Kathy: I've always been interested in old buildings, but most of the ones near me date only to the 1700s and 1800s. You grew up around ancient ruins and also have a love of old buildings, yet now live in the western United States. How do you find your current home, where buildings are much younger?
HD: The 1700s and 1800’s are definitely old by Los Angeles standards! Portland, Oregon (where I currently live), has some beautiful Victorian homes but I’ve not seen anything older than the mid 1800s. I definitely miss the sense of history in our six-year old townhouse but at least the plumbing works!
Kathy: Moving from the UK to the US, what do you find is the most difficult "American thing" to get used to? And what do you find odd that most Americans don't get?
HD: I could talk FOREVER about this. We’re definitely divided by a common language. If someone says “call you later,” I expect “later” to be at least on the same day—if not within a few hours. A “what’s up?” really used to make me uncomfortable. If you ask someone “what’s up” in England, it’s like saying, “what’s wrong?” What do I find odd? The English sense of humor can be very self-deprecating and especially what we call “gallows” humor. One time I made a flippant remark that if I didn’t hear from “X” by noon I would throw myself under a train. The woman I said this to was so horrified that she gave me the number of her therapist.
Kathy: It's said that Murder at Honeychurch Hall will appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs, and other such shows. Are you a fan of these types of shows yourself?
HD: Of course! As a teenager I was besotted with Captain James Bellamy in Upstairs Downstairs. I also adore Downton Abbey. I must point out that I would not have been one of the above-stairs residents had I been born in those days … I would definitely be below stairs. In fact my grandmother was “in service” and it was a very hard life.
Kathy: Kat's mom writes racy bodice rippers. Are you a fan of this genre? (I am!)
HD: I just finished reading E.M. Hull’s The Sheik—really old-school racy stuff that was published in 1921. It’s not as blatant as 50 Shades of Grey but there are a lot of smoldering glances and crushed lips. I’ve never had the courage to pen my own romance novel but writing vicariously through Kat’s mother Iris is so much fun.
Kathy: Honeychurch Hall has some resident ghosts. Are you a believer? Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
HD: I was happy you asked this question because I have seen a ghost. I used to live in a cottage on Chailey Green in East Sussex. It was built in the mid-1600s but the ghost in question died in 1851. His name was Thomas Jeffrey and he was the local butcher who met with a tragic accident when his knife slipped. I only saw him once but it frightened me half to death—and my cat. In fact it was my cat that saw him first. It was in the middle of the night and I was startled by this awful growling and hissing sound coming from my daughter’s bedroom (happily, she was away at the time). The room was icy cold. Standing in the doorway of the walk-in-closet (it used to be an old staircase) was a shadowy, translucent figure with reddish hair. After that, I sensed Thomas around me a lot and things got out of hand—poltergeist stuff. In the end our local church got involved and sent him to the light. I’ll never forget it.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
HD: I’m drawn to small town stories that could happen to you or me. You are writing about people you know, people down the street, your uncle, your neighbors. By definition, a cozy mystery includes these parameters: the victim and killer are known to each other. It’s not a random killing. The motive is domestic–it’s not a crazy person on a spree. There is little or no onstage violence, cussing or sex. There is no forensics. There is always a satisfying ending. My mother always says “no one knows what goes on behind closed doors” and I think that’s what I find interesting.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
HD: I have a couple of stand-alones I am working on but there will always be an element of suspense because I enjoy creating puzzles.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
HD: Murder at Honeychurch Hall: the first in the series My protagonist Kat stars in a hit road show called Fakes & Treasures. Weary of being permanently in the public eye, Kat switches careers initially to set up an antique business with her newly widowed mother, Iris. Kat’s mother, however, has other ideas and Kat is horrified to learn that not only has Iris secretly purchased a dilapidated carriage house on a crumbling country estate several hundred miles away from London, she’s actually an internationally best-selling author of erotica, writing under the pseudonym of Krystalle Storm. An upstairs-downstairs backdrop wouldn’t be complete without a feisty, octogenarian countess but I also threw in a precocious seven year old who is obsessed with the famous fighter pilot called Biggles, a treasure trove of antiques, the occasional haunting and of course, the paparazzi, who are always hungry for celebrity news. As you can imagine there are plenty of motives for intrigue … and murder. Yet at the core of my new series is the relationship between a mother and daughter facing new and uncertain beginnings. I’m fascinated by the notion that it’s those who are nearest and dearest to us who are often the most duplicitous of all.
The Vicky Hill Mysteries: Vicky Hill is based on my own experience as an obituary writer for a small West Country newspaper. Vicky is in her early twenties and aspires to be the next Christiane Amanpour of CNN fame but she’s more like Lucy Ricardo. Her parents are wanted for armed robbery and are hiding out in Spain. Like all of us, Vicky has a nemesis. Hers is Annabel Lake. Annabel is everything that Vicky is not—sexy, worldly and someone who uses her sexual wiles and manipulations to get her own way. Vicky has never even had a boyfriend. She is far more interested in snagging her front-page scoop. Oh – and I always feature an eccentric British hobby as a backdrop. So far I’ve had hedge jumping, hedge cutting, snail racing and Morris Dancing. This series is very quirky.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
HD: I love all my characters but some are more fun to write than others. In Honeychurch Hall, it’s the protagonist’s mother, Iris Stanford. I’d love to be more like Iris and tell everyone to mind their own business and live my life exactly how I want to live it! In Vicky Hill, it’s the paramedic Steve Burrows who is so besotted with Vicky that he just can’t accept that he’s being rejected. Steve’s eternally optimistic and because of this optimism, Vicky slowly begins to thaw towards him. I like that persistence!
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
HD: I honestly hadn’t considered getting published at all until I started the UCLA Writer’s Program. The instructor talked about us “getting published” and the thought of it gave me an odd thrill and a “Why not me? I’ll have a go!” Of course, the challenge of getting published took most of the thrill away …
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
HD: Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Anthony Horowitz and Jane Austen.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
HD: Endless Night by Agatha Christie, Once Upon a Lie by Maggie Barbieri, and a fascinating non-fiction book called Women of Devon by Todd Gray. I often read two or three books at the same time.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
HD: I have a full-time job as well as a writing career so hobbies are few and far between. I try to walk every day; enjoy Yoga and Pilates and skiing. I’m very interested in British Heritage and in another lifetime would have loved a career in conservation or working for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. I’d love to restore my own country house one day.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
HD: Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate. (The dark variety-no truffles. I don’t like truffles).
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
HD: Yes! The second in the Honeychurch Hall series comes out in May 2015. I have been contracted to write two more. Meanwhile, I am currently writing a fifth Vicky Hill for Constable in the UK.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
HD: All the wonderful people I continue to meet on my journey—amazing writers and generous readers, many of which have become very dear friends.
Hannah has kindly offered a copy of Murder at Honeychurch Hall to one lucky reader. To qualify all you have to do is comment on this post no later than 11:59 pm EST Saturday, May 10th telling us what role you'd have if you were in a manor house. Upstairs? Below? Cook? Governess? Baron? Also be sure to leave your e-mail address so that I can contact you should you win!
For more information on Hannah and her books, check out these links: