I'm so happy to welcome H.Y. Hanna to the blog today. A Scone to Die For is the first book in her Oxford Tearoom Mystery series.
Kathy: In A Scone to Die For a tourist is murdered in an Oxfordshire tearoom. How quintessentially British! Not that England boasts of murdered tourists, but you set the stage for a very traditional mystery. What made you decide to set your series here?
HYH: Well, one of the main reasons was because I was at Oxford myself for several years, first as a student and then later living there while I commuted to work in London. Oxford is a unique city with spectacularly beautiful architecture in its Gothic spires, medieval towers, old cloisters and elegant college quadrangles. And the world of Oxford University is full of fascinating centuries-old traditions and quaint customs, which I thought would be interesting to readers.
Oxford itself is located in the middle of the Cotswolds, one of the most beautiful parts of the English countryside, renowned for its rolling hills and picturesque villages filled with winding cobbled lanes and thatched cottages… what better place as a setting for a cozy mystery? ;-)
Kathy: Have you been influenced by some of the writers of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction?
HYH: Probably like a lot of mystery readers, I love Agatha Christie and her clever mysteries. So yes, I was very influenced by her as I began writing my own series. I find that I am sometimes disappointed by cozy mysteries which are a bit too “fluffy” and flimsy in the mystery department. So I really wanted to make sure that my series—while incorporating the beloved elements of quirky characters in a quaint setting, with a light, humorous tone—still delivered a solid, intelligent mystery that would challenge the reader and keep you guessing.
Kathy: I adore tea, but admit to drinking it in a more Asian style that British. I practice the gong fu style of tea making and I drink my tea neat, never adding cream or sugar, or anything else (aside from ice for my iced tea). How do you like your tea?
HYH: Wow, I’m Asian and your tea knowledge puts me to shame! J Like all Chinese people, I drink copious amounts of green tea every day – ha! ha! (and yes, green tea is never drunk with milk or sugar) – although I have to admit, I always start the day with a cup of Earl Grey tea first thing. I’m a terrible morning person and struggle to get out of bed or speak in more than monosyllables before 10am – heehee– so I need my morning cuppa to feel a little more human! But the rest of the day after that, I usually drink green tea.
Despite several years of living in England, I never really caught on to the British habit of adding milk to tea but I did used to load my tea with sugar, a bad leftover from my childhood growing up in the Middle East where they love to drink their tea very sweet! I’ve since weaned myself off that and now have my tea black—usually English Breakfast or Earl Grey. I love fragrant teas.
Kathy: I love all sorts of teas, but am partial to lapsong souchong. Do you have a favorite tea?
HYH: I like the very fragrant jasmine green tea or the stronger-tasting Oolong tea, and I also enjoy the lighter Japanese teas, especially “gen-mai cha” which is green tea with roasted rice kernels… smells absolutely divine!
For English tea, as I said, I think my favourite would be Earl Grey as I love the fragrance. I also like peppermint tea after a heavy meal and proper Morrocan mint tea is gorgeous (but very difficult to find). Oh! And a tea I had recently which I adored was Turkish Apple Tea – very moreish!
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
HYH: Well, I’ve always loved mysteries more than any other genre – my favourite books as a child was Nancy Drew and when I grew up, I naturally gravitated towards reading crime fiction: mysteries, romantic suspense, psychological thrillers and police procedurals. The first book series I wrote was a children’s middle-grade mystery series starring a Great Dane detective and her canine friends.
However, when I turned my attention to writing adult books, I dabbled in a few other genres for a while – I have a romantic suspense series and a sweet romance series – before deciding that I’m really more of a mystery writer. I had several ideas for different mystery series and the Oxford tearoom one was the one that called to me the most – so I started with that one first and I discovered that it fit perfectly into the niche known as “cozy mysteries”!
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
HYH: Ha! Ha! I seem to be pre-empting your questions. Yes, I also write romantic suspense - I ADORE Mary Stewart and I have a romantic suspense trilogy called the TENDER series, set in Singapore, which is sort of like a modern Mary Stewart: woman-in-peril, alone in a foreign country, with an enigmatic man she’s not sure she can trust but with whom she’s rapidly falling in love… there’s murder, island cults, long-buried family secrets and it’s very atmospheric, suspenseful and gripping. I plan to write more romantic suspense books eventually.
I have also written sweet romance in the past (I have a series for pet lovers starring the handsome veterinarians at an animal hospital in an Australian beachside town) but I’ve decided that mystery is more for me, so I won’t be continuing in that genre. Oh, and I also write children’s middle grade fiction: action-packed mystery adventures with lots of humour.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
HYH: A Scone To Die For is the first book in the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries and it is a culinary cozy mystery for cat lovers and British mystery fans. The first book introduces us to Gemma Rose, who has given up a high-flying corporate career overseas to return to England and open a traditional English tearoom in a picturesque little village on the outskirts of Oxford. Business seems to be going well until a cranky American tourist is found murdered in her tearoom, by one of her famous scones, no less!
Before she knows it, Gemma is putting her sleuthing skills to the test as she dives back into the world of her old university and uncovers a mystery with roots in the hidden past. Of course, it’s not that simple, though—for one thing, the CID detective in charge of the murder investigation is none other than her first college love and Gemma also has to contend with four meddling little old ladies from her Cotswolds village… and that’s before you add in Muesli, the mischievous little tabby, and Mrs Rose, Gemma’s technologically-challenged, match-making mother!
The second book in the series, Tea with Milk and Murder, is also out already so for those who enjoy Book 1, they can dive straight into Gemma’s (and Muesli’s) next adventure!
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
HYH: Ooh, that’s a hard one! I think, if I really had to choose, it would have to be Gemma’s mother – who also seems to be many readers’ favourite! She always says the most outrageous things sometimes and her very “proper” kind of British-ness” can be very entertaining. I think we can all relate to Gemma’s exasperation with her mother, via our own relationships with our mothers, aunts, mothers-in-law or older close family friend, who might have different attitudes from ourselves – and/or who are a bit technologically-challenged! J
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
HYH: Well, as I said, it is partly inspired by my own experiences of being a student at Oxford (minus the dead bodies!) and living in the Cotswolds region for several years. I used to love visiting the quaint little Cotswolds villages on the weekends, strolling down the winding, cobbled lanes, browsing the antique shops and local markets, having afternoon tea at the traditional tearooms… so I thought it the perfect setting for a British cozy.
I wanted to write a series which had many of the well-loved ingredients of a good cozy mystery, including quirky characters, a quaint village setting, a fascinating insight into a special “world” and lots of humour, all wrapped up in a gripping whodunit in the best British mystery style. Oh, and not forgetting the adorable cheeky little tabby cat who is inspired by my own little grey tabby, Muesli! But I also wanted to give it a fresh twist: something original, which hadn’t been done before in other series and to make sure I delivered a solid, intelligent mystery that would keep the readers guessing.
With my previous books, I am known for writing wonderfully vivid atmosphere and settings, and my books are often called “page turners”—so I wanted to make sure that my new series lived up to the same promise! I’ve been getting a lot of lovely 5-star reviews saying things like: “I love a good mystery and I just couldn't put this one down..... I had to finish the novel in one sitting! This author has the unique ability to describe scenes in such vivid detail that you actually feel as though you are there (I'm sure I could smell those scones baking). Such wonderful and loveable characters and twists and turns in the plot, I was kept guessing till the very end”—so hopefully, it looks like I’ve achieved my aim! :-)
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
HYH: I think any writer wants to share their stories with readers :-) and so the aim is always to publish your books and find your audience. As for why I chose to do it independently, I did actually have a literary agent in London and had come close to a “traditional” book deal in the past but when I got back into writing this time and completed that first manuscript, I decided I preferred being an “indie author”. Not only does this mean getting a better share of the royalties (publishers take a HUGE cut for not always doing very much – nowadays, traditionally-published authors are expected to do their own marketing, social media, etc as well ) and being in a better position to earn my living as an author, but also having more control over my own career.
I am not dependent on the opinion of a random editor or marketing committee for what and when I can publish, I interact directly with my readers and I have full creative control over my covers, branding strategy, story & character development and career direction. Of course, I do work very closely with a support team which comprises a freelance editor, beta readers, proofreaders and various “expert consultants” to check facts in my stories. The indie author community is also very helpful, so I have wonderful support from my fellow indie author friends. It IS a lot of hard work and being an indie author can take over your life but I enjoy the challenge!
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
HYH: Mary Stewart - (my favourite author of all time! I love her style of classic romantic suspense, with the focus on the heroine and the exotic locations, all beautifully described. It is partly her books that have inspired me to write in the descriptive style which brings a setting to life.
Reginald Hill - (I LOVE his Daziel & Pascoe series, his wonderful characters and his wry sense of humour. He was incredibly intelligent and well-read and cultured, without being pretentious in any way, and it came across in his books – loved finding little “Easter eggs” of references to things which added depth to the story if you knew the mythology or poetry or history or philosophy ideas behind what he was referring to. Sadly he passed away recently)
Val McDermid - (I saw her speak once and it was amazing – she is hilariously funny and a wonderful public speaker, so humorous and warm – not what you’d expect from her books, which tend to be very dark psychological thrillers about serial killers and child abuse and things like that! But a fantastic writer – so suspenseful and really intricate plotlines and complex characterisations)
Suzanne Collins - (although I enjoyed the Hunger Games, I’m actually a bigger fan of her middle-grade series, The Underland Chronicles – really wonderful, wonderful stories with fantastic characters and relationships and incredible world-building. I admire her courage as an author to make bold story-telling decisions, such as not being afraid to kill off characters just to “play safe” and give readers a perfect happy ending – she challenges you and her stories always have deeper themes and thought-provoking messages. A very intelligent, well-educated author and I imagine she’d be fascinating to talk to across a dinner table!)
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
HYH: At the moment, I’m on a bit of an Agatha Christie binge, actually, and catching up with some of her lesser-known mysteries that I hadn’t had a chance to read yet—although the one I’m currently reading is probably very well-known: it’s called Sparking Cyanide.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
HYH: Well, like most authors, I would have to say that Reading is my No. 1 favourite past time and hobby. I also love dancing – I have done all sorts, from classical ballet to bellydance, burlesque to hip hop and even “doggie dancing”, a.k.a. canine freestyle, which is a form of competitive dog sport. I love dogs and am very interested in dog training & behaviour. Although I have to admit that since having our first cat, Lemon, and now Muesli, I’ve been converted to the feline side too!
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
HYH: Fresh chillis
(can you tell that I like spicy food? ;-) )
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
HYH: Ooh, yes, I have ideas for LOTS more books in the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries. I’m currently working on Book 3 and hope to have that one ready for release in mid-March 2016 – with Book 4 following soon after in May. I also have a couple of ideas for other mystery series – a paranormal / magical one and one that is more “chicklit women sleuth” in style - so I may start work on a new series towards the end of the year. The hard part is going to be trying to decide which idea to write next and juggling all the different series!
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
HYH: Being able to go to work in my pyjamas. ;-) No, seriously, being able to spend my days doing what I love best – making up stories in my head and writing them down – and then sharing my world and characters with readers.
Actually, no, seriously, being able to go to work in my pyjamas is the best thing!
A Scone to Die For by H.Y. Hanna
The First Oxford Tearoom Mystery
Gemma Rose is living her dream by owning her own tearoom in the picturesque Cotswolds. Her dream, however, comes with a price. Leaving her executive job in Australia is one thing, but after pouring all of her money into the Little Stables Tearoom, she's forced to move back in with her parents. The tearoom needs to succeed, not only so Gemma can earn enough to live on her own again, but to prove that her dream isn't just a whim. Helped by her childhood friend, Cassie, and amazing chef Fletcher, the tearoom is off to a good start satisfying tourists and Oxford families, as well as the locals. However, when a bad tempered American arrives the tides turn for the worse. Causing scenes all over the village he creates his last in the outdoor courtyard of the tearoom when Gemma finds him dead-with a scone in his mouth!
This book is a thinking readers book. Hanna delivers a finely crafted mystery, laying out clues, if only readers can find them. Set in a bucolic village in the Cotswolds, her intimate knowledge of Oxford and its environs adds verisimilitude while providing interesting facts and enveloping readers in her world. There are the requisite quirky characters, however, they are not too outrageous and they never overshadow the mystery.
I absolutely love this new series! A Scone to Die For is an intelligent and fun mystery with laugh out loud moments. Adding a former first love and that mischievous minx Muesli is Devonshire cream on a scone. Traditional British tea in the Cotswolds with a side of murder-what could be better than that?!
For your chance at an e-copy of A Scone to Die For simply leave a comment on this post telling up what you'd like to order from Gemma's teashop. Be sure to add your e-mail address and what e-format you use no later than 11:59 pm EST Tuesday, February 16, 2016. Don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter as well!
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