Saturday, 6 May 2017

Diana talks to... Lizzy Drake, author of The Elspet Stafford Mysteries

Hi Lizzy, lovely to meet you. Let us crack straight on...hopefully this will be a lot of fun and enjoyable for both of us and our readers
If your latest book A Corpse in the Cipher was made into a film, who would you like to see as the main character?

Oooh, great question! Who would play Elspet and who could be the Dowager? I would love the historian Ruth Goodman to play the Dowager – I think she could get the expressions perfectly (though she’d need a lot of makeup to look much older). As for Elspet – someone new and fresh who could act well.
What made you choose this genre?

I wasn’t always interested in Tudor – but Tudor kept chasing me. My MA was in Early Medieval Archaeology but I ended up doing an internship at an Early Tudor building in York (Barley Hall). Then I ended up joining a Tudor dance group, and then re-enactment… well, you get the picture. Tudor was stalking me since before the millennium. I ran at first, but now, to get revenge on the era, I write murder mysteries set in it.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
I first wanted Elspet to be disabled in some way – I wanted her to have the eyes and ears and brain to collect all the information she needed and solve crimes in the Tudor court, but she surprised me when I started writing. She refused to have a disabling illness or have been born with any problem that would have hindered her chances at marriage.
So, I needed another character to balance out Elspet’s youth and beauty. That, of course, is Elspet’s partner is crime-solving, the Dowager Duchess Lettice, a cantankerous personality whose glares have more power than even Medusa’s and whose tongue can clip even Thomas Howard short.
Where Elspet is shy, the Dowager is bold. Both are clever but with Elsept’s fresh approach, the Dowager’s mind gets the workout needed to enjoy life again.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
I used to (and still do sometimes) write teen fiction. I mean the dark, urban folklore teen fiction that keeps youngster’s paranoid and up at night wondering what that scratching in the closet was.
But my next series, I’m pretty sure, will be set in the Victorian Era. And not a murder mystery, though still histfic.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
How old? How serious? Does Attack of the Killer Sandcrabs at 8 years old count?
I’d always written, but after I’d married and moved to the UK, I had some spare time before my next job (I ended up working first at Unwins Wine Merchant, then Colchester Archaeological Trust). Between job applications, I drafted a teen fiction based on historical events in Coggeshall, Essex. It wasn’t much good – it sits still in my bottom drawer, filled with red pen – but it relit the fire for writing and after that I wrote another teen fiction which won an award.
Marmite? Love it or hate it?
I grew up in the US and during my postgraduate degree I used to make fun of the horrid ‘oil slick’ on my British roommate’s toast. I had some on a bet and never went back. I love it!

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I must sit at my special chair. I must have silence. I must… eat. I can’t help nibbling when I write. Flaming Cheetos are my favourite, followed by a tall glass of milk.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
I’m not sure what you mean… All of my characters are family 😉

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Everything, anything. Jewellery making, realtor (what I’m doing now in my day job), lifeguard, shop owner, garden designer, park ranger. You name it… I’ve probably done it!

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Green tea. Depends on the meal. Usually I go for water. I forget what I’ve poured if I pour a hot drink and then it’s too tepid. I can’t drink more than half a glass of wine without slurring my typing, so… milk (if with Cheetos) or water. Boring, eh?

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I plan it all out. Then it goes differently when I write. My characters are both divas and bullies. Especially the Dowager.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I’d go for some hand-written style that looks like Anne Boleyn’s.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
The ciphered letters that Catherine of Aragon sent to her father when she was between husbands.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
OMG all the time! I replan everything and see where the heck she’s gone off to now.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
Loads. For book 1 of The Elspet Stafford Mysteries I dedicated an entire year for research. Both original documents that have been uploaded to historic sites, visiting museums, archives and yes, loads and loads of research trips (and yes, it was very, very expensive). I kept on researching while I was drafting, but it was a lower key – just using published books on the era and (real) people in my books.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
I abhor Thomas Howard. I’d love to bump him off before he gets his nieces married to Henry and then killed. Alas, I can only dream…

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
I only offroad on facts when there is a void or debate over details. If there is a massive historical fact, I do my best to stick to it. My background is in archaeology and I like facts. I get frustrated when other authors take giant liberties and confuse or befuddle (or just plain lie to) readers on what happened in the past.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Yes. Especially in contemporary accounts from the era. Visiting Spaniards might write what they observe with a taint of distaste, while others might have overexaggerated what really went down.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I’m not at liberty to say… sigh…

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
When I have time. Which seems not to be very often. I’m very particular in my reading tastes. Most of my literary loves are writers who have passed away (some decades, some centuries ago).

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

Water. It’s quite novel knowing that my characters would faint at the sight of seeing someone drink it.
Last but not least... favourite author?
Right now? Daphne Du Maurier. Or Agatha Christie. Mmmm, maybe Dumas. I’m in a Musketeers phase at the moment. Musketeers and mysteries lol.

Lizzy Drake has been studying Medieval and Tudor England for over 15 years and has an MA in Medieval Archaeology from the University of York, England. She has been writing for much longer but the Elspet Stafford Mysteries began her writing career in the genre.

When not writing or researching, Lizzy can be found reading or gardening. She balances time between her two homes in Essex, UK and California.

The first in the Elspet Stafford Mystery series, is available
here !

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Lizzy Drake April 2017








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