Carmen Radtke, also writing as Caron Albright, is my guest on Books and Wine Gums today. Her latest novel, A Matter of Love and Death, is published by Bombshell Books.
Hi, Carmen. Tell us a little about your novels to date.
I didn’t set out to specifically write historical mysteries, but it somehow happened. Maybe because I am fascinated with both the past and classic mysteries. The Case of a Missing Bride is set in 1862 on a ship en route from Australia to Canada. A Matter of Love and Death is set in Adelaide, Australia, in 1931, during the height of the Great Depression.
Where did your inspiration for A Matter of Love and Death come from?
During my research for The Case of the Missing Bride I was astonished to find out about several bad recessions in Australia, and that for a while the country trailed only Germany in terms of hardship during the Great Depression. Add to that a half-hearted prohibition, strict regulations for women in the workforce, and I had the heart of a novel. Frances is caught between doing the right thing – namely, trying to prevent a possible crime – and keeping quiet and thus protecting her job on which her whole family depends.
How do you set about researching historical details?
First stop is the library, or online research. I’ve read hundreds of pages about Adelaide during the depression, including laws, incidents like the beef riot, frog cakes … Maps are also indispensable. And then there’s my treasured Oxford dictionary of slang, to get the period and location right in the use of idioms.
I’m going to have to google ‘Frog Cakes’! Right – personal writing choice: pen or keyboard?
For notes, pen. For proper writing, keyboard. I’m an ex-reporter, and although my memory for facts is good, my handwriting is not.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Ever since I found out that there was such a thing. Although it took me ages to build up the self-confidence to admit it – it sounded pretentious, especially since most journalists want to write a novel one day.
What is the best part of being an author?
One thing that I love is being able to shine a spotlight on causes I care about, or make sure that some people are not forgotten. My debut novel, The Case of the Missing Bride, was inspired by a true event. A group of poor women on their way to be married to prosperous miners in Canada, vanished during a stopover. Gone, all of them. There was no scenario I could think of that would have included a happy ending for them. These women were so vulnerable (so many still are today), because they were poor, unimportant, and without any well-placed connections. Easy prey. With my novel, I try to keep their memory alive, and to give them a better ending. Well, most of them.
And the worst?
The worst part is some people’s reactions. Putting your work out there invites criticism. Mostly it’s good and constructive, but sometimes you encounter a viciousness that hurts. But on the whole, 99 percent or more of readers and people you chat with online are a pleasure to engage with.
Who are your writing heroes?
Too many to list, but definitely Jane Austen, Bill Bryson, Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose, and why?
Arly Hanks (created by the wickedly funny Joan Hess), because she’s smart, witty, and can handle a gun. Protection! Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse) for his resourcefulness, impeccable manners, and ability to handle sticky situations – it would be fun to see him and Arly together. Sam Vimes (Terry Pratchett) for his decency, cynical outlook on life and dogged determination to do the right thing. Erm, Jeeves can cook, right? Otherwise I’d swap him for Bunter (Dorothy L. Sayers).
In between writing scripts I’m working on a sequel to The Case of the Missing Bride, which hopefully can also be read as a standalone. Steamboats, pack trains, gold, and my brides – how could I resist?
Sounds brilliant! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Carmen!
Carmen has spent most of her life with ink on her fingers and a dangerously high pile of books and newspapers by her side. She has worked as a newspaper reporter on two continents and always dreamt of becoming a novelist and screenwriter. When she found herself crouched under her dining table, typing away on a novel between two earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, she realised she was hooked for life. The shaken but stirring novel made it to the longlist of the Mslexia competition, and her next book and first mystery, The Case Of The Missing Bride, was a finalist in the Malice Domestic competition in a year without a winner.
Carmen was born in Hamburg, Germany, but had planned on emigrating since she was five years old. She first moved to New Zealand and now lives in York, UK, with her daughter, cat, and sometimes her seafaring husband. To make life more interesting, she also writes historical woman’s fiction under pen name Caron Albright. A Matter of Love and Death is her first romantic suspense novel published under her alter ego’s name.