One of the reasons that reading is such an amazing adventure is that it's full of discoveries, ones that make you wonder how you ever existed without the author and books to which you suddenly have been introduced. Anne Cleeland came into my reading world in the summer of 2013, and her unique Acton and Doyle series completely captured my heart and imagination. To see just how much I love these books, go to the Reviews section of the blog.
Not only is Anne Cleeland a brilliant author, but she is a gracious, lovely person who is generous with her time and interaction. So, it is with the greatest pleasure and enthusiasm that I present an interview with Anne Cleeland, and what is a great thrill for those of us already enamored of the Acton and Doyle series, a preview of book #4 entitled Murder in Containment. Yes, fans who hang on every word of this series, there is an excerpt of the next book after the interview! But, don't skip the interview because Anne reveals great insight into the world of Chief Inspector Michael Acton and Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle, and she gifts us with fascinating information on her writing and how she came to this series. Oh, and if you comment on something in the interview content, you might get picked to receive a copy of one of Anne's Acton and Doyle boooks.
Anne Cleeland Interview:
1. Anne, before you wrote the Acton and Doyle mystery series, you authored two historical fictions, Tainted Angel and Daughter of the God-King, which are wonderful reads as well. What was the impetus for switching to the mystery genre?
This is a chicken-and-egg question, Kathy! I love the Regency era (early 1800’s) and I’m a big Jane Austen fan. (Note: alert readers will see references to Pride and Prejudice in the Acton and Doyle series.)
So I decided to write a Regency story, but I was struggling to come up with a decent plot. For inspiration, I went to listen to Stephanie Laurens, who’s written a million Regencies. She explained to the audience that she didn’t write a plot as much as she pictured a scene in her head—and for me, it was one of those Aha! moments. I’d been thinking about a scene in my head, so I went home and banged it out—the Grantham Street stakeout scene in Murder in Thrall. Suddenly there they were—these two people, having this incredibly awkward conversation, and both wearing a mask, because they couldn’t let the other see who they really were. After that, I wrote the first three books in the Acton and Doyle series almost without stopping, and only then did I write the historical books.
It just goes to show—go with your instinct. If you are writing a story, it shouldn’t be a struggle. It’s OK to listen to advice, but find your own formula.
2. I think all of the fans of the Acton and Doyle series are fascinated with Acton’s “special condition.” So, please can you enlighten us as to how you came up with this particular condition for Michael Acton?
As you can probably tell, I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and I thought about what it would be like if Holmes fell in love—it wouldn’t be a normal romance, would it? So that was the germ for the idea. It’s tricky, though, because I have to be careful to avoid making him creepy—there were some editors and agents who thought it was a non-starter.
As Doyle would put it, he’s madly in love, with the emphasis on mad. A reader wanted to know when we’re going to get some backstory, and it’s coming, I promise!
3. Doyle’s Irish lingo and personality both keep her in trouble and endear her to readers, but I’m wondering how you came about deciding on the lead female as Irish.
The story has a Cinderella element, which may not be politically correct, but makes it more appealing, I think. (And they are mutually good for each other; after all, she’s rescuing him more than he’s rescuing her.)
So Doyle needed to be working-class, and being Irish meant it was even more of a mismatch—not to mention Irish women have a long history of being “fey.” Part of her charm, I think, is because she’s such a fish out of water, working at Scotland Yard and married to a famous aristocrat.
4. Without giving anything away, with Acton and Doyle enjoying a very close and active relationship, do you think that Michael would be able to share Kathleen with a child?
That’s the big question, and it adds an element of uncertainty. On the one hand, he’s a little dark and ruthless—especially when it comes to his relationship with Doyle. On the other hand, he’s not going to do anything to make her unhappy (well, nothing that she finds out about, anyway.) So we shall see.
5. How much do you have to work on getting the wonderfully witty and engaging dialogue between Acton and Doyle?
This is one of those things that writers are afraid to say because it makes them sound a little coo-coo: It’s as though you are listening to a conversation, rather than making it up. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, and when the two of them start talking to each other, I’m typing as fast as I can just to keep up—the first draft doesn’t get revised very much.
Their conversations are a lot of fun because he’s cool and Holmes-like, while she’s a wisecracker. Somehow, it works.
6. Your secondary characters, DS Thomas Williams and DS Isabel Munoz, add so much to the enjoyment of the books. Can you expound upon their place and importance in the series?
I think I’m an old-school writer—I like to have a clear protagonist whose point of view we share, and secondary characters whose role is to interact with the protagonist.
Munoz is the classic mean girl (we’ve all met one) and Doyle is equal parts annoyed and envious. For her part, Munoz is conflicted, because she doesn’t want to like Doyle, but we can see that she does.
Williams is the classic true-blue friend, but he’s conflicted because he’s in love with Doyle, even though he knows he shouldn’t be.
Each of these characters interacts with Doyle in a way that makes her more relatable to the reader, I think.
7. England as the setting? As Acton is a Lord, I understand that England is the perfect setting, but did you have other reasons for England? (England happens to be my favorite setting for a story.)
England is my favorite setting, too! And I’ve always loved British detective stories—and Masterpiece Mystery, too. Acton gets away with murder (literally) because he’s a member of the aristocracy. And it also means that there’s an evil dowager, and a manor house, and fastidious servants—it just wouldn’t be the same story, if it were set anywhere else.
8. There are readers that I know, including myself, who are so in love with this series, I think we’d like some reassurance of its continuing. Are there a certain number of books planned in the series or a dedicated goal of where the series wants to take Acton and Doyle?
The next book is called Murder in Containment, which refers to murders that are committed to contain a scandal, or to cover-up wrongdoing. I’m not certain about the release date yet, but I’ll keep you posted, never fear!
Book #5 is Murder in All Honor, and that’s what I’m working on right now. Lots of surprises, coming up! I’ll be happy to keep writing them as long as anyone wants to read them, there’s no particular goal—as you know, it’s just one long, winding story. (And alert readers will always see the seeds for the next story in the previous book.)
9. With all the book festivals and gatherings that are now in operation, how do you choose which ones to attend? Are there certain ones that are a must for you?
Mystery conferences are fan-oriented, and if your readers enjoy mysteries, it’s a lot of fun to attend one. Bouchercon is the big, national conference in October (held in Raleigh, this year) and I also like to attend the Malice conference in Washington DC every May. There are regional conferences, too—I attend one on the west coast called (appropriately) Left Coast Crime. Conferences are a great opportunity to meet your favorite authors and fellow readers; I’ve made lots of new friends.
10. Marketing is so important to the success of books, what do you or your publisher consider the most important ways of getting the word out?
You are looking at it! Websites and blogs are so influential, today—there was never an easier way to get the word out to so many people! It used to be that New York reviewers would try to dictate what was popular, but now all the power is with the readers, which is how it should be.
Nowadays, the publishers expect the author to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing, so I’ve taken to facebook and twitter, too. (@annecleeland) And I’m happy to come speak at book groups and libraries—please contact me at www.annecleeland.com.
But nothing beats guest-posting on a popular blog like this one. Thanks, Kathy!
11. What would you like your readers to know about you that isn’t in your bio information? Any special interests or talents (besides your magnificent writing)?
I love, love, love college football. My best friend from college goes with me to all the UCLA games, and no one else is invited because we don’t like to be distracted. It’s a lot of fun!
12. It’s always amazing to me that authors actually find time to read other authors, with your writing, book touring, and other book events, but it appears that authors do make time for other reading. What are you currently reading or have recently read?
I don’t read as much as I used to, but I am reading Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King (speaking of Sherlock Holmes!) Her Mary Russell series is terrific.
13. And, just because readers are usually curious how their favorite authors manage the writing process, are you more of an organized plotter/outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer? Do you have certain times of the day you feel more productive in your writing? Also, as readers often have favorite reading places, do you have a favorite writing place?
As I mentioned, I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, which is no easy feat when you are writing a mystery. For example, in Murder in Containment, I had to go back and add in a character, because I realized at the end that he was one of the villains, but I’d hardly mentioned him in the story. (See if you can figure out who ;)
And I can write anytime, anywhere—middle seat on the airplane? No problem! I love it so much that it’s hard to stay away. I do think I’m a little sharper in the morning, but overall it doesn’t seem to matter; I write when I’m watching TV in the evenings, too.
Anne Cleeland is a lifelong Southern California resident, and currently makes her home in Newport Beach. An attorney by trade, she's been reading mystery stories since her Nancy Drew days, and especially loves Agatha Christie and the other Golden Age British mystery writers. Her Acton & Doyle mystery series features two Scotland Yard detectives, and if you are a fan of Masterpiece Mystery, you may enjoy this series.
Anne also writes a historical series set in 1814 because she loves historicals, too. Being a romantic at heart, all her stories have a strong romantic element.
She has four grown children, three wonderful grandchildren, and one nutty dog.
Murder in Containment Excerpt
Murder in Containment Excerpt
Later that day, Doyle stood beside Acton and the coroner as they somberly contemplated the dead SOCO photographer, lying in her bleak stainless steel drawer in the morgue. Law enforcement necessarily involved personal risk; still, it was never easy to lose one of their own, and one would think a Scene of the Crime Officer—and a photographer, to boot—would not be in any particular danger. Upon hearing the news, Doyle had sacrificed her lunch hour to visit the decedent—not much of a sacrifice, really, since she’d no appetite to speak of in the first place. And despite the fact he was hip deep in high-profile cases, Acton had offered to accompany her, and so here they were, taking a long, dispassionate look at the remains of the blonde woman in her thirties who’d evidently met a bad end. The lividity marks showed she’d died prone on her back, and the bruise patterns indicated one or more blows to the forehead. After a small silence, Doyle asked Acton, “Do we have a preliminary report?”
“Found dead in her flat; reported by a neighbor who noticed the smell. Possible domestic violence; the neighbor remembers hearing an altercation with a man.”
The coroner indicated with a finger, “Cause of death was blunt force trauma; fractures to the frontal bone and supraorbital process. Weapon was cylindrical; estimate 3 inches in diameter.”
Doyle nodded. Dr. Hsu, the coroner, tended to be very matter-of-fact about the most grisly of subjects, no doubt a result of his profession mixed with his Chinese heritage—Doyle had the vague idea that the man’s religious beliefs included the recycling of departed spirits. I suppose that would put a different light on death, thought Doyle, if you believed that the persons lying before you would come back to life under a different identity, good as new.
“She faced her killer, then. Defensive wounds?” asked Acton. If there had been a face-to-face battle, the chances were good that the woman would have helpful DNA on her hands or arms.
“None apparent,” was the coroner’s regretful answer. “And although we took swabs from under her nails, preliminaries indicate that she was wearing latex gloves, even though there were none at the scene. Some spot bruising on her forearms—nothing of significance.”
“Perhaps because she warded off the blows?” Doyle demonstrated by raising her arms and crossing them. “Otherwise, she just let someone come up and conk her in the face, which seems unlikely.”
“Only spot bruising on her arms,” Acton reminded her. “Therefore, not from blows.”
Doyle frowned as she considered this paradox—paradox being a vocabulary word—but Acton was apparently following his own train of thought.
“Was she reclining when struck?”
“Upright,” the coroner replied. “Then fell back.”
“Was she bound?”
“No—no bruising at the wrists.”
“Prelim shows no drugs or alcohol.”
Acton was silent for a moment, and Doyle took the opportunity to ask, “Who’s been assigned to the case? And have we any likely suspects?”
Acton replied, “DI Chiu is the Crime Scene Manager. No obvious suspects; no indication there was a steady boyfriend.”
Doyle made a wry mouth. “Not a surprise, my friend. She carried a crackin’ torch for you, you know.”
He did not disclaim, but remained thoughtful. “That doesn’t mean she didn’t have a boyfriend—or someone.”
But Doyle shook her head doubtfully. “With her, I’m not so sure—she was the reclusive type; I imagine she rarely went anywhere. She probably did those role-playing video games, and kept a cat.”
The coroner lifted the corpse’s hand. “The cat had started in on her fingers.” It was an unfortunate truism that when cats were hungry, they were not sentimental creatures.
“No sign that the motive was robbery,” Acton noted. “But it may be helpful to delve into that aspect, and take another careful look `round.”
Doyle wasn’t sure she followed him. “And why is that?”
Acton crossed his arms, his hooded gaze on the woman’s remains. “She was struck facing her attacker, yet there are no signs that she attempted to ward off the blow. What does that tell you?”
The penny dropped, and Doyle looked up at him. “She couldn’t see him.”
He nodded. “So it was either dark, or she was blindfolded. But she was upright, not bound, and we’ve ruled out sex play, so it must have been dark. He may have been lying in wait.”
Doyle knit her brown, considering this. “But there were reports of a verbal altercation.”
“Then—then I suppose we’re speakin’ of two different people?”
“Perhaps,” said Acton, who was not a leaper-to-conclusions.
At Acton’s signal, the coroner moved in to zip the bag and re-shelve the corpse, and Doyle took the opportunity to observe in a low voice, “I don’t know, Michael; it doesn’t seem in keepin’—that she had a fight with someone outside her flat, and then got coshed by someone else, waitin’ inside. Some people—” she tried to put her instinct into words. “Some people are lookin’ to get themselves murdered, and some people are not. She’s one of the nots.”
“Yet here she is,” he gently pointed out.
Stubbornly, she persisted. “I’m only spoutin’ your theory, my friend; if the facts don’t fit the usual motivations, then attention should be paid. The SOCO people are inclined to blather in their cups—perhaps she said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and this is a containment murder. It may be useful to take a peek at her recent caseload.”
Acton made no immediate response and she eyed him, aware that the dead woman was willing to work off the grid for Acton, so to speak, and on at least one occasion had manipulated evidence for him. Hopefully, I am not yet again investigating a murder that my own husband committed, she thought crossly, and briefly toyed with the idea of asking him outright. Instead, she asked, “Was she doing anythin’ for you on the side, Michael?”
He was amused, and glanced at her. “Is that a euphemism?”
“No, it is not.” She was not in a joking mood, a rarity for her.
“No, on both counts.” He paused. “I discouraged any attempts to communicate outside of work, and she was someone who didn’t want to be rebuked.”
No, thought Doyle; she was the type who was content to entertain fantasies, rather than act on them. “Can you put me on the case? I always felt a bit sorry for her, and now I’m sorrier still.”
He met her eye, and Doyle knew exactly what he was thinking. “I’ll be safe as houses, Michael—and I’m dyin’ for a new assignment. I’ll just go ask a few questions, have a look `round her flat, and see what there is to see.” Inspired, she added, “I need somethin’ to take my mind off the mornin’ sickness. I’ll feel better if I’m doin’ good works.”
“Right, then. But no heroics.”
“Not to worry; I am in no shape, my friend.”
“Not to worry; I am in no shape, my friend.”
Acton had to leave after taking a call on some urgent matter, so Doyle rang up DI Chiu with an eye to going out immediately to interview the neighbors—it was important to move quickly, before any leads went cold.
But when she picked up, DI Chiu was not necessarily pleased to hear that Doyle was to join her team. “The PCs already did a preliminary, DS Doyle.”
“I know, ma’am, but I knew the victim, and I’d like to lend a hand.” Doyle then played her trump. “DCI Acton is the SIO, and he’s given the go-ahead.”
There was a slight pause. “I will meet you there, then.”
Doyle copied the address, rang off, and then immediately rang up Williams as she made her way up the stairs from the morgue. “Hey.”
“Can’t talk long; I’m heading into the interview room.”
“I’ll make it quick; tell me about DI Chiu.”
“Smart. Doesn’t suffer fools.”
Oh-oh, thought Doyle. “Well, aside from that, why wouldn’t she like me?”
“Not a clue, Kath; maybe she’s territorial, and doesn’t like the Acton connection.”
“There’s not the smallest chance I’d be promoted over her, for heaven’s sake.”
“I’ve got to go—I’ll ring you later.”
“It’s not important, Thomas, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Thoughtfully, Doyle rang off and headed outside, hoping the victim’s flat had been aired out—the scent of decomposition always set her off, nowadays, and she didn’t want to give her husband any excuse to take her off her only remaining case.