Hello and happy Tuesday! I am so excited for today’s post, because as you could probably tell from the title, I have a really special interview with the author Elizabeth C. Bunce! I recently read two of her books, the first two Myrtle Hardcastle mysteries, as part of a blog tour, and I thought they were amazing!
You can read my review of both Myrtle Hardcastle books here, and now, I’m going to get into the interview!
What is your ideal writing environment?
Somewhere cozy–but not too cozy–with a cat on my lap and a cup of coffee by my side. I work on a laptop, so I can move around my house. (I’m currently typing around a cat, and someone needs to invent a cat-friendly laptop desk that would make this less precarious!) I also like to take long walks or runs to work through scene ideas.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I think I always have been a writer–I was always making up more stories about my favorite characters from books and TV shows–but I was a teenager when I finally realized that the books I loved so much were written by real people, as a job, and that I could do that, too.
The Myrtle Hardcastle mysteries take place in the late 1800s. What made you choose that time period?
All my books have historical settings. Every time I try a story set in the current day, it goes nowhere! I can’t figure out how to write the simplest things: what do people eat? How do you get in and out of a car? It’s ridiculous! I seem to be inexorably drawn to write about the past. And the most interesting time in the past for mysteries, and a mystery-loving girl like Myrtle, is the dawn of forensic science–the late Victorian era.
When you’re writing a book, what comes first: the plot or the characters?
The main character. She often comes with a premise–a Victorian girl obsessed with forensic science who gets a chance to solve a real murder–but the details of the plot evolve slowly as I’m writing. Some of the other characters also appear spontaneously, and some must be purpose-built to fit the story.
In a few weeks, I’m giving an online workshop for young writers on writing great characters. You can learn more here: https://gateway.on24.com/wcc/eh/2469750/lp/2783463/kids-day-registration
In general, what is your research process for your novels?
I love the research process. It’s how I bring the worlds and stories alive, both for myself and the reader. And the unexpected, surprising details that arise during the research are sometimes the best part! You go in looking for specific information, but the bits you didn’t know you needed to know will pop up and plant ideas and help steer the story.
Every character drives the research to some extent, too. Charlotte Miller, the protagonist of A Curse Dark as Gold is a patient, detail-oriented girl who loves every inch of her family’s woolen mill and the intricate details of its technology, history, and business. Thanks to her, I also became obsessed with 18th century mill technology! I’m not naturally inclined toward an interest in anything mechanical, but because it was important to Charlotte, it became important to me, as well.
Myrtle is fascinated with true crime and criminology, so for the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, I do read a lot of books on Victorian true crime, because I need to know everything she knows. But with every new book, article, and case, I also learn more, and understand more, about the English criminal justice system and police procedure of the day, which helps me make the books as accurate as possible. These books are never just about criminology, however–so as soon as I know what the setting, environment, and background of a book will be, I start diving in to research on those particular subjects. For Premeditated Myrtle, I had to become an expert on Victorian gardens (I am not a gardener in real life!); for How to Get Away with Myrtle there were stacks of books about trains, antique jewelry, 1890s photography, the Victorian English seaside…. I’m working on Myrtle Book 4 right now, which is set in a hospital, but my current stack of reading material is all about shipwrecks. We’ll see how I manage to tie all of that together!
If you could visit the world of Myrtle Hardcastle for a week, what would you do?
Eat HEAPS of Stansberry pie and Cook’s scones, of course! I’d swish about in all the frothy skirts, and see the Gilded Slipper lilies for myself. And I would definitely spend as much time aboard a fabulous luxury train as was humanly possible. And I would probably squint a lot, because goodness was it dark before electric lighting!
Peony the cat appears many times throughout the series. Is she based on any pets of yours?
She was! Peony was inspired by the real-life Sophie, a stray cat who joined our family in 2016, just as I was starting to write about Myrtle. Just like Peony, she was talkative and opinionated, and when she meowed, she really did sound like she was saying “No!”
What are some books you loved reading when you were younger, and did they have an impact on what you write now?
I read everything I could get my hands on, and was fortunate enough to live in a family of readers in a house full of books, so there was never any shortage of inspiration. I especially loved any story that showed me what life was like for other people in other places and times, and anything that was spooky, mysterious, or fantastical. And it’s probably not surprising that I was an Anglophile (I loved stories set in England) from an early age. I discovered Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmatians in second grade, followed soon after by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. When I was a little older, I fell in love with Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. But threaded through all of these English stories was an enduring love of mysteries. My favorite detective was Trixie Belden, and every time I had birthday or Christmas money, I headed off to the bookstore to buy a couple new Trixie Belden novels. I’m re-reading them now, for the first time since I was a kid–and they’re just as much fun as I remember!
And last but not least, what is some advice that you have for aspiring authors?
Read! Read everything. Read stories about people like yourself. Read stories about people and places very different from your own life. Read things you think you might not enjoy, and think about why it not be working for you. Read to learn how to write. But never forget that reading should be a joyful process of discovery. Let the rhythm of the language seep into your bones and ignite your imagination.
And write. Tell yourself stories. Keep a journal if you enjoy that (I never have). A lesson that I continually have to re-learn is that books are written by writing them. As much time as I spend doing research and thinking through plotlines and scenes, the best discoveries happen on the page. Whenever I feel mentally stuck, I get unstuck at the keyboard, writing.
As the saying goes: read, write, repeat! And never stop learning.
About Elizabeth Bunce
Elizabeth C. Bunce is the author of the new Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery series, beginning with Premeditated Myrtle.
Her first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a young adult debut novel and was named a Smithsonian Notable Book. Her high fantasy Thief Errant series includes the novels StarCrossed, A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best book for 2010, and Liar’s Moon, one of Kirkus Blog’s Favorite YA Novels of 2011. StarCrossed and A Curse Dark as Gold have appeared on Oprah’s Kid’s Reading List. Her novels have been named to the ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list, and she is a three-time Kansas Notable Book winner. An accomplished needlewoman and historical costumer, Elizabeth lives in the Midwest with her husband, her cats, and a boggart who steals books.
This was so much fun to do, and thanks so much for Elizabeth for answering all of the questions! I hope that you all enjoyed reading this, because I had a great time putting this all together!
And cat-friendly laptop desk would be so amazing!! I have spend way too much time typing around cats, and I have many times had a cat walk across a keyboard and mess quite a few things up! (Some how my kitten almost logged me out of my zoom meeting? Not sure how she did that, but it wasn’t good.)
Myrtle book 4 sounds so exciting: I wonder what on earth Myrtle might be up to in a hospital! And if I could visit the world of Myrtle Hardcastle, I’d also definitely want to see the Gilded Slipper lilies.
Have you read any of Elizabeth Bunce’s books? What did you think about this interview? Would you use a cat friendly laptop desk? Chat with me in the comments below!