Felicity Young was born in Germany, educated in the UK and settled in WA. She lives on a small farm with her family, has trained as a nurse, studied music, reared orphan kangaroos and is a volunteer firefighter. You can find out more about her books at her website, and on Facebook
Monique: Your fourth novel in the Dody McCleland series, The Insanity of Murder, has just been released. Can you tell readers a bit about it?
Felicity: Sure, probably the back blurb says it best:
To Doctor Dody McCleland, the gruesome job of dealing with the results of an explosion at the Necropolis Railway Station is testing enough. But when her suffragette sister Florence is implicated in the crime, matters worsen and Dody finds her loyalty cruelly divided. Can she choose between love for her sister and her secret love for Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, the investigating officer on the case?
Dody and Pike’s investigations lead them to a women’s rest home where patients are not encouraged to read or think and where clandestine treatments and operations are conducted in an unethical and inhumane manner. Together Dody and Pike must uncover such foul play before their secret liaisons become public knowledge – and before Florence becomes the rest home’s next victim.
Monique: Can you read The Insanity of Murder as a standalone novel or is the series best read in sequence?
Felicity: Several reviewers have said it can be read as a standalone, and they’re probably the best judges.
Monique: What do you like most about The Insanity of Murder?
Felicity: It makes me appreciate how far the treatment of mental health conditions has come in the last one hundred years, especially for women.
Monique: I understand that Dody McCleland’s character was drawn from your grandmother’s life. In what way/s?
Felicity: I knew my female character would need special qualities to succeed as a doctor in the man’s world of Edwardian England. While I was still getting a grip on Dody’s personality I came across a box of my grandmother’s memoirs. She came from a very unusual family, and I realized then that with just a little artistic license how perfect they would be as a family for my Doctor Dody McCleland. My Dody’s eccentric father is actually based on the real Dody’s uncle, a highly ranked Fabian who hung out with the likes of George Bernard Shaw and HG Wells. Participation in a hockey match like I describe in bk1 was how the uncle decided whether a visitor was worthy of his hospitality or not.
The McCleland sister’s ‘Uncle Peter’ was my real great grandfather who was shot and killed in Russia. The family was at one time partnered with Faberge the jeweller, and a couple of the women were well known artists whose works are still exhibited. Much of the ‘colour’ in my books comes from Grandmother Dody’s memoirs.
There’s more too, but I’m saving that for later books!
Monique: This series is set in the Edwardian period in England. What made you choose this period as the setting for these crime novels?
Felicity: I’ve always been a bit of a history buff and the Edwardian period is definitely my favourite. Writing about it is almost as good as going back in a time machine. Here are just a few reasons why I enjoy it so much:
It’s close enough to my own time to have been in the living memory of elderly people I knew when I was a child. This factor has always made the period seem particularly alive to me.
It’s also a fascinating period of transition between our own time and the distant past, which makes it a great setting for a crime author to play around in. For example, if I want someone to get away, they can escape by motorcar, but if I want them to get caught they can be travelling by handsome cab. Very few houses had telephones, so often my heroes have to get themselves out of trouble rather than relying on ‘back up’. And of course no DNA or computers — just old fashioned, character based detective work – bliss!
I also enjoy the diverse range of the research, from early medicine, to the suffragettes to the history of the English police.
I love writing the more formalized style of speech of the upper classes and the ‘slang’ of the lower, as well as the quaint expressions, sayings and songs of the time. For example, did you know that the word ‘hello’ as a greeting was not used in Edwardian England? The closest word to this at the time was ‘hullo’ as in ‘hullo, what have we here?’
And of course, the enormous social, political and international tension of the Edwardian period provides me with a never-ending supply of plots.
Last, but by no means least, I adore the fashions – there was some great textile porn in this era.
Monique: In the series, one of the things you draw out in the series is society’s attitude to women during this period. Can you give me some examples?
Felicity: So many examples and so little time. The treatment of ‘insane’ women as mentioned in the book, the lack of suffrage (hence ‘suffragettes’) the divorce laws, the degrees that women could study but never actually receive (Christabel Pankhurst studied and passed all her law exams but was not allowed to practice) women in the few professions available to them could not continue their careers if married etc.
Monique: How do you carry out your research for this series?
Felicity: Read as much as I can on the era. Visit London whenever possible and haunt the libraries and museums.
Monique: What are some of the interesting things you have learnt in your research?
Felicity: That Doctor Spilsbury was a chain smoker, even when performing autopsies. I was lucky to be given the opportunity to examine some of his documents at the London Wellcome Library and noticed how his Index cards still reeked of smoke.
Monique: You’ve combined historical and crime genres in your novels. What drew you to writing crime fiction in the first place?
Felicity: That is a very long story. The short version is that I have always enjoyed reading crime novels and thought it would be fun having a go at writing one.
Monique: Tell me about your road to publication. What are some of the highlights and lowlights?
Felicity: I was lucky enough to win a prize for A Certain Malice (aka Flashpoint) in about 2004. The prize was publication by a UK publishing group. This was an extreme high and put me on the road to publication by Fremantle Press and then HarperCollins who I am with now. I am feeling extremely high at this very moment because today is the release date of my 4th Dody book, The Insanity of Murder.
One of the greatest lows was to be asked by the UK publisher to write a sequel to A Certain Malice, to work a solid year doing just that and then to be told ‘Sorry, I don’t have time to read it.’ This story has a happy ending, however. HarperCollins will be re-releasing Flashpoint in October and the as yet untitled sequel next year.
Monique: The Insanity of Murder is only being released in eBook format. Why is this? What advantages and disadvantages can you see in this publishing decision?
Felicity: Publishing is as much about making money as any other business. As my eBook sales have always been higher than my hard copy sales, the more economical road was chosen. If my sales go gangbusters, the publishers might change their minds, but for now it’s eBook only. One of the advantages of eBook publishing is that the cheaper prices get more people reading your books. Unfortunately though, you also tend to lose the more traditional readers.
Monique: Describe yourself as a writer in three words.
Felicity: I’m a craftswoman.
Monique: How do you start a novel?
Felicity: I have a vague idea of my themes, read everything I can get my hands on about the pertinent subjects, think of a thrilling opening scene and then take it from there. I’m not very good at outlines. I sometimes give them a go but they usually get abandoned once I’ve started writing.
Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing? What happens when you get stuck?
Felicity: I brainstorm with family and friends. My son Ben is a writer/director and is always very helpful when I get stuck.
Monique: What has writing taught you about resilience?
Felicity: Resilience and drive are more important than raw talent.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Felicity: The lure of the outdoors.
Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?
Felicity: That you make good money doing it!
Monique: Which book are you reading now?
Felicity: Stephen Fry’s More Fool Me.
Monique: Which authors/books do you admire the most?
Felicity: Crime writers Kate Atkinson, James Lee Burke, Nicci French, Frances Fyfield and many more. My non-crime favourites include Amanda Curtin, Stephen Fry, Isabelle Allende, Larry McMurtry, Kate Atkinson (again) and Sebastian Faulks. Thomas Hardy is my favourite classical writer.
Monique: Which “must-read” book have you not read?
Felicity: Go Set a Watchman is sitting on my Kindle unread. I’ve heard so much about it since buying it that I can’t bring myself to read it.
Fantastic interview. Memoirs like that … I’m so envious! The Edwardian era is fantastic (I’ve been researching it too) and the Fabians were idealists. Shame so much of that got lost to the harder edged socialism