1--What is the title of your latest release?
AND BY FIRE
2--What’s the “elevator pitch” for your new book?
Tempered by fire and separated by centuries, two extraordinary female detectives track a pair of murderous geniuses who will burn the world for their art in this mystery that is perfect for fans of Sarah Penner and Dan Brown.
3--How did you decide where your book was going to take place?
London was a foregone conclusion because my historical timeline in And by Fire involves that city’s Great Fire of 1666. And I knew I was going to pair that storyline with a modern one opening with the discovery of a charred figure at the base of Sir Christopher Wren’s monument to the Great Fire.
The location of Wren’s monument assured that my modern-day main character, Nigella Parker, would be a Detective Inspector with the London City Police, rather than the Met (aka Scotland Yard). The jurisdiction of the City police is approximately 1.12 square miles (a miniscule portion of the whopping 607 square miles comprising greater London), which makes my modern serial arson/murder investigation multi-jurisdictional—enter Nigella’s former lover and partner-in-crime-fighting DI Colm O’Leary from Scotland Yard.
4--Would you hang out with your sleuths in real life?
Absolutely. I love them both. Detective Inspector Nigella Parker would probably be my first choice though. Even if I had a time machine, going back to the moments surrounding London’s Great Fire to hang with Lady Margaret Dove sounds fraught rather than relaxing. Additionally, Ni and I have a lot in common, from a love of art and good wine to a favorite perfume (one with notes of smoke). I get Ni. Like me, she has a propensity for pushing through her fears rather than avoiding them. If you tell me that I can’t do something, it just makes me that much more determined to try. And if I fear something I will go into “fight mode” not “flight mode.” Ni is exactly like me on those points.
5--What are three words that describe your sleuths?
Lady Margaret Dove: science-geek, principled, surprising.
DI Nigella Parker: professionally brilliant, commitment-phobic, kind.
6--What’s something you learned while writing this book?
I have a category at my author blog called “my search history is scary” because I learned a lot of gruesome and frightening things while researching and writing And by Fire. For example, during the Great Fire of London temperatures on the ground approached 1700 degrees Celsius (that’s over 3000 degrees Fahrenheit). Also, the 17th century saw the popularity of one of the most disgusting beauty products ever: “puppy water.” I’ll spare you the details, but if anyone wants them, check out my blog post titled, “Worst Beauty Product EVER.”
While writing my modern storyline, besides doing an obscene amount of research into how bodies burn, I became aware that perfectly innocent-seeming rags can “go bad.” By which I mean they can burst into flames through the process of spontaneous heating and try to kill you. Oddly those rags are what haunt my nightmares. Some fun this mystery writing gig, eh?
7--Do you edit as you draft or wait until you are totally done?
I am not an ugly-first-drafter (not that there is anything wrong with that). I tell people if I drop dead my first draft can go out on submission. Sort of a creepy thought, given I write crime fiction. But seriously, the first thing I do each day when I sit down to write is read my previous day’s words. That allows me to polish while re-immersing myself fully into the action of the moment.
8--What’s your favorite foodie indulgence?
Dark chocolate anything.
9--Describe your writing space/office!
First off, I can write just about anywhere. Laptop balanced on my steering wheel while waiting on someone? Check. iPhone on an airplane because the seatbelt sign is on and I can’t retrieve my laptop? Check. My official writing space is a light-filled office over my garage with sylvan views (trees, deer, foxes). I don’t have an office chair, instead, I sit in an antique cathedra that looks like a throne. Yes, it did belong to a bishop. It tends to attract a lot of attention when I am on Zoom.
10--Who is an author you admire?
I have a lot of author friends, so my default answer to questions like this is to name dead writers only (no hard feeling that way). Among the dead crime/mystery authors I admire are P.D. James, Sue Grafton and, of course, Dame Agatha Christie.
11--Is there a book that changed your life?
There are more than a hundred, and I am not saying that to be cute. When my hubby and I added a library to our home, I purchased approximately probably closer to two-hundred volumes—each a book that I’d loved (or that had challenged me) as a younger iteration of myself. Each of which had shaped me. All the volumes are hardbound, and many are rare (e.g. I have an entire set of Alexandre Dumas, printed in the 1870s).
My collection is not just a homage to the past, because the best books don’t just change you, they change with you. I don’t believe a person can ever read a book the same way twice. For me the case in point is Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I read it first at sixteen. How different my reaction was to it then (I loved Levin), compared to my feelings when I read it next at twenty-two (Levin drove me mad with his constant self-doubt and over-thinking). I’ve made a point to revisit Anna Karenina every five years or so. Tolstoy’s words don’t change but, because I have grown in the interim, what I take away from his masterpiece is different every time.
12--Tell us about when you got “the call.” (when you found out your book was going to be published)
I got an email. Shows how much things have changed since I sold my first novel more than a decade ago (under the name Sophie Perinot). I was exhilarated because And by Fire is a genre-jump for me driven by a story idea that possessed me to a point where I was willing to shake up my established writing career and even take on a new name to see it out in the world. I’ve jumped, and now I am trying to stick the landing. But if we don’t bet on ourselves and our stories, who are we willing to take a chance on?
13--What’s your favorite genre to read?
Whatever genre I am not currently writing. So, I love to read mystery and crime novels, but not when I am working on a Parker & O’Leary manuscript. That’s when (in addition to a ton of non-fiction) I read my second big love: historical fiction. I draw this line to keep my authorial voice clean. I don’t want the tone or mannerisms of some other author’s brilliant detective to bled into or influence the voice of mine.
14--What’s your favorite movie?
I don’t have one. Movies, like books fit a mood. There is no one-size-fits most for me. What I watch, like what I read, depends on the snapshot of my life at a given moment.
15—What is your favorite season?
Autumn. I love the colors, the crispness in the air, and even the gray skies that can make the edges of buildings seem violently sharp. Autumn has so much change in it. Every day is different, unpredictable, and exciting.
16—How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
With cocktails (mine will be British gin-based), cake (chocolate) and family. I’d rather stay in than go out, and the celebration doesn’t have to be “day of.” I do, however, demand my birthday-girl right to pick the game we play after eating.
17--What’s a recent tv show/movie/book/podcast you highly recommend?
My spring 2022 small-screen-viewing is all about “second seasons.” I am really into season two of Russian Doll, and I am thrilled that the wait for season two of Gentleman Jack is over (though I continue to be jealous that I had to wait weeks longer than my UK friends). I recommend both heartily (though do start with the first seasons if you haven’t seen them).
18--What’s your favorite type of cuisine?
Serious foodie stuff: a tasting menu that surprises me, created by a chef interested in locally sourced ingredients and emphasizing sustainability. If it looks like art so much the better. But one of the most delicious and surprising things I’ve eaten was an almost ramen style dish featuring noodles made from the protein extracted from pulverized fish bones (from fish used in another course) floating in an aromatic broth. That was at Amass in Copenhagen.
19—What do you do when you have free time?
What is free time? Asking for a friend. In the pre-pandemic era, I attended live theater on this side of the Atlantic and hit my favorite York drinking establishments (The House of Trembling Madness and The Botanist) on the other side of the pond. Good thing reading wasn’t impacted by Covid the way going out was. We always have reading—that’s the biggest upside to being a bibliophile.
20--What can readers expect from you next?
More Nigella Parker & Colm O’Leary. I am hoping that And by Fire does well enough to be a first-in-series for them. I am working on book two right now. It’s another modern-day, multiple-body, mind-boggler with a secondary historical plot (this one set in 1918 Russia). And once again crimes past will help solve London crimes present.
Nigella Parker, Detective Inspector with the City Police, has a deeply rooted fear of fire and a talent for solving deadly arson cases. When a charred figure is found curled beside Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of London, Nigella is dragged into a case pitting her against a murderous artist creating sculptures using burnt flesh.
Nigella partners with Colm O’Leary of Scotland Yard to track the arsonist across greater London. The pair are more than colleagues—they were lovers until O’Leary made the mistake of uttering three little words. Their past isn’t the only buried history as they race to connect the dots between an antique nail pulled from a dead man’s hands and a long-forgotten architect dwarfed by the life’s work of Sir Christopher Wren.
Wren, one of London’s most famous architects, is everywhere the pair turn. Digging into his legacy leads the DCIs into the coldest of cold cases: a search for a bookseller gone missing during the Great Fire of London. More than 350 years earlier, while looking for their friend, a second pair of detectives—a lady-in-waiting to the Queen and a royal fireworks maker—discovered foul play in the supposedly accidental destruction of St. Paul’s Cathedral…but did that same devilry lead to murder? And can these centuries-old crimes help catch a modern-day murderer?
As Nigella and O’Leary rush to decode clues, past and present, London’s killer-artist sets his sights on a member of the investigative team as the subject of his next fiery masterpiece.
Historical | Thriller Police Procedural | Mystery [Crooked Lane Books, On Sale: May 10, 2022, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781643859934 / eISBN: 9781643859941]
Crime writer Evie Hawtrey is a Yank by birth but a sister-in-spirit to her fierce and feminist London detective, DI Nigella Parker. Evie splits her time between Washington DC, where she lives with her husband, and York, UK, where she enjoys living in history, lingering over teas, and knocking around in pubs.
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