Launch: Sarah F. Noel’s An Independent Woman: A Tabitha & Wolf Mystery
INTERVIEW BY LESLIE S. LOWE
Born in London, Sarah Noel spent most of her adult life in New York. She now lives in Grenada in the Caribbean. She is happily married and has two grown daughters. The Tabitha & Wolf Mystery Series are the kind of books she likes to read herself on a lazy Sunday: historical mysteries with strong, intelligent, independent female characters.
How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?
In this third book in the Tabitha & Wolf historical mystery series, An Independent Woman, Tabitha & Wolf are summoned to Edinburgh by the Dowager Countess of Pembroke. The dowager’s granddaughter, Lily, refuses to participate in the preparations for her first season unless Tabitha and Wolf investigate the disappearance of her friend, Peter. Initially skeptical of the need to investigate, Tabitha and Wolf quickly realize that the idealistic Peter may have stumbled upon dark secrets.
What inspired you to start writing historical fiction and what has been most rewarding about it?
I started writing historical fiction because I love reading it. I thought about what I most love and most hate about the books I read, and then wrote the perfect books for me. Luckily, other people seem to enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them, and this is very rewarding.
What drew you into the setting for the story and made you want to share it?
When I started writing this series, I considered which period I wanted to set it in. I landed on the late 19th century because it was such an interesting time of political and industrial change. I wanted to create characters whose stories could highlight some of that turmoil.
This is the third book in your A Tabitha & Wolf Mystery Series being released and the fourth will be released on 22 December 2023. How is this book different from the first two?
This is the first book set outside of London. It introduces a new, recurring character, Lady Lily. Her story, both in this and future books, helps highlight a new dimension to some of the challenges and opportunities experienced by women in this time with the slow opening up of education to women. Even though Lily is only a few years younger than Tabitha, she seems to be from a different generation with very different expectations for her life than the ones Tabitha has been raised with.
How do the characters transform within the story over the series? What did that journey mean to you as you wrote it?
I think my heroine, Tabitha, is beginning to realize she could have more than the narrow, prescribed life she was raised to expect. For Wolf, it’s almost the opposite challenge; he had a very free life as a thief-taker. However, when he inherited the earldom, he also inherited all the attendant responsibilities that come with being a wealthy landowner and a peer of the realm. He’s navigating how to fulfill his obligations as the Earl of Pembroke without losing his identity as Wolf, the thief-taker. But he’s also facing an internal struggle between embracing Tabitha as an equal and giving into his innate urge to protect her. As for the dowager, while she initially seemed to be something of a monster, she’s slowly being revealed as a rather lonely and bored woman who had the misfortune to be born at a time when she wasn’t able to put her great intelligence to good use.
Like so many women, I’ve also had to balance competing desires throughout my life: career, marriage, and children. I’m grateful that I live in an age where it’s acknowledged (for the most part) that a woman can have a career and choose it over a more traditional female role. But even in the 21st century that balance is hard to find for most women. So, it’s been interesting and thought-provoking to consider what it must have been like to be an intelligent woman in Victorian times, seeking a purpose in life beyond being a wife and a mother. Even though it often seems as if their values and perspectives are a world apart, Tabitha and the dowager are on a similar journey in many ways: two intelligent, capable women pushing the boundaries of their prescribed roles in society. Wolf is also on a familiar journey: as a man who doesn’t have to struggle for his place in society, how does he support the women around him while battling his more primordial instincts to protect and provide?
I love these characters and can’t wait to see how they grow and continue to bond as an investigative team.
How do you think the reader will connect emotionally with the characters?
I think it’s quite easy to connect emotionally with Tabitha, Wolf and the children. My hope is that readers also begin to connect with the dowager. She’s a humorous character (or at least I hope she is), but beneath that bullying exterior, she’s slowly revealing herself to have surprising depths of compassion and tolerance – at least sometimes.
Why the focus on this topic now? Is there a key historical event you found in researching that inspired you to write this story to portray a message relevant now?
As Shakespeare said, “What’s past is prologue.” We’re also living in times of great political, social and industrial turmoil and I think it’s always useful to realize that this turmoil is not unprecedented. As an example, as we engage in sometimes hysterical debates about generative AI, it’s worth reflecting on the industrial revolution and the concerns people had about losing their jobs. Historically, technology has created more, better, safer jobs than it displaced.
How did you balance the research with writing the story?
In school, I didn’t really enjoy history, memorizing all those dates. But learning about history in the context of a story is something I find fascinating.
Every author has their own publishing journey. Tell me about yours. What would you do differently?
I’ve always written stories, blog articles, and even unpublished novels. Early this year, I was between jobs for a few months and I started writing this story that had been tumbling around in my head. By the time I was finished with it, I had a new job and didn’t have the time or energy to start querying agents, and so I just self-published it. Honestly, when I first hit publish, I had very low expectations; I thought I’d have not much more than the satisfaction of saying “I finished and published a book.” I’ve been quite overwhelmed and humbled by how popular the series seems to be. In hindsight, I’m not sure I’d do anything differently. I still have a full-time job that I enjoy and self-publishing allows me to write and publish on my own schedule.
What advice would you give to other aspiring historical writers?
It’s really the same advice I’d give to any fiction writers in general: write what you love to read. At the end of the day, I’m grateful if other people enjoy my books, but I write for myself.
What are you working on now? Is it another in the series or connected in any way?
For the time being, this series is more than enough! But I am playing around with ideas for a possible off-shoot—watch this space!
What is the last great book you read? Why?
I love T.E. Kinsey’s Lady Hardcastle series and am just finishing the most recent book, A Fire at the Exhibition.