Thursday 7 May 2015

Blog tour: the Infidel Stain (Interview with M.J. Carter)

The Infidel Stain is the second book in the Blake and Avery Mystery series, following on from CWA New Blood Dagger shortlisted and Bailey’s Women’s Prize long-listed The Strangler Vine 
London, 1841. Returned from their adventures in India, Jeremiah Blake and William Avery have both had their difficulties adapting to life in Victorian England. Moreover, time and distance have weakened the close bond between them, forged in the jungles of India. Then, a shocking series of murders in the world of London’s gutter press forces them back together. The police seem mysteriously unwilling to investigate, and as connections emerge between the murdered men and the growing and unpredictable movement demanding the right to vote for all, Blake and Avery must race against time to find the culprit before he kills again. But what if the murderer is being protected by some of the highest powers in the land? 

I am delighted to be welcoming M.J. Carter to my blog today and interviewing this wonderful author as part of the Infidel Stain blog tour.

You’ve previously worked as a journalist. What made you change your writing path or was being an author something you'd always aspired to?
I actually started writing non-fiction books 20 years ago. I wrote a biography of the spy and art historian Anthony Blunt—it took me seven years (I had a baby in the middle). At the time I started on the book, I’d just recovered from two years of illness. I’d had to give up my job on a magazine and had lots of surgery. As I was I recovering I felt something positive had to come out of the experience. I never thought I was a great journalist, and it was time to do the scary thing and write books, which I wanted to do. To my amazement I wrote a book proposal, found an agent, then a publisher, got in touch with Blunt’s trustees, and everyone said yes. It seemed like a miracle, but at that moment I really felt I deserved a bit of good luck. 

Do you have a favourite author?
Oh dear, I hate questions like that. I can never narrow it down. I have lots of writers I admire, non-fictions writers and novelists. Among crime and thriller writers, I admire Agatha Christie, I think at her best she was a kind of genius; I love Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, I admire Michael Connolly, John Harvey, Sophie Hannah, the Australian thriller writer Peter Temple, Lionel Davidson, CJ Sansom, Charles Cumming… the list goes on. 

If you could have written any novel what would it be?
Arghhh, don’t do this to me. Maybe The Moonstone. I would quite like to rewritte The Woman in White and take out the endlessly repeated stuff about the fab female protagonist Marian Halcombe being a dreadfully unloveably plain spinster with a monobrow. I wouldn't mind some of Lee Child's book sales. 

Do you have any peculiar writing habits or quirks?
With two kids, I don’t think I’ve got time for peculiar quirks. I just have to sit down and do it.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished rereading Lionel Davidson’s Kolymsky Heights. I read it when it came out 20 years ago, and it holds up really well. He was a terrific writer for drawing you into the detail of a story. I’m currently reading and really liking Rebecca Hunt’s Everland, about two disastrous Antarctic expeditions a hundred years apart —brilliantly atmospheric. 

Is there another Avery and Blake novel on the cards? If so can you give anything away yet?
Yup – I’m about 70,000 words into the first draft and have to deliver it by Christmas and the thought is making me slightly queasy. It’s about the world of the gentlemen’s clubs and a celebrity chef called Alexis Soyer, a real person, who was part Heston Blumenthal part Jamie Oliver, a genius chef with a genius for self publicity. There’ll be a bit of politics, recreational drug-taking, murder of course, and we should see some more of Matty Horner. 

Have you ever read anything that made you think differently about how you write?
All the time, I constantly read things that make me think, I should do that better, or I ought to think about raising the jeopardy, or how I do the characters. I’m very aware I’m still learning so I take a lot from other writers. 

Do you prefer an E-book or a physical book?
I’ve nothing against E-books, they’re great for travelling, but I think a book is a brilliant piece of technology, and I like to flick back and forth and know how far through I am.

How do you feel when writing about some quite dark crimes? Do you ever need to take any time out to get away from the story whilst writing it?
So far no. But I can imagine that happening. So far I’ve steered clear of crimes against children or women. I often feel they are a cheap way of raising the stakes, but I can’t rule out not having them in the future.

Historical fiction is a genre I love, is it particularly difficult to research and write about and was there anything that led you to this genre (other than a love of history?)
Because I was a historian and researcher before I turned to fiction, for me the research is the fun easy bit. It’s the bit I know I can do, the comfort blanket, the safety net. It’s the plotting I find difficult. I’d always loved genre fiction especially, crime and detective novels, and I do love history and I felt the late 1830s and 40s are a really fascinating decade: the period that Britain (and the world) went from horse to railway, and post to telegraph, and people started talking about the world moving too fast (sound familiar?). It was a time that starts to feel a lot like now, and yet is also very much the strange and distant past. There are lots of worlds within in that I’m looking forward to writing about.

M. J. Carter is a former journalist and the author of The Strangler Vine, the first book in the Blake and Avery series, and two acclaimed works of non-fiction: Anthony Blunt: His Lives and The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and The Road to World War One. She is married with two sons and lives in London.

the Infidel Stain is published by Fig Tree Books on 30th April, Priced £14.99

Thank you to Catherine Ryan Howard and M.J. Carter for allowing me to take part in the Infidel Stain blog tour. 

My Review of the Infidel Stain will follow shortly.

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