I'm pleased to welcome Joanne Phillips to Cozy Up With Kathy. Joanne writes the Flora Lively Mystery series. Flora Lively and a Date with Death is the second book in the series.
Kathy: Aside from taking place is Great Britain, what makes a mystery quintessentially British?
JP: I think Flora herself is very British – there is this innocence about her, along with a nosy almost ‘busybodyness’ that finds her embroiled in all sorts of mysteries and adventures before she knows what’s hit her! My other favourite aspect of these mysteries is Flora’s love/hate relationship with American Marshall. He drives her crazy, not least of all because of the way he teases her about her Britishness! But she kind of loves to be driven crazy by him. Then there are the mysteries themselves, in the tradition of Agatha Christie and M.C. Beaton. A Date With Death reflects this British flavour most of all, with the action taking place in an old country house, and a very Christie-esque denouncement at the end.
Kathy: Are you inspired by the great British detective authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers? Have they influenced your writing?
JP: Very much so, in terms of plot structure and tone. My characters, however, are more contemporary, and the books blend the charm of a more old-fashioned kind of mystery with the modern day problems a young and feisty amateur sleuth might face.
Kathy: I'd love to live in a glamorous country house, as long as I had staff to look after it! Would you enjoy that lifestyle, or perhaps a weekend party at one?
JP: I’d enjoy a weekend party there, but not if Flora was around - I’d be pretty sure that a dead body would soon follow! Yes, I think I would have done well if I’d been born into that lifestyle, with staff of course. I’m very good at finding things to do with my time, and very very good at delegating!
Kathy: In Flora Lively and a Date with Death the priceless Infanta Tiara is stolen. Is this tiara based on an actual historical piece?
JP: No, it was entirely made up. I do remember an early episode of Blackadder (British Comedy), where there was a character called the Spanish Infanta, and the name stuck with me. When I needed to think of a piece that would fit in with the Spanish film crew theme and be a draw for a thief, the idea of a beautiful tiara arrived in my mind.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
JP: I can blame author Edie Claire for that. I read the first in her Leigh Koslow series, Never Buried, and I was hooked. But there was a sense of already knowing the genre, but not knowing what these books were called. I’ve always loved mysteries, but can’t stand gore or upsetting themes. Finding that these books were being written right now - and that you didn’t have to stick to the traditional mysteries of the last century - was a landmark moment for me.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
JP: Yes - I write romantic comedies and women’s fiction, and I’ve also just completed a Masters degree in creative writing where I wrote a literary novel. I don’t think I could ever confine myself to one genre as a writer, any more than I could as a reader.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
JP: Flora inherited her family removal business when her parents died; she also inherited Marshall, her father’s hand-picked manager. In book one, Flora befriends an old lady she moves into a retirement village, and ends up solving the mystery of the dreaded ‘third floor’. I already have five books planned out for the series, which will see Flora’s character grow and develop, along with her relationship with Marshall. A Date With Death sees Flora reunited with her best friend, Celeste, who has been travelling and arrives home with a Spanish film crew in tow. Marshall and Celeste hate each other on sight, and soon Flora has her loyalties torn, as well as her sleuthing skills stretched. Although the mysteries drive the plot, all the books revolve around relationships and conflict. It’s just how I like to write.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
JP: I love writing about old people, so I think Joy from book 1 is one of my favs. In A Date With Death I really enjoyed writing Alberto, the Spanish director - he is a larger than life character, and they are always fun. And Marshall, of course. I suppose I’m a little in love with him.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
JP: Not really, but Flora Lively came to me as a character - a diminutive woman managing a traditionally male removals company. The idea for the mystery series followed.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
JP: I have always loved writing, and aged 38 I’d already completed 3 novels, one of which had gained a lot of interest from an agent. Having my daughter held things up for a while, but when the Kindle boom started to hit I realised I wanted to be part of the new indie movement. I’m a control freak anyway, so self-publishing really appealed to me.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
JP: I’m lucky to be friends with one of the authors I admire, so I’d invite Linda Gillard first. And then, Anne Tyler, Carol Shields, and my mum, who is also an author. I think we’d have a great time.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
JP: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
JP: I love crocheting and knitting, and quilting. Obviously I love to read, and I like going for long walks, listening to audiobooks on my phone.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
JP: Chocolate - 85% cocoa solids, very dark and bitter! Chilled wine - always Pinot Grigio. Lots of salad because I’m on a health kick just now. And cereal bars for when I need a snack.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
JP: Yes, most definitely. The next book in the Flora Lively series will be called The Sign of Seven and I’m really looking forward to making a start.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
JP: Being able to work from home! And just doing what I love to do. Even if I couldn’t earn money from writing I’d still write. I can’t help it. It’s just what I am.
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