1. This is a trilogy you should be very proud of. What was the hardest thing about writing Aldwych Strand Trilogy?
Book three was the hardest to write, partly because things had to tie up but mainly because this was the book where time went really wibbly wobbly. In book one the time jumps were logical – following as they do Lloyd George’s career. In book two once Lucy and Mark were in 1949 time flowed normally. But in book three, because of what the Armstrong’s have done, time’s all over the place – literally, And at times it was really hard to keep up with what was going on.
2. How much planning and research did you do and knowing what you know now would you do anything different?
We did a lot of research and by “we” I mean “long suffering husband” and I, did a lot of location visits – especially Ally Pally and Blenheim, which are so central to the second book! And of course Whitechapel for book three and beyond!!
Obviously, Google’s a marvellous thing to check when you’re in the middle of writing. Currently I have an etymology dictionary on the favourites bar of my search list, because there’s so many references we use in speech today that are just too anachronistic to use when writing the speech of a person living in 1900.
As for what would I do differently? I would have forced myself to write a more detailed plan. All I knew when I started “End of the Pier” was that the last line of the trilogy was going to be, and that when I reached it, I’d have to stop. Now, I’ve got a thing called scrapple on the computer and that’s brilliant for long term planning.
3. You must be a real fan of history. What and why is your favourite time and era in history?
Now that’s a difficult question to ask a fan of history. I like all history and all eras. I’ve always been drawn to people and their motives, I mean unlike now, where everything in the media is poured over and analysed like a scientist studies microbes under a micrscope (to badly mangle HG Wells) – all we have of people like Metternich and Valentinian are the official versions – and they wrote them! Though I must admit, like Lucy, I have one hell of a crush on Lloyd George!
4. (Spoiler alert) The trilogy is all about history being different. What happening now would you like to change or turn on its head?
I’d like to get rid of the cult of celebrity. Reality TV is seriously doing my head in! Everyone going on to shows like Jeremy Kyle and Big Brother. And as for the American version of Masterchef! It’s enough to turn Lord Reith into a spinning top of outrage! Give me Mash, or Doctor Who, or the Pre this season Top Gear any day!
5. The trilogy is YA. Do you find that restricting in anyway and how do you plan writing for a certain age group?
Because I work with teens I didn’t find I needed to do that much planning. Mark and Lucy’s references come from the school world – we all know of the kid who would put his tie in the shredder given the chance, or the trendy teacher who tries too hard to be popular. But the main restriction was the chapter lengths. I work with a lot of disaffected boys. Give them a chapter of over a thousand words to read and they don’t want to do it. Give them bitesize chunks and chapters that are a side/two side max and woo whoo! Instant achievement. Besides short chapters are handy to read in the loo!
6. A little Byrd tells me you have a murder mystery book coming in November? Symington Byrd to be precise? Tell me all about him and his world?
Your little Byrd was correct. Symington, Lord Byrd is a very intelligent playboy who lives in Mayfair with his batman - the long suffering Sergeant Sampson, and his very irreverent driver - Corporal Watkins, who both served with him and his cousin Chief Inspector Charles Carter in Northern India. When he’s not out carousing with Edward, Prince of Wales, Byrd does the odd favour for the government; investigating crimes that if they became public knowledge could undermine the security of the Empire. His is a very ordered world until the death of Millicent Jones turns that on its head. Because that’s when he meets Emily!
7. Who are your favourite murder mystery writers?
Agatha Christie is high on the list. I used to devour her stories when I was younger – even though I found them terribly formulaic at times – the crimes are clever, the heroines feisty, the deduction twisted and with enough red herrings to keep you hooked until the end.
I also adore Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh though Symington is not as tortured by war as Lord Peter and Inspector Alleyn are. His is of course just as well connected.
8. Is he more Holmes than Poirot?
Oh Byrd would like to think he is! Certainly he’s got “more of a people personality” than Poirot; he’s not as irritating or finikaty – and of course the ladies “lurve” him! But Byrd likes deducing things and showing off just how clever he is: just like Holmes! So much so in fact, that he’s regarded as the cleverest man in London. Which means it comes as a bit of a shock to meet someone cleverer than he is. You see…. And please… don’t tell him… but once he’s met Emily - he’s more Lewis than Morse! And the brilliant thing is, it’s something everyone can see but him! He still thinks he’s the genius of the pair!
9. This is a book for adults. What's it like writing across different genres and will you continue to write in both or others?
It is indeed – though I’m hoping some of my teen audience will come across from the YA books – even though the chapters are longer. I’m still writing from different perspectives which I enjoy, and the history is still as accurate as I can make it. Also, I haven’t changed the style – though I did try and it didn’t work for me and I had to go back to the drawing board, which I understand drove my publisher to the brink of even more madness!!
I do admire people who can write purely from first or third person narrative. But I find I need different narrators. Symington has to explain himself as he goes along. It’s him showing you how clever he thinks he is. Emily is never going to divulge her secrets – well not willingly - so her side of the story is third person. And of course some of the characters (especially Sampson and Watkins) do enjoy throwing in their five pennyworth every-so-often.
At the moment with the prospect of six books in the Byrd series, I think I’m going to be writing murder mystery for a long time. And after that who knows?! Mind you, look closely enough and even in these books, the Aldwych Strand characters can’t keep away!
10. Will there be more murder in your writing?
Let’s just say – there are currently four murders in the second book: “A widowhood of Spiders” and the word count is just under 30,000… so I’ll leave you to work that one out.
11. What is the perfect murder?
The one that is absolutely justified. When somebody who has escaped justice gets their comeuppance – like the murder of Ratchett/Cassetti in Murder on the Orient Express. Now there is a man who deserved everything he got.
12. What do you enjoy the most about writing?
When I’m thinking about the next book I enjoy reading loads of other people’s books – different genres and styles. Up and coming authors, and tried and trusted favourites. It’s brilliant. There are so many talented writers out there and I love looking at what they’re doing and reflecting on their work as I ponder and plot.
While I’m writing (and I know this sounds strange to anyone who’s not a writer), I enjoy the way the characters don’t reveal everything at once. As a writer I have to go on the same journey as my readers go on – only they get it without the sulks some of my characters have when the real world gets in the way of their demands to tell their story.
It’s a like being on a rollercoaster in a maze. The twists and turns are frightening, and there are times I think this is what’s going to happen – only to find out that it’s something else completely.
Of course with three books out and the fourth on the way, I’m now at the stage where I’m selling to complete strangers and that’s great too. And strangely enough although I like getting five star reviews (don’t we all?); perversely I enjoy the critical ones more, because I know someone’s had a reaction to my book: and books should be like marmite. Love them or loathe them – I don’t care; just don’t leave them on the shelf!
For one week only Sarah E.Smith's best selling YA book trilogy The Secret Of The Aldwych Strand - Times Wars are reduced in price.
You can get each book in the trilogy for just 99p.
This promotion is to celebrate the launch of KGHH Publishing at the end of this month and as a way of thanking Sarah's devoted fans.