Your name: Lynn Shepherd
Tell us about yourself: I write ‘literary mysteries’ – in essence, historical crime novels with a literary angle. The first was Murder at Mansfield Park in 2010 – I’m proud to have been the first novelist to turn Jane Austen murderous! Then it was Tom-All-Alone’s, which was inspired by Dickens’ Bleak House, which was a crime book of 2012 for both The Spectator and the Sunday Express. Then A Treacherous Likeness, a BBC History magazine historical novel of the year for 2013, and which was a fictionalisation of the strange lives and dark secrets of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein.
Tell us about your latest book: The Pierced Heart is the fourth in the Charles Maddox series, and takes Dracula as its inspiration. It’s a dark Gothic mystery about the clash of science and superstition in the 19th century, set in London in the year of the Great Exhibition, and in a remote castle in the depths of Eastern Europe inhabited by a mysterious nobleman who may just remind you of someone. Vampires are the gift that keeps on giving!
When did you start writing? About 2000, when I went freelance as a copywriter. The first book was sold to a publisher in 2008.
Where do you write? At home, in my study.
Which other authors do you admire? Modern ones – AS Byatt, John Fowles. Classics – Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy. Crime novelists – Joan Smith, Nicci French, Lyndsay Faye, Ruth Rendell, Ian Rankin.
Book you wished you’d written? AS Byatt’s Possession – she managed to write an incredibly dense and intellectual novel, complete with extensive literary ‘ventriloquism’, and still make it a cracking page-turner and a popular best-seller. Oh, and win a Booker prize for it too.
Greatest fictional criminal: Robert Lovelace, the anti-hero and rapist in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. Lovelace is a literary tour de force – dazzling, appalling, compelling, enthralling. Clarissa is one of the great masterpieces of English fiction, but it’s worth reading the novel for him alone. And yes, the original book is a million words long, but I’ve recently written an afterword for the new Signet Classics abridged version which has been excellently edited and is a good deal more manageable!
Greatest crime or criminal from the real world: This one’s a bit obscure – John Hatfield, an infamous imposter and bigamist who was hanged in 1803 for forgery, after passing himself off as an MP. His posthumous fame rests on the fact that he married the ‘Maid of Buttermere’, a famous local beauty in the Lake District, who was mentioned in Wordsworth’s Prelude. It was Coleridge’s piece for the London Morning Post about the “romantic marriage” between an innkeeper’s daughter and ‘Colonel Hope’, the brother of an earl, that eventually led to Hatfield’s unmasking. Melvyn Bragg has written a wonderful fictionalisation of the story.
Greatest fictional detective: Has to be Holmes, though I love Inspector Bucket in Bleak House and brought him back to life in my own novel.
What scares you? Other people. Precipices. Clowns. Dolls with no eyes…
Are you ever disturbed by your own imagination? Sometimes – when my friends first read the opening scenes of Tom-All-Alone’s – an exhumation of murdered babies in the desolate and rat-infested graveyard of the title – I got some quizzical questions about how I came up with such a horrific idea.
3 crime books you would recommend to EVERYONE:
- Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey
- The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.
I recommend the latter to any aspiring crime novelist for the wonderful technique involved in the presentation of the killer (I won’t spoil it by revealing who it is, just in case!)
Do you listen to music when you write? No, not usually!
Are you on social media? Yes – @Lynn_Shepherd on Twitter
How can fans connect with you? www.lynn-shepherd.com