The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Frances Brody

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Frances Brody

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Summary: Sue is a long-standing fan of Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton mysteries. She thought that the latest - A Death in the Dales - was ingenious, well researched and a darned good read. There were quite a few questions when Frances popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 6 October 2015
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue is a long-standing fan of Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton mysteries. She thought that the latest - A Death in the Dales - was ingenious, well researched and a darned good read. There were quite a few questions when Frances popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Frances Brody: I don’t need to close my eyes! This week I’ve met readers for a Crime & Curry supper at the Wheatley Arms; at the Settle Library launch of A Death in the Dales and in two bookshop visits. My readers are thoughtful and have insightful comments. They are also good at making suggestions for Kate to visit particular places and want to know will she find happiness. They span the age range, are female and male, and can be forthright. One reader met me with the comment You don’t look how I imagined. Did you think I’d be taller? I asked. She said, No, I thought you’d look like Kate Shackleton.

Thanks to the magic of email, I hear from readers in the US and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Denmark who, if they wish, can imagine I look like Kate Shackleton!

  • BB: I've really warmed to Kate as a character. What - or who - was the inspiration for Kate Shackleton?

FB: We have lots of photograph albums and when I needed a sleuth, Kate stepped out, with her 1920s bob and elegant look. Hers was a generation that had to be strong and adaptable. She personifies those qualities, as well as being quick on the uptake, persistent and compassionate. Yorkshire prides itself on strong women and she is an amalgam of women I met when growing up – and there are still plenty around. It’s been enjoyable finding out more about Kate as I go along. What really tests a person, real or fictional, is the choices she makes, particularly under pressure. But who knows where characters really come from? My favourite comic character when I was child was Pansy Potter, Strong Man’s Daughter.

  • BB: I've always been impressed by the way that I could 'walk' the books. How do you choose the locations?

FB: I walk the areas lots of times myself, to become familiar with the locations and to develop a sense of place. It’s something I enjoy doing – one of the bonuses for me.

The stories begin small, with an image in my mind of an incident, or a feeling, a mood. That leads on to my considering what sort of setting will be suitable – what place will have the features that I see in my mind’s eye. With A Death in the Dales, I knew there would be a missing boy and a cave. The village of Langcliffe in the Yorkshire Dales came to mind. There are several caves in the vicinity and I had visited enough times to know that the village and the nearby market town of Settle would provide the background the story needed.

  • BB: What made you choose the twenties as the starting point for the Kate Shackleton mysteries?

FB: I wrote three sagas set in Leeds, spanning the period 1914 to the 1930s, so when I came to write the Kate Shackleton stories I felt at home in that period. I’d listened to family stories about those days, read fiction and non-fiction and liked the music, the dances and fashions. It was a time of enormous change, especially for women. Society was fractured after the Great War and people had to remake their lives under the most difficult circumstances. Millicent Fawcett said that before the war women were serfs and afterwards they were free.

  • BB: How do you do the research? You seem to be so sure-footed not only in how a particular location was in the twenties, but also in the attitudes of the time.

FB: Change happens very slowly. When I talk to people who remember the 1930s, 1940s and the 1950s there are echoes of lives lived before theirs. It’s revealing when people talk about their work – particularly crafts that have a long tradition and something has been passed down through generations. I’m happy if I come across memoirs – not of the great and good but those who’ve lived what might be regarded as unremarkable lives. In my view, there’s no such thing! One title I particularly remember – a very slim volume of a woman’s recollections - was On Earth to Make the Numbers Up.

  • BB: Do you have Kate Shackleton's future mapped out several books in advance? I'm thinking of her personal life, her business and her relationships with her birth family and her adopted family.

FB: This makes me smile because I did exactly that and made notes of where Kate would go, what she would do, who she would meet, etc. I was completely wrong! The stories develop slowly, organically, and I don’t always know what direction they’ll take. I’m glad because this makes it more interesting for me – a bit scary too.

  • BB: You're now being spoken of as being in the top rank of crime writers. Given that crime was not your first choice of genre as a writer, have you been surprised by the success of the Kate Shackleton novels?

FB: I’m surprised and pleased that Kate Shackleton has found enthusiastic readers and I feel very lucky. Those fabulous covers have a lot to do with the success of the books.

  • BB: What do you read for pleasure?

FB: The non-fiction on my bedside table is The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. I recently enjoyed reading a couple of books by Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke and Flowers for the Judge.

  • BB: You've one wish. What's it to be?

FB: At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, let’s have a fairer world please.

  • BB: What's next for Frances Brody?

FB: In 2016, my publisher will re-issue three Frances McNeil sagas as Frances Brody novels: Sisters on Bread Street , Sixpence in Her Shoe and Halfpenny Dreams. It’ll be amazing to have four books out in one year, the fourth being Kate Shackleton’s next adventure which I’m now writing – with a tight deadline!

  • BB: Thank you for taking the time out to chat to us, Frances. There's lots for us to look forward to there.

Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton Mysteries in Chronological Order

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