Murder on the Minneapolis – the Flora Maguire Mysteries by Anita Davison
I often read how most writers, even established ones, find it hard to change genre. For historical fiction authors this is especially challenging. How difficult is it to switch your author voice into that of another time in history?
Once, I couldn’t imagine writing about anything but 17th Century England. I immersed myself in the history, the clothes, habits, manners and sometimes even the speech of how the court went about its daily business. How they moved from place to place, what they ate, the subjects they talked about over the dinner table and how they functioned in society.
Unfortunately for me, the English Civil War is not the most popular era for historical novel readers, so I decided to try and attract a wider readership and move into a genre I enjoy reading myself –historical cosy mysteries. A sort of Edwardian and much younger Miss Marple.
For inspiration, I trawled through Newspaper reports between 1890 and 1900 in search of atmosphere, current politics and events – you can glean a great deal from newspaper advertisements too, when quite by accident I came across an article published in the New York Times dated December 1899 on which I could base my story.
I then found a fascinating website The Atlantic Transport Line which contained a wealth of information on steamships of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. I chose the SS Minneapolis, an American registered trans-Atlantic steamship whose maiden voyage left New York for London in March 1900.
I found the more I read about the age of ‘Belle Époque’ , the more fascinated I became. Unlike the 17th Century, photographs, maps and even videos exist for this era showing exactly what buildings and streets actually looked like.
When ‘Murder on the Minneapolis’ was accepted for publication, I was asked to reduce the manuscript by several thousand words. I soon discovered that reducing the word count of a story that holds, clues, red-herrings and false trails throughout the manuscript, is incredibly difficult!
Characters tell each other things in the wrong order, recognise people they have not yet met and reveal stuff they shouldn’t know – fortunately my lovely editor pointed the glaring errors I made so I was able to put them right.
Next time – if there is one – I’ll write a shorter story.
I won’t reproduce the newspaper report here, as that would reveal too many clues, however one coincidence I can mention, is that during the WW1 Centenary celebrations this summer, I visited the Tower of London Poppy Installation. Inspired, I decided to delve into fragmented family records including my grandfather’s service record.
Amongst the snippets of information, was one saying that his regiment were sent to France in October 1914 and fought at Ypres. The ship was the SS Minneapolis – something of which I was completely unaware when looking for a steamship on which to base my murder mystery. Cue the ‘Twilight Zone’ music, and for anyone born after 1980, I don’t mean the vampire movie.