Launch: Evie Hawtrey’s And By Fire
INTERVIEW BY ANNE EASTER SMITH
Evie Hawtrey (latest iteration of long-time historical novelist Sophie Perinot) is a Yank by birth but a sister-in-spirit to her fierce and feminist London detective, DI Nigella Parker. Evie splits her time between Washington DC, where she lives with her husband, and York, UK, where she enjoys living in history, lingering over teas, and knocking around in pubs. And By Fire is her first book writing as Evie Hawtrey.
Could you describe your new book?
Tempered by fire and separated by centuries, two extraordinary female detectives track a pair of murderous geniuses who’ll burn the world for their art in Evie Hawtrey’s And By Fire.
You are usually known as Sophie Perinot, historical fiction author. How long have you wanted to be Agatha Christie?
Actually, I really want to be P.D. James. I am not market driven—I am muse driven. I fought Evie Hawtrey for a number of years, and then I heard a radio program about the Fire of London and who benefitted the most from the fire. It was Christopher Wren. I thought what if Wren “helped” Saint Paul’s Church burn, and it gave me an idea for a dual timeline. I still want to write historical fiction as Sophie, but to write this book (and more) I had to become Evie. It could be my mid-life crisis!
But Wren as an antagonist?
If I was writing a Sophie Perinot historical, the premise of creating Wren as the antagonist like this wouldn’t be acceptable to readers of straight historical fiction—after all I am vilifying a giant of history—but in a mystery setting it’s acceptable. I will say that the larger point in my book is: Should one create anything worth having in life if you are sacrificing other people to get it? Great artists who are writers, musicians, or painters all have to consider what is a legitimate sacrifice in the name of their creation. In this book, it’s Wren thinking he could do what he did for the greater good of the world. He believed he was creating something so beautiful that even God would forgive him the “sacrifice” he was compelled to make.
Did your previous writing help or hinder you in writing a mystery— especially the modern-day one?
In a panel recently, I was asked how do I get police procedures right. I was crowing that I had written historical fiction for a decade and we know how to research from the minute to the large. It translates, because my techniques are not that different from researching HF, except I am researching things like how do linseed rags burn, for example. I am probably more meticulous about being accurate, because historical fiction readers demand it. It was pointed out to me by fellow mystery writers that most of them make up the names of things like police stations. Sophie Perinot never would!
And why the dual timeline approach?
I could have written a straight HF mystery or dual-timeline historical novel, but I thought to myself, as Evie, writing a mystery, you could do something really sexy in the modern time. You could still have your historical story, but in the modern one you can play around with a fictional mystery. Making the two stories relevant to each other was hard. Did we need them both? Two points of view in HF is not as divisive as these two POVs in two periods. Readers may be with Team Nigella and O’Leary (modern day detectives) or Team Margaret (historical protagonist/detective). The sweet spot, I hope, is that people see they are integral to solving both the historical and the modern-day crimes. We have these two women with similar characteristics and interests, such as being incredibly bright and fascinated by science—albeit very different sciences and very different cultures—and being 350 years apart, and how both of those things would have impacted their lives.
You have chosen to give Evie Hawtrey a British voice. You are American, so why?
This is going to sound crazy, but I found it liberating. Living only one life is limiting. In one life I got to be a lawyer, in another, a writer named Sophie Perinot, and now I get to be Evie. I feel I now get to be three people, and it’s an adrenaline rush! Evie gets to be hipper, Evie gets to be younger and freer, and at my age who doesn’t want to be those things! I have so many British friends to thank for helping. I didn’t want to do it wrong and have people assume that I am British; that would be presumptuous. I should add that if it weren’t for the pandemic, I would be splitting my time 50-50 between US and England. I have been very honest about my being a Yank. I sincerely hope the British audiences think I did this in good faith and not being culturally appropriative.
Did your former career as a lawyer help you in writing a mystery?
(Laughs) I did really boring large firm anti-trust and corporate litigation. It’s not sexy. What helped me more is that I am a pantster (fly by the seat of one’s pants)! I knew who the dead people were going to be; I knew about the historical plot line; and I knew some clues in the modern timeline, but that was it. So in the modern-day one I basically had to solve the mystery along with my detectives. Some days everything was going great, but then on others I thought “OMG I need a break in this case before somebody else dies.” I have a basic plot arc, but if my characters act up or go somewhere different that doesn’t bother me. I found I was solving the mystery with my protagonists, which is….terrifying!
Who is your publisher?
Crooked Lane Books distributed by Penguin. They specialize in thriller and mystery. My agent got the contract for this book, but I never signed on for two (or more) books. I learned in my lawyering job that being held hostage by someone else’s schedule is not a fun way to live your life.
Is this the start of a series?
To be honest that’s up to how many people read the first one. I have 50,000 words written but will it take off? There will always be a historical timeline, and it won’t always be London. The next historical timeline will be set in Russia and the mystery is about the fall of the house of Fabergé, all stemming from the death of a Russian oligarch in London.
Latest book recommendation?
Wintering: the Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by British author Katherine May. It’s about the seasons of life and how they aren’t linear. I sent it unbidden to all my children, and I have recommended it to all my friends. It’s a perfect read for a pandemic. It is extraordinary.
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