♥ Blurb ♥
♥ Author Information ♥
Formerly a journalist, Fiona Veitch Smith has written books, theatre plays and screenplays. She is best known though for her novels and children’s picturebooks. ‘The Jazz Files’ is the first novel in her mystery series, Poppy Denby Investigates, and is set in 1920s London. It has been shortlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger Award, 2016. Book 2, The Kill Fee, sees Poppy continue to investigate murders and mysteries in the Jazz Age. Published by Lion Fiction.
Her ‘Young David Picturebook’ series (illustrated by Amy Barnes Warmington) is based on the Biblical character of King David when he was a young boy, and her Young Joseph Picturebook series (illustrated by Andy Catling) is about the life of Joseph of the technicoloured coat fame. Published by SPCK.
Her standalone novel, ‘The Peace Garden’, is a romantic thriller set in England and South Africa, published by Crafty Publishing.
She lives with her husband, daughter and two dogs in Newcastle upon Tyne where she lectures in media and scriptwriting at the local universities. She has a passion for cheesecake, Pilates and playing the clarinet – preferably not at the same time!
♥ Character Spotlight ♥
- How do your characters begin in your writing process? Do you have an incline for a name or you know how you want them to look?
My characters usually appearto me in ‘visions’. Not out of bodyexperiences but rather imaginative, creative daydreaming. I ‘see’ my charactersin my mind’s eye and then follow them for a while to see what they say and do.The first time I ‘saw’ my character Poppy Denby was at King’s Cross Station. Ihad a flash of a young woman in the early 1920s, struggling with her trunk downthe platform. I could see what she wore and what she was doing. And then Ilistened in to her as she spoke to a press photographer at the WWI WarMemorial. I did know that I was going to write a book about a young femalereporter sleuth, but I didn’t have an idea of who she was until I ‘saw’ herthat first time. It was the same with her best friend Delilah. Again, I knew Iwanted to have an eccentric flapper character who would be a foil to Poppy’smore sensible approach to life, but I didn’t know what she was like until I‘saw’ her for the first time. She was standing on a bandstand singing and it was only then that I knew she was an exotic, dark-haired, petite Maltese woman. And I didn’t know her name either until she opened her mouth and said: “Hello,my name’s Delilah.” I thought: Delilah! What a fantastic name! And it stuck.
Poppy’s editor Rollo was a visual surprise to me. I was writing the chapter where Poppy was going for a job interview at The Daily Globe. She approached the door and I saw the name ‘Rollo Rolandson’ on it. Up until that point I didn’t know what he was going to be called. And when she knocked, I listened to his reply and it came back with an American accent. Again, until then I didn’t know he was going to be American. And finally, she walked into the office and as he stood to greet her, that’s when I, and Poppy, saw that he was a dwarf. My characters don’t always present themselves to me like that, but the best ones seem to. It’s as if they are just waiting in my imagination to be ‘activated’ and brought to life. In my slightly madder moments I wonder if they’ve been pre-created just for me to find.
- How do you choose your names?
My characters usually tell me
their names. Or sometimes something just drops into my head. This is what
happened with Poppy; although she wasn’t called Poppy at the beginning. When I
first thought of writing a 1920s murder mystery about a reporter sleuth, the
name Daisy Denby dropped into my head. Denby was the name of a friend of mine’s
deceased cat. I’m not sure why it dropped into my head, but it did – with the
forename Daisy attached. I liked the name and thought it was appropriate to the
period, suggesting a quirky, fun character. But after a while I became
concerned that she might be confused with another 1920s female sleuth, Daisy
Dalrymple. So I asked a group of writer friends for other suggestions. There
were about six names put forward, but Poppy was the one that jumped out at me.
By that time ‘Daisy’ had already started to take form, so I knew who she was,
and Poppy was the name that suited her the most. Apart from that, there was the
association of poppies and the Great War, which plays a big part in the books.
- Which character is your favourite to write?
I have two: Poppy and Rollo.
I love writing Poppy because she is the person I spend most of my time with
(just as well I like her!). She is kind, compassionate, intelligent and
inquisitive. She also has some insecurities, which make her all the more human.
Poppy is the character who guides me through the story and I always trust that
she will get me from beginning to end. I can relax when I write Poppy. Rollo,
however, is the most fun to write. He is funny, irreverent, brave and
insightful. He makes me laugh. He always does the unexpected and keeps me on my
toes. So while Poppy is in some ways like a comfortable pair of slippers (in
writing terms) Rollo is a wild card. The two of them together keep my creative
process simultaneously grounded and challenged.
- Which character is the hardest to write?
Daniel, Poppy’s boyfriend. It
took me a long time to actually ‘see’ him and I have to work hard to keep him
in my mind’s eye. I think I have managed to flesh him out and get to know him
(I’ve had no complaints from readers in that respect) but he did not come any
way as easily as Poppy and Rollo. I think perhaps because he is not a point of
view character, so I don’t spend time inside his head, like I do with Poppy. Although
Rollo isn’t a point of view character either… so maybe that’s not it. I’m not
sure, really, why…
- Are any of your characters based on a real-lifeperson?
Rollo is to some extent based
on Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, a forward thinking editor in
the 1840s and 50s who enabled a number of female journalists to break into the
profession. He, like Rollo, was a supporter of women. Rollo’s physique and
personality however, are all his own (although there is a little bit of Danny
DeVito about him). Although I didn’t realise it when I first started writing
her, I have come to realise that Poppy is in some ways based on me. I too was a
female journalist working on both arts stories and crime. Poppy’s journalistic
curiosity is very much my own. So too is her passion for justice and dis-ease
with her evangelical Christian upbringing.
Readers of my books will also know that I often have real-life
historical characters who appear as cameos. In my most recent book, The
Cairo Brief, Emmeline Pankhurst, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife Jean,
and the archaeologist Howard Carter all have small roles to play.
- Lastly, if you could have dinner with one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
I think it would be Poppy. But not as she is now (in her early 20s), rather in thirty years from now, when she’s got some living under her belt. I would love to find out what becomes of her and hear about her future adventures. I think she will grow out of her insecurities and become a phenomenal journalist and woman who will mentor and help other women to get ahead in the profession.
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