I’m very excited to have one of the leading historical cozy mystery writers here at the Cozy Corner. She’s polite and funny, hard-working and talented and vastly loved throughout the world of mystery writing. Please welcome Rhys Bowen!
Kym: Hi, Rhys, welcome to the Cozy Corner!
Rhys: Hi Kym. Nice to be here!
Kym: You started your career writing children’s picture books and then young adult books under the name Janet Quin-Harkin. What did you like most about those two genres?
Rhys: I’ve always loved children’s books. I suppose I like the playfulness, silliness and the complete belief in a world of good and evil with no gray areas. YA books, when I wrote them, were not so dark and mine were usually funny high school stories, similar in many ways to Lady Georgie’s adventures.
Kym: Do you have a favorite picture book or young adult book that has more meaning to you? Or one that was more popular with your own children?
Rhys: Well, I wrote a book called Ten Boy Summer, a spoof on romance that sold half a million copies, so I’d have to like that one. And one of my picture books, Septimus Bean and His Amazing Machine was made into a play at the Unicorn Theater in London this year. I went to the opening performance and it was such fun. It’s the first time I’ve seen my work on stage and I really enjoyed it.
Kym: Wow! That is sooo cool! I hope it comes stateside;) You’ve been nominated and received multiple awards for your writing, including several Agatha Awards for best novel and best historical mystery. Which award shocked you the most and why?
Rhys: My first nomination was for the Barry Award for my second mystery. Someone emailed me and said, “Did you see this?” and it was a list with me, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver, Ian Rankin and a couple more men. I thought it was a joke and was not amused. Then I found out it was true. So yes, totally gobsmacked, as we’d say in UK. And the first Agatha was a huge thrill. I don’t know how I made my way up to the stage and how I didn’t drop the teapot. Frankly, every award since has felt amazing and special.
Kym: LOL, I think everyone can relate to that fear of breaking a teapot! I’m glad you got the opportunity but refrained from letting it shatter. You were born in Bath, England then moved to Australia and then to the United States. What do you miss most about England? Do you feel like you’re returning home every time you write a new book in the series Your Royal Spyness Mysteries?
Rhys: Oh yes, I love spending time with Lady Georgie so that I’m back in my home environment. What do I miss most? I think it’s a time more than a place, a simpler time when people would meet in the village pub and life was slower and safer. I do go back at least once a year and stay with my sister-in-law in her fourteenth century manor house. That really is like stepping back in time.
Kym: That would be an incredible visit! Is there a book in the Royal Spyness series that stands out for you, whether it be because of something that was going on in your life at the time you wrote it or a crime that really resonated with you at the time?
Rhys: I have to say that I loved the Twelve Clues of Christmas, not only because it was recreating my fantasy English country house Christmas, but because it was such a challenge to fit in all of the twelve clues and make them believable.
Kym: Your heroine in the Royal Spyness Mysteries, Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, is a quirky, funny woman who is forced to become self-sufficient. What do you like most about her? What do you like least?
Rhys: I think in many ways she is me at the same age: horribly naïve, vulnerable, a tad clumsy when nervous. I like the fact that she doesn’t give up, against all odds. Sometimes she annoys me because of her lack of self-confidence. She can’t believe that Darcy would choose someone like her. She doubts her own attractiveness.
Kym: Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie is bound by etiquette because of being thirty-fifth in line for the British crown. Do you have some personal knowledge of the type of societal pressures Georgie experiences? (I love the nickname Georgie!)
Rhys: Oh, yes. I married into a frightfully upper class British family. I had a father-in-law who was reputed to have said, when a cousin wanted to marry a man who owned a shop, “Stop the bans. No trade in the family.” I use family sayings and interactions all the time. I suppose I notice them more because we don’t live in that world. Lots of funny nicknames in the family!
And pressures? I had a boyfriend when I was in college. He was also from a high level of society. I was definitely middle class. His mother was horrible to me and I couldn’t understand why. I had perfect manners, I dressed well, I could fit into any level of society. It was years later when I realized the truth. My family had no connections that could help my boyfriend in his career. He was a law student and she wanted him to rise to the top of his profession. How silly. Luckily I didn’t marry him!
Kym: What makes Georgie’s fiancée, Darcy O’Mara, so appealing to you as a writer? (Another great name, with an Irish twist!)
Rhys: Well, the name to start with. So many people have asked me whether the Darcy in the name was inspired by Jane Austen. Oh yes, I say. Every time I picture him I see Colin Firth coming out of the lake with his wet shirt on! I love that he’s sexy and not quite safe and we don’t quite know what he does for a living… which side of the law he’s on. Definitely a gorgeous rogue.
Kym: We all love a gorgeous rogue;) In your latest Royal Spyness Mystery, Crowned and Dangerous, Darcy’s family must sell the family castle they can no longer afford to keep. Did you base this on real-life financial issues families throughout Europe face regarding the upkeep and expense of inheriting such a magnificent piece of history?
Rhys: So many families lost everything in the crash of ’29 and one thing that affected many aristocratic families were the taxes on the estate. They are called Death Duties and when someone died the value of the estate was taxed. This tax was so high that landowners were often forced to sell or divide up the estate. It was after WW2 that the big houses became impossible to maintain because nobody wanted to be a servant, and the cost of heating the house shot up.
Kym: You also write the Molly Murphy Mystery series about a young Irish immigrant living in the early 1900’s who’s fled her homeland only to land on the shores of Ellis Island and be accused murder—and hence her life as a private investigator is born. The series follows her through her courtship with NYPD captain Daniel Sullivan, their marriage and the birth of their son. What makes this couple so identifiable to readers?
Rhys: I think Molly mirrors the typical immigrant experience and the struggles they went through alone in a new land. They have also been through huge ups and downs as a couple and have really succeeded against all odds. I think both my detectives have this strong innate sense of justice and desire to make things right that makes them so appealing.
Kym: Readers love the historical context of your books. What is it about the early 20th century that you love the most? What is the hardest part about writing a story of that time period?
Rhys: I am attracted to the first half of the Twentieth century because in many ways it is close our own experience. If you went to Molly’s New York or Georgie’s London you would not feel out of place. There was electricity, there was a modern feel and yet in some ways it was so backward. Women couldn’t vote. In NY they couldn’t own property. They could be beaten by their husbands. And the Thirties? What an interesting time to write about. The world had gone through one major war and yet society had not completely changed. Communism and fascism were fighting for control of Europe. There was great poverty but still people who owned yachts on the Med. And then there is the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson who are such fun to write about!
Kym: I adore the titles for your Evan Evans Mysteries, specifically Evan Above, Evan Help Us, and most of all, Evan and Elle and Evan to Betsy. Will Evan ever return to your writing desk?
Rhys: I hope so one day. I’ve been so busy, juggling two series that I’ve had to put Evan to one side. However, the series has been optioned by CBS Television, so if it becomes a TV series, I am sure I’ll want to write more books.
Kym: OMG, that would be awesome! Can you tell us what’s in store for Georgie and Darcy? Molly and Danny?
Rhys: I have finished next year’s Royal Spyness mystery. It comes out next August and is called On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service. It takes Georgie to Italy and some real spying is involved.
I’m in the middle of the next Molly book. It will be a Christmas book for 2017 and is called The Ghost of Christmas Past. No supernatural elements are involved but rather an old tragedy comes back to haunt the holiday.
And in the new year I’ll have a big announcement about an upcoming book, so stay tuned!
Kym: What a tease! We’ll definitely be watching for that big announcement! Where can our readers find you on social media?
Rhys: Mostly on Facebook: www.facebook.com/rhysbowenauthor I post almost daily.
Sometimes on Twitter @rhysbowen
And I do have a website www.rhysbowen.com with a button to contact me.
Kym: Thank you for joining us at the Cozy Corner!
Rhys: Thank you, Kym. It was fun visiting with you.
Look for my Giving Thanks Giveaway on Fresh Fiction and enter for your chance to win a signed copy of my Dead Man’s Carve mystery, all proceeds of my Tickled to Death Mystery go to wounded veterans.
Until Next time, get cozy and read on!
Kym Roberts is a retired detective sergeant who looks for passion, mystery and suspense in every book she reads and writes. She can be found on the web at kymroberts.com, on Facebook at Kym Roberts (author) and on Twitter @kymroberts911. Look for her new romantic suspense release, Red Lace, A Hard Men of the Rockies Novella and upcoming mystery release, Fatal Fiction, A Book Barn Mystery available for pre-order now.
Rhys Bowen is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Royal Spyness Series, Molly Murphy Mysteries, and Constable Evans. Winner of the Agatha Best Novel Award and nominated for the Edgar Best Novel Rhys’s titles have received rave reviews around the globe.
Rhys Bowen was born in Bath, England, of a family that was half Welsh, half English. She was educated at London University and then began her career with the BBC, where she became a drama studio manager. She had made up stories all her life. While working on a boring play she decided to write a play of her own. With the bravado of a 22 year old she marched into the office of the head of BBC drama and handed him the script. Two days later he summoned her and told her that they were going to produce the play… Rhys has never looked back.
The British climate forced Rhys to escape to Australia where she worked for Australian Broadcasting before meeting her future husband, a fellow Brit who was on his way to California. So Rhys packed up again and found herself in San Francisco where she settled and has lived ever since, raising four children.
Finding nothing like the BBC in San Francisco, Rhys turned to writing children’s books under her married name, Janet Quin-Harkin. Her first picture book was an immediate success and won several awards. More picture books followed, then her agent asked her to write a book for young adults. This was a turning point in Rhys’s career. Her first young adult novel was an instant hit. By her third she was selling half a million copies. Many more popular YA novels followed until Rhys decided she had said all she wanted to say about teenage love and angst, and she turned her real love—mysteries.
The sort of books she loves to read are those with a great sense of time and place. So she considered where to set a series of her own and chose the mountains of North Wales, where she had spent many happy childhood vacations and used her grandfather’s name as her nom de plume. Constable Evan Evans was the hero of these novels that took place in a tiny fictitious village in Snowdonia. The series was well received from the start. The second book, Evan Help Us, was nominated for a Barry Award. Evan’s Gate achieved the ultimate success when it was nominated for the Edgar best novel—the highest prize in mysterydom.
But it was a chance visit to Ellis Island that made Rhys start thinking in a new direction. The spunky and not always wise Molly Murphy came into her head, fleeing from Ireland and finding herself implicated in a murder on Ellis Island in the first book, MURPHY”S LAW. This book won the Agatha Best Novel award, plus three others. Every subsequent book in the series has received awards, nominations and glowing reviews. Book eleven, HUSH NOW, DON’T YOU CRY, was published in March 2012 and went straight to the New York Times bestseller list.
Never one to rest on her laurels Rhys reacted to the gloom and doom of real life by creating a second heroine—this one aimed to amuse. She is Lady Georgiana, 34th in line to the British throne but utterly penniless and struggling to make her own way in the cruel world of the Great Depression. Her Royal Spyness was a bestseller, nominated for many awards and instantly endeared readers to her heroine. The following books have all received award nominations. The 2011 book, Naughty in Nice started off with a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was then nominated for an Agatha, Bruce Alexander and RT Reviews award. The audio version is also nominated for an Audie. In April 2012 it won the Agatha Award for best historical mystery.
As well as novels Rhys has written many short stories, including an Anthony winner. She is an ex chapter president of Mystery Writers of America and appears in Who’s Who in America. When not writing she loves to travel, sing, hike, paint, play her Celtic harp and spoil her grandchildren.