Malcolm Noble: "We should show ourselves through our novels, allowing readers to get to know us So how do we do that in historical mysteries."
Twenty years of bookselling has taught me that when customers talk about authors rather than the writing, we're onto a good thing. They say "I love her" or "I can't get on with him" and just a little more conversation shows that their response to the books has been qualitatively different from the general run. Authors do nothing worthwhile if they don't give away something of themselves.
These days many pressures get in the way of this integrity. The marketing focus pushes writers and, more especially, editors to produce slick wares directed towards a defined readership. Furthermore, the trend for creative writing classes has narrowed the spectrum within which writers are encouraged to express themselves. But if authors can draw a response to themselves through their writing, the relationship with readers is not only enduring but exceptionally rewarding.
Writers of historical novels seem up against it. They are offering a world with characters whom they cannot have known and, more than any other genre, the thing won't work if they fail to give themselves the view of their characters. So, how can the historical mystery writer show something of him or herself in stories of old time murder?
My own mysteries, set in the 1920s, exhibit the almost feudal conditions of service for rural policemen. Furthermore, English villages had more children running around and I like to emphasise that difference by bringing children into the story whenever I can. But a reader could easily pick up these nuances and get a wrong picture of me. Yes, they fit nicely with my narrative but they are not burning issues with me.
A more reliable expression of a writer's character is the sense of humour. This is so easily delivered and we all know how quickly a shared smile can secure a friendship. I don't mean that historical mysteries should rip roaring farce but a carefully honed approach to irony can quickly get readers on board. The advantage for the historical novelist is that humour crosses the ages. We still smile at quirks that made Chaucer smile. And doesn't humour underpin the writings of Dickens, Trollop and Jane Austen? I long to share with my audience that deliciousness of a pantomime villain getting his just desserts. I hope, also, that my readers pick up the sense of the ridiculous that helps me get through each day.
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Malcolm Noble is a British author of thirteen mystery novels set between the 1920s and 1960s. He presents a book show on Cross Counties Radio.