Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rhys Bowen Revisited

Rhys Bowen’s mysteries have been nominated for every major mystery award, of which she's won more than a few .She’s written three series: the Constable Evans mysteries, Molly Murphy Mysteries, and a series featuring a minor royal in the author's native England, circa the 1930s. After graduation from London University, she worked for the BBC, specializing in drama. She became studio manager and wrote her own radio and TV plays. She also worked for Australian Broadcasting in Sydney before settling in the San Francisco area.

Rhys, when did you know that you were a writer?

I have been a writer all my life, from making up stories for the family to acting out as a small child onward. By high school I was writing short stories, one of which was broadcast by the BBC. Strangely enough I didn't look upon writing as a career and it was only when I was working in BBC drama that I decided to try and write my own radio and TV plays. After that I've never stopped writing.

Tell us about your first award-winning children's book. Was the setting in your native England?

It was called Peter Penny's Dance, a picture book, illustrated by Anita Lobel (which obviously helped get attention for the book). It was about a sailor who danced around the world. Great fun.

How do you manage to write more than one mystery series simultaneously? Do you have a rigid writing schedule?

I am currently only writing the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness series. Constable Evans is on hold, since the publisher started taking some of the backlist out of print. But yes, I do have a very rigorous schedule, writing two books a year, then finding myself on the road, a lot of speaking and promoting. I try to block off three solid months to actually write a book, but I do lots of research ahead of that, as both series are historical.

Your series characters are diverse. Tell us about them.

Molly Murphy is an Irish immigrant in New York City, turn of the century era. She fled from Ireland in the first book, after accidentally killing the man who tried to rape her. She has led a precarious existence since then as a private detective in New York. Molly is feisty, hot headed and not always prudent in her behavior. But she has a strong sense of justice and often the luck of the Irish! These books are fairly gritty, showing various aspects of New York at the time--the garment industry sweat shops, spiritualists, Coney Island, the theater.

My other current heroine, Lady Georgiana, is also plucky but comes from a very different background. She is a minor royal but her branch of the family is penniless, so she is trying to survive alone in London, during the great depression of the 1930s.

How did you conceive the award-winning series about the penniless girl who's 34th in line to the throne? Is it a humorous mystery?

I wrote it because my editor kept bugging me to write a "big dark stand alone". I decided I didn't want to spend six months with serial killers or child molesters or terrorists so I came up with the most unlikely sleuth I could: a minor royal. And yes, the books are intended to be pure fun. Great therapy for times like these.

How do you feel about the latest downturn in publishing? What kinds of changes do you foresee?

The saddest thing I am noticing is more independent bookstores going out of business. But a spark of good news is that people are apparently reading more fiction. I think publishers will trim their lists, not keep any books that are not making them a good return. It will be tougher to break in and tougher to hang in there. Advances will be smaller for the big guys at the top (which might not be a bad thing).

Advice you would give to fledglings just entering the mystery field?

First know the field you are entering. What does the [latest] mystery look like? Second, your first mystery must come across as something totally new and different and exciting—or a new take on an old theme. You have to wow the editors and agents.

How, in your opinion, does the American mystery novel differ from the British?

It's funny: in the old days the American novel was hardboiled—Chandler, Hammett etc, and the British novel was cozy: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers. Now things are reversed. The cozy novel is alive and well in America but completely dead in England. The current English crime scene is very dark, very violent.

Who are your favorite mystery writers, and who most influenced your own work?

My first influences were the ladies of the golden age in Britain, but then the writer who inspired me to write mysteries was Tony Hillerman. He showed me for the first time that a mystery could be so much more. It could take the reader to other times and places, give insights into other cultures. I read one of his books and thought, "That's what I want to do!"

My favorite writers now: Peter Robinson, Reginald Hill, Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny, Jacqueline Winspear and many more. . . Anything else you would like to talk about?

Rhys Bowen's website URL is:
She also contributes to two blogs: and


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Don't you love it when Rhys says she's "only" writing two series?

And I'd love to know more about how Lady Georgina introduced herself to you...

(and congratulations on LCC! Can wait to see the photos of you in your grass skirt.)

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

Thanks for a great interview. I'm off to the bookstore to find Molly Murphy! Oh - it's still dark outside. Guess I have to wait a few hours.

Helen Ginger said...

The Lady Georgiana book sounds interesting. (All of Rhys' books do, of course, but that one caught my eye.)

Great interview!

Blair said...

Great interview! I met Rhys when I went to a book signing here in San Francisco. where she was appearing with Cara Black (whose Aimee LeDuc mysteries I've discovered in the past year.) Molly Malone was a wonderful new discovery for me. I love the way Rhys combines a light, entertaining voice with some serious themes.