen is  visiting Writer's Corner for her new book in the Lady Montfort Mysteries series Death of  an Unsung Hero.  I have one copy up for grabs.  Giveaway will be open to US only.  Please follow the link to rafflecopter. 

What inspired you to begin writing mysteries? Was the Lady Montfort Mysteries a series you always wanted to write?

Ever since I read Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes when I was fourteen I wanted to write mysteries. I particularly enjoyed the Golden Age mystery writers: Dorothy L. Sayers Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham often referred to as the Queens of Crime who wrote detective fiction between the wars. And it wasn’t until I started to write mystery that I discovered that they considered their whodunits as a game for both author and reader: the elements of the mystery must be clearly presented but in such a way as to arouse curiosity, to entice the reader to try and guess the outcome and if they were as clever as the author, to guess it before the denouement.

I also wanted to write about the great country houses of England with their enormous and gorgeous gardens in the 1910s, where life for the privileged few was idyllic thanks to their servants, their money and the rigidity of the class system. The ‘have-nots’ of course had a much grimmer time of it. My two amateur sleuths in the Lady Montfort series are from opposite ends of the class system and struggle with issues in context with their time and place in history. Clementine Elizabeth Talbot the Countess of Montfort is from of one of the oldest families in England and her housekeeper, Edith Jackson, was raised in a parish orphanage. Together these two remarkable women step lightly across the great class divide of Edwardian Britain to unite their considerable talents in clandestine inquiries that take them into all walks of life in the new 20th century when even the status quo was on the cusp of great change.


You have wonderful leading ladies in Lady Montfort and her no-nonsense housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson. Are there any supporting characters that came easily to you in the writing process?

I am particularly fond of my villains: I think Teddy Mallory in Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a perfect example of an Edwardian rotten apple and I had great fun writing him. I write a short biography for my murderers: their physical appearance, idiosyncrasies, their likes and dislikes. I really enjoy enhancing the more positive aspects of their characters to camouflage their evil side, and then revealing little glimpses of their particular flaws.

But writing Clementine’s children came really easily to me, because I have three of my own –now grown-up, who gave me tons of fodder. In Death of an Unsung Hero my favorite supporting character is Lady Montfort’s daughter Althea, who has skillfully avoided marriage to a ‘man of substance and background with a bank account to match’ and has managed to engineer all sorts of opportunities for world travel. In the first three books she is a distant figure always off on another jaunt, but now that Britain is at war she is marooned on the family estate and is trying her best to run the local chapter of the Women’s Land Army or the Land Girls as they were called. The WLA was an organization tasked with providing farmers with labor –terribly important to an island cut off by the German U-boat blockade from importing food from America and Canada. Althea has to deal with farmers who don’t like the idea of city girls, or girls at all, working on their land. At the same time she is causing her mother all sorts of headaches as she is particularly independent in spirit and often irritated by the petty convention that young women of that time had to put up with. Althea was great fun to write she is bright, generous and sunny tempered but determined always to have a say in her world, to be effective and to contribute in a meaningful way. Althea could in fact be any one of my three daughters! There are some great scenes between her and her mother on the business of chaperones, and some lively moments with her and her brother when they decide to help their mother and Mrs. Jackson with some sleuthing. I found myself sympathizing with poor Clementine as she tried to deal with her independent daughter and her son, Harry, temporarily invalided out of the war, both of whom would rather be anywhere than on their father’s country estate.

The officers are suffering from shell-shock (PTSD), among other things, when they arrive at the auxiliary hospital. How much research did you have to do regarding how PTSD was treated in the early 20th century?

I loved doing research for this aspect of the Great War, and my interest in shell shock goes back to a perfectly wonderful book written by Robert Graves in which he recounts about his WW1 experiences and those of his friends in Goodbye to All That. A complete non-conformist Graves blew the lid off the belief that it was “sweet and right to die for one’s country.” He was also a close friend of Siegfried Sassoon, the war poet, who was sent to Craiglockhart hospital for throwing his Military Cross into the Thames and writing a letter to The London Times about the waste of young men lives. It was such an inflammatory piece that he only avoided court martial by agreeing to undergo treatment for shell shock. From there I read about the work done at Craiglockhart hospital for shell shock, or Dottyville as Sassoon called it, by two very talented doctors who were pioneers of PTSD therapies used today: John Rivers and Arthur Brock. They believed that talk therapy and ergo therapy, the therapy of doing simple and useful everyday tasks, were instrumental in helping their patients recover from the mental stress of trench war fare. Craiglockhart encouraged its officer patients to write poetry and in my fictitious Haversham Hall hospital the patients were encouraged to paint.  Any occupation that ‘outed” the locked down, stiff upper lip suffering of men on the front line for months on end was encouraged. Drs. Brock and Rivers were remarkable men for their time. Most military doctors treated shell-shocked men and officers with all sorts of barbaric methods: electric

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