Victoria Dowd is the author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, published by Joffe Books on 5 May 2020.
Victoria kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder.
It’s the first in a series of classic murder mystery books. Ursula Smart, along with her mother, aunt and the rest of their book club, go for a weekend to an isolated country house. When they’re snowed in, the murders begin. They’re quite a dysfunctional family and Ursula especially has never really got over the death of her father. To survive they have to try and overcome a lot of tension and family history. It’s an updated take on the Golden Age of crime fiction with lots of dark humour.
2. What inspired the book?
My love of classic Golden Age Detective fiction, especially authors such as Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey and Ngaio Marsh. I love the puzzle at the heart of these books. The clever weaving of clues and red herrings, and trying to work out whodunnit before you get to the end. I also have a background in crime as I was a criminal defence barrister for a long time and always wanted to write crime fiction.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
It’s plan, plan, plan for me because of the kind of books I write. A large part of it is the plotting and working out intricate details that all have to fit together. You can’t have a single hole in the plot otherwise readers definitely spot it. I have my Murder Board which is a huge pin-board covered in maps, photographs and clippings all linked with little red bits of string. In some ways it looks like I might be actually planning a murder! For the latest book I’m writing, I have a whole village set out on a table with all the houses and characters so I can keep track of where everyone is at each point in the story.
4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
Oh yes! So many things. I didn’t know how many people there involved in making it all happen. So much work goes into every aspect. I have a whole team of people helping me every step of the way and I couldn’t do it without them. They are all so wonderful and dedicated to putting out that one book. The editing process is utterly forensic and goes through so many rounds of sifting through the book until it is the best book it possibly can be. It’s exhausting but worth it!
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Like most writers, I read a lot. Mostly detective fiction. I like sea swimming down near Burgh Island which is where Agatha Christie was inspired to write And Then There Were None. It’s a wonderful place. I’m also a very keen gardener and find it an excellent way to think things through and relax.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
I was going to say something like The Complete Works of Shakespeare just for sheer volume and the amount of content to think about. But Rebecca is the one. I’ve read it at all stages of my life and still keep finding more.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Do you like your characters?
My characters have attracted a lot of comment! Some people love them, others find that they bicker too much and don’t act like a loving, happy family unit – in a murder situation! I think all families have very complicated dynamics. Often, Golden Age style murder mysteries are criticised for their two dimensional characters and I wanted to have real life women in this Cluedo style world. I put the issue of death and, more importantly, grief right at the centre of the book. Strangely, murder mysteries don’t really go into how people cope with loss, even though there is a lot of death in them. These women are strong but flawed, which I think a lot of people can relate to. Their relationships are not saccharine but how people close to each other might react behind closed doors in the ultimate stressful situation – especially if those doors were to an isolated house with a murderer on the loose. So, yes, I love my characters – a lot. They are living, breathing real women to me.
About the Book
A faded country house in the middle of nowhere.
The guests are snowed in.
The murders begin.
Withering and waspish, Ursula Smart (not her real name) gate-crashes her mother’s book club at an isolated country house for a long weekend retreat. Much to Mother’s chagrin. Joining them are Mother’s best friend, Mirabelle, Aunts Charlotte and Less, and Bridget with her dog Mr Bojangles. It doesn’t matter that they’ve read Gone Girl three times this year already, this retreat is their chance to escape bustling suburbia. But someone has other ideas.
A body is found in the grounds.
Is a lone killer hunting them? Or has one of their own group embarked on a killing spree?
What they need is to stop sniping at each other long enough to solve the mystery before the killer strikes again.
What they need is a guide to survive.
About the Author
After graduating from Cambridge, Victoria was a criminal law barrister on the London circuit for many years, where many of her cases were much stranger than fiction.
Victoria is now an award winning writer, having won the Go Gothic Short Story Award for 2019. She has had short fiction published in places such as Aesthetica: A Review of Contemporary Artists and was chosen as the runner up in The New Writer’s writer of the year award. Her work was Highly Commended by The Writers’ Forum and long-listed for The Willesden Herald International Short Story Competition. She has had short stories published in the BTS Literary and Arts Annual, Dream Catcher arts journal and Gold Dust Literary Magazine.
Victoria lives with her husband and two children. She writes full time, splitting her time between London and Devon, where she can indulge her passion for all things Agatha Christie.