Interview with Brian Kavanagh, author of The Embroidered Corpse ~ A Belinda Lawrence Cozy Mystery ~ Be Write Books
Conducted by Lucille P. Robinson (Reviewer at Alternative-read.com).
LPR: How would you describe your book The Embroidered Corpse?
BK: An entertainment. Pure and simple. A murder mystery based around the discovery of an ancient scrap of tapestry, which leads to several murders. Set in England, it follows Belinda Lawrence, a young Australian woman who has inherited a cottage in a small village outside of the City of Bath in Somerset. It is Belinda who discovers the tapestry and is intrigued by it. By luck it comes into her possession and that is when the adventure begins. The mystery reveals the history of the tapestry and the value of it, along with elements of historical facts all of which have some place in solving the mystery and the murders.
LPR: The Embroidered Corpse is the second book in the Belinda Lawrence Cozy Mysteries Series. Please tell us a little about the first book Capable of Murder.
BK: Capable of Murder came about after I had decided to pursue writing. I have many years experience in film production and about ten years ago financing of films became difficult and the Australian film industry was going into a decline.
To keep myself occupied I explored the idea of writing and I looked for the most popular genre at the time. I settled on “romance” and did write one romance novel. I sent it out to various publishers but the usual reply was “good, but not what we are looking for”. I was to see that phrase many times over the next few years, not only for the romance book but also for Capable of Murder. What bothered me was that the publishers could never tell me just what it was they were looking for. That attitude I have to say has echoes in the film industry.
Nevertheless I continued to seek publishers but I also had to be honest with myself and admit that my heart really wasn’t in “romance” books. My favourite light reading has always been murder mysteries, of the amateur sleuth varity. I don’t much care for police procedural – there is a plethora of that on television – and I prefer the puzzle as opposed to the factual investigations. They also allow you to concentrate on character development much more easily, which is another attraction to me.
So I decided that I would attempt a mystery and based on some incidents I was aware of, I used them as the basis for the work. I prefer English settings and so it was natural that I set the initial book in an English village.
But I also wanted an Australian element, so I created Belinda Lawrence, a young Australian woman. I also sensed that women readers are sympathetic to this particular sub-genre book and having a heroine as the principle does give the female reader an identifying character. That doesn’t mean that the books aren’t just as enjoyable for a man to read, just that I suspect the bulk of the readers are female and as I want to reach as many readers as possible, it seemed logical to aim for those readers.
So in Capable of Murder we are introduced to Belinda who inherits a cottage near Bath when her great-aunt Jane is found murdered. Belinda actually discovers the body. Suspicious that her elderly relative’s death was not natural, she takes up residence in the cottage and gradually meets some of the locals. It seems that there is huge interest in the house and in the garden. Belinda, convinced that her great-aunt was murdered sets out to solve the mystery surrounding the house and the garden. In doing so she places her own life at risk.
LPR: I’ve read Capable of Murder and have been impressed with the characters you chose to interact with Belinda. Could you supply our readers with an outline of your three key characters in this story?
BK: The three other characters in Capable of Murder who are the strongest are Mark Sallinger, Hazel Whitby and Jacob.
Mark is a local Real Estate agent who shows a particular interest in Belinda’s cottage and also in Belinda. He is a handsome man, who appears to be a threat. Full of self-confidence he comes from a wealthy, well established upper middle-class background, university educated, well versed in the arts as well as sporting activities. From Belinda’s point of view he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and his sometimes superior attitude riles Belinda from time to time. But this is rather a misunderstanding on her part, coming from Australia where class differences are not so clearly defined.
Jacob, on the other hand, is a down to earth country man who has a great love of the earth, history both national and local, and has had to make his own way in the world, although he acknowledges the sacrifices his sister has made to help him achieve his aims.
Hazel Whitby is a local antique dealer and shows a lot of interest in Belinda’s cottage, although she is not entirely sure of what she is looking for, but is never one to miss a bargain so takes the opportunity to check out the cottage for any hidden treasures. Hazel is a woman of fifty or so, who has been divorced and still has a roving eye looking for suitable male companions. Her attitude to life is that it is for living and with a gin and tonic in her hand she can face any eventuality. Witty, opinionated, observant, and sometimes bitchy, she nevertheless is warm hearted and not unfeeling.
Hazel has drawn divided reaction from readers: some feel she lets the side down, so to speak, while others see a shadow of themselves in her and are amused at her attitudes. The thing to bear in mind is that she is entirely fictional, provides some humour for the book and is a reflection of the way some people live their lives, And one has to be forgiving in life (and in fiction) and not be judgemental about the way others choose to live their lives. Charity after all!
LPR: I know that Mark follows Belinda into the second book The Embroidered Corpse. Do any of the other characters show up in this second book?
BK: Hazel continues into the second book as her friendship with Belinda increases and Belinda actually works with her in the antique business. Mark also strengthens his uneven relationship with Belinda. Mark is more than ready to marry but Belinda is holding back. She wants to be sure before she makes a final commitment.
LPR: I understand you are working on the third book in the series. Can you tell us a little about it without giving the story away?
BK: The third book in the series will be, Bloody Ham and is set in Ham House near Richmond in Surrey. Hazel has a relationship with a film editor and through his contacts she secures a place on his film crew by providing antique silverware to be used in the film. The film’s setting is Restoration England and explores the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale who lived in Ham House. During the production a cast member dies and Belinda and Hazel believe it was murder. Mark is absent on business and Belinda is pleased when an old flame from Australia, Brad, arrives to visit her. She has a chance to question her relationship with him and her future. Meantime a second murder takes place and this time Belinda is under suspicion by the police.
LPR: Mr. Kavanagh, I enjoyed reading a little of England’s history in your books. Did you do the research especially for these books or is England’s history one of your hobbies?
BK: I have always had a strong interest in English history. We were taught it at school as much of their history is the prehistory of Anglo Australia, and I have continued to pursue it as an interest. With The Embroidered Corpse, the Bayeaux Tapestry has always fascinated me and although I have never been fortunate enough to see it, I do have a number of detailed books on the tapestry. My interest in it was the catalyst for the book, as the final scenes on the tapestry are missing and one can only speculate on what happened to them. My book is a fictional development of that idea. But there is always a great deal of research to be undertaken on each book.
LPR: Your descriptions of Milford, the cottage Belinda inherits, and the surrounding area provoked such images while I was reading that I wondered if you actually lived in that area. Do you live there?
BK: Milford is a fictional village in Somerset but is based rather closely on the village of Midford which is indeed on the outskirts of Bath and is a very old area. Most of the history of the village is incorporated into Capable of Murder. There is such a cottage although the fictional one is somewhat larger and the outsized garden is entirely fictional. A good friend of mine inherited the cottage when his aunt died and I often stayed there and so got to know the cottage, village and the area very well. It was over some time that eventually the elements came together in my mind to form the story of the book based around the cottage. On my website, the video book trailer features the actual cottage on which the fictional one is based.
LPR: I’d like to ask some questions that other writers may be interested in learning the answers to, Mr. Kavanagh. For instance, Will you describe the process by which you came to develop the Belinda Lawrence Cozy Mysteries?
BK: Initially I only considered writing the one book. But as I did so the characters become very real and at the end of the first book, I felt that I wanted to know more about them, indeed they were asking me to tell more of their lives. So they evolved rather than being planned as such.
For instance, Hazel, who was originally designed to be just a small character, elbowed her way in and in her pushy manner, established herself firmly. Belinda, being about mid-twenties, was approaching a time in her life that demands solutions. Where was her future? In England? Should she return to Australia? Mark also is at a time of his life when he wants to settle down, and he faces an uncertain future. Successful as he is, his personal life requires stability. So all of those elements came to the fore after completing the first book.
LPR: Do you follow a particular schedule for writing?
BK: Usually I have a disciplined period of writing, preferably first thing in the morning with a review in the afternoon. But in the current book I have had many interruptions with other projects but hopefully, now, I can devote myself to it fulltime to complete it.
LPR: Do you speed write a first draft and then spend your time editing it or do you outline first?
BK: I spend a lot of time thinking about the structure/plot and making notes. Once I get the shape I start writing. I know where I’m going but not sure of the route. I like it to be organic so that fresh ideas develop and I sometimes let the characters tell me what happens next. I also find that characters, that are intended as passing individuals, will suddenly supply detailed information and so require further character development. I tend to write, review, revise as I go, before a general review each day, and then several edits before I submit to the Editor.
LPR: Have you any favorite writing tips you can share with beginning writers?
BK: Ensure that you have your road map. It doesn’t need to be detailed and never rigid. Allow for spontaneity and if you are dealing with characters, give them their head, but always know when to pull on the reins. And edit, edit, edit.
LPR: What authors would you say are your literary heroes and which novels have inspired your writing of the Belinda Lawrence Cozy Mysteries?
BK: In the mystery genre, Agatha Christie was/is a powerful influence. Other mystery writers are Hazel Holt, Simon Brett and M.C. Beaton. I prefer English writers. I have read over the years Muriel Spark, Iris Murdoch, Barbara Pym, Evelyn Waugh, Hal Porter and the classic writers and I suppose one picks up influences from each and every one. I have a fondness for E.F. Benson and his social comedies, and I have a collection of first editions from the author, Fergus Hume, best known for the classic 19th century murder mystery, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.
LPR: You have a good imagination, Mr. Kavanagh. Would you mind suggesting three story ‘prompts’?
BK: 1. Two famous people meet by accident on the street. The woman, a successful Opera singer. The man, a writer, down on his luck and past his prime. They spend the afternoon together, he seeking money, she seeking to conceal a secret. Will he discover it and blackmail her?
2. A boy discovers a hidden photograph in a draw, a photograph of his father as a soldier. With the father is another young soldier. They stand side by side, arms around each other, smiling at the camera. What was the relationship between the two men? The boy seeks the answer.
3. A woman, now in middle age, is suddenly free from a life of drudgery after caring for her elderly parents. They die and she now has to decide what her future life will be.
LPR: They’re great! Thank you. Finally, where can we buy Capable of Murder and The Embroidered Corpse?
BK: Both books are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble but further sites and all details, including video book trailers, are on my website,
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