Interview with Georgina Clarke – Author of ‘Death and the Harlot’ and ‘The Corpse Played Dead’
Peter: Georgina, it was a pleasure to get the opportunity of reading your book, Death and the Harlot. I do love historical thrillers and your book was such a treat. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to conduct this interview. Many thanks for making the time available.
Peter: What inspired you to write your book, Death and the Harlot?
Georgina: I have loved crime novels and murder mysteries since childhood. I have also always loved history and, although most of my studies have focussed on the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, I have long nursed a passion for the eighteenth century. I wanted to write a crime novel with a strong female protagonist and Lizzie Hardwicke popped into my head one day.
Peter: What was your inspiration for writing, The Corpse Played Dead, and basing it in the theatre setting?
Georgina: I had already read quite a lot about theatre in the period, but what really inspired me were the Hogarth paintings of David Garrick. There’s such energy in his eyes and an electricity about him. I read a lot more and found myself swept along by the real-life stories of theatrical life. The story of George Hunter’s fight, for example, is rooted in a real story.
Peter: Why did you consider basing the story in London in 1759?
Georgina: It’s a fascinating point, midway through the century. You’ve got the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, a country throwing off the turmoil of Civil War a century earlier and settling into the reigns of the Georges. 1759 is just at the end of the reign of George II. It’s still a rough, haphazard and visceral time, but people aspire to a more refined and cultured life. In London, neighbours try to outdo neighbours with fancy goods, and they are expanding the city with house-building, but the streets are still dangerous. Attitudes toward prostitution are ambiguous. There is no police force, but John Fielding (who we meet in the book) is slowly building on his brother Henry’s plans to tackle crime in a more strategic way.
Peter: There must have been a considerable amount of background research undertaken for this book, with a number of historic events which blended really well. How extensive was this and what was the most interesting aspect of your research?
Georgina: It was a great excuse to head to the library and read! I could have read much more, but you have to stop eventually and get writing. I have tried hard to give historical detail in a way that’s not heavy. I hope that readers learn things: about the expansion of London, the way people shopped for clothes in second-hand shops, about prostitution in the period, and how the policing of London began, but I don’t want to offer a lecture. I’d like readers to pick up a bit of history by the way. There’s a bibliography at the end, in case a reader wants to do their own research. My favourite research involved toilets. I wanted to work out how the facilities in the back of the White Horse tavern might have worked. It was fascinating – if a bit disgusting to a fastidious twenty-first-century woman. I also enjoyed looking at maps of London. I have a print on my wall of John Rocque’s 1746 map of London’s streets. You can find it online if you’re interested.
Peter: I suppose it’s always a challenge, creating a leading character, and a character that you will anchor a series on. What was the most challenging aspect in developing Lizzie Hardwicke’s character and her role as a prostitute in a brothel?
Georgina: I wanted a female main character who could move easily between the different layers of society – who could literally walk the streets and engage with common prostitutes, but also be comfortable and confident in the company of people (well, men) with power. An ordinary gentlewoman would not have such freedom of movement. The challenge is to be clear about what she does to earn money, without making this all about prostitution – it is, after all, a crime novel. But, if she had been a plumber solving crimes, I wouldn’t have spent the whole book describing U-bends and washers, so I tried to treat her work as that: work. We know what she thinks of it, but I don’t need to go into great detail.
Peter: Do you find as you progress with the series that Lizzie Hardwicke now has a mind of her own or are you still developing her character in a way you want? What do you love most about her?
Georgina: I love her wit, her intelligence and her energy. She can be a bit vain sometimes and she’s a little bit reckless – although that’s useful in a crime novel. She’s pretty well-formed in my mind, not least because, of course, I am already several novels ahead of you, but she has a greater story arc of her own and things to learn as time goes on. We’ll learn more about her, her past, and her hopes.
Peter: What more do we learn about Lizzie Hardwicke in The Corpse Played Dead?
Georgina: She spends much of this novel dressed as a servant and working ‘undercover’ among the lower orders. We see this servants’ world through her eyes, and get some sense of the disparity between the rules for the rich and the rules for the poor. It’s a rougher life, and she has to put up with it; she can’t flirt or charm her way out of the situations she’s in. So, instead, we see her operate on instinct. She’s a scrapper and a survivor.
Peter: There is a simmering attraction between Lizzie and Davenport, how excited are you with where this is going?
Georgina: Oh, I know! Delicious, isn’t it? I do love writing their scenes. Well, I’m not going to give any spoilers, but let’s say I’m not making this attraction easy for either of them.
Peter: I appreciate your comment (and position) that you resisted making the terminology and dialogue overly authentic with the use of slang for that period, in order to facilitate better flow for the reader? How tricky was it to build the dialogue with those constraints in mind – authenticity vs readability?
Georgina: I wanted to avoid that ponderous ‘historical voice’ that I’ve come across sometimes. You know, where dialogue is stilted and stiff? If a character sounds uptight, then it should be because they are uptight for some reason – they are being deliberately formal, or they might be hiding something, or they are anxious, for example – not because they are speaking in an old-fashioned way. I wanted them to be natural. Where I’ve used words of the period, they are obvious in meaning. So a ‘bunter’ is a common prostitute and it sounds rough and coarse as a word. ‘Bowsy’ sounds like a word for drunk, and ‘deep-cut’ is another good drunken word. I chose words that sounded right.
Peter: Do you use storyboarding or mapping processes to develop your plots and interactions, or do you go with the flow and follow your instinct and gut feeling? Would you, therefore, describe yourself as a plotter, pantser or plantser?
Georgina: Hmm. I’m a ‘loose plotter’, I think. I have a general idea of the whole thing. I know who has done the murder, why and how. I have a few key scenes that are formed before I start and some characters. I work out the general framework and then I sort of fill in the details. I scribble a lot on plain A4 paper. This is what works for me. I have a notebook for ideas, but when I’m plotting, I need to see it in front of me. I’ve tried little cards and post-it notes but scribbling on paper is what works. That said, once I start typing words, things can happen to change everything. Characters change the plot and the plot changes the characters. There’s a hellish moment when nothing makes sense … and then it settles down.
Peter: Do you use particular software applications or utilities to support your writing activity? For example, Scrivener or Grammarly.
Georgina: Nope. A4 paper. And occasionally the back of an envelope – yes, really.
Peter: What are the greatest benefits and restrictions to being a published Author? Do you get involved in finalising other aspects of the book, for example, the cover design, narration and the promotion of the book?
Georgina: I am very lucky to be published by Canelo. They have been really good at letting me have a say in the cover design. I did get quite fussy about making sure that the woman in the picture was wearing something that might have been worn in the eighteenth century, and not just something ‘historical’. The background is a Canaletto painting – which is also of the period. They are great at the promotion – I couldn’t have had better support.
Peter: How much time do you spend on writing compared to promoting your books?
Georgina: It’s been a bit of a promoting whirl in the last few weeks, but I spend a lot more time writing. I’m delighted to be able to talk about my book(s), but I have to write them! It takes time to knock out around 85k words.
Peter: What authors have you most admired and have had an influence on you?
Georgina: Agatha Christie, obviously. I have loved Ellis Peters and Georgette Heyer, both of whom have influenced what I write. I admire the style of Lindsey Davis, who writes the Falco and Flavia Alba novels – she gives her readers Roman history in a very light-touch way, and I wanted to do something similar for the eighteenth century. Beyond them, I have admired Salman Rushdie, George Eliot, Zadie Smith and A S Byatt.
Peter: What is your favourite book you’ve read over the last 12 months?
Georgina: Can I have two? Jane Harper, The Dry or Joe Heap, The Rules of Seeing.
Peter: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Georgina: Read. Pay attention to how books are put together. Pay attention to how sentences work and how they sound as you read them. Love words, love language, love stories. Write what you want to write, rather than what you think will sell. And do more reading.
Peter: If you had a dinner party and could invite 3 personalities from any period in history who would they be and why?
Georgina: I prefer to party in mixed groups, but on this occasion, it’s a girly dinner. I would love to hear the voices of women who have been silenced or marginalised in history. There are millions of those, of course, but, of the ‘personalities’ to choose from, I’d have Mary Magdalene, Catherine of Aragon and Josephine Butler. I imagine the conversation would be intelligent, but very earthy. And I would ask lots of questions.
Peter: Can you give us any insights into any future books or projects that you’re working on?
Georgina: Well, watch the Canelo site in the next couple of weeks. Lizzie Hardwicke is back later this year for a second outing. This one has a theatre, a lot of blood, a monkey, and a little more from William Davenport. I’m writing the third Lizzie book at the moment and developing the fourth.
Peter: How can readers learn more about you and your work?
Georgina: Follow me on Twitter! @clarkegeorgina1 or you can visit my website georginaclarkeauthor.com
Come and say hello.
Peter: Georgina, I appreciate you taking the time for this interview. If there are other snippets of information you wish to provide, please feel free. I would like to congratulate you on your wonderful books and I wish you massive success for the future.