As evidenced by my review of A FINE SUMMER’S DAY by New York Times Bestselling author, Charles Todd yesterday, I am hooked on the Todd’s writing! So it is with great pleasure we welcome the mother/son team, Charles and Caroline Todd, today for our THRILLER THURSDAYS!
What drives your story forward in your books the most, the characters or the plot?
CAROLINE: First the setting, getting that right, and then the characters who inhabit that setting. They propel the story by being themselves—behaving as they would have done in real life, if they’d been faced with this particular situation. They are much more real to us—and we hope to the reader—when they leap off the page on their own.
CHARLES: Characters determine so much of the plot and the action because people have secrets they don’t want to tell, and to protect those secrets, they will do everything from muddying the water to murder. Even the innocent have something to hide, and that can complicate the plot. In a Bess Crawford book, she has to understand this or she’ll be drawn in on the wrong side. In our other series about Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, he has to be completely objective, in order to arrest the right person. And he must get it right, or an innocent person could go to the gallows.
If you were a character in one of your books, which would you be? The hero/heroine, mentor, villain, love interest, etc.
CAROLINE AND CHARLES: The funny thing is, because our characters take on a life of their own, it’s hard to think about being one of them ourselves. Still, it would be fun to be able to step briefly back into the period of The Great War, World War 1, and get to know them first hand. We both feel we’d recognize most of them if we were walking down a street somewhere in England, and they were coming toward us.
CAROLINE: I even dream about the characters—but always in character.
If you had the power to make any of your books into a film, which would it be and why?
CAROLINE AND CHARLES: Now that’s a hard question to answer. Each book in our two series has a lot of potential for a film. And we think that’s because we see each scene almost like a movie in our heads. Capturing that on a page is the challenge. If we had to choose a Rutledge, it would be one of three: A FINE SUMMER’S DAY, where Rutledge is a young inspector at the Yard dealing with his engagement, the coming war, and a case that defies ordinary logic. A TEST OF WILLS, actually the first Rutledge book we wrote, published in 1996, where he returns as a survivor of that war, trying to pick up the pieces of his life and his career even as he struggles with PTSD, or shell shock. A MATTER OF JUSTICE is the third, because it is a cracking good story that would work really well in a film. For Bess, it would be A DUTY TO THE DEAD, the first Bess, where the past suddenly spills over into the present—murder doesn’t stop just because there’s a war on. And certainly A QUESTION OF HONOR, which begins in India and ends in the middle of the Great War. Some marvelous settings there! And of course this latest, A PATTERN OF LIES, where the psychological suspense runs high.
Do people you know end up as characters in your book?
CAROLINE: We’ve never used anyone we know. And the only historical figure who played more than a minor role was Rudyard Kipling, because something in his life fit in perfectly with the story Bess was telling in A QUESTION OF HONOR. The problem is, real people have their own reality, and it would be hard to add you to a story when you’d have no stake in what was happening and would be an unlikely suspect or murderer. Your relationship to the rest of the cast would be awkward too. We did name a dog in one book for a dog belonging to a fan, but that was a special favor. If our characters are going to be themselves, we can’t manipulate them for our own purposes.
CHARLES: That’s not to say we have never been tempted to kill off someone in a book. But the way the story unfolds, the victim must have a very good reason for being killed. Otherwise, the plot has nothing to hold on to as we try to find the motive for our killer’s actions. Just because we might want YOU dead, doesn’t mean that characters in the book would feel the same way about you. They might even like you, and then where would we be? We’ve named the cats in several books for those in the family, but cats have personalities of their own, and so it’s just the color we match.
Is there a particular genre of fiction that you have always wanted to write, but haven’t yet tackled?
CAROLINE: I’ve always wanted to do a broad, sweeping novel about the Great War. Sort of a GONE WITH THE WIND, taking in the major events and how they affected the characters. I’ve also toyed with a yeoman in the time of the Great Elizabeth. And Scotland in the years of the Jacobean rebellion. A writer’s mind reaches for so many possibilities that you have to be stern and say, “No time to do it well—so better not to do it at all.”
CHARLES: My other interests are the American Civil War and World War II. War is a part of history, and so it offers a great many opportunities as a backdrop to the lives of characters. I’d love to try my hand at one. When I have the time….
As with the rest of us, you have a real life to live. So, in your most recent book, what was happening in your life and how did it influence your writing?
CAROLINE AND CHARLES: Interesting question. An author has a peculiar work schedule to start with, and when you’re writing two series, the complications are endless. Take this summer for instance. We are promoting A PATTERN OF LIES, which was actually written last summer—and that includes traveling with it. While we are doing that, we are writing next summer’s Bess, THE SHATTERED TREE. And we are also working on the line edits and copy edits and galleys for the Rutledge that is coming out in the winter of next year. All this mind you, in two separate states. We are also preparing the anthology, TALES, for four short stories, two Bess and two Rutledge, that are being collected in one volume for the first time. It’s out now in e-format, and in September it’s out in book form. Terrific cover. We have a story in Strand magazine’s summer edition that we worked on before we went to England in June. What we actually do is fit our lives into the schedule—not the other way around. Caroline has been painting the wrought iron porch railings, back and front yards. She’s been working on getting rid of ivy that tried to invade her flower garden, reading a few of the books on her bedside table, and exploring new restaurants. Charles is still trying to find time to unpack his suitcase from his last trip, and is learning Word 10 on the job, also reading as much as he can. He enjoys a good many hobbies and tries to find time for his art work. Never enough hours in the day!
How much research went into your last book?
CAROLINE: We do extensive research for every book—and for the series as a whole, for directions and new concepts. After all, we write about a country not our own and a time not our own, and oftentimes a language not our own, and so you never stop learning more. We love memoires and letters and newspaper accounts, because they add color to the trips we make to England at least once a year. Each book is set in a real place, and we must spend time there to capture it. The internet is only a starting point. Being there, speaking to people, looking at every aspect of the landscape is essential to getting it right and doing it well.
CHARLES: When we go to England, we usually have a specific setting in mind. If that works out, we’re ahead of the game. If it doesn’t, we quickly move on to another village—often just down the road. There’s no lack of possibilities. We may split up and we may work together, but we share everything we learn in long sessions back in the hotel or at home. We see different things because we have different perspectives, but putting all those together makes for a really good backdrop for the story. Setting is in many ways a character in our books.
What’s one of the most important things you’d like your readers to know about you? What defines you most as an author?
CAROLINE: The most important thing? I think I share that answer with Charles. We do our best to get it right, because that’s what you offer your reader—your best effort. As for what defines me? My reading, my travels, and my family. Reading is my passion. I think it is for many writers. Travel opens my mind to new experiences and places and people. It broadens my horizons literally and figuratively. And my family has always been the center of my life. Not because I’m a woman but because they’re my bedrock.
CHARLES: What I’d like readers to know? That I respect the history I’m writing about, and while I’m never going to get every single thing right, I try my very best to do just that. What defines me? My deep love for the mystery genre.
Tell us one thing about you that may surprise your readers.
CHARLES: I used to play the bagpipes. I have my own pipes.
CAROLINE: When I have the time, I love to paint in oils. I’ve never mastered watercolors.
Tell us a little bit about the project you are working on now.
CAROLINE AND CHARLES: We are already working on next summer’s Bess, which we think might take her to Paris. It’s exciting, because she may be on the track of something We’ve turned in next winter’s Rutledge, NO SHRED OF EVIDENCE, which is set in Cornwall, where Rutledge must find out whether there has been an accident—or a murder. And we’re working on several short stories as well. It’s hard to describe a work in progress—we never know what lies ahead until we get there.
CAROLINE: When a Bess book comes out, we’re writing the next Bess at the same time, and it’s also true with the Rutledge series. Do we get confused? Sometimes, but only for a second or two when our editor calls about promoting the latest, and we’re buried in the past with the next.
Tell us something about your latest release.
A PATTERN OF LIES
A PATTERN OF LIES is the 7th Bess Crawford mystery, set in England and on the battlefields of France in the Great War, 1914-18, where she is a nurse. She grew up in India and other corners of the Empire where her father was a serving officer in the British Army, and so she has a unique perspective on duty and responsibility. Like many women of her class, nursing is her contribution to the war effort. But she often finds herself in situations where her knowledge and experience help her work out what really happened when murder is done. In this book, in 1916, a terrible explosion at a gunpowder mill crucial to the war effort kills over a hundred men. Almost two years later, a mounting whisper campaign is about to send the owner of the mill to trial for their deaths. Bess and the Ashton family must find out who is behind these vicious rumors—and she alone is in a position to discover why a soldier at the Front—the only witness to this explosion—refuses to come back to Kent to testify on behalf of the accused. But someone else is hunting this man as well. And Bess is in the way.
You might be interested to know: This explosion and fire actually happened in 1916 in Kent, England. And to this day no one knows how the tragedy occurred. We’ve changed the name of the mill and the village next to it because there are descendants of dead still living in that same place and we didn’t wish to exploit their losses. . The story we wanted to tell is our own: what happens when grief turns to bitterness and rumors grow out of the question so often asked after any great loss—why? And at what point does anger turn to vengeance?
THANKS SO MUCH! We enjoyed your questions! C&C
Thank you both for joining us today! I am truly a fan for life!
A PATTERN OF LIES