Author of the highly successful Mercia Blakewood novels, a series of 17th century historical crime books, David Hingley talks me through his work and how he creates the fascinating characters and plots that have made his novels so popular.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards historical crime fiction?
My debut series of novels centre around Mercia Blakewood, my determined 17th century protagonist. Written from her point of view, we’re always in her presence or in her head, and so the style, and particularly her dialogue, must reflect much of her character: a tenacious seeker of justice. But the style also reflects the different moods throughout the books, at times light, at times brutal, but always, I hope, enjoyable to read. Why historical crime? Simply because that’s a genre I’ve always enjoyed myself – Sansom, Davis and so on. I love the combination of fascinating characters, twisting plots, and historical learning.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?
I’m from the English Midlands, but I’ve been fairly itinerant in my life. Most recently I lived in New York, passing three years in Manhattan before returning to England last year. That’s one reason Birthright, my debut novel, concludes in New York, at the time the city was founded (or rather, taken from the Dutch). I’ve wanted to write a book since I was very young, but I don’t draw all that much on my past while writing, other than in the naming: Mercia is, of course, also the name of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Midlands, and some of the characters dotted about the books take their names from places I know.
How important is historical accuracy in your works and how do you go about ensuring this?
This is a crucial question. For me, the most important thing about any story is just that – the story. This is fiction, after all, and I would call myself a storyteller first and foremost. That’s not to say I don’t do a lot of research for the books, because I do (a lot!), and a vast amount of historical detail brings period colour to Mercia’s adventures, in terms of the real-life characters I write, or the descriptions of the places, or the little snippets about events and daily life. Conversely, I try not to get too hung up on writing dialogue in the exact way it would have sounded, as I think that can impede the flow of understanding, although I take great pains to avoid anachronistic words. I love history; I try to ensure it supports the fiction rather than distract from it.
Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?
So far I’ve written two books in the Mercia Blakewood series, with a third underway. Birthright sees her travel to London and then across the ocean on a mission for the King, in the hope of regaining her stolen inheritance. Puritan takes place while she is meant to be resting after the events of Birthright, but a serial killer is on the loose in New England and her acute sense of justice compels her to stay to solve the crimes, perhaps at the expense of her own well-being. I think people who like the books do so because they enjoy an absorbing story that, hopefully, makes them want to keep reading. And I know she’s my creation, but Mercia is very much the star of the show. I hope readers enjoy spending time with her and sympathising about her plight.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
I suppose my inspiration comes mostly from within. I start with a broad idea and gradually, over a period of months, hone in on the detail. I describe it as a bit like the work of a classical sculptor – you start off with a featureless block, but then you work at the material until the general shape is formed, and then take your time to chisel at the fine detail until one day you are done.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
It would have to be JRR Tolkien. I adore his fantasies – in fact, I went to the same school as Tolkien attended in Birmingham – and what an honour it would be to help finish off the tales he left uncompleted, or to write the next phase in the history of Middle Earth after the One Ring is destroyed. I remember picking up The Hobbit when I was about 8 or 9 and being captivated by it. The imagination needed to create the mythology of Middle Earth is staggering.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
As well as the third novel in the Mercia Blakewood series, I’m going to start releasing a few short stories about a different character set in the same time period, mid-1660s London, available on my website later this year. I’ll be writing these in the first person and the protagonist will be male. I also have an idea for something set within the action of Birthright, to be released in a real-time kind of way over a period of weeks. More anon!
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
I’m so immersed in writing the third Mercia book at the moment that I haven’t thought about my own reading pleasure of late! But it’s important for my own sanity to avoid spending all my time in the past. For new authors especially, I’d recommend checking out Goldsboro Books – their website always features a wide range of debut novelists across several genres.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just to say thank you for asking me to take part in this interview and good luck with the future of your blog! Should anybody wish to know more about me, or more importantly about Mercia and news about my stories and books, my Twitter handle is @dhingleyauthor and my website is davidhingley.com.
Thanks ever so much to David for taking the time to answer my questions; it’s been fascinating.