Lady Montfort has been planning her summer ball for months, but when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it’s more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect. Taking matters into her own hands, the countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder and clear her son’s name. In this enchanting debut novel Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them.
When I decided to write a mystery there was no question in my mind that it had to be historical as I am a romantic. The first decade of the 20th century offers a world very different from ours today and yet the era is completely accessible; our great-grandmothers were Edwardians! I remember mine quite clearly, she was always beautifully turned out and a stickler for little things like perfect manners.
If I went back in time I would want to live in an era that had at least the rudiments of electricity and plumbing in my beautiful country house. Other proviso’s would be that I had pots of money, being poor in 1912 would be terrible, and I wouldn’t go without my wonderful egalitarian husband with his 21st century sensibilities toward women. But the real draw was that this age produced some of the most interesting, eccentric and colorful characters of recent history, simply crying out to be included in a murder story.
How I wrote my first book serves no useful purpose other than to relate that I woke up every morning charged to write my story and was deeply proud when I had finished my first draft in October 2008 of 158,000 words . . . 800 pages. The thing was huge it was enough for two books. So I set to work to prune down those endless paragraphs and run on sentences until I had a something almost acceptable.
Second time around I was a little more disciplined in my approach. This is how I wrote Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman, and the next in the Lady Montfort series:
- Before I throw myself into writing the story I think about the people who inhabit the world that I have created. I research the houses, towns and villages they live in, the part of England where the story takes place and of course the time in which the story takes place, especially the year in which I am writing. What extraordinary things were happening in 1912? If I want my characters to stay true to who they are I have to understand them and know them intimately: their place in society, what they look like, their odd little idiosyncrasies and habits, likes and dislikes, and the part they play in my story. However clever your plot, it is the characters who make your story live. Write bios for them if you have to – I do.
- With place, time and characters organized it is time to map out the plot-line. And also consider what happens to make these people do what they do. Are they changed by events in the story? What travails did they go through to succeed or fail? I plot the beginning the middle and the end in skeleton form. I do not write one word of the story itself until I am clear on some very specific points and where they fall in the arc of the story. I do this is by writing a little synopsis for each chapter and scene. Kind of like the chapter headings in Victorian novels: Chapter One: In which Edwin’s parents die of Spanish influenza; he discovers that there is no will. His father’s older brother (a drunkard) is appointed guardian, and moves into the house with his grasping wife. Edwin makes plans to run away. This does not mean I stick to it when I am writing; it is just a guideline for me so I don’t get lost halfway through my story.
- With a workable idea for a plot, the characters in place and the world they live in securely entrenched in my mind I start writing. This is the best part! Sometimes the characters take over and tell the story for me. I write away – and keep on writing until the end. I only re-read what I have written the previous day and then on I go. Then I return to the manuscript and start to re-write and shape.
- At the end of my second draft. I give myself a thorough pat on the back, ice my swollen fingers and put the manuscript away. This hiatus from the second draft is for at least six weeks – sometimes longer. In this time I jot down ideas I have, but I don’t go near the manuscript. This is percolating time; when my sub-conscious is brewing away while my conscious is making beds and weeding the garden. If I miss writing I dream up ideas for other books, write blogs and catch up with social media. When I return to the manuscript I promise you that it is at this time the holes and the gaffs and the inconsistencies will be kind enough to say who they are.
- What comes next is the real slog. You discover a favorite noun or adjective pops up a hundred times in three consecutive paragraphs. This is edit and polish time. Do it until you suspect you are beginning to over-work your story and stop. Voila!
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About the Author
Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is Tessa’s first novel. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington. For more information please visit Tessa Arlen's website. Read Tessa Arlen's blog at Redoubtable Edwardians. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. Subscribe to Tessa Arlen's Newsletter.
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