Thursday, September 22, 2016

Greetings from Nether Monkslip & G.M. Malliet

HALLIE EPHRON: I fell in love with G. M. (Gin) Malliet's writing when I read "Wicked Autumn", her first Max Tudor novel. A traditional mystery with a satiric edge, it was set a world away from London and a breath away from Agatha Christie's St. Mary Meade in a quaint village with copious bucolic charm not a smidge of ethnic diversity. Where once there were blacksmiths and wheelwrights, now shopkeepers peddle New Age crystals and organic jellies and jams. 

Gin's fifth Max Tudor novel, "Haunted Season," is just out in paperback. and I'm delighted to  host her on Jungle Red.
Gin, seems like you got shot out of a cannon in 2008 with your first novel, "Death of a Cozy Writer," winning the Agatha Award for best first novel. Did you have any idea where you’d be now, nine books later?

G. M. Malliet: At the moment, I’m just starting to write a tenth series book, and I’m revising a standalone that will be published in 2017. So soon it will be eleven books, which surprises even me.

You make it all sound much more thrilling than it is. It’s not so much like being shot out of a cannon as riding an ageing donkey uphill while blindfolded. I have had many of the breaks in this business and I’m so very grateful, but when you are in the thick of finding agents and so on it feels like a very slow process.

Right now I’m either doing revisions or plotting the next book while I wait for edits for the previous book to land back on my desk. It still catches me by surprise every time it happens. It’s like, oh! You want me to read through all this again? I just sent back to my publisher the copyedited version of the sixth Max Tudor ("Devil's Breath") which won’t appear in print until April 2017. I could paint the Sistine Chapel in that amount of time but I am told it has something to do with the lead time reviewers require nowadays.

Anyway, just when you think you can’t look at the typewritten pages again, back come the page proofs—the typeset version of the book, hopefully now free of typos or, worse, dead people who have inexplicably come back to life in the final pages. Or characters who have changed their names in midstream, or stopped somewhere along the way to dye their hair black.

HALLIE: No kidding!

Gin, I know you write cozies but they are truly wicked. They have an Austen-ish (Barbara Pym-ish) edge to them. Is humor something that comes with the first draft or do you layer it in (or out) in revisions?

GM: First, thank you for that. (I am such a fan of Barbara Pym’s work.)

Well, you know the advice about writing. You simply sit down at your desk and open a vein. But humor is the bonus you sometimes get for all that blood-letting. Your reward for having behaved well the rest of the time, and stayed put during the long slog of trying to come up with another word to describe Max Tudor than “dashing” or “dishy.”

Humor seems to come out of nowhere, but it does seem to crop up during the first or second drafts. If I write something that makes me laugh I am SO happy. And I trust someone else will laugh, too. Otherwise, I feel they would be better served reading something educational like the instruction manual for their new colander. (I always love it when people give their colanders five-star reviews on Amazon, don’t you?)

HALLIE: LOL! I will peruse Amazon with a whole new pespective from here on.

You seem to know so much about English village Anglican church goings-on. Is that a product of great research or a great imagination? 

GM: I don’t know about the “great” but it’s a bit of both. I just love all things British and am drawn time and again to visit and keep my eyes open while I’m there. Every Anglican church seems to be repairing its roof at any given time and that means some rather desperate attempts at fund-raising are always in progress.

Officially I am an Episcopalian (the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion) but I’m not one of their best—not destined for sainthood, me. I love church architecture and the liturgy and the hymns (which are so blessedly predictable you can be tone deaf and sing very loudly and no one will notice). And there is such poetry in the language of the King James Bible.

[Stepping onto my soapbox]: I do think children not raised in any religious tradition are missing out, just for these reasons of beauty, language, and history [stepping down off my soapbox]. I volunteer here and there at the local shelter but other people do so much more. They turn up every time. That said: People often get up to things in the name of sweet charity that can backfire in hilarious ways. Bring-and-Buy events can positively pulse with unspoken jealousies and animosities long buried.

HALLIE: And the names! Nether Monkslip. Totleigh Hall. Lady Baaden-Boomethistle. They’re downright Dickensian. How do you come up with them? 

GM: You don’t have to go far in the UK before tripping over some wonderful name. Mine tend to be an amalgam of one or two existing names. For example, J.K. Rowling lived for a time in Chipping Sodbury, which the villagers naturally renamed Sodding Chipbury. 

Lady Baaden-Boomethistle was one of those things that came from nowhere but made me laugh as I typed it, so I knew I had to keep the name. My English editor thought it was too Germanic for her UK audience but there are moments where you stand or fall on important principles like this. “But I think it’s funny,” I told her.

This is when you learn what you’re really made of as a writer.

HALLIE: I so agree. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Your new Max Tudor mystery, "Devil’s Breath," comes out in the spring and is now available for pre-order. What can readers expect? Because "The Haunted Season" (the paperback edition was just published) ends with the suggestion that Max might not be bouncing back from the catastrophic loss he nearly experienced.

GM: Max realizes he can’t run away from the world—the world keeps finding him, anyway. "Devil's Breath" returns him temporarily to working a case for MI5, but he’ll not quit the priesthood. The two worlds just start to blend for him. My Fall/2017 standalone is also set in an English village—I can’t seem to help myself. But it’s a much darker book than I’ve done before. 

HALLIE: Thanks, Gin! Gin will be at the Brattleboro Literary Festival (Oct 13-16) as will Hank, Susan, and me. Hope some of you will come out.

Today's question: What are some of your favorite place names and character names, made up or real?


  1. Hallie, I enjoyed reading this insightful and interesting interview. Gin, I’ve always enjoyed the humor in your stories; I’m looking forward to reading “Devil’s Breath.”

    There doesn’t seem to be a particular reason for why a character name catches my attention. Sometimes it’s because I’d never heard it before, like Annika in “Pippi Longstocking” or some of the unique Harry Potter names, like Lord Voldemort. But Atticus Finch [“To Kill a Mockingbird”] has always been one of my favorites . . . .

  2. On the way south to our farm we always lose cell signal at the lowest point of a deep valley near the county middle school. That area happens to be called Menzie Bottoms. Which local wags call Menzie's Bottom. It used to be a community. Not far away was another tiny burg called Bachelor's Rest.

    But Nether Monkslip is inspired. Love your books, Gin, and glad to know there will be a new one soon.

  3. On the way south to our farm we always lose cell signal at the lowest point of a deep valley near the county middle school. That area happens to be called Menzie Bottoms. Which local wags call Menzie's Bottom. It used to be a community. Not far away was another tiny burg called Bachelor's Rest.

    But Nether Monkslip is inspired. Love your books, Gin, and glad to know there will be a new one soon.

  4. I loved seeing unique names when travelling in England. They have several towns that have names ending with the word "Bottom" (e.g. Hole's Bottom, Scratchy Bottom). I also remember seeing the name "Great Snoring" while traveling in Norfolk, England!

  5. Fabulous interview Gin and Hallie--a great way to start the morning! I'm reading Rhys Bowen's newest Georgie adventure (CROWNED AND DANGEROUS) and of course it's full of wonderful English names too.

    Gin, I would love to hear a little more about the stand-alone. How did you decide to take it on and how do you fit it into the series schedule? (And I love your description of riding an ageing donkey uphill while blindfolded. I will be chuckling about that all week...)

  6. Hi Gin, nice to meet you.

    When we were planning a trip to England in 2000, Julie asked me where I wanted to go besides London. My answers were Old Sarum and St. Mary Meade. She tried to explain the concept of fiction to me, but I wasn't having it.

    As it happened, that was the year England flooded, so her desired trip to the Cotswolds got cancelled in favor of spending our first week in Salisbury, visiting Old Sarum, standing on the campsite of William the Conqueror AND exploring Nether Wallop, the site of the PBS Miss Marple series. Not to mention climbing around Stonehenge before it got fenced off.

    Now I want to read your books, also, as I suspect, set in Nether Wallop. Or Middle Wallop. Or Outer Wallop.

  7. Gin, I am happy to hear that the newest Max Tudor will be available in April--have enjoyed this series so much--love the mystery, romance, and humor, especially--any author who can make me laugh out loud is a repeat winner!

    Best names award? Jasper Fforde, hands' down.

  8. Joan, I remember trying to memorize Pippi Longstockings loooong name... Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade...I forget the rest. Dickens names set the standard. And Shakespeare was no slouch (Sir Toby Belch).

    Karen I love that Bachelor's Rest is close by Menzie's Bottom. Of course, it would be.

    Great Snoring! Love it.

  9. FChurch - YES, I love the names in The Eyre Affair, too - Thursdsay Next and her pet dodo Pickwick.

  10. Reading this blog is like being offered wonderful chocolate all the time. Thank you Gin, for creating a wonderful "nougat". Riding a donkey uphill blindfolded does speak to an uncertain future, eh?

    My favorite FL place name is Yeehaw Junction. I think the name epitomizes the Southern vernacular... I also like Reading PA. I imagine a city filled with libraries and book stores.

    For Anglican Parrish names I am drawn to St. Bede's in the Weeds, and St. Swinthin's in the Swamp, parodies on St. Martin's in the Fields.

    Finally I love the names created for Urban Fantasy "Neverwhen" (many authors) The Nightside (Green), "Elfhaim Sun Descending - Lackey

  11. What a delicious assortment of names, Coralee. The Brits are so good at naming things.
    Riding through the UK on a train on holiday (British-speak) with my family I kept a list of some of my favorite place names and ads:
    New Earwick
    The Rapid Results College.
    Freddie Payne's Funerals
    (Each one suggests a story to me.)

  12. Devil's Breath features another wonderful cover for the Max Tudor books. How much say do you have in those G.M.?

    And I have to admit that I am like the sound of a "darker stand-alone." Does it have a title yet? That you can reveal?

    As for the long lead time reviewers need, I can attest to this. There are so many books out there, we struggle to get to them. Since BOLO Books focuses only on books just before or at release date, any help in that process is great appreciated. Plus, it will be just in time for Malice Domestic!

  13. Oh, Charles Dickens was a master--Martin Chuzzlewit, and Nicholas NIckelby--every single one of them. ANd jK Rowling, too..Bellatrix Lestrange.

    And here in Massachusetts, an old saw says there are three towns named after former governors: Peabody, Marblehead, and Athol.

  14. Oh, Hallie. I may have to steal The Rapid Results College from you. That is too good to pass up.

    Thanks to these comments, I am also toying with naming a village Monkslip Bottom. (Thanks to Sheila and Karen for that idea, I believe.)

    The standalone is a handshake deal right now so I shouldn't talk about the title yet. But once the deal is done I won't shut up about it, I can promise you. It is simply a darker type of book that I have wanted to write for a long time. It is dark, but it is Agatha Christie-style dark, not creepy horrible gory dark.

    Thank you, Jungle Reds, for allowing me to come back. I love this blog and all these writers.

  15. Joan, until I read your comment it never occurred to me that the main characters in To Kill a MockingBIRD also had the name of a bird. Duh.

    Isn't Flavia de Luce a delicious name for a precocious, seedily aristocratic 11-year old?

    Gin, I'm so proud. :-)

  16. Gin, I love your series. Church goings-on can be so fraught with emotions. We're Episcopalian and when we lived in Ohio rummage sales were big moneymakers. Here in the south, not so much. Some amusing and real places: Barkeyville, Bucksnort, Muleshoe, Tickfaw, Dime Box, Cut-and-Shoot. When we lived in El Paso we used to drive north through New Mexico to greener pastures. One highway sign that used to crack me up had two town names one it: Derry and Airey. My spelling may be off, but they rhyme.

  17. I'm also a big fan of Dickens and his names. JK Rowling did a great job, too.

    I'm also usually amused by small town names in central NY, PA or WV. Salt Lick? Stanndar? Rexville? Check a map - there are lots to chuckle at.

  18. Gin, so fun to have you here! I adore your series, but I'm a book behind so am going to pick up The Haunted Season--what perfect timing!

    I'm going to be in the Cotswolds in early November and am so looking forward to the place names there. I've never thought you could beat Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter. And what about Little Oddington? And Hook Norton? Little Rollwright? Batsford and Little Lemington?

    I may have to invent a village name myself...

    I am so intrigued now about your standalone. Cannot wait to hear more!!!

  19. Gin, I just love the Max Tudor series, and the names have always been a favorite part of reading them. With Max, the old saying "still waters run deep" seems to apply, and that makes him continue to be such a fascinating character. In fact, I enjoy all the characters of Nether Monkslip. And, as a lover of maps in books, I so appreciate the map each time. Then, there are the amazing covers. Even if someone doesn't already know about the wonderful stories inside, the covers will entice them to pick up the books.

    I have been a fan of yours, Gin, since the first book, Death of a Cozy Writer, and I'm so happy to see your well-deserved success. Spring may seem a long time to wait for Devil's Breath, but as a reviewer, it will allow me to do some much needed catching up and be ready in the new year to greet Max anew. And, the stand alone? You have me quite excited about that, too.

  20. Gin, so good to see you here and to find out that I've fallen behind in reading your books- it gives me something to look forward to!

    For many years I did land records research here in CT. I used to "collect" interesting or unusual names of people or streets. Two names of individuals from the early 1900s on my list were Otto Klumpf and Percival Schmuck. There's a street in my town called Breakneck Lane. I've always wondered how it got that name!

    Deb Romano

  21. Hello Gin,

    I'm putting your series on my TBR stack. Always love mysteries with humor.

    The two most unusual places I've seen are driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. There are freeway exit signs for a place called Pahrump, NV and another for Zzyzx!

  22. I'm anxious to read the new Max Tudor book. And I love the map of Nether Monkslip, especially the interactive one on the website.

    I'll go with Dickens and Shakespeare for the number of Creative Names, but Margery Allingham's Magersfontein Lugg is also one of my favorite character names. And her Max Fustian was very well-named.

    The names in my husband's family tree and the Swiss branch of mine have their own share of weirdness - or creativity, if you look at it that way. When there were a dozen or so children to name in each generation parents did come up with some unusual names.

    My 5th and 6th grandfathers in one Swiss line were both named Balthasar. Given the era (not too many generations after the Reformation), that sort of name may not have been unusual, but the younger was called Baltzy. Even in some public records.

    I think more of the really weird place names in Texas are up in Debs' part of the state, but we do have Cut & Shoot not too far north. There are food place names: Bacon, Okra, Noodle, Oatmeal - and Ding Dong, though I doubt that had anything to do the Ding Dong that comes to mind. And characters: Elmo, Kermit, Nemo and Tarzan. And Uncertain and Nameless. Earth and Venus - there's a lot of acreage to name.

    The road sign that always gets my attention is Woman Hollering Creek. It is said to be a bad translation of La Llorona, the weeping woman who is supposed to haunt the area where she drowned her children. There are numerous versions of her story - from being deserted by an unfaithful husband, to attacks by Indians or bandits. The weeping ghost and the drowned child(ren) are the common elements.

    Sharon TX

  23. Gin, I posted bright and early about some of the funny English town names I have seen in my travels, but I should have mentioned that I have enjoyed reading each of the Max Tudor mysteries. I love a traditional style mystery set in England. Also, this year's Bouchercon was so busy...I only saw you quickly type your paragraph during the first Noir at the Bar event on Wednesday. And although I can't wait to read another Max book, it is very exciting to hear that you have written a stand-alone.

  24. Kristopher of BOLObooks asked how much input I had into my book covers. The artwork is always done before I see anything and then I'm asked to weigh in on it. Sometimes I don't care for the color or something and they are always good to change it. This last time, for Devil's Breath, I was offered two covers to choose between. I went with the darker one. It looked more dramatic and I just loved the purple/green colors. I have been very lucky with the artwork for the Max Tudor books.

  25. How did you pick the name Tudor for Max Tudor's character?

    Love the names in pg Wodehouse and Rhys Bowen's lady Georgie novels.


  26. Hallie, there were several variations of Pippi’s name in both the translated books and the movies. My first graders loved the idea that Pippi had a “real” name [that is, her original Swedish name] and a storybook name used in the book we were reading.
    The Swedish name, Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krusmynta Efraimsdotter Långstrump, contained nonsense words and was thus deemed untranslatable.
    The full name you are remembering is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraimsdotter Longstocking.
    Either way, it's quite a mouthful!

  27. Hello, Gin! Big fan here. I love Max and his sleuthing. I'm not sure I'd want to live in any of the Monkslips. It's like Midsomer - all those murders! :-) But I'd love to meet Max. Your books are awesome.

    The one interesting place name I can think of right now is Monkslip Super Mer. Sounds like a great place to visit.

    I'm going to pre-order DEVIL'S BREATH now. Thank you for keeping Max alive and well.

    (Dear Reds, I've been having problems posting from my iPhone. I type the comment, hit "Publish", and it goes away. I read but don't always comment because of that.)

  28. Anonymous asks how I picked the name Max Tudor for my sleuth. I tell you honestly that answer is lost in the mists of time. I do remember I was researching Henry VIII about then and the Tudor name must have stuck. Although Max is NOTHING like Henry.

  29. Ooh, off to look for Max! Love British settings, and clerical mysteries especially. How have I thus far missed such a lovely long series?

    Adding to place names: the delightfully bawdy Big Bone Lick, Kentucky. And several years ago a friend insisted it would be fun to spend Easter Sunday wandering about in Purgatory (Chasm, a park in Massachusetts). It was, actually. If Purgatory is a lovely state park, I'm in.