And I am delighted to have Hannah here today:
Rhys: Honeychurch Hall is a new departure for you—where did the inspiration come
from? I get a distinct Downton Abbey feel—are you a big fan?
Hannah: I was inspired by my mother’s rash purchase of a wing in a country house in Devon at age 76. When most widows of her advanced years would be heading off to a retirement village, Mum decided that at last she had the freedom to do what she jolly well wanted and there was nothing any of us could do to stop her! She completely reinvented her life and now, at 85, is in robust health, working as a docent at Greenway (Agatha Christie’s summer home) and has never been happier. As for Downton Abbey, who does not love that show! The chance to weave in a contemporary upstairs-downstairs take with “Murder at Honeychurch Hall” was the icing on the cake.
Rhys: Your heroine is an antiques expert—how about you? Do you collect antiques? Do you own antique stuffed mice?
Hannah: Following my stint as an obituary writer chronicled in my other series – The Vicky Hill Mysteries – I went to work for Leonard Lassalle, an antique dealer who ran a beautiful shop in The Pantiles in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent. I absolutely loved that job. He was French and specialized in 17th century English and European furniture, paintings, Delft pottery and treen. Leonard taught me a lot but not about antique toys in which he had no interest at all. In fact, up until I was introduced to the Merrythought Jerry mice by accident (that ended up providing a key clue in the first Honeychurch Hall mystery), I’d never heard of them! On doing some research I subsequently discovered that the Merrythought toy factory in Ironbridge, Shropshire, England produced them in the 1960s and 1970s. The company—eighty years on and still family owned—were licensed to make the MGM Jerry mouse from the Tom and Jerry Show. And honestly, they are really cute and yes, I own two.
Rhys: Your books are set in the English countryside—does this England still exist or are you attempting to recreate the England of your childhood/nostalgia or fantasy?
Hannah: I wish the England of my childhood did still exist but it doesn’t. Having the opportunity to recreate my memory warms my heart. Honeychurch Hall itself is based on two privately owned residences in Devon—my mother’s home near Totnes and Hillersdon House in Cullompton which is currently being restored—literally—to it’s former glory. Mike Lloyd, my friend and the new owner, has unearthed the original plans dating from the mid-seventeen hundreds and he’s following them to the letter—putting back the lakes, introducing deer, and sprucing up the grotto and stumpery. The ghosts that make an occasional appearance in Honeychurch Hall are all based on those drifting around Hillersdon House.
Rhys: The mother—what a fun and awful character. Where did she come from?
Hannah: Iris Stanford is a mixture of my own lovely Mum (the good bits), an eccentric old spinster who lived in the village where I was born, and myself! Of course, my mother is not a romance writer of steamy bodice-rippers. In fact I have you to thank for suggesting that Iris have that secret, Rhys! I’ve had a lot of fun writing “excerpts” under Iris’s pseudonym of Krystalle Storm. And if you ask if I share any similarities with my protagonist, the TV celebrity Kat Stanford, I would say a definite no. She’s far too sensible and if anything, reminds me of my own daughter.
Rhys: You now live in the US. What do you miss most about England? What do you do when you go back? (I have to have cream teas/Cornish pasties/fish and chips and go to friendly local pubs)
Hannah: I miss everything except London and the big cities. I’m still a country girl at heart. I miss the sound of blackbirds singing on a summer’s evening, walking the coastal paths of the West Country, the taste of real Devonshire clotted cream—not the stuff in a jar; Mum’s Sunday Roast Beef and Yorkshire puddings, but most of all the sense of history that exudes from centuries old castles and forests where four hundred year-old oak trees still stand. Most of all, I miss my family but America has been very good to me. It’s where I first got published and where I found true love after years of searching in a barren wasteland of broken dreams … oh sorry … Krystalle Storm just popped out …
RHYS: Thank you, Hannah. And good luck with the new series!
Hannah will be giving away a copy of Honeychurch Hall so make sure you comment today.
Thanks for inviting me today!
Murder at Honeychurch Hall will be published May 13, 2014 (Minotaur)