Well, with a book set in Venice and another in the Caribbean, I have to ask if you’ve spent time in these places? Is Malfuego based on somewhere real?
By now, I know Venice pretty well. Despite the crowds, it’s my favourite Italian city, and as long as you avoid the central heave, it’s magical. I’ve also visited the Caribbean several times, Malfuego being a mix of a number of islands, all sharing the same dreadful history and, in the 1950s, celebrating their independence. The idea for Caribbean Evil came out of a casual remark made by a guide on one of our trips. Novels are born from such snippets!
What drew you to writing?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve needed to put pen to paper. As a small child, I wrote poems; at secondary school there were short stories that I never dared mention – creative writing was definitely not encouraged. And I kept on writing through the years, but between family, pets and my job as a lecturer, there was little time to do more than dabble. However when the pressures eased, I grabbed the chance to do something I’d always promised myself – to write a novel. I knew I wanted to write popular fiction though I hadn’t a clue where to start, but since I’d taught 19th century literature for years and grown up reading Georgette Heyer, it seemed natural to gravitate towards the Regency period.
I’ll come back to that Regency theme! But it seems brave to me to write historical fiction set at a period lots of people can still remember – I quaked when I published a Second World War standalone! What drew you to the 1950s?
It’s one of the most fascinating periods you can write about, particularly if you love a feisty heroine. At the beginning of the decade, Britain was a monochrome world and five years of fighting had left behind a general feeling of exhaustion. There was still food rationing and the country was covered in bomb sites. Women, who had proved their worth during the war—as land girls, working in munitions factories, driving ambulances to the most horrific scenes—were pushed back into the kitchen and the nursery. The dead hand of society ensured their lives became narrow and acutely gender-based. But discontent with the status quo was just beneath the surface and during the next ten years rebellion brewed. Life was transforming. The Fifties were a cauldron ready to explode into the Sixties. And I’m old enough to remember them!
The Regency period, where you’ve also set books, is close to home for me! Which is your favourite?
I’m going to sit on the fence because I love every period I’ve written on. The Regency for its sheer elegance, the Victorians for their certainty (on the surface at least), and their amazing technological and engineering feats—Bazalgette’s sewers are still working beneath London. The Edwardian period has a special place in my heart. It’s bathed in permanent sunshine, at least in popular memory, and becomes even more poignant when you know it will end in the horrors of the Great War. And then the dreadful years of the Second World War, which still resonate with us today—witness the language used in fighting the Corona virus. I’ve set books in all these periods and each time have loved the sense of being immersed in a wholly different world, of living in different houses, wearing different clothes, meeting different people and confronting different choices.
You’ve turned to crime relatively recently – what has brought you to our happy genre? And the obvious question from a crime fiction perspective is are you related to Marjory Allingham?
No relation, though it would be great to claim one! I’ve only gradually inched my way towards crime. My first six novels were Regency romances, but though they proved a great apprenticeship, I wanted to broaden my scope into mainstream women’s fiction. I also wanted to create something a little darker—it hadn’t escaped me that with each succeeding Regency, the mystery element had become more pronounced. It was a natural progression then to write suspense but with an element of romance, and from there, only a small step further to full-blown crime. But though I have one or more deaths in each book, relationships are still very important, including a romantic temptation that develops throughout the Tremayne series.
The first book in this series beautifully evokes the grandeur and murkiness of Venice. Do you have a favourite scene in Venetian Vendetta?
The scenes I like best are those between Nancy and Archie Jago, her husband’s assistant. We’re early in their relationship here, when there’s a good deal of conflict and a general sparring between them. I think the passage encapsulates what infuriates Nancy about Archie, but also lays the ground for changes to come!
Luisa was waiting her turn to be served, but looking around expectantly.
‘I bet that’s her,’ Nancy said.
‘Probably. Nice legs. Salvatore has taste.’
‘You can go now.’ She would have liked to hit him, but settled for sounding severe.
He saluted, making her feel stupid. ‘Right away, Mrs Tremayne. Sorry… Nancy. I’ll be back at the vegetable market.’ ……….
She found Archie looking morosely at a pile of aubergines. ‘Can’t stand them,’ he said. ‘And they’re in everything you eat here.’
‘Never mind the aubergines, I must tell you what Luisa said.’
‘Do I need to know?’
‘Yes, you’re helping me.’ She said it decidedly. The only way to deal with Archie Jago, she’d realised, was to confront him head on. ‘I’ll tell you as we walk back.’
It’s a seriously tantalising triangle between Archie, Nancy and her husband Leo! I’m looking forward to spending more time with these characters. But do you have hobbies that help you escape from the writing or that feed into it?
I very much enjoy going to the theatre, to the cinema and to art exhibitions. Mooching around galleries, just looking, is a favourite activity, though sadly not at the moment. Painting and artists come into my books a good deal. Nancy is a former art student, Leo, her husband, an expert on Renaissance art. I love all things Italian and I’m learning the language. That’s evidently fed into the Tremayne series via Venetian Vendetta, but my ballet exercise classes? So far there have been no ballerinas, but I guess there’s still time!
Ballet exercise? That’s impressive! I fear I would lack the co-ordination … And finally, where can people find you and your books?
All my titles are available on Amazon as well as through a distributor such as Ingramspark. My latest novel in the Tremayne Mysteries Series is Caribbean Evil.
Universal link: https://bookgoodies.com/a/B08K4MDGRW
If you fancy receiving, The Dangerous Promise FREE (the prequel to the Tremayne series)
do sign up for my newsletter at https://merrynallingham.com/free-book/
or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter. Facebook: https://www.tinyurl.com/m322ovu
It’s so nice to hear from readers!
My review of Caribbean Evil - well, I was supposed to be reading this carefully for review, but I found myself galloping through it, loving the setting and the characters and letting the plot take me along. Great descriptive language – I can feel the heat of the Caribbean island where Nancy finds herself in company with her husband Leo and his assistant Archie, our companions from A Venetian Vendetta (formerly A Venetian Atonement) which I read a few months ago. The 1950s are delicately evoked with their sensitivities and the sharp contrast between privilege and poverty. Nancy discovers political unrest on the island and is soon drawn in to help a young man determined to reform the very system that is paying Leo for their stay and work. There’s plenty of meat in the plot, and in the difficult relationship between Nancy, Leo and Archie – enough to make me delighted to see there will be a third in the series!
Thank you so much, Merryn!