Literary Spotlight: Anne Perry
Anne Perry is a British author of historical detective fiction. She has published nearly 70 books including her World War I novels, her Christmas novels and two sets of Victorian detective fiction. Her story "Heroes" won the 2001 Edgar Award for Best Short Story.
Q: Critics have said your Victorian novels attain the societal sweep of Trollope or Thackeray. What is your response?
A: They are the masters of the art. I never thought of myself like that, but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It’s a nice complement.
Q: What is it about the Victorian era that led you to write in that time frame and what about it fascinates readers?
A: I began writing mysteries set in Victorian London on a suggestion from my stepfather as to whom Jack the Ripper might have been. I have loved the two series – William Monk and Thomas Pitt – because in a way it is the end of history and the beginning of the modern world.
We in England are less interested in the era than other countries. My books fare better in France, Spain, Germany and the United States. There was optimism prevalent, unlike the grey cynicism of today. There is an endless variety in the capital of the Empire, the largest post in the world, and the immense energy of optimism. It has been the center for everything and anything and anybody who was anybody. The Victorian era had energy of invention which was vital and led to tremendous literature.
Q: Regarding your two series featuring William Monk and Thomas Pitt, how do you manage to keep the characters consistent and yet fresh?
A: I change; the world changes, and the characters are given different challenges.
Q: How much research is required to combine history with mystery?
A: I’m not sure how to measure the amount of research. I outline a plan in my mind and research to see if it will work. I ask myself, could it really have happened? As far as the writing goes, it’s easy to get carried away with adding lots of historical information, but actually one can get away with doing less. The key is the reader needs to feel they are there. By addressing medical and domestic issues in that time it can work well. For example, you want to know how they traveled, what fabrics were worn in the time, how did they refrigerate foods, those kinds of things. Of course, the story is about people and there are some emotions that are timeless, but there are others that are dependent on the time we live. For example, what embarrassed the Victorians might not embarrass us today.
Q: How did you depart from your Victorian series to writing your four Christmas novels?
A: I wanted to do a Christmas short story, but my agent said it wouldn’t make it. I put it to the editor who agreed and the novel came about. It did far better than we expected. I took one subsidiary character from the series and created a story around them. The books have not done badly here and done well in France, Germany and Spain.
Q: How different is it for new writers in England vs. America? What advice do you have for new writers?
A: It’s a very different economy in America. In Britain authors have an advantage in that each time a book is checked out of our libraries a small sum goes to the author. There is a ceiling of 9,000 pounds an author could receive which is enough to pay a mortgage. That’s not the case in the states. Authors receive nothing when their books are checked out of libraries. There is such competition and the profits must be shared by the bookstore, the publisher and the distributor.
As far as writing suggestions, study your plot very carefully. You must care about it and put passion into it. Luciana Pavarotti practiced every day; writers must practice their craft as well. I highly recommend reading “Writing the Great Breakout Novel,” by Donald Maass.
Carlotta Holton is the author of Salem Pact and Touching The Dead, and is a member of the National Federation of Press Women and an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association.
Carlotta Holton has just received her second award for Touching the Dead from the National Federation of Press Women Communications Contest. Click here to purchase the book.