I'm pleased to welcome Zanna Mackenzie to the blog today. Murder on the Menu is the first of her Celebrity Mystery Books.
Kathy: Lizzie’s new boss is celebrity chef Armand. Do you enjoy following celebrity chefs? Do you have a favorite?
ZM: I do like cookery programs, yes. I particularly like it when the cooking element is combined with travel and learning about foods and cultures in countries all over the world. The UK cooking duo The Hairy Bikers have done some great series where they travel around Europe, Asia and America on their motorbikes, cooking, eating and seeing the sights. I also like Hugh Fearnley Hittingstall of River Cottage fame.
Kathy: Do you enjoy cooking yourself?
ZM: I like baking cakes and I make my own granola and gluten free muffins but beyond that I’m afraid I’m not very good at cooking, my husband is much better! I tend to get distracted with ideas for plots in my books and end up scribbling down notes and forgetting about the food, so things can be a little burnt at times…
Kathy: Murder on the Menu is described as a "romantic comedy culinary mystery". Why did you choose to combine the genres?
ZM: I started off writing in the romantic comedy genre with a slight mystery subplot and found that I loved the mystery angle in developing a story, so decided to add more mystery into my next books, which is when I started the Amber Reed Mystery series and then the Celebrity Mystery series. With Murder On The Menu I loved the idea of a having a famous and successful chef with a fancy restaurant in the glorious Lake District and wanted to balance that out with the main character of Lizzie at the other end of the spectrum. She’s struggling to turn her life around after leaving London, her boyfriend and her high-powered career behind to live on a farm she’s inherited, working as a waitress to make ends meet and is on a mission to be able to bake like her aunt used to. The book simply grew from there.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
ZM: I love a good mystery but don’t like to read anything scary, nasty or violent. I used to watch the Mystery Woman films on TV where a book shop owner gets drawn into sleuthing and solving various mysteries and decided I wanted to read and write stories like those with some romance, humor and intrigue.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
ZM: Yes, my first few books (The Love Programme, How Do You Spell Love? If You Only Knew) are more contemporary romantic comedies in style. These days though, my books are all very much in the romantic comedy cozy mystery genre.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
ZM: My Amber Reed Mystery series follows Amber who starts out making up the horoscopes for a local newspaper and ends up sleuthing in the world of the rich and famous. She meets a special agent called Charlie, they become romantically involved and the mysteries in terms of various crimes to solve as well as their roller-coaster on-again off-again love life unfolds over the series. There’s currently 4 books and a novella in this series and I’m writing the fifth book at the moment.
My Celebrity Mystery series kicks off with Murder On The Menu where Lizzie’s city life falls apart and she ends up living in the wilds of Cumbria and waitressing to make ends meet. Her celebrity chef boss is murdered and she’s on the list of suspects and teams up with her gorgeous new neighbor Jack to clear her name. There are 2 books and a novella in this series and they follow Lizzie and Jack’s relationship and their crime-fighting adventures.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
ZM: It’s probably Amber from the Amber Reed Mysteries. She makes me laugh and is great fun to write. I feel like she’s a friend now and love sending her off to solve a new case in each of the books. Amber’s changing a little with each novel and I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey she’s on.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
ZM: No, I don’t think I do. My ideas for plots, settings and characters come from all over the place. Some are snippets of concepts from newspaper articles, TV programs, films, even other books. Most of the time though, the ideas spring from the characters themselves. That’s the joy of writing in a series, you get to know your characters so well that it’s almost as though they’re pushing ideas into your head!
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
ZM: My husband! My journey to being published is a long story over several years but it was my husband who coaxed me to actually send off two of my completed manuscripts to publishers. I was too scared to do it! He encouraged me and I sent one book to a UK publisher and a different book to a US publisher. I told myself to forget about them because there was no way I’d get offered contracts. Two weeks later, I had a contract offer from the US publisher on that book and a week after that, I had a contract offer from the UK publisher on the other book. I was absolutely stunned and completely delighted!
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
ZM: Hmm… tough question. Let me see… probably the Chick Lit Queen Jill Mansell because she was one of the first authors where I read all of her books as soon as I discovered her. She inspired me to start writing myself. Next, probably Carole Matthews, for a similar reason. Thirdly, the romance author Katie Fforde. When I was starting out on my writing journey, I joined the Romantic Novelist’s Association and was in a forum. Back then she was (and still is) a top-selling author, yet she took the time to help and encourage those taking their first steps on the writing ladder. She really spurred me on with my writing goals. Finally, but by no means least, the American author Caroline Fardig. We have a very similar writing style and write series in the same genre (she writes the Lizzie Hart Mysteries and the Java Jive Mysteries) and I love and read all of her books. We’ve become friends via social media and emails but as she lives in the USA and I’m in the UK, we have never actually met so it would be great to invite her to my dinner party.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
ZM: I read across a few genres but one thing a book definitely needs to have for me to read it is romance woven into the plot. I read cozy mysteries, chick lit, contemporary romance and romantic suspense. I’m currently in a British romantic comedy phase and am reading the fifth book in Jenny Oliver’s Cherry Pie Island series.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
ZM: I love to pull on wellington boots and get out to do some gardening. We have a small garden but I’ve crammed in a tiny greenhouse to grow some tomatoes and also have a few raised beds for lettuces, cucumbers and beans. We have four dogs which keeps us busy looking after and walking them. Fortunately, I enjoy lots of walks in the countryside!
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
ZM: The fridge is stocked with fruits and salad stuff right now as we’ve just had a rare spell of hot weather in the UK – but now it’s been raining for three days so I don’t fancy salad! Sorry, right, down to specifics, four items to select to tell you about – chocolate mousse, sweet potatoes, some salmon fillets, and sweet fire beetroot.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
ZM: Yes, I’m working on book 5 in the Amber Reed Mystery series which is set at a summer music festival. I also have a new series coming out which will be three standalone mysteries with some comedy and romance woven in, but they will be linked as a trilogy via the fact each book will focus on the story and amateur sleuthing of one of three sisters.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
ZM: Getting to create characters, settings and plots – it’s tremendous fun. I also love that I get to work from home – no commute, I get to keep an eye on our dogs, spend more time with my husband (who also works from home part of the week as he’s a self-employed acupuncturist and sports therapist) and I have the luxury of setting up my laptop wherever I like indoors or out, depending on the time of year and the weather.