An Interview with Carmen Radtke

Today I am delighted to have author Carmen Radtke visit my blog and tell me a bit about her writing. Thank you for coming to chat, Carmen.

 1 Please tell my readers a little about yourself?

That one is always tricky! I was born in Germany but decided to emigrate when I was six years old. Books and old tv series like Bonanza, Skippy the bush kangaroo might have had something to do with it … It took me a while to follow through with that idea though. After having a child, I had to decide between going back to full-time work as a staff reporter at a daily newspaper, with a midnight deadline, and resigning. I accepted a severance payment, packed my suitcases and took the family half-way around the world to New Zealand. When family reasons made the distance too hard to bridge, we came to live in the UK, in the beautiful North. A tuxedo cat named Holly makes sure I’m kept busy.

2 What inspired you to become a writer/author?

I love books. Always have, always will. I taught myself to read before I started school, so becoming a reporter was the natural choice. From journalist to novelist was the next logical step. I sometimes quit writing novels, when I read something breathtaking like The Shadow of the Wind. That resolve usually lasts 48 hours.

3 What is the best thing about being a writer/author?

Several! It gives me an excuse to indulge in all kinds of research. It gets me in touch with other writers and readers who surely must be the nicest people in the world. But mostly, I get to walk in the shoes of all my characters and have the best adventures in the world. I can live out darker fantasies, fight injustice, solve crimes (and commit them). There is no limit to what I can do on the page!

 Nothing makes me happier than having a reader contact me and say that one of my books helped them escape reality when they most needed it. Well, hardly anything makes me happier.

4 What is your writing routine like?

I admire writers who rise at the crack of dawn and create a stream of beautifully crafted words. My writer brain rarely kicks in before ten in the morning, thanks to newsroom conditioning. To fire up the artist within, I switch from coffee to peppermint tea and read through what I’ve written during my last writing session – especially necessary when I had to interrupt my writing for work that I am actually being paid for. On a good day I manage 2000 words. On a bad day, a lot less, but I’m pushing myself to hit at least 500 words. Anything that’s written is fixable. Anything that isn’t written is the problem. Recently I’ve started working on two novels at the same time – the third Jack and Frances mystery, and a new contemporary one that hopefully will turn into a series. We’ll see how that goes. (Narrator: Little did Carmen know …)

5 How much time is spent on research?

That depends on the book. Usually a few weeks on the basic research – the time and life in general, specific moments, the location all have their challenges and fun parts. When I’m writing, there will always be gaps in my research I wasn’t aware of before. For Glittering Death, I had hoped to include dynamite, but it was invented five years too late for my timeline. Blast! Instead, I introduced the Henry rifle which also featured in the adventure novels of my childhood. Sometimes writing can bring you full circle.

6 How much of the book is planned out before you start writing it?

The first one I wrote, Walking in the Shadow, was only outlined in my head. I had the opening, the important moments, and a tentative ending. The same applied to the next one, The Case of the Missing Bride. Considering Walking in the Shadow was longlisted for the Mslexia competition and The Case of the Missing Bride was a Malice Domestic finalist in a year without a winner and nominated for a CWA historical dagger, I can’t complain. But then both were inspired by true events which gave me a kind of inbuilt structure – in the case of the brides it was their journey, the locations and the fact that they all disappeared. All I had to do was flesh out the characters and save them. Or most of them. For Walking in the Shadow, I only needed to answer the question why a cured leprosy sufferer would return to an isolated camp and give up on his freedom. For the other novels, which are anchored by history but apart from that, complete figments of my imaginations, I worked out roughly what happened before I typed the first word. It’s not a detailed outline, more like one page of then his happens and because of that, that happens, but it’s good enough for me once I know the characters

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7 What do you think is most important when writing a book? Characters, plot, setting, etc

Everything! Characters come first (and I consider my settings to be a character in themselves). The characters determine the plot – one more reason the writer really needs to have figured them out. If I have no idea what they want, what they fear, what they hide from the world (even if its only a secret stash of chocolate when they’ve supposedly given it up for Lent), and where they draw their personal lines, how can I know their reactions to anything?

8 What is your latest book about?

The latest one was a Jack and Frances mystery, Murder at the Races, set in 1931. Frances’s brother Rob has taken up a job as racecourse veterinarian, but there’s something wrong on the racecourses. When the man who publicly talked about fraud turns up dead, Rob is the only suspect. Frances, her boyfriend, the charming nightclub owner Jack, and their friends need to infiltrate the nightclub before it’s too late for Rob.

9 What inspired it?

As a child, I used to accompany my dad and my grandfather to the harness races. It was perfect! The smell of the horses, the sound of their hooves thundering over the turf, ice-cream and chocolate for me, and the excitement of placing my own bets with the bookies. I was five or six, and I’d go to the bookies’ desks with my well-studied racing programme. They were so nice, and because I had my dad with me, nobody would bat an eyelid. Because my dad taught me how to look for the horse’s form and how to minimise risks, most days I ended up with enough winnings to buy a new book or two!   In Murder at the Races I wanted to recreate that excitement and the sheer joy of watching beautiful horses compete under a deep blue sky. I’m also a huge fan of classic Hollywood movies, and Jack and Frances were originally inspired by Nick and Nora Charles in their movie version.

10 Why did you pick the genre or genres that you write in?

I’m not even sure I picked it consciously. As a journalist, I’m drawn to facts, and to history. What I love about cozies is that they’re multi-layered. If you look beneath the small-town charm and quirky characters, you can find all sorts of social issues and hidden nastiness. I like to give readers the choice how deep they want to dive into the stories. If they’re just along for the fun, that’s fine with me. If they want to think about the difference between something that’s legal and something that’s morally right, even better. Lately I’ve been branching out into contemporary novels. They save me the recreating bygone times.

11 How did you go about getting a publishing deal? Or how did you become self-published?

I originally approached agents and then a few publishers. Bloodhound Books signed me for The Case of the Missing Bride a few weeks before I signed with an agent. But as it happens, both relationships dissolved and I’m currently self-publishing.

12 Any new books or plans for the future?

I’m working on the third Jack and Frances mystery and a new contemporary mystery. 

13 What authors have been an influence on your writing?

The ones that I’m aware of are Agatha Christie (naturally), Elizabeth Peters, Rhys Bowen, Alistair MacLean and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Subconsciously, probably hundreds more.

14 What writing advice would you have given yourself when you started?

Remember that the first draft is only the beginning. Find like-minded people for feedback and mutual encouragement. Enjoy the ride …

15 What writing advice would you give to an aspiring writer or a new author to the block?

Don’t despair when what sounded so marvellous in your head, falls flat on the page. First get it written, then get it right. Don’t compare yourself to others (and don’t forget, most great writers spent hundreds of hours rewriting, rewriting, rewriting). Don’t give up unless you really want to, and then allow yourself the freedom of knowing you haven’t failed. You’ve only decided on another path.

16 What has been your favourite book so far this year?

Everything I never told you by Celeste Ng (I finally read it!) and Murder Ahoy by Fiona Leitch

17 What is your all-time favourite book and why?

I can’t possibly narrow it down to one. For non-fiction, A Walk in the Woods and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum, Jingo, Feet of Clay and Night Watch. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express … I think I’ll stop now.

18 What genre do you read most often?

Mysteries and historical fiction.

19 What are you currently reading?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Thank you for having me as a guest, Val!

Happy reading, everyone.

The Author

Carmen Radtke is the author of the Alyssa Chalmers mysteries, The Case of the Missing Bride and Glittering Death; the Jack Sullivan short story False Play at the Christmas Party, the Jack and Frances mysteries A Matter of Love and Death and Murder at the Races; and the literary novel Walking in the Shadow. Several short stories have also appeared in anthologies.

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