I am delighted to have Paula Harmon on my blog today. I have to admit to kinda falling in love with the wrong sort.
When did you start writing, and why?
I can clearly remember being about three years old, lying in bed listening to the wind and rain against the windows and making up a story in my head. It made me feel safe and cosy and took me to another world. I never looked back. My father was a massive bibliophile. He’d prefer to buy books than anything practical and read aloud whenever he could, regardless of whether the story was too complex for a child. So I was surrounded with books and stories and poetry from very early and caught up in the atmosphere of good literature even when I didn’t understand the plot. The first story I can recall writing down was about the Clangers. By this time, I was making up stories up for my little sister at bedtime as we shared a room and when she’d fallen asleep, I’d tell myself another instalment in the latest adventure (heavily based on things like ‘The Secret Garden’ or ‘The Owl Service’) in which a more interesting version of me figured as main character. I did this for years and even wrote some of them down. In fact, to be honest, I still do it now while working out where a plot is going although they no longer include me!
Which do you like to write, series or standalones? If you write both, what do you find the difference?
At the moment my novels are in series, but I have two standalones waiting to be finished and others waiting to be written. Writing in series wasn’t entirely what I set out to do, but when I published my first full-length book, people asked what was going to happen to Lucretia next, so I decided to give it a go and ended up with three books set around the same egotistical matriarch. Around the same time, I started a six-book series co-written with another author. I felt that one of the characters I’d created for that – Margaret Demeray – had more to tell and she now features in a spin-off series starting with ‘The Wrong Sort to Die’ which I’m writing alone and which is a little darker in tone than the other books I’ve written. With the planned standalones, I read one of them through recently with a view to more edits and started to wonder – could there be a sequel? So who knows.
Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?
The key things would be describing any graphic violence – particularly child abuse or rape. I don’t mind referring to them if they’re relevant to the plot, but I’m not comfortable describing them in any way which someone might find salacious rather than horrifying.
Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?
My favourite is Margaret Demeray from ‘The Wrong Sort to Die’ set in 1910. She first appears as a frivolous teenager in the Caster and Fleet series (which starts with ‘The Case of the Black Tulips’). Her older sister’s courage to buck the female trend inspires Margaret to think that there might be more to life than finding a rich husband, so she decides to train as a doctor at a time when this was highly unusual for women. To some extent, Margaret is a kind of homage to some of my older aunts (born between 1890 and 1908), who never felt in any way inferior or subordinate to men, even though quite possibly they’d been taught to think they should. Some of them had careers and travelled the world alone and I wish I’d asked them more questions about their lives when they were alive. I like Margaret’s feistiness but also her vulnerability. She’s often conflicted – she wants to be independent and respected in a man’s world, yet she also wants to be in love, cherished and share her life with someone. She wants the vote for women and working-class men, but at the same time, she’s not sure how far she’d go as a suffragette – would she set fire to something? Hurt anyone? Risk imprisonment? She has a big heart, however, often comes across as impatient and cross because she’s afraid to let her guard down. She’s practical and scientific but at the same time loves pretty fashionable clothes and dancing. She wants justice for ordinary people, but how much of her life will she have to risk to get it?
Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?
Mr Baines, who also appears in ‘The Wrong Sort to Die’ is on the hospital board where Margaret works. He thoroughly disapproves of women like Margaret working in in the professions. Any hint of what he perceives to be immoral – even perhaps if it’s fake – will be enough to have Margaret fired, and since she’s now heavily involved with a man called Fox who’s investigating the death of a pauper, Margaret is under almost unbearable scrutiny. It’s depressing to think that 111 years after this book was set, discrimination is still a major issue in the workplace.
Tell us more about your books:
Margaret Demeray Series – set in the run-up to the First World War
Book One: ‘The Wrong Sort to Die’
Fighting her corner in a man’s world, Dr Margaret Demeray works as a pathologist in a London hospital for the poor. Suppressing her worry that she’s breaching confidentiality, Margaret gives a stranger called Fox information about a dead down-and-out, in the hope he’ll use it to raise awareness of bad working conditions. But when a second man appears to die the same way, Margaret starts to wonder why the enigmatic Fox keeps turning up to ask ever more complex questions. She decides to work alone, uncertain of his motives and wary of her attraction to him. Once she starts investigating however, her home is burgled, she’s attacked in broad daylight and a close friend becomes distant. Fox offers the chance to forge an alliance, saying he knows why the men have died but needs her to find out what is killing them and who is behind it. Yet how come the closer she gets to him the more danger she faces? And how can a memory she’d buried possibly be linked to the deaths? Margaret must discover the truth before someone – known or unknown – silences her for good.
Murder Britannica Series – light-hearted murder-mysteries featuring a wealthy family of Britons set in late second century Roman Britain.
Book One: Murder Britannica is set in a fictional town in what’s now south-east Wales. All 50-something Lucretia wants to do is get richer. Finding a ‘sacred’ spring on her land and turning it into a bath complex seems the perfect plan. Too bad people keep dropping dead and local wise-woman and childhood adversary Tryssa starts asking awkward questions.
Book Two: Murder Durnovaria in set in Roman Dorchester. When Lucretia hears that an aunt has left her an inheritance, she hot foots it to the town which she’d last seen as a teenager rejecting an arranged marriage to her cousin. Everything seems straightforward until an old ring sold by two grave-robbers in the forum makes Amicus the magistrate start an investigation. Who might kill rather than let old secrets be revealed?
Book Three: Murder Saturnalia is set in a fictional town not far from Durnovaria.
When Fabio’s aunt Lucretia flexes her match-making muscles, he seeks escape from a marriage to shy, bored Adriane. Luckily, his friend Petros needs help investigating a possible rebellion in Vademlutra. Certain there’s nothing to investigate, Fabio settles down for a week in the tavern until a lost young woman in the woods captivates him. Where is she from and why is she so keen to die? Unaware of Fabio’s whereabouts, Lucretia has her own reasons for being in Vademlutra, but she’s about to meet her match and must scheme more than ever if she has any chance of keeping what’s rightfully hers. As the town is cut off by snow, Dun the erstwhile grave-robber becomes convinced that diversifying was a bad idea. But it takes an unexpected death to make Adriane find enough courage to take action. As Roman Saturnalia passes and the darker traditions of winter solstice approach, Fabio, Petros, Adriane and Dun must put aside their differences and work together to save not only another life but the whole town from Roman retribution.
‘The Case of the Black Tulips’ is the first in the six book Caster & Fleet series written with Liz Hedgecock. The series starts in 1890. When frustrated typist Katherine Demeray opens an anonymous letter addressed to her missing father, while sharing a table with bored socialite Connie Swift, the last thing either of them expect is to form a partnership to find the writer before time runs out.
What’s coming next…
I’m working on the sequel to ‘The Wrong Sort to Die’. It’s set in March 1911, two months after a bloody siege between police and anarchists in Stanley Street, London. Fresh from the first International Women’s Day in Switzerland, and with Fox abroad on a mission following reports of military espionage, a major decision means Margaret considers taking up a partnership with another female doctor in a small but busy cul-de-sac called Glassmakers Lane. When Fox returns, having abandoned his mission as a wild-goose chase, he and Margaret track down the person behind the false reports and find there’s more to the situation than first met the eye. As they dig deeper, it becomes apparent that there’s a link between the reports, Glassmakers Lane and an anarchist plot. But someone wants their investigation to cease and when a young woman close to Fox and Margaret is murdered, Margaret senses that she and Fox may have ceased to be hunters and might have somehow become the prey. With themselves and Margaret’s father under threat, how can they avert a repeat of the bloody events in Stanley Street? And have they missed something crucial and are heading down a blind alley without realising it?
Anything else you want to share?
I set my first novel in a fictional town north of modern Cardiff because it’s dedicated to my Welsh mother-in-law. When I wrote the sequels, I set them in Dorset because it’s where I live and I thought it would be easier to do talks and so on – then Covid-19 struck! In the absence of being able to do it in person, a friend video’d Q&A for me instead. It was a very strange experience, but you can view it here if you want to know about me and my writing process.
Paula Harmon was born in North London to parents of English, Scottish and Irish descent. Perhaps feeling the need to add a Welsh connection, her father relocated the family every two years from country town to country town moving slowly westwards until they settled in South Wales when Paula was eight. She later graduated from Chichester University before making her home in Gloucestershire and then Dorset where she has lived since 2005.
She is a civil servant, married with two adult children. Paula has several writing projects underway and wonders where the housework fairies are, because the house is a mess and she can’t think why.
Thank you Paula, I can’t wait to hear more from Margaret and Fox!
Tomorrow we’ll be hearing from Alis Hawkins