Thursday, December 31, 2009

An interview with Nancy Atherton

1. Tell us what your typical writing schedule is like.

My typical writing schedule is extremely unhealthy and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but it works for me. I write at night and sleep during the day, which makes it difficult to interact with the daylight world, because I almost always feel jet-lagged. If you see me awake during the day when I'm in the midst of a writing frenzy, I'll probably look (and act) like a zombie. Now you know why.

Even so, I prefer writing at night because there are no distractions---the doorbell is silent, the phone doesn't ring, and it's dark outside, so there's no point in looking out the window. The absence of distractions allows me to sink into a story and stay there for hours at a time. I like getting lost in a book!

2. Tell us how long it takes you to write a mystery.

It takes me anywhere from seven months to a year to write an Aunt Dimity novel.

3. How many books have you written?

AUNT DIMITY DOWN UNDER, to be published in February 2010, will be my fifteenth book. I'm currently working on number sixteen.

4. Talk about the paranormal market from when you wrote your first paranormal book to date as they seem to be very popular.

I know nothing about paranormal markets past, present, or future, but I'm happy to hear that they're popular!

5. What's in store for your Aunt Dimity series in 2010?

Aunt Dimity and friends travel to New Zealand to solve a haunting, heartrending, hundred-year-old mystery in AUNT DIMITY DOWN UNDER, which will be published in February 2010. Kia ora! (For a translation, read the book!)

6. Tell us about the magic of being a mystery author.

Where to begin? There's the practical magic of being able to work in my pajamas at home, without having to punch a corporate time clock. Then there's the poignant and powerful magic of hearing from readers who've found solace in my stories during times of illness, depression, or despair. Finally, there's the personal magic of stepping onto a flying carpet every time I sit down to write. I never know where my characters will take me, but I know it will be a journey to remember!

7. What do you like to do when you take a day off writing?

When I take a day off . . . I head for the mountains, where I hike in the summer and snowshoe in the winter. Sometimes I take in a play or a film. Not infrequently, I sleep. And sleep. And sleep.

8. Will you be attending any mystery conventions this year?

I have a fantastic time at mystery conventions, but I stopped attending them when my publisher stopped paying my way. When you add up the cost of travel, local transport, hotels, and meals, conventions turn out to be expensive propositions. I simply can't afford to attend them as well travel to England, and if it comes to a choice between the England and a mystery convention, I'll take England every time. Sorry!

9. Since you write a series, how do you keep the characters flowing from book to book?

Once my characters came to life, it was quite natural to follow their progress from one book to the next. It's their story, after all. I'm merely writing it down.

10. Do you have a favorite Aunt Dimity mystery?

My first book, AUNT DIMITY'S DEATH, will always be my favorite, because it introduced me to writing and to a world filled with characters I love beyond reason.

11. Do you have a favorite Aunt Dimity book cover?

May I choose two? I'm enchanted by the twinkly, wintry color palette used in the cover art for AUNT DIMITY: SNOWBOUND, and I'm endlessly fascinated by the cover of AUNT DIMITY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, which tells the entire story without giving one single thing away---ingenious!

12. Tell us a little about your personal life and what you are looking forward to in 2010.

I live in a small house with a grand view of Pikes Peak, which never fails to lift my spirits. I live for the happiness of my two cats, Chloe and Emma. I love figure skating, tennis, good meals, museums (of any kind), archaeology, the theater, gardening, traveling, reading, spending time in the Great Outdoors, and having good conversations with interesting people. I really, really don't like visiting the dentist (although he is a very nice man). I'm too busy enjoying 2009 to think about 2010!

13. Is there something you'd like to say to your readers?

Thank you, thank you, thank you. And thank you. You mean more to me that you will ever know.

14. What advice to you have for the novice mystery writer who wants to become an author?

First, don't listen to anyone (including me). Writers are like snowflakes. No two are alike. What works for me may be the worst possible scenario for you, so don't let anyone browbeat you into believing that there is only one correct way to write a book. It's a lie!

Second, don't think you have to know everything about a book before you write it. You don't. Your characters want their stories to be told, so give up the illusion of control and let them lead you. They may not take you where you thought you wanted to go, but they'll never steer you wrong. If you have faith and go with the flow, you'll end up with something much better than you ever imagined. (But as I said above, pay no attention to me. You're the only person who knows how to write your book.)

Third, finish your book. Take joy in finishing your book. Don't worry about marketing or publishing or movie deals or walking the red carpet until you've finished your book. Did I mention finishing your book?

15. Last but never least, leave us with some Aunt Dimity words of wisdom.

I'll leave you with something from AUNT DIMITY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA. It's a bit of dialogue between Lori Shepherd and Aunt Dimity. Aunt Dimity begins:

/It's pointless to fight evil by destroying life./

"How do we fight it, then?" I demanded.

/We kiss our children. We make sticky lemon cake for our husband. We cherish our friends. We leave the great hedge standing tall, to serve as a haven for birds and mice and spiders. We defeat evil every time we commit an act of kindness. When necessary, we hit it with a rock./

"I get it." I nodded slowly. "Fill each day with acts of grace, but keep a rock handy, just in case."

/I couldn't have put it better myself./


  1. Nancy,
    This is such a great interview and I'm happy to know I'm not the only night owl writer. I love Aunt Dimity and her books are wonderful.

  2. It is wonderful getting to know the real Aunt Dimity. I wonder if your main charater in each book is a little auto biographical. Seeing you in your photos and seeing what you enjoy doing, and how you dress, really comes close to the lead women character in the first book.

  3. Great interview about an awesome author! I enjoy these books and look forward to the next ones!


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