Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Author Elizabeth Bailey Talks About Writing

I’m thrilled to have author Elizabeth Bailey join us to
talk about her writing as she prepares for the April 3 release of her delightful new book, THE DEATHLY PORTENT (Berkley Prime Crime Trade Paperback Original, 978-0-425-24567-5, $15), in which a charming yet cunning sleuth faces another mystery. 

Here’s a brief synopsis of the book: The village of Witherley is aghast after a violent murder takes place. The town believes a witch is behind it, doing the devil’s work, and soon a witch hunt escalates out of control. 
Ottilia, once a lady’s companion and now bride to Lord Francis Fanshawe, rapidly uncovers numerous suspects all with grudges against the dead man. Ottilia must wade through the growing hysteria to unravel the mess and determine the one true menace. 

Elizabeth has graciously answers several questions for me about her writing and the inspiration behind this latest release.

Mason - What inspired you to write murder mysteries set in this era?
ELIZABETH - It’s the same era I chose for my historical romances. I’ve mostly avoided the later Regency period because that era is quite tightly circumscribed with real characters and events from the past. Whereas the earlier time is much looser and I can build my own world for the characters to inhabit. I also love the late Georgian world, which was a good deal rougher and more passionate than the later time. For example, men were allowed to cry in public – “not a dry eye in the house” refers to the House of Commons, not the theatre – and it was far less restrictive on females, which is helpful for my sleuth. It was all rather more swashbuckling, and I love that. 

Mason - Do you ever catch yourself including something modern in your story and then having to rewrite the scene?
The Deathly PortentELIZABETH - It’s all too easy to slip in anachronisms in terms of attitudes, I find. There’s a fine balance to be drawn between what was actually general thought in the period and what will be acceptable to a modern audience. One is not writing for an 18th century reader, so you have to build a story that will appeal now, and that includes attitudes. I don’t think I’ve had to rewrite a scene because of it, but I have had to temper or adjust occasionally. 

Mason - Do you consider research a chore or something you enjoy?
ELIZABETH - I love research, and am all too liable to get lost in it and forget to write! Because I’ve been involved in writing in this era for so long, I’m enough immersed in it to be able to write first and research later for details. But I do have to research aspects of the crime ahead, because that’s all new to me, and new research arises from that. 

For example, I had to find out about a blacksmith’s forge before I could write scenes set within it. I always do check my illustrations for my settings – I trawled for villages before I decided just how Witherley would be set out. And I have a marvelous book of 18th Century maps covering the entire country, which I use beforehand to set the whereabouts of the area. It tells me where the post roads were and which towns had post inns, and I always use the names as they appeared in that map, even if they have evolved into a modern take. Nun Eaton instead of Nuneaton. This sort of research could keep me occupied for hours – but the book has to be written. 

Mason - What one piece of writing advice have you received that you would pass on to writers just getting started?
ELIZABETH - “A writer writes.” When I read this, it changed my whole attitude to writing, and I was still a newbie and “trying”. I stopped trying. I just started to write. My advice is always to just write. Don’t think too much, write. Don’t get caught up in story arcs and inciting incidents and all those strange terms that writing guidance has thrown up over the years. Write as fast as you can and let the inner writer do the work. Only stop and think if you need to work out the next bit of plot. Otherwise, just get at it until you have a first draft. You can’t edit a blank page.
Mason -  What can fans expect next from you?
ELIZABETH - I’m working on a story that’s a bit of an oddball for Ottilia. She isn’t sure whether a murder has been committed or not, and meanwhile she’s contending with a girl fit for Bedlam and a houseful of secrets and hostile strangers – and all this against the discomfort and mood swings of early pregnancy. She’s never been so much in need of Francis’s care and support, if only she could stop herself carping. The dowager is back too, and we finally meet Ottilia’s doctor brother Patrick, who has been such an influence on her ability to read a corpse.
Elizabeth, thanks so much for answering these questions and giving us a look at ‘behind-the-scenes’ of a writer. I love your advice, “just write” - perfect.

Now for a bit of background on Elizabeth. An avid reader from an early age, Elizabeth grew up in colonial Africa under unconventional parentage and with theatre in the blood. Back in England, she trod the boards until discovering her true métier as a writer in her thirties, when she fulfilled an early addiction to Georgette Heyer by launching into historical romance. Eight years and eight books later, Elizabeth joined the Harlequin Mills & Boon stable, fuelling her writing with a secondary career teaching and directing drama, and writing plays into the bargain.

With 18 historicals published, she began to concentrate on the mainstream and in 2005, Elizabeth’s novel FLY THE WILD ECHOES was released in both the UK and the US simultaneously by Unlimited Publishing. The novel was a contender in the Booker list for that year. A mystery – a whodunit of the mind, as one reader has it – the book explores the interwoven lives of three women and investigates the possibility of past lives. 

Now retired from teaching, Elizabeth directs for a local theatre group where she lives in West Sussex. Recently, however, even this foray into drama has had to take a back seat as she changed direction to enter the world of crime. 

Still thoroughly involved in her favourite historical period, Elizabeth placed her female sleuth in the late Georgian world of intrigue, elegance, aristocrats and rogues, where privilege rubbed shoulders with the harsh realities of making ends meet. While Ottilia moves into the upper echelon, she is thoroughly at ease in the lower, which allows Elizabeth to cross boundaries with impunity. Not content with mere authorship, Elizabeth launched as an independent publisher with Timeless Books created on the Lulu website. She also runs an assessment critique service for writers. For more on Elizabeth and her writing, visit her website
Do you enjoy books set in the Regency era? Do you find it fun to step back in time when reading, step into the future or stay in the present era? Thanks so much for  stopping by today.


  1. This is really exciting to have the new book from this well known author. There is always a unique style of writing from Elizabeth. This help article spinning service to learn better ideas of writing.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Elizabeth.

    Elizabeth - I agree with you that research can be a really interesting part of writing. And it's especially important for historical mysteries because as you say, it's easy to be anachronistic if one's not careful. I wish you much success!

  3. Elizabeth, thanks so much for answering my questions. I always enjoy learning more about a writer's process. Wishing you much success.

    Margot, thanks for stopping by.

    Essay Writing, thanks for dropping by.

  4. I love the 18th Century too. So romantic!

  5. Thanks so much for all your good thoughts. It was fun to share - writers love to talk writing! Mason, thank you for inviting me round.

  6. I love the cover too! I think that's such a cool concept and to write a mystery set in that time period is cool too.

  7. You are new to me; however, I am intrigued and love the Regency period. I can't wait to start reading and find all of your books!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.