Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Alice Castle to the blog!
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
I have two cats, Pushkin and Blackjack. Pushkin is a tortoiseshell and very highly strung (where does she get that from?) while Blackjack is midnight dark, apart from a tiny bowtie of white hairs on his chest, and very laid back, except when on the scent of a mouse. Pushkin, who is now twelve years old, is the model for the cat in my book, Magpie. Magpie lives with my amateur sleuth heroine, young widow Beth Haldane. I would say ‘belongs to’ Beth, but that, of course, would be ridiculous. Magpie just graces Beth with her presence and Beth is suitably thankful. Magpie is very aloof but every now and then something about her behavior will give Beth a crucial nudge in her investigations. She pops up in every story. Sometimes she just has a stroll-on part, sometimes she plays a more pivotal role.
What are you reading now?
At the moment I’m reading a book called The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes. She is the niece of Julian Fellowes, who wrote the script for Downton Abbey. It’s a historical whodunit, involving the real-life Mitford sisters, who were the daughters of an eccentric peer, woven into a fictitious murder in 1919. It’s deftly done and very interesting. Nancy Mitford is 16 in the story. She grew up to be a wonderfully witty novelist.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently writing the fifth in my London Murder Mystery series, Revenge on the Rye. The plot revolves around the many people who walk their dogs on Peckham Rye, a famous park in south east London where you find everyone from famous artists to tramps, all loving their dogs but potentially harboring guilty and murderous secrets. It’s great fun to write and is going to be my sleuth, Beth’s most complicated and fascinating case to date, involving sinister goings-on in the art world and corruption in surprising places.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I hope it’s not cheating to say I have lots of favorite authors – the policeman who helps (or hinders) my amateur sleuth Beth in my stories is a huge fan of Golden Age crime fiction and so am I. I love Agatha Christie, D L Sayers, Margery Allingham and of course Raymond Chandler, who wrote about America but actually went to school in south east London, where my books are set. As far as modern day authors go, I really enjoy Janet Evanovich (I was very thrilled when one reviewer compared my books to hers) and MC Beaton (ditto). I was a huge fan of the late Sue Grafton. I also really enjoy Peter James’s books, as well as Peter Robinson’s. Claire Macintosh is a great writer too.
Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
We had a huge Airedale terrier. He was the grandson of a Crufts dog show champion and had a very fancy name, but we called him Chippy. Unfortunately, he had an unquenchable wanderlust and was always running away – he was very strong and once pulled me right over in park. He wasn’t interested in girl dogs but had a thing about boy Collies. He also really liked those hairy moon boots people wore in the 1970s – woe betide you if you had those on.
How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
I love my cats so much that I was really keen to have one in my books, as company for my single mum sleuth, who is often lonely (she is a widow) and sometimes needs a sounding board for her ideas that is sympathetic most of the time and won’t answer her back! In my latest novel, Revenge on the Rye, I’m writing about dogs, too and I’ve found that they immediately become proper three-dimensional characters, with bags of personality. They definitely pull on the lead while I’m writing and show me which way they want to go, which has been really fun.
Why do you include animals in your writing?
We all love our pets, don’t we? I think life would be much emptier without them and I think they add an extra dimension to a story as well. My cats are very much a part of my life and it seemed natural to include a cat in the life of my main character, too. Animals are interesting to write about on their own merits, but sometimes you can also use them to help out with the plot or characterization as well. A pet can point up something about another character, revealing a likeable or unlikeable person – or uncovering a vital clue at the right moment!
What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
I’ve always loved the story Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. It’s a very sad tale about a horse and its owners. When I was young, there was a marvelous TV version that was a little less tragic in tone and it also had the best theme tune ever – check it out on YouTube. Whenever I hear it I’m plunged back into watching the show on our little black and white TV, lying on my stomach on our sitting room carpet.
When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?
I knew I was a writer when I was about four or five at infants’ school and a teacher asked me how I’d come up with a little bit of writing I did for a school project on leaves. I wasn’t sure how to answer so I said I’d read the words in a book. She said, ‘no, I think you made them up out of your own head, didn’t you?’ and I somewhat fearfully admitted I had. She said what I had written was really good and I suddenly realized this was something I could do. I do thank God for that teacher, and all teachers who take the time and trouble to encourage shy children.
What do your pets do when you are writing?
My cats love to be involved in the writing process. Blackjack is particularly keen to get in on the act and unless I light a scented candle to keep him away (I know, I’m heartless) he’d lie on my keyboard all day and stop me writing a word. On the other hand, Pushkin will often sit on the kitchen table where I work and stare at me crossly if I try and move away from the laptop – she keeps me to a strict schedule. Maybe she knows I’ve based my fictional cat Magpie on her and wants me to get on with it.
What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
I have TBR piles all over the house, and a virtual one on my Kindle, too. I still haven’t read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I loved The Secret History but couldn’t get on with Tartt’s second novel and, despite all the amazing reviews for The Goldfinch, I haven’t had the courage to start it yet. I’ve also got Orhan Pamuk’s Snow in the pile, as well as The Miniaturist, which I accidentally watched on TV… There’s also The Standing Chandelier by Lionel Shriver that I have to read for my book group… I could go on and on! The ones I always get through first are the great murder mysteries, of course.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Keep going! It’s not the easiest path – but if you actually are a writer, you won’t have any choice anyway.
About Alice Castle:
Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European hit and sold out in two weeks.
Death in Dulwich was published in September 2017 and has been a number one best-seller in the UK, US, Canada, France, Spain and Germany. A sequel, The Girl in the Gallery was published in December 2017 to critical acclaim. Calamity in Camberwell, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series, will be published this summer, with Homicide in Herne Hill due to follow in early 2019. Alice is currently working on the fifth London Murder Mystery adventure. Once again, it will feature Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.
Alice is also a mummy blogger and book reviewer via her website: https://www.alicecastleauthor.com
Links to buy books: http://www.MyBook.to/GirlintheGallery
She lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.