Here's a lovely interview I did recently on bookish jottings.
The Irish Inheritance by MJ Lee blog tour Q&A
I am delighted to welcome author MJ Lee to Bookish Jottings today for a chat about historical crime fiction, research and what’s coming up next!
Thank you so much for joining me here at Bookish Jottings, Martin! It’s great to have you here. Could you please start by telling me something about yourself and the books you write?
Thank you for having me. I’ve spent my life writing for a living, but in the commercial arena. I was the creative director of a number of large advertising agencies, ending up as the Chief Creative Officer of a multinational in China. That last posting was a blast, I can tell you. It led to my first series of books for HarperCollins/HQ set in Shanghai in the 1920s. I also write a series of novels for Endeavour Press with Samuel Pepys as an investigator working for Charles II which came out of my research at University. My latest book, The Irish Inheritance, features another of my passions, genealogy. I’m fascinated by the history of families. They all have secrets no matter how conservative they appear from the outside.
What drew you to writing crime fiction?
I write historical crime fiction. All my books have a historical element to them. I think it’s because I’ve always loved history. I remember as a five year old child sitting up in bed and looking at the pictures in a book my mother had given me. The book was the Kings and Queens of England. I guess it set me on my path to writing later in life. Why there is always a crime element I’m not so sure. Perhaps, it is because there’s a moral side to crime stories. There is right and wrong, with all the shades of truth that lie between, in every crime story. It’s this moral element that attracts me. What pushes people to commit a crime?
What kind of research do you do for your books?
I love research and having undertaken a research degree in history, I’m very comfortable working with original documents. For example, my latest novel, The Irish Inheritance, is set partly in the Easter Rising of 1916. We’re very lucky as there is an extensive archive of interviews with the participants in the Rising at the Irish Archives, the Bureau of Military History, on RTE, the state television station, the Pension service, as well as many memoirs for the period from the likes of Eamonn O’Malley. The Bureau of Military History in Dublin contains over 1200 interviews from people involved in the Easter Rising, transcribed in the 1950s. These are a wonderful trove of original material which I used extensively to ensure the events I described actually took place. Historical accuracy is incredibly important to me, but I’m writing a novel not a work of non-fiction. The imagination comes into play when I see the events through the eyes of my characters, with all their eccentricities and flaws.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It’s funny you should ask that, because it was something I finally worked out for myself just this year. All in all, it takes me approximately 500 hours from beginning work to finished book, over a period of about six months. But some take longer than others.
How would you describe your latest book, The Irish Inheritance, in a single sentence?
It’s a genealogical mystery where digging up the past reveals more than secrets
What is The Irish Inheritance about?
The Irish Inheritance is the first in a series of Jayne Sinclair genealogical mysteries.
When an adopted American businessman dying with cancer asks her to discover his real family, it opens up a world of intrigue and forgotten secrets for Jayne Sinclair, genealogical investigator. She only has two clues: a book and an old photograph. Can she find out the truth before he dies?
What do you think accounts for the perennial popularity of crime fiction?
I think it’s popular for two reasons. The first I touched on earlier; crime fiction is essentially moral. It deals with moral dilemmas that people face in extreme circumstances. The second is that it taps in to an inbuilt need for people to hear and read stories. Most crime is a Quest story – somebody is searching for the truth of an event. It could be a murder, a theft, or even a missing parent. The Quest has been an enduring archetype for all of human history from the desire to find the promised land, through to the search for the Holy Grail, up to the present day movies like Star Wars. They are all Quest stories. For some reason, we are hard-wired to seek the truth.
What is your all time favourite crime novel?
A hard question. For historical crime, it has to be Josephine Tey’s ‘The Daughter of Time’. For modern writers, any series by Peter James or Ian Rankin keeps me happy. I have read Agatha Christie’s ‘And then there were none’ more times than I care to remember. It’s the perfectly plotted novel.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Do three things. Read. Read. Read. And when you get bored, read again. But read with a critical eye. How was that plot point introduced? How did character A go to B? How was the motivation for the character introduced?Did you believe it? Do you believe these characters?
What’s coming up next for you?
I’ve finished the second draft of the second Jayne Sinclair genealogical mystery, it should be out later this year. Just a couple of more edits to go. I tend to write four, it’s a process that works for me. I’m also writing the final sections of the third Inspector Danilov book as we speak. It’s coming out early next year. Then, I’ve planned and plotted the second Samuel Pepys story set in the Versailles of Louis XIV. I’ll start writing in October and it will also come out next year, I hope.It’s a busy time, but I love revisiting these worlds. For me, they are just as real as the world I live in, perhaps more so.