Monday, September 27, 2010

A Brief Talk with Carola Dunn

by Norma Huss
Carola Dunn was born and grew up in England. After graduating from Manchester University, she set off around the world, but only made it halfway, to Fiji, before turning back to get married. Carola lived in Southern California for 20 years, and then moved to Eugene, Oregon, where she lives now. On her website she says, "I love it here, love the changing seasons. Contrary to reports, it doesn't rain all the time, and you don't absolutely have to wear Birkenstocks! I'm not far from the Willamette River, and walk there every morning with Trillian."

Sinc Blog: Carola, you started your writing career with Regencies, then began writing the Daisy Dalrymple series set in the 1920s. Now you have a new series as well, Cornish mysteries set in the 1960s.

 Is there any particular reason that you've chosen those time periods to write about?

Carola:  I started writing Regencies after having read Georgette Heyer's so many times I knew what was coming on the next page. I tried a few Regencies being written at the time (late '70s) and decided they were so bad I could do at least as well, and thereby put off getting a "proper" job after years of part-time and temp work. England's Regency period was very short (technically 1811-1820, or '21, depending on your definition), but for some reason it gave rise to a different sort of romance story from other periods. I was lucky enough to sell my first ms, so instead of looking for that proper job, I went on writing.

My Regencies vary from "comedies of manners" to time travel, via smugglers, spies, real historical events (eg the Battle of Waterloo), ghosts, and fairytales retold with a Regency setting. I wrote for several different publishers, and was writing for two when, within six months of each other, both stopped publishing the genre. I was actually in the middle of a 3 book contract at the time (later I did manage to sell the two unpublished mss to a different publisher and went on writing for them for several years). For some time I'd been thinking I'd like to try my hand at something different, but as long as I was making a living with Regencies it was hard, not to say impossible, to switch. This, obviously, was the moment to give it a go. Thus was Daisy Dalrymple born.

I've been asked many times why I didn't stay in the Regency period when I started writing mysteries. It would have meant a whole lot less research! But, apart from the challenge, I didn't want to confuse readers as to whether they were getting a mystery or a romance. I chose the 1920s because I saw parallels between the two periods. Both the Regency and the 1920s were times of great change, especially for women. Just one aspect: Think of the enormous hooped skirts of the earlier Georgians and comparative freedom of the Empire line dresses of the Regency; regression followed, to crinolines and bustles, and worse, to the "Grecian bend" of the Edwardians, but the first World War brought liberation in clothes as in so many other ways.

As for the Cornish mysteries, I said in a foreword that the setting is "somewhere between my childhood memories of Cornwall and the present reality." The fact is, after 30 years of checking every historical detail, I didn't want to be pinned down too closely. The two books so far seem to have settled more or less in the late '60s, but if readers find bits and pieces that don't quite fit, I disclaim all responsibility.  

SinC Blog:  You are originally from England but now write from your home in Oregon. Do you visit England to see the areas you write about?

Carola:  I go every couple of years. My sister lives in Cornwall, a great help! As for Daisy, some of the books are set in imaginary places; some, for various reasons, are in real places thinly disguised by a name change (usually acknowledged in an Author's Note). When I use the real name of a real place, I've been there and researched it thoroughly. For instance, the next Daisy book, Anthem for Doomed Youth, is set largely in Saffron Walden. It happens that I went to school there, so I was already familiar with the town, but I went last year and walked around all the places I intended to use in the story. I also spoke to library and museum people, got their email addresses, and after coming home pestered them with many questions. It's impossible to be sure in advance of exactly every detail that will come up when writing. Email and the web between them make research much easier than when I started writing 30 years ago. Make that VERY much easier. 

Sinc Blog:  Tell us about the research that enables you to not only find a situation to build a mystery around, but gives you the words and experiences that fit precisely into that time period? And, once you are "in" a time period, how easy or hard is it to change into writing about another time period?

Carola:  At this point in the Daisy series, with 18 published and a 19th in production, finding a situation is largely a matter of trying to work out what I haven't already done! That perspiration/inspiration combination. Apart from research in period detail, I read a lot of novels written during the '20s. They give a better feel for the language of the time than any amount of non-fiction. They also provide a lot of information about the way people thought and lived, the social conventions.

The advantage of the periods I've chosen, obviously, is that there is plenty of contemporary material available, and it's easy to read. Earlier periods would be much more difficult.

Switching periods from the Regency to the 1920s was quite confusing at times. For a few years I was writing both, and I'd find my '20s characters speaking very Regency language. Once I'd stopped writing Regencies, '20s language came easily. As far as experiences--the customs and conventions of the times were not difficult to keep separate. Daily life changed enormously in that 110 years, in so many ways.

SinC Blog:  What is your writing day or week like?

Carola:  I "work" six days a week for about 6 hours a day. That's sitting at the computer. But it doesn't include research done in the evenings and, for example, this interview, which I'm completing on a Sunday. Not to mention that my mind, conscious and unconscious, is working on the story I'm writing 24/7. Sunday is my "day off"--laundry and yard work--but I woke up this morning with several ideas which I had to write down at once, though I won't develop them till tomorrow.  

SinC Blog:  Last question: Will you tell us more about your latest or your favorite book?

Carola:  My latest book, A Colourful Death, is the second in the Cornish Mystery series. The protagonist is Eleanor Trewynn, a widow in her 60s. She spent her life travelling all over the world, working for an international charity. Retiring to a small fishing village in Cornwall, she bought a cottage and turned the ground floor into a charity shop. In this book, her neighbour, Nick Gresham, an artist, is suspected of killing a fellow-painter, so Eleanor tries to find out who really did it. The other POV character is Nell's niece, Megan, a local police detective with an extremely grumpy boss.

Next April, the 19th Daisy Dalrymple mystery, Anthem for Doomed Youth, will be out. It's very much concerned with the after-effects of WWI. Daisy and her husband, DCI Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, find themselves involved in two cases that appear to be completely separate, but turn out to be connected--or are they?

I hope readers will visit my blog.  I'm also on Facebook.

SinC Blog: Thank you for visiting SinC into the Depths of Mystery, Carola.


Norma Huss has been writing mystery for years, but only had her first novel published last year. YESTERDAY’S BODY was published by Wings ePress, Inc. Another mystery, DEATH OF A HOT CHICK is ready to make the rounds of agents. She’s a wife, mother, and grandmother as well as an advocate of a local bloodhound search and rescue unit. Visit her web site.


Kathye Quick said...

Ah, the 60's. Now a much gentler time although we didn't know it then!

Good luck with your series. Mega sales to you

kathye Quick said...

Ah the 60's. Although we didn't know it then, it was a much more uncomplicated time.

Goos luck with your series. Mega-sales to you

E. B. Davis said...

Hi Carola!

I'm familiar with your Daisy series because I like that era too. Glad to hear about the Cornwall series. My ancestors from there, by name of Willoughby and Edmounds. So I'll have to pick up that series. I agree that the twenties and sixties were a pivotal time for women. I suspect that my grandmother was a flapper!

Marilynne said...

Carola would like to answer your comments, but she's not been authorized to do so.

See her comments on Facebook.

Regencyresearcher said...

Anything Carola writes is worth reading. I have read her Regencies, her Daisy mysteries and the two Cornwall books. Must admit that Daisy is my favorite.