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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, E.L. Johnson talks about her latest historical fiction book, The Mistress Murders, and what inspired her characters.
Written by JJ Barnes
Previously I interviewed E.L. Johnson about her book, The Strangled Servant. Now I am delighted to say she has returned to The Table Read to talk about her new book, The Mistress Murders, and what inspired this new story.
E.L.Johnson writes historical mysteries. A Boston native, she gave up clam chowder and lobster rolls for tea and scones when she moved across the pond to London, where she studied medieval magic at UCL and medieval remedies at Birkbeck College. Now based in Hertfordshire, she is a member of the Hertford Writers’ Circle and the founder of the London Seasonal Book Club.
When not writing, Erin spends her days working as a press officer for a royal charity and her evenings as the lead singer of the gothic progressive metal band, Orpheum. She is also an avid Jane Austen fan and has a growing collection of period drama films. Her third book, The Mistress Murders, is available online.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Mistress Murders?
I was thinking about how both men and women cheat on their partners. what if a good woman discovered her husband was not only cheating on her but had a mistress he kept in style, during the timeframe of pre-regency London? What would you do if you knew it was happening, but didn’t know which mistress it was? This was the motivation behind one of my characters in The Mistress Murders, the third book in the Perfect Poison series, published by Dragonblade Publishing.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Mistress Murders?
Pantsing. I’m a plotter and pantser – a plantser! But try as I might to plot my stories through, that saps some of the creativity out of them. But when I’m pantsing, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking, because you want to deliver a great story to your readers, and do justice to your characters.
This book was also a stretch for me because it surrounded two main characters, and I gave the supporting characters more depth and attention than ever before. Multiple characters had subplots and to interweave them in the context of a historical murder mystery, whilst staying as accurate as possible to the time period, is no easy feat.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
So often we see in period dramas and Hollywood films a female protagonist who is gorgeous. But what about the plain girls who don’t easily fit into our or their society’s standards of beauty? What if you had a rather ordinary-looking girl who was relatively poor, had no genteel connections but good breeding, with a sharp mind? That inspired the character of Poppy Morton, my protagonist, who is tall, without the alluring feminine curves her peers have, and who must make her own way in the world.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The antagonists differ with each book. In this book I’ve introduced a really good one—Petunia Dyngley, the wife and sister-in-law of Poppy’s favourite constable, Henry Dyngley. Petunia is a tall and forbidding woman, and if you’ve ever come across someone who brooks no nonsense, is correct and upholds social rules to a fault, with a nose for the strictest decency and propriety, without a care for who gets hurt, that is Petunia.
What is the inciting incident of The Mistress Murders?
In this book we see more character development of Poppy and Henry. Poppy goes to London to seek her independence and applies to be a companion, but in reality, she wants to find her mother. For years she was raised to believe her mother was dead, but now she has learnt that her mother is alive and well, and Poppy wants to find her.
What is the main conflict of The Mistress Murders?
The fact that mistresses keep dying. Poppy finds herself in the society of a group of mistresses, who are rather cliquey and backbiting. But someone is sending them poison pen letters and killing them off, one by one. Poppy must find out who is behind it.
Did you plot The Mistress Murders in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I approach each book with an idea in mind of what I want to have happen, and try to plot out a few directions the story could take. But eventually, I just start writing and see where the story takes me.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Mistress Murders need?
No matter how good a self-editor you are, you will overlook mistakes. By the time I’ve turned in a book to my editor, I’ve gone over the book for mistakes at least six times, sometimes more. My editor, Amelia, is brilliant and is an expert in the history of that time period, so she challenges me on historical inaccuracies and picks up various things. Together we work the story over until it shines.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Just start writing. Once you start, you’ll never know where you’ll end up.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’ve pitched a few series to my publisher so fingers crossed! I’ll be diving more into historical time periods a bit more, so watch this space!
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely. I wrote a book. It’s always worth the effort. Writing is my favourite pastime. We do it because we love it.
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