A past as an obituary writer might just explain why Hannah has murder on her mind.
Born in England, Hannah relocated to Los Angeles with her daughter and two cats to pursue a career in screenwriting. Along the road to publication she has been an obituary reporter, antique dealer, private jet flight attendant and Hollywood story analyst. Hannah is the author of the Vicky Hill Mysteries (Constable UK) and the first, in her new series, “Murder at Honeychurch Hall” (Minotaur). Now living in Portland, Oregon Hannah continues to teach mystery writing at UCLA, has served on numerous judging committees for the Mystery Writers of America and still works part-time for a west coast advertising agency. She is married to an advertising executive and enjoys hiking, horseback riding, skiing and seriously good chocolate.
Chloe: As a decorator, I’m always interested in creative spaces. Tell me about your writing space. What about it inspires you? (Feel free to attach a picture.)
Hannah: I commute from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles, California every week so I tend to think of my writing space as being wherever I am. This could be in the departure lounge, in an airplane or in a hotel room. Since I write two series a year I have had to learn to write on demand. But when I am home, my writing space is upstairs and overlooks trees where I can watch the birds. I work with just the things I need—my laptop, “The Synonym Finder” “Eats, Shoots and Leaves,” and hand-drawn maps of my fictional towns. I can’t work in chaos.
Chloe: What aspect of writing do you consider your super power and what do you consider your kryptonite?
Hannah: What a great question! I like to think that plot or “story” is my superpower. Originally I moved from the UK to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. I worked for several studios as a story analyst and read thousands of screenplays. My kryptonite is definitely writing descriptive passages because screenplays don’t really have them.
Chloe: Murder at Honeychurch Hall is the first in a series. What are some of the challenges in launching a new series?
Hannah: I think they are the same challenges that face every writer regardless. Will people like it? Have I done a good job? The good news is that since this is my fifth book, I know the things that didn’t work when I was launching my first series. I spent tons of money traveling to tiny bookstores where no one had heard of me and spent most of my time directing people to the loo.
Chloe: Tell us about your protagonist Kat Stanford. How does she differ from your other series protag, Vicky Hill? Any similarities?
Hannah: I love both my heroines! Vicky Hill is so much a part of me when I was a young twenty-something obituary writer working on a tiny weekly newspaper in England. Vicky is earnest and ambitious. She’s susceptible to telling “porkie pies” or little fibs to avoid awkward situations. Kat Stanford is older—she’s about to turn 40—and is loosely based on Sarah, my very sensible and practical daughter. You’d think they were very different but in fact both feel they are outsiders. Kat and Vicky are only children with no extended family and plenty of family “baggage.” Kat’s mum Iris has been writing romance novels in secret for years; Vicky’s father is a criminal who is wanted by Interpol.
Chloe: If you could steal the muse of another writer, whose would you take?
Hannah: Cats make excellent muses and since my own Mr. Tig passed away last year, I’m not sure if I will ever replace him. So perhaps I could borrow Hodge, Samuel Johnson’s cat whose statue sits in the courtyard of 17 Gough Square in London. Who can resist a cat whose passion for oysters has been immortalized in bronze?
Chloe: If your life had a soundtrack, what artists would be on it?
Hannah: That’s a tricky one—Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, preferably with Nigel Kennedy.
Chloe: Do you know “whodunit” before you start your book, or do you have to follow the clues along with the rest of us?
Hannah: I always start out knowing the killer but sometimes, as the story progresses the villain of the piece persuades me he’s innocent and I have to find someone else. In my fourth book, Thieves! (A Vicky Hill Mystery) I honestly didn’t know who had done it until the final 30 pages. I had to trust that the creative process would show me the answer … and happily, it did!
Chloe: What were the first mystery series you fell in love with?
Hannah: Enid Blyton and the Famous Five.
Chloe: How do you market your books? What’s been your most effective tactic and what do you consider a necessary evil.
Hannah: Thanks to the Internet, the landscape is changing every day. I focus on Facebook and Twitter that seem to be the most effective. The necessary evil … Facebook and Twitter—it’s so easy to spend hours on both!
Chloe: Tell me about your writing process? Are you a daily writer or do you wait till inspiration strikes?
Hannah: I have to write every single day and I do. No exceptions unless I’ve just turned in a book and collapse for a couple of days. I write early in the morning, usually between 5.30 and 7.30 (earlier if I’m on deadline) during the week. I generally write between 4 and 5 hours on Saturdays and Sundays but again, if I’m on a deadline I write until it’s done.
Chloe: Do you go to writers’ conferences or writers’ retreats? Why or why not?
Hannah: I love writers’ conferences. I can’t say enough good things about them both for writers and readers. I always go to Malice Domestic but there are dozens of others all over the country. I belong to Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. When I joined the writing community, it never occurred to me that I would make the most wonderful friends.
Chloe: What other creative outlets do you have to cross train your brain?
Hannah: I read a lot, but only non-fiction when I am writing a mystery. I enjoy being in nature, walking by the ocean or river. I quite like knitting as a creative outlet but you would never want to wear a sweater knitted by me. In fact, I don’t think I could ever wear a sweater knitted by me—the sleeves always come out lop-sided.
Chloe: What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to establish yourself as a writer?
Hannah: Believing that I really am a “real” writer. Despite being published many times I have only just started putting “writer” down on application forms.
Chloe: What’s next for Kat?
Hannah: I’ve just turned in the second book in the Honeychurch Hall series that will be published in May 2015 and been contracted to write two more. Each one will feature an unusual antique collectible, a snippet of history and of course … excerpts from Iris Stanford —writing as Krystalle Storm’s—books. Oh … and it goes without saying that there will always be a dead body or two.
Chloe: How can fans connect with you?
Chloe: Thanks so much for dropping by!
Hannah: Thank you so much for inviting me today, Chloe. I loved answering your questions.
Set against the backdrop of Agatha Christie’s beloved Devon, TV celebrity Kat Stanford discovers that her newly widowed mother Iris has recklessly bought a dilapidated carriage house on a country estate known as Honeychurch Hall. Although times have changed at the manor house, a line still exists between those upstairs, and those down. Iris’s arrival is greeted with suspicion—but that’s not all. Iris harbors an even bigger secret that not even her daughter knows: Iris writes under the pseudonym, Krystalle Storm, and is a best-selling author of racy bodice-rippers.
Throw in a feisty, octogenarian countess, a precocious seven year old who is obsessed with the famous fighter pilot called Biggles, a treasure trove of antiques; as well as the paparazzi, always hungry for celebrity news. Add the occasional haunting from the resident family of ghosts, and there is more than one motive for murder. Yet at its core, the story explores the relationship between a mother and daughter facing new and uncertain beginnings and makes a good case for the notion that those nearest and dearest to us are often the most duplicitous of all.