Thriller Thursday with Charles and Caroline Todd


Novels Alive is thrilled to once again welcome the New York Times bestselling mother/son duo Charles and Caroline Todd. Their latest release, NO SHRED OF EVIDENCE is now available on all major outlets.

1. Charles Todd is the author name for the mother/son combination of Charles and Caroline Todd. Given the generational and gender differences, are there ever disagreements with how a plot should be written or are you generally on the same page, pun intended?

CAROLINE: We thought at the start of our collaboration that this might be a problem, but as it turned out, we were more compatible than you’d think.  Mostly that has to do with the fact that neither of us was around for the Great War. 🙂  So we both had to set out on a voyage of discovery about an event that not only changed the course of the Twentieth Century but still echoes in what’s happening today.  And that’s what we built on as we began to write together. While we may bring individual viewpoints to the process, these had to reflect what was happening at the time, and how our characters would have reacted to what was going on around them. They aren’t me, they aren’t Charles, they are Rutledge and Bess Crawford and Sergeant Gibson and the Colonel Sahib, all of whom lived their own lives. We just record them.

CHARLES:  Caroline is right, and when we do have an argument about what’s going to happen or what should be said, it’s “what’s best for the character—or the chapter—or the book as a whole” that’s the deciding factor.  Which is as it should be, because the books aren’t about us. And there’s something else too. A writer has to learn how to write from all kinds of viewpoints:  male, female, young, old, detective, murderer. How to set himself or herself aside and speak for all kinds of people. It’s what makes characters leap off the page for the reader, because they ring true, they seem to live.  

2. The Bess Crawford series is written in first person whereas your Ian Rutledge series is written in third person. Which perspective is easier for you to write?

CAROLINE AND CHARLES:  When we started the first Rutledge, we experimented with what seemed to work best for telling the story we had in mind. And it turned out that third person gave us the advantage of Hamish’s viewpoint as well as Rutledge’s.  They are the same person, but the way we handled Hamish made third person work out really well. When the time came to write Bess’s story, we assumed that third would work just as nicely for her. But it was all wrong.   We took the first chapters and turned them around as first person, and there she was, enthusiastic and interesting and on her way.  As for the actual writing, it really hasn’t mattered about third or first. When we start a Rutledge, we’re already thinking in third and when we start a Bess, we’re already working mentally in first. We expect it’s true of most other authors with multiple series—it’s about how your mind takes on the next task, rather than a matter of Oh, now it’s time to think this way.

3. Both the Bess Crawford and Ian Rutledge Mystery series are set during and after the first World War. Why that particular time period for both series?

CAROLINE AND CHARLES: The most important thing we wanted for Rutledge was a man capable of dealing with a murderer one on one.  We wanted him to use his wits, not clues that Forensics handed him.  And 1919 was perfect for that. Forensics were understood—the police just didn’t have the tools yet to make them useful. There has been a real transformation in the information that police can draw on today. It’s new and exciting. But we felt the greatest challenge to us as writers would come from writing about a man with nothing but his intellect, his experience, and his knowledge of people to guide him.  Add to that the period of the Great War to draw on for stories, we were well on our way.  Bess on the other hand was a chance to take a timely look at what women contributed to the war effort—often unsung, not even allowed to vote in Parliamentary elections, but showing that they too could do their bit for England.  Such a backdrop gave her duty and it gave her curiosity and it gave her courage and compassion, just the sort of woman we were after.  She was capable of handling the awful wounds she saw daily at the Front, and she could also be drawn in to help others in need, even if it meant dealing with murder.  And yet she’s very human as well. Bess has certainly done her best for those like her who served in so many different ways, but she’s been a great character to draw on.   And readers seem to enjoy her as much as we do.  

4. Ian Rutledge is a very haunted man due to the horrors of war. Did you talk with veterans to gain a better perspective on PTSD or did you research material from those times or both?

CAROLINE AND CHARLES:  When we decided to use the backdrop of shell shock (or PTSD) for Rutledge, we made certain that it was for real, and not just a gimmick. We owed it to men and women suffering from it to get it right.  So we talked to vets, we talked to those who treated vets, and we looked into how people viewed shellshock in the day. What surprised us was how many people we interviewed about their memories of the Great War mentioned shellshock without even realizing it.  “He was never the same.” “He was shaken by loud noises and seemed to go back into the past in an instant.” “He had dreams that left him screaming, and it frightened the children and the servants.” “He shot himself one night, because he couldn’t stand remembering any longer.”  We hope Rutledge speaks for them.

5. It is clear, not only in your quality of writing, but in the details that you both do a great deal of research in your books. Is there a particular subject either of you would rather the other research?

CAROLINE:  I can’t think of anything that I would rather Charles research. Reading about weapons or battles doesn’t bother me, I need to understand the nature of the war Rutledge was fighting.  Reading about wounds can get pretty gruesome, but again, I have to know what the soldier in the trenches faced every day, and what the nurses and doctors had to deal with and how they treated these wounds. It comes with the territory.

CHARLES:  So far we’ve shared all the research. And that’s been good for the books and good for us.  I think the only thing I’ve done that Caroline hasn’t is to turn the crank on Rutledge’s motorcar. Get it wrong and you break your arm. A friend of ours owns his car, by the way.  We’ve ridden in it more times than either of us can count. And it’s a beauty.

6. Reading your books are like welcoming old friends. Usually I can tell when two authors are writing a book as the “voice” changes. How are you two able to make these books seemingly come from one “voice”?

CAROLINE AND CHARLES:  The one thing we decided when we began to collaborate was not to let the reader be distracted by which “voice” they were hearing, his or hers.  But before we could figure out how to do that, we stumbled on a system of writing that took care of it for us.  We work scene by scene, talking about it, writing bits of it, getting it the way that we feel is the best possible construction, and then we both contribute to the final version.  A sentence might start out as his, and then we change a few words that she contributes, and finally we agree on what we’ve accomplished.  Or vice versa. The funny thing is, we were often in different parts of the country, and that seemed to make it work even better than sitting in the same room. Texts, phone calls, e-mails are probably less personal than hammering it out side by side.  We still do it that way, even when we’re in the same house.  

7. Ian Rutledge has been engaged, had his heart broken, has fallen, or nearly fallen in love, but something always stops him (mainly his dead friend and fellow soldier, Hamish). Will there ever be a happy ending for Ian?

CAROLINE:  He hasn’t told us yet. Maybe the right woman hasn’t come along. I think it will take some time for him to come to terms with his work, the remnants of the war, and Hamish. But the important thing is that he is learning what matters to him.  Jean really wasn’t the right woman for him, but like many young men in war time, she seemed exciting and fun, and he never really had a chance to get to know her better. In wartime, too, it always seems important to grab happiness while you can. And Rutledge was only in his twenties.  There’s time.  

CHARLES:  I think once a person has been hurt—as he was when Jean looked at him with horror and he had to be strong enough to break the engagement for both of them—it left scars that even Rutledge doesn’t fully understand. Maybe he’s afraid deep down inside. Or maybe he’s searching and as Caroline says, has much to learn about the woman he will eventually marry. I don’t think he’s the sort of man who will remain single forever.

8. Nurse Bess Crawford was raised by a gallant military father and a dauntless mother in India. Though she doesn’t set out to find trouble, it somehow seems to find her. I love her pluck and curiosity. Given the times, what will happen to Bess when the war ends, and with it, the adventure?

CAROLINE AND CHARLES: Bess has really endeared herself to us, too.  And the question we keep asking ourselves is, does war really define her?  Or is it a part of her duty and courage as her father’s daughter, and when it is finished, there will be new adventures to face? Meanwhile, even when the war is over, there are still the wounded struggling to recover. And she will do her part. There is a story that we’d like to set in the Irish Troubles, where Bess is caught up in a very different kind of fighting. And at some point, we think she and Melinda Crawford might want to go back to India and some unfinished business there. Two women traveling alone will need an escort…  And you know Bess’s father will see to it that Simon keeps them safe. But Simon is reluctant. What secrets did he leave behind in India? We haven’t heard his story yet.   

9. Tell us a little bit about the project you are working on now.

CAROLINE:  By the time one of the series appears on bookshelves, we are busy writing the next Bess or Rutledge.  In December we handed in the new Bess, for the summer of 2016, and it’s called THE SHATTERED TREE.  Bess finds herself a patient after an incident at the Front, and while recuperating in Paris, she’s thrust into a very difficult situation. Was one of the wounded she treated really a German spy? And where is he now? She has no “in” with the French Army, and so she enlists the aid of some very interesting people who may or may not have agendas of their own when it comes to helping her. The pace is breathtaking, and we had such a great time writing it.   

CHARLES:  Meanwhile, we’ve just begun the Rutledge for next winter. There’s a car race that ends in tragedy, and the question is, was that an accident? Or murder?  And if it was an accident, why has another man been killed back in England? What’s the connection between the racers and murder? Rutledge is on the scene now and busy asking questions.

10. Tell us something about your latest release, NO SHRED OF EVIDENCE, coming February 16, 2016.

CAROLINE AND CHARLES: We go back to Cornwall for NO SHRED OF EVIDENCE. It’s set in the north, near Padstow, not far from where WINGS OF FIRE took place.  It begins one lovely autumn afternoon as four young women take out a rowboat for a few hours on the River Camel.  By the end of the afternoon they’re accused of attempted murder, and the local constable is intent on putting them in Bodmin jail.  Their wealthy families, shocked by the charges, send for Scotland Yard to sort out the evidence. There’s only one witness, but he appears to be above reproach.  The victim hasn’t recovered consciousness, and his parents are demanding justice. Rutledge has his hands full, and matters aren’t helped by the fact he knows one of the accused. When there is another attempt at murder, the connection between the two victims seems clear enough.  But a single scrap of evidence, so slim it can’t possibly be of use, might hold the secret to an appallingly vicious murderer who has neither conscience nor scruples.

Thanks so much!  This was fun.  C&C

Thanks again, Charles and Caroline. Your books are my “comfort” books and I consider Ian and Bess two of my best friends. 😉

About the Author(s)

Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother-and-son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Caroline has been married (to the same man) for umpteen years, and Charles is divorced.

Charles and Caroline have a rich storytelling heritage. Both spent many evenings on the porch listening to their fathers and grandfathers reminisce. And a maternal grandmother told marvelous ghost stories. This tradition allows them to write with passion about events before their own time. And an uncle/great-uncle who served as a flyer in WWI aroused an early interest in the Great War.

Charles learned the rich history of Britain, including the legends of King Arthur, William Wallace, and other heroes, as a child. Books on Nelson and by Winston Churchill were always at hand. Their many trips to England gave them the opportunity to spend time in villages and the countryside, where there’a different viewpoint from that of the large cities. Their travels are at the heart of the series they began ten years ago.

Charles’s love of history led him to a study of some of the wars that shape it: the American Civil War, WWI and WWII. He enjoys all things nautical, has an international collection of seashells, and has sailed most of his life. Golf is still a hobby that can be both friend and foe. And sports in general are enthusiasms. Charles had a career as a business consultant. This experience gave him an understanding of going to troubled places where no one was glad to see him arrive. This was excellent training for Rutledge’s reception as he tries to find a killer in spite of local resistance.

Caroline has always been a great reader and enjoyed reading aloud, especially poetry that told a story. The Highwayman was one of her early favorites. Her wars are WWI, the Boer War, and the English Civil War, with a sneaking appreciation of the Wars of the Roses as well. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling the world, gardening, or painting in oils. Her background in international affairs backs up her interest in world events, and she’s also a sports fan, an enthusiastic follower of her favorite teams in baseball and pro football. She loves the sea, but is a poor sailor. (Charles inherited his iron stomach from his father.) Still, she has never met a beach she didn’t like.

Both Caroline and Charles share a love of animals, and family pets have always been rescues. There was once a lizard named Schnickelfritz. Don’t ask.

Writing together is a challenge, and both enjoy giving the other a hard time. The famous quote is that in revenge, Charles crashes Caroline’s computer, and Caroline crashes his parties. Will they survive to write more novels together? Stay tuned! Their father/husband is holding the bets.

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