When I was reading The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber, a murder mystery novel set in the highlands of Scotland in the 1800s, I fell in love with the characters and the story and waited as patiently as I could for the sequel Mortal Arts. The sequel didn’t disappoint and now the third in the series, A Grave Matter is about to be released. In order to celebrate this I interviewed author Anna Lee Huber and while there are any massive spoilers there are details from the first two books.
I love this interview and it’s after the cut – enjoy!
Also, at the end of the interview there are all the details on Anna’s launch event for A Grave Matter, an event which looks like it is going to be amazing.
I find Lady Kiera an unusual character (in a brilliant way) – she has more knowledge than many women had in the 1830s, yet in some instances she behaves as women were expected to. This adds an element of realism to her, something which many fictional heroines lack. Did you find it difficult to strike this balance?
Yes. I have tried very hard to make Kiera as real to the times as possible, only consciously altering her behavior from the norm when it serves the story to do so. Because I write a mystery series in which the main sleuth is female, set it in a time when women, especially gentlewomen, were not encouraged or allowed to take on such rolls, there is certainly going to be an element of unavoidable anachronism. I try to do my best to make up for this by motivating Kiera and the other characters sufficiently so that their unorthodox decisions seem believable. It also helps to remember that the truth of history is often very different from what we’re led to believe. There have always been exceptions to the rule, just as there are today. But it’s important to keep in mind that a character’s behavior cannot be exceptional without consequences.
She is extraordinary in a very ordinary way. Was this a conscious decision? Where did the inspiration for her come from?
Definitely. I wanted my readers to not only be able to believe that Kiera really existed, but also feel that they could be her. A character who is super human and extraordinary is far less inspiring than someone who is ordinary and simply using the gifts they’ve been given to the best of their abilities. That’s something we can all aspire to.
As far as inspiration, honestly I just wanted to write a character I could truly relate to. As much as I love to read other historical mystery series with their self-confident, socially-aware, well-dressed heroines, I’m always conscious that I would never be able to step into their shoes. I would feel awkward and unsure, just like Kiera.
I love that Lady Kiera is a skilled artist. Of course in Anatomist’s Wife we learn about her past and how her husband forced her to use her skills, while in Mortal Arts we learn more about the nurturing and development of her talent. Her painting is obviously very important to her. What inspired you to make her an artist?
I’m a musician, so the idea of writing a somewhat eccentric artist of some kind appealed to me. I decided to make Kiera a portrait artist because it played into my desire to give her a set of skills that would enable her to not only assist, but be a true asset to an investigation. A gifted portrait artist would have a keen eye for observation, certainly of people, and at least a rudimentary understanding of anatomy. Crafting her backstory as I did only built on that.
The third book in the series, A Grave Matter is out in July 2014. In the previous two books she and society are coming to terms with her past and what she had to do. What can we expect from A Grave Matter in terms of Lady Kiera’s character development?
At the end of Mortal Arts, Kiera suffers a huge setback, and as A Grave Matter opens she is still struggling to deal with it and the consequences from it. In some ways it has affected her more deeply than even her late husband’s actions. She’s also learning to confront some emotions she’s buried down deep, understanding that if she doesn’t let them out she’ll never heal. And finally she’s overcoming her fears of intimacy, and facing the ultimate question: is she willing to take a chance on Gage? Without revealing any spoilers, I can say that there are some significant developments in A Grave Matter.
One of the first things I remember thinking about Sebastian Gage when we were introduced to him was that he physically didn’t fit into the historical fiction hero mould. He is neither dark haired nor has a ‘swarthy’ complexion (a word I am not all that fond of). Why did you choose to do this? Where did you inspiration for Gage come from?
I wanted Gage to be different from all of those delicious dark-haired heroes. I wanted him to stand out, and part of my way of doing that was by making his physical attributes the opposite of what is expected. His looks also play into his public persona of the golden boy. It’s easy for him to fool most people into not looking past his angelic looks and the devilish twinkle in his eye. I’m not sure what directly inspired him. As with most of my characters, they usually just spring from my imagination. I suppose I was looking for the perfect foil for Kiera. Much of his backstory is still vague. I crafted him that way on purpose, so that I can discover him as Kiera does. However, his actions are always done with intention. Much of what baffles readers in one book will be explained in the next.
Together Lady Keira and Gage work really well together after the initial mistrust on both sides. Can you give us any hint as to what will happen between them in A Grave Matter? Do you already have an ending for the two of them planned at the end of the series or is it still open to change?
I hate to give away spoilers, but there are significant developments made in their relationship in A Grave Matter. Readers who enjoy the romantic aspect of my novels will be pleased to hear that. I’ve made it no secret that the relationship between Kiera and Gage will continue throughout the series. I have no plans to pull the rug out from everyone. I don’t normally enjoy it when writers do that, so I won’t do it myself. That doesn’t mean everything will ever run smoothly, but readers can rest assured that Gage will be sticking around.
Both Anatomist’s Wife and Mortal Arts are tightly plotted novels which left me as the reader guessing and speculating until the denouement. Do you plot your novels meticulously before you start or can vital elements of the story change as you write?
I do plot my novels—when writing a mystery novel it would be hard not to—but I like to leave myself the freedom to make changes if necessary. Sometimes inspiration strikes, and sometimes the scene I have planned just don’t seem right once I get into it. Most of the time the alterations are relatively minor, but I did make some significant changes to the endings of Mortal Arts and A Grave Matter.
Your supporting characters are extremely well thought out and rounded. Is it easier for you to create these secondary characters as opposed to the main protagonists?
In some cases, yes. It’s almost as if they walk out of my imagination and onto the page fully-formed. However I also take care to make sure none of them feel like they’ve come from central casting. I want them to be as real and well thought out as Kiera and Gage, even if they only appear in one scene. This can take a lot of time.
Many authors choose London as a setting for their historical crime novels – what made you choose Scotland? Was this country always where you wanted the books to be set?
I’m captivated by Scotland and have always wanted to set a novel there. When I realized that the plot I had planned for The Anatomist’s Wife would require an isolated location, I knew it was the perfect opportunity. I’m drawn to beautiful, rugged, isolated landscapes, and Scotland has those in abundance. Even Edinburgh, the setting for Book 4, though not isolated, has a lonely, melancholy charm. I have plans to take Kiera and Gage to London, because of something that historically happened there, but not for several more books down the line. I’m enjoying playing with new settings too much to confine myself to one location.
I know that your publishers have signed you for books four and five in The Lady Darby Series. Is that what you are currently working on?
I am working on Lady Darby Book 4, but I am also writing a Gothic suspense novel that I hope will be the first in a series of interconnected books. It’s set in the Norfolk Broads during the Regency period and explores a bit of folklore I find fascinating.
Thank you Anna!
To celebrate the launch of A Grave Matter Anna is hosting a massive online release party with 26 guest authors and 25 guest authors. All the details can be found here. The amazingness starts tomorrow with Julie Anne Lindsey followed by Cindy Thomas and Christine Trent and continues until the 1st of July. If you like the sound of author chats and giveaways then join!