04-30-2013 01:29 AM
We have a double feature for the rest of this week. This will be NICOLA UPSON's first visit to B&N's Mystery Forum. Please give her a big welcome!
Her website is here: http://www.nicolaupson.com/nicola_upson/index.html
Nicola Upson was born in Suffolk and read English at Downing College, Cambridge. She was the winner of an Escalator/Arts Council England award in 2006 for her debut novel, An Expert in Murder, the first in a series of books to feature Golden Age detective writer, Josephine Tey. In 2008, the novel was published by Faber to wide critical acclaim, and praised by PD James as marking ‘the arrival of a new and assured talent’.
An Expert in Murder was dramatised by BBC Scotland for Woman’s Hour, and has been followed by three more novels: Angel With Two Faces; Two for Sorrow; and most recently Fear in the Sunlight (2012), described by The Financial Times as ‘a smart, playful pleasure in an increasingly adventurous series’. The fifth ‘Josephine Tey’ novel, The Death of Lucy Kyte, will be published by Faber in August 2013.
Nicola is the author of a number of non-fiction books, including Mythologies: the Sculpture of Helaine Blumenfeld (Overlook Press). She has worked in theatre and as a freelance journalist, with five years as crime fiction critic for the New Statesman, and is a regular contributor to BBC radio. She lives with her partner in Cambridge and Cornwall, and is currently writing the sixth book in the Josephine Tey series, and researching a standalone novel.
Photograph of Nicola courtesy of Julia Hedgecoe
04-30-2013 01:31 AM
Josephine Tey: Fact and fiction
'To write fiction about historic fact is very nearly impermissible’ wrote Gordon Daviot in her 1952 novel, The Privateer – so I can only imagine what Daviot, whose real name was Elizabeth MacKintosh but who is now best-known as the crime writer Josephine Tey, would have thought to a series of books which recreate her as a fictional character in the genre that we still love her for. Fiction, though, is a wonderful medium through which to explore a woman who was fascinated by identity and who played so successfully with her own; who lived a life of intriguing contrasts, split between the self-contained community of Inverness, where she was born and lived most of her life, and the ambitious backdrop of London’s West End, where she numbered among her friends some of the biggest stage and screen stars of the day; and who has infuriated aspiring biographers – which is how I began – by obscuring all but the bare bones of her life. And as Tey herself proved in her most famous novel, The Daughter of Time, fiction is also a powerful way of reinterpreting the past, of vindicating someone who has been wronged by history – and Tey has, in a sense, been dealt an injustice: her work, though loved by those who know it, is still woefully underrated in comparison with her contemporaries; and interpretations of her life, which so often portray her as a victim of circumstance, called home after her mother’s death to look after her father and forced to find refuge in her writing, tell only half a story.
An Expert in Murder is a blend of fact and fiction, set in London in 1934 – just as the first major success of MacKintosh's professional life was drawing to a close. Richard of Bordeaux, the play which – as Daviot – she wrote for John Gielgud after seeing him at the Old Vic, was the toast of the West End for over a year. It ran for 463 performances at the New Theatre – now the Noel Coward Theatre – in St Martin’s Lane, took more than £100,000 at the box office, and acquired the popularity of a blockbuster movie: people went 30 or 40 times to see it; commemorative portrait dolls were produced; and it transformed Gielgud from a brilliant young actor into a commercial star overnight. Bordeaux provided a unique moment of theatrical history which gave its author artistic and financial freedom, as well as some of the most important and enduring friendships of her life, but the overall experience was not entirely positive: fame was unwelcome, particularly in Inverness, and, according to Gielgud, she was subject to unfair accusations of plagiarism which hurt her deeply. Those personal dilemmas, together with a social backdrop which mixes the glamour of the stage with the aftermath of the Great War, are an irresistible setting for a fictional murder.
As Daviot, MacKintosh wrote many other plays and four novels, all of which enjoyed a certain amount of success in their day, but it is the work she created as Josephine Tey which ultimately proved more popular, a fact acknowledged by the author with a certain amount of reluctance: ‘I have the oddest feeling of disloyalty to Daviot,’ she wrote to a friend in 1950. ‘Like turning down a faithful lover.’ The name, which she took from her Suffolk great-great-grandmother, first appeared in 1936 with the publication ofA Shilling for Candles (filmed by Hitchcock as Young and Innocent) but it came into its own in the years immediately following the second world war, with six books which included The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar as well as The Daughter of Time. In that brief period, between 1946 and her death in 1952, Tey expanded and enriched the nature of crime fiction – not through ingenious puzzles and reassuring endings, and sadly not through a vast output of work, but by creating – in Inspector Grant – a credible detective whose compassion, intelligence and professionalism paved the way for Adam Dalgliesh and the next generation; by the originality of her settings and a strong sense of place; and, most importantly, by concentrating – in a very modern way – on the aftermath of criminal activity. More than any of her contemporaries, Tey has made it possible for us to write books which can treat crime as an entertainment without forgetting its painful reality.
With a bereavement in the first world war and the early death of her mother, Tey had her fair share of unhappiness, but no woman of her generation – forced to live through two devastating world conflicts – could have remained immune to tragedy. Having to return home before she was thirty, and abandoning a career as a physical training instructress may, at first, have felt like a sacrifice, but the success of her writing and a number of shrewd investments soon guaranteed that her independence would never be an issue, and she enjoyed a rare and enviable freedom. She was a frequent visitor to London, where she stayed at her Club and was sought-after company, and travelled often in Europe; even her Inverness life, so often portrayed as one long round of duty and domesticity, was lived on her own terms: ‘I found that the “going out to tea” business would leave me no life of my own at all if I didn’t do something drastic,’ she admitted frankly in a letter. ‘So I decided to go nowhere… This was held to be slightly queer – in those days no one knew that I “wrote” and so I had no right to be queer – but it has worked out very well in practice.”
Elizabeth MacKintosh died of cancer at the age of just 55. In typically evasive style, she managed to slip away in February, while the rest of the world was mourning George VI; hidden among a nation’s grief for its king and the pomp of a royal funeral, the notice of her death and the modest obituary which followed are easy to miss. Her loss was a shock to her friends, most of whom had no idea she was even ill; it filtered through to them gradually, via Gielgud, who read about it in the evening paper during a matinee of The Winter’s Tale, but she left no personal messages and contacted no one. She died at her sister’s house in Surrey, and her funeral was the first and only time that her two lives came together.
Bringing such a complex and likeable woman to life through fiction is both a challenge and a joy. An Expert in Murder, Angel With Two Faces and the books that follow will, I hope, create a truthful account of Tey’s life as she grows older, drawing on interviews with her friends and colleagues, including Gielgud, and reflecting the woman that emerges so strongly from her books and her letters: warm, funny, difficult, fallible, infuriatingly independent, and yet – as one tribute so beautifully put it – a grand friend to have. While she was obliging enough to live through years that any novelist would happily embrace as a backdrop, these are not just period novels; had she lived, Elizabeth MacKintosh would, no doubt, have loved the sixties, relished the opportunities offered by developments in film and television, and continued to surprise with her books; even though her career was cut short, she remains a very modern voice – a daughter not just of her own time, but of ours. And as for the idea of starring in her own novel – she might have liked it or she might not but, to paraphrase the dedication of her very first novel, Kif, she would have been pleased – pleased, at least, that her work continues to interest and inspire. And, in my own defence, she did say nearlyimpermissible.
04-30-2013 01:34 AM
04-30-2013 01:35 AM
Summer 1936. Mystery writer Josephine Tey joins her friends in the resort village of Portmeirion, Wales, to celebrate her fortieth birthday. Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, are there to sign a deal to film Josephine's novel, A Shilling for Candles. But things get out of hand when one of Hollywood's leading actresses is brutally slashed to death in a cemetery near the village. The following day, as fear and suspicion take over in a setting where nothing—and no one—is quite what it seems, Chief Inspector Archie Penrose becomes increasingly unsatisfied with the way the investigation is ultimately resolved. Several years later, another horrif ic murder, again linked to a Hitchcock movie, drives Penrose back to the scene of the original crime to uncover the shocking truth.
04-30-2013 01:38 AM
04-30-2013 11:35 AM - edited 04-30-2013 11:36 AM
Hi, Nicola, I'm not familiar with your books but have read a couple of books by Josephine Tey, notably Daughters of Time. I'll have to check into your books and read them. Thanks for being here today.
04-30-2013 12:52 PM
04-30-2013 06:40 PM
Hello Becke and the B&N Mystery Forum! It's really good to be here, and thank you for such a lovely welcome. Very much looking forward to chatting over the next few days, about my books and about Josephine Tey, so ask away! Nicola xx
Welcome, Nicola! Sorry I'm late - I babysit for my granddaughter during the day, and today she was determined not to take a nap!
Anyway, I discovered your books fairly recently and was very excited to learn about this series. I've been a Josephine Tey fan since way back, and the premise for your series intrigued me. It seems like it would make a great PBS series. Have you been approached about that?
04-30-2013 06:45 PM
I hope you don't mind if I bombard you with a few questions.
I LOVE Josephine Tey, but I'm curious - what made you decide to choose Josephine Tey rather than another author from that period?
What are some of the difficulties basing a series on a real person?
On your website, there's a note that you're researching a stand-alone book. Can you tell us anything about that?
Also, can you give us any hints about THE DEATH OF LUCY KYTE, which is scheduled for release later this year?
04-30-2013 08:54 PM
Welcome, Nicola! I have read and enjoyed An Expert in Murder, and have Angel with Two Faces on the shelf to be read. I am just starting to discover Josephine Tey's mysteries, and have read two so far. Thank you for the article on her that Becke posted above!
Grand Dame of the Land of Oz, Duchess of Fantasia, in the Kingdom of Wordsmithonia; also, Poet Laureate of the Kingdom of Wordsmithonia
05-01-2013 12:00 AM
Nicola - We've featured Josephine Tey's books here before, but you're an expert on her work. Here are links to the previous discussions - feel free to add comments to these threads if you want.
05-01-2013 10:13 AM
05-01-2013 10:54 AM
Hello again Becke. No problem. Your granddaughter would obviously rather be reading than napping - sensible girl!
I'm a bit late signing in myself today, but it's been the first true summer's day here in England, and I've been out in the garden researching the next book. I love that stage of the novels, when you're not tied to a computer or worried about a deadline, and you can just go with the weather.
I'm thrilled that you think my books would make a good PBS series. I haven't been approached yet, but I'm sure my agent would love to hear from them! It's a funny business, handing your work over to another medium, particularly here because Josephine is based on a real woman, and I've only experienced it on radio so far - but I'd love the books to be dramatised and brought to life on screen. We have an actress here called Maxine Peake - you've probably seen her in some English dramas - and she would make a brilliant Josephine, even though physically she's nothing like the real person.
So now you've whetted my appetite, I'm dying to know who everyone thinks should play Josephine Tey - and my detective, Archie Penrose - on screen?
05-01-2013 11:13 AM
I hope you don't mind if I bombard you with a few questions.
Not at all, Becke, and I'll answer them in separate posts.
1. I LOVE Josephine Tey, but I'm curious - what made you decide to choose Josephine Tey rather than another author from that period?
It was always Tey that interested me, rather than the idea of writing a novel about a real writer. I fell for her about 20 years ago, when I first read The Franchise Affair. It seemed so different from other Golden Age fiction, and felt fresh and modern. And it was such a complex book: in some ways, it's a nostalgic picture of an England that is forever lost - you pick it up, and by the time you're half way down the first page, you can feel the sun on your face; but it's also dark and way ahead of its time.
More than anything, though, I loved that wry, perceptive, and genuinely unique voice that comes out so strongly from her prose; quite simply, I wanted to get to know her better. I started by researching a biography of her, and I was fascinated to discover that she had another successful career as a playwright. I worked in theatre at the time, and it's still a great passion, so that intrigued me, as did the way she compartmentalised her lives: as Elizabeth Mackintosh in Scotland; as Gordon Daviot in London and to her close friends; and as Josephine Tey to the thousands of people who love her crime writing to this day.
But she rolled the carpet of her personal life up very carefully behind her, and the biography idea was frustrated (at that time) by a lack of information. That was when my partner said to me 'Oh, for God's sake, make it up'! I’d never written fiction and wasn’t sure at all that I could do it, but it seemed such a wonderful idea - to be able to look at her life and the years she lived through in a series of novels rather than just one book. So I gave it a go. Now, I love giving her a fictional life, but I owe it all to a battered green and white Penguin edition of The Franchise Affair, and a moment of inspiration from my partner.
05-01-2013 11:35 AM
dulcinea3 wrote: I have read and enjoyed An Expert in Murder, and have Angel with Two Faces on the shelf to be read. I am just starting to discover Josephine Tey's mysteries, and have read two so far. Thank you for the article on her that Becke posted above!
Hello! So pleased that you enjoyed Expert, and relieved to hear that you're a fan of real people in fiction! I think you either love that or hate it, and I've had a couple of pretty strong reactions the other way, so it's nice to meet someone who's read so much of that genre. I must check out the Charlotte Bronte one! I think my favourite - although it's not quite the same thing but a development of that idea - is PD James' Death Comes to Pemberley.
I first started the novels about twelve years ago (it's lovely; you can take as long as you like with the first one!), and it felt quite risky then, partly because it wasn't as popular as it is today, but also because although Tey isn't as widely known as Christie or Sayers, the people who love her REALLY love her, and rightly so, and I worried about what they would think. I'm really pleased that I've had a lot of Tey fans loving my books, though, and some people who come to her for the first time through her appearances as a fictional character, and that's special, too.
But I'm afraid I can't help you with a name for the genre. Your idea of 'author-as-sleuth' is as good as you get, I think - it sums it up perfectly.
Very envious that you still have some Josephine Tey novels to discover for the first time! Which have you read? If The Franchise Affair isn't one of them, go for that next - you'll love it.
05-01-2013 11:42 AM
becke davis wrote:
Are you doing a book tour for your new release? Will you be doing any Barnes & Noble book signings?
Sadly, not this time - but hope to see you before too long. I'll be doing a number of events in the UK over the summer, which I'll post on my website soon, including one in Tey's home town of Inverness - that always makes me a liitle nervous as her relationship with the town was a little ambivalent, but they gave me a very warm welcome last time and it's special to be there!
So if anyone is in Britain later in the year, come and say hello!
05-01-2013 04:11 PM - edited 05-01-2013 04:31 PM
The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte
Thanks for your reply, Nicola! I just realized that I left out another of my favorite 'author-as-sleuth' series - the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert. I thought I was missing something! I also have one featuring Dashiell Hammett, which I haven't read yet. The Charlotte Bronte mystery by Laura Joh Rowland was excellent. I loved the depictions of Charlotte's siblings, especially Emily. She has written a second novel in the series, but when I read that it takes place after the death of Charlotte's siblings, I was a bit disappointed and haven't read it yet. I have not yet read James' book on Pemberley, but I am sure it is excellent. If you liked that, and haven't read them yet, I would also highly recommend Carrie Bebris' Mr. and Mrs. Darcy series. In my opinion, she really gets the characters and general feel very well, and is very skillful at mixing the characters from different Austen novels.
I can't say that I always am a fan of real people in fiction. I don't care for historical fiction, because in that case, they are taking real history and often distorting or outright fabricating it. I did read a couple of mysteries in a series featuring Elizabeth Tudor as the sleuth, but I didn't really buy her acting the way she did in the books. However, in the case of authors as sleuths, where the whole story is obviously made up, I find it delightful, provided that the character of the author is believable in context with their real life. I have mentioned this type of mystery in some discussion groups, and have found that many mystery fans are unaware of it. Hopefully, I have gotten a few interested!
The first Josephine Tey novel I read was The Daughter of Time. As a matter of fact, it was waaaaay back when I first joined this group, and they were about to do it as a group read. I am very interested in that period in British history, so I was quite curious. More recently, I read To Love and Be Wise, which I enjoyed very much. After reading your biographical note on Tey above, I now can see that that was set in a world that Tey was very familiar with - actors, authors, playwrights, etc. I can imagine Tey attending parties such as that which opens the novel! I also have Hitchcock's movie Young and Innocent, which I was interested to note in the credits is based on A Shilling for Candles, although I haven't read the book and don't know how close the movie is.
I just checked, and I do actually have The Franchise Affair in an old anthology that Becke sent me. After your recommendation, now I'm excited! So many books, so little time...
Grand Dame of the Land of Oz, Duchess of Fantasia, in the Kingdom of Wordsmithonia; also, Poet Laureate of the Kingdom of Wordsmithonia
05-01-2013 05:56 PM
I have two of your books "Expert In Murder and Two for Sorrow". I will have to pick up these to complete the series. Now I have to get busy and start reading them.
05-01-2013 07:15 PM
It's the same here - the weather this week is the first spring-like weather we've had. Daffodils are blooming, and a few brave souls have even been swimming in Lake Michigan! (I think the water temperature is still pretty cold.) My granddaughter is almost 9 months old, so she and I went for a walk around the lakefront earlier. Too nice to stay inside!
I can definitely see Maxine Peake as Josephine:
I think Archie should be played by a British actor - someone we may have seen in "character" parts, but not someone who is real well known here in the States. Hmmm. This is going to be tricky!