Catherine Coles is the author of the Tommy & Evelyn Christie Mystery series. Murder in Belgrave Square is the fourth book in the series.
Beginning 100 years in the past…
Murder in Belgrave Square is set nearly 100 years ago in London. Catherine said that while the setting is similar, the storyline differs completely from the Christmas episode of Downton Abbey featuring Lady Rose’s London Season.
“That is where I got the idea of setting a book around that event. I had what I thought were four good ideas for Book 4, and I set up a poll in my newsletter and asked my subscribers to vote on which book they would like me to write next. I had mentioned Aunt Victoria was a bit of a ‘black sheep’ in Book 1 and that she had run away to France to marry someone who the family did not approve of. I thought it would be fun to bring her back to England, give her some daughters who really don’t like each other, and throw in the glamour of a London Season too.”
The family and class struggles
Catherine added that she was interested in the differences between modern and 1920 families. “I look at the relationships between old family friends and specifically how the children of those friends were often expected to do as their parents asked and marry ‘for the good of the family’. But what happens if a young man’s father expects him to marry one sister, but he is in love with the other sister? There’s resentment between the sisters as the younger one is experiencing a London Season, but the elder sister has not had that opportunity.”
In addition to the changes in families, Catherine also looked at relationships between the different classes. “The main characters in my book, Lord & Lady Northmoor, are very forward thinking. Evelyn particularly enjoys finding out the local gossip by chatting in the kitchen to the cook and her assistant. This book also features an abandoned baby so the reasons why a mother would take such extreme action is also explored as is the childlessness of the main characters.”
An epiphany during lockdown
“People always tell you to write what you know. Eventually, during lockdown last year, I listened to this advice. I don’t mean I am a countess who lives in a grand old house in North Yorkshire, but that I really like murder. For obvious reasons, I don’t say that too loudly around people I don’t know.”
When she was a child, Catherine’s father was in the armed forces. Consequently, Catherine said she spent most of her childhood in Germany. “This was back in the times when English TV came on video cassettes from the local Army shop. So I learned how to read early—and a lot! I borrowed books from school and also from the library in the camp. One of the earliest books I read was Murder on the Orient Express. Later, I loved watching the BBC adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books featuring Joan Hickson. Eventually I realised a love of murder mysteries, and an obsession with detective shows meant I should try to write my own.”
Murder in Belgrave Square—challenging, but fun to write
“Writing this book has been particularly challenging for me,” Catherine said. “I have 5 children, 2 of whom are adopted. I’ve faced impossible choices over the last few months that have made sitting down at my desk and crafting a story really difficult. However, eventually escaping into 1920s London has probably helped to keep me sane. That, an abundance of peanut M&Ms, and a really lot of prayer.”
Catherine considers herself to be a bit of a geek. She said, “I’ve come to terms with that side of myself. When I started writing this series, I drew a map of the village. I wrote out a family tree—with birthdates of the entire Christie family, dates of death, and the reasons they died. I needed it so I could work out how Tommy would inherit the title in Book 1. I’m also glad I did it every time I sit down to write a new book, as I can instantly see how old everyone is, and their names. I also have a spreadsheet of character names and characteristics. When I name a new character, I look at the printouts I have of the most popular names of that era. Then I choose a surname from something around me. It might be the surname from an author on my bookshelf, from a character on a programme on TV, or frequently a player in the football/rugby game I’m watching while plotting ☺ For me, those things are crazy, fun, and enjoyable!”
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