AUTHOR OF ‘THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS AUSTEN’
Today, on December 16th, Jane Austen’s birthday, it’s my great pleasure to interview Lindsay Ashford, acclaimed crime-novelist and journalist, and author of ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’, recently published by Honno Press. ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ is also the first of Honno’s books to be available for download as an ebook.
To celebrate, Lindsay is giving away a signed copy of ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.’ You can find details of how to enter below.
Most appropriately, I chatted to Lindsay while she was in Chawton House in Hertfordshire, the former home of Jane Austen’s brother, and so a place familiar to Jane Austen herself, and now home to a unique collection of books focusing on women’s writing in English from 1600 – 1830. The Chawton House Library also works closely with Jane Austen’s House Museum. So a perfect setting!
Lindsay Ashford is best known for her popular gritty contemporary crime series featuring forensic psychologist Megan Rhys. So I began by asking what had inspired her to delve into the past to write a historical mystery? Lindsay explained that it was when her partner was offered the chance to work for Chawton Library that she began to spend time there, as they divided their time between Chawton and their home in Wales.
Gradually, she became fascinated by the letters and archive material in the library and found herself being draw into the world of Jane Austen’s family. While reading Jane’s letters, she came across Jane’s description of her final illness: ‘I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour.’
For a writer who has studied criminology and researched the symptoms of arsenic poisoning for her Megan Rhys books, alarms bells immediately began to ring.… But it was only when, not long afterwards, she met the former president of the Jane Austen Society of North America, who told her that a lock of hair which is now in a nearby museum had been tested for arsenic by its former owners and come up as positive, that the kernel of a story began to stir. The writer’s mind began working on ‘what if’. Just supposing Jane Austen had been murdered rather than died of ignorance of the effects of arsenic in treatments for rheumatism, then who in her immediate circle might have wanted her out of the way, and why? And so ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ was born.
I then asked Lindsay what she found as a challenge in writing a historical fiction book rather than a modern urban thriller and was this research process very different from when she is researching her Megan Rhys books, such as ‘Frozen’ and ‘The Killer Inside‘?
Lindsay explained that she found it more relaxing in one way undertaking the historical research. Keeping up with all the latest forensic tecniques, when so many people are so knowledgeable about them nowadays (thanks to all the police ‘procedurals’ in print and on TV) is demanding when researching her Megan Rhys books. On the other hand, writing a novel in a historical setting meant making sure every detail of setting and language rang true, which meant checking everything to make sure there were no glaring mistakes.
Lindsay tells ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ very much in her own style. As Jane Austen’s own writing is so much a part of our psyche, I wondered if Lindsay had found it difficult not to imitate her style, or unconsciously lift bits from her books, especially as there are shades of so many of her well-known characters in the novel. Lindsay explained that she had not really read much Jane Austen since she was at school, when she had really been too young to appreciate the perceptiveness and humour. When she first arrived at Chawton, she read all of the novels and so came to them with a fresh eye. Something she feels was definitely an advantage when she began researching Jane Austen’s family for ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’.
Fortunately, after living with Jane Austen as a character in her head, Lindsay can switch off from all her research and still very much enjoy all Jane Austen’s novels now. Lindsay’s favourite is ‘Persuasion’ and Anne Elliot is her favourite heroine. When I asked Lindsay if she had a favourite hero, she confessed to having a soft spot for Greg Wise as the caddish Willoughby in Emma Thompson’s film version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’. And I’m definitely not going to argue with that!
Lindsay says she would like to tackle another historical mystery at some point, possibly set in the Regency period – but probably not with real historical characters so closely involved. Which sounds intriguing.
And lastly, I asked Lindsay about her experience of working with the wonderful editors at Honno Press, and if she had any tips for aspiring writers. Lindsay confessed that – like most published writers – she has a draw full of rejections for her work, alongside novels that will never see the light of day. Again like many published writers, it was only when she began to work with an editor that she began to truly perfect her craft. For her, she says, an editor is an impartial eye that will tell you just as it is. It will not be kind, like friends and family will be tempted to be, but a good editor will give a new writer the benefit of years of experience. Lindsay’s advice is to listen and learn. Even an experienced writer still needs the input of an editor, as every writer gets so close to their story it’s quite impossible to see it with a clear eye. Even for ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’, it took about four drafts to get the book right and the best it can be. There’s always room to learn!
To win a signed copy of ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’, please answer the following question:
What was the name of the Hampshire residence of Jane’s brother Edward?
Please email your answer to: firstname.lastname@example.org
And so thank you to Lindsay Ashford for being interviewed for my blog!
Lindsay Ashford became the first woman to graduate from Queens’ College, Cambridge in its 550 year history. She gained a degree in Criminology. Lindsay Ashford was then employed as a reporter for the BBC before becoming a freelance journalist, writing for a number of national magazines and newspapers.
In 1996, Lindsay took a crime writing course run by the Arvon Foundation. Her first book, Frozen, was published by Honno in 2003. ‘Strange Blood’, also featuring forensic psychologist Megan Rhys was shortlisted for the 2006 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. She wrote The Rubber Woman for the Quick Reads series in 2007.
‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ is published by Honno Press.
You can find Lindsay at her website:
And no mention of Jane Austen is ever complete without:
🙂 HAPPY CHRISTMAS! 🙂