Friday, October 29, 2010

Carola's Dunn's a New Murderous Musings Blog Team Member

by Jean Henry Mead

The author of more than 50 novels, Carola Dunn was reared in England, where the majority of her books have taken place. Still others have been set in Belgium, France, Spain and Russia.

Her first novels were Regencies but she later gravitated to mysteries. "The genre I started my writing career with, Regency romance, is basically very English, with an English setting for most books. So when I started to write mysteries, though I'd been living in America for a good many years, my mind had been dwelling in England at least part of that time. It seemed natural to continue with an English setting.

Her Daisy Dalrymple series, set in the 1920s, is intimately entwined with her story and characters, as is her new Cornish series. "My new series is set in Cornwall. I've never lived there but from about the age of eight, family holidays were always spent on the North Coast, every summer and often in the spring, too. My sister now lives on the other side of the county, on the bank of the River Tamar, so whenever I'm in England I return. Cornwall holds many happy memories for me. "

Her Daisy Dalrymple series is written against a backdrop of England’s social changes, which make for an exciting setting for murder and mystery. "So many young men had been killed in the First World War that women were able to keep the non-traditional jobs they had occupied during the war. There was a constant struggle between those who thought the world should return to the way it had been prewar and those who embraced the changes. The class system was still strong, but crumbling at the edges."

Her new Cornish series is set in the 1960s, also a time of change. Britain had more or less recovered from the Second World War. "The Empire was supplanted by the Commonwealth, the 'affluent society' was in full swing, and young people proclaimed their distrust of anyone over thirty. In my books, the setting, both time and place, is always intimately entwined with the story and the characters. They can't be separated. As times change, people act and react differently, so though the motives for murder may remain much the same, the results can be radically different."

Carola wrote her first book in 1979, sitting at the kitchen table with a pile of lined paper and a ballpoint pen. "I'd never taken any creative writing classes or read any how-to books, but I used to get good marks for essays at school and I've been addicted to reading since a very young age. As I was lucky enough to sell that first manuscript--once it had been typed--I thought I'd better strike while the iron was hot. So I wrote another, and just kept on at it. Which is not to say I've avoided various vicissitudes. The big one was when both the publishers for whom I was writing stopped publishing Regencies within six months of each other. But that was a great incentive to switch to a different genre, so I'm not complaining."

Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer were her role models when she began writing Regencies, "for the sense of the period and the sense of humour." Her mysteries have been compared to those of Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and PG Wodehouse,  who influenced her writing. She also lists Josephine Tey, Patricia Wentworth, Ngaio Marsh, Michael Innes, "and many other authors from between WWI and WWII. Perhaps the most significant way they've influenced me is in demonstrating that mysteries can be driven by character and motivation as much as by clues or detailed descriptions of bloodshed."

The novelist writes six days a week, with Sundays reserved for laundry and gardening. "I used to take an hour off for lunch but I discovered I never got much written in the hour after lunch, so now I take two and run errands. I usually quit around 5 pm--quit sitting at the computer, that is. My brain is on duty 7/24. Ideas are as likely to pop up when I'm walking by the Willamette or waking up at 2 a.m.

When asked whether characters or plot are most important, she said, "For me, characters, whether I'm writing or reading. A book may have a fascinating plot but if I don't care about the protagonist, I can't be bothered to read it. And as I spend 24 hours a day with my characters (yes, I do occasionally dream about them), I prefer to have my head inhabited by people I like."

She's never prepared a detailed outline, but most of her books have been sold on the basis of a 7-10 page outline. A few have had no outline or synopsis at all. and with her novel, Sheer Folly, she wasn't sure till the next to last chapter who the murderer was or how her protagonists could solve the case.
Carola advises aspiring writes not to take lists of rules too seriously. "Somerset Maugham said, 'There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.' (Or words to that effect.)

Second, to be a successful writer, you need three qualities, Talent, Luck and Persistence. You can get away with two out of three. But the only one you control is Persistence."

Carola's articles will appear here the first and third Wednesdays of each month.

Her website: where she occasionally blogs.

You can also find her on Facebook.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome to Murderous Musings, Carola. It's great to have you with us.

Beth Terrell said...

Hi, Carola--and welcome.

I did a Spotlight interview of you for the online Sisters in Crime once. You were a delightful interview subject, and I look forward to reading your posts.

Chester Campbell said...

Posted for Carola Dunn:

Thank you, Jean. I'd like to mention that I'm being interviewed at l-e-n-g-t-h on the Barnes and Noble mystery book club site this week:

Helen Ginger said...

Great post. Your closing paragraph is so true! I love that.