Joanna Challis lives and writes in a colonial house with wrap-around verandas and an English garden in Queensland, Australia, surrounded by family, old paintings, and anything fleur-de-lys. She is the author of several romantic suspense novels (Silverthorn was a finalist for the Romance Writers of Australia's 2004 Romantic Book of the Year) but has recently turned to mystery with Murder on the Cliffs, the first in a new series featuring a young Daphne du Maurier. She's currently on a blog tour and took the time to answer some questions.
IRTM: You live in Queensland, Australia, and Murder on the Cliffs is set around Cornwall in the United Kingdom, which is pretty far apart, roughly 17,000 kilometers or 9,000 nautical miles. Did that make it difficult for you to pin down details about the setting and environs for the book?
JC: It makes travel a necessity. I love Europe, its history and scenery so trips over there have always been part of my life. If I can't travel, then I re-live it through journals, photos, books and the internet is an invaluable tool when one can't travel in person.
IRTM: How did you get the idea of using a young 21-year-old Daphne du Maurier as a protagonist? Somehow, I'm guessing it wasn't the author's novella The Birds that inspired you, or you would have written a horror novel instead. Perhaps more Rebecca?
JC: Rebecca exactly! It's my all-time favorite novel and combines those elements I love the most: history, mystery and a touch of romance. I love the setting too...an old mansion full of secrets by the sea...
IRTM: Your previous novels were mostly in the romance vein, and in fact you were a finalist for the Romance Writers of Australia Ruby Award 2004 with your novel Silverthorn. Although Murder on the Cliffs has some romance included, it's branching off more into the romantic suspense line. Are you edging more towards the mystery genre these days in your writing?
JC: Yes. Silverthorn had the history-romance-mystery mix, the Daphne du Maurier series will have the mystery-history-romance mix (stronger mystery theme). I am trying to keep the overall atmosphere like du Maurier portrayed in Rebecca and each of the Daphne mysteries will inspire her later novels. For the romance side, we have Daphne's love interest (her future husband in real life) featuring and progressing in each book.
IRTM: Thus far, your books have all been historicals. Is this the subgenre you're most comfortable with, and are there any plans for switching back and forth with contemporary settings at some point?
JC: I love historicals. All my favorite books are set in some kind of historical era, though I do enjoy modern mysteries too. As for contemporary settings, I am writing one book on the side, something that's been niggling at me for a few years. It's based on a true story--hopefully my agent can find a home for it one day.
IRTM: Do you find there's more research involved with historical settings than you might otherwise have with contemporary plots? And as side note to that question, did you read a lot of biographical material on du Maurier in order to flesh out her character in your book?
JC: There's definitely more research involved for any historical setting and even more so when using a real life person. I did a great deal of research with Daphne (there are so many differing accounts) that in the end I prefer to use her own words from her book Myself When Young. It shows the young Daphne up until the publication of her first book and marriage to her husband (that is the time period I am using with the Daphne mystery series).
IRTM: The Australian and British (and American too) flavors of the English language can be quite different at times, with sentence construction, vocabulary, spellings, etc. Does it get a bit confusing at times when you're in the middle of putting the words down to keep the dialect consistent?
JC: Sometimes. I realized I turned in book #2 to my publisher with the English / Australian spelling and quickly changed it. As my heritage is Welsh, I grew up reading predominantly British authors and at school we used British textbook material. I believe my voice is more British-English as a result.
IRTM: You're working on the second book in the Daphne du Maurier series. Is there a release date for that and are there other installments lined up for the future?
JC: Peril at Somner House will come out in 2010. No official month yet but I suspect later in the year. Presently, I am upon the third Daphne mystery and if the series goes well, I have plenty more mysteries for Daphne to solve.
IRTM: And last but not least, is vegemite really a food?
JC: Vegemite is my friend. I take it with me when I travel...I think it's a food -- lots of salt and plenty of B vitamins. It's one of those things you grow up with and can never shake.
Joanna Challis is giving away a signed copy of her book, Murder on the Cliffs, to one blog tour visitor. Go to Joanna's book tour page, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 6931, for your chance to win. Entries from "In Reference to Murder" will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on Joanna's book tour page next week.