Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It definitely lights a fire under me when I have a tale which wants to come out. I can sometime stay up until 3-4am if I have to finish a scene. At other times I can agonize over a phrase or sentence and before I know it the day has gone and I’ve only written a paragraph. I miss it when I can’t write.
What is your writing Kryptonite
Emotional upset for sure. My last book took me a year to write as I was distracted by my husband being injured in an accident and my mother-in-law passing away from a long illness. I was very lucky to have a lovely mother-in-law. She is sorely missed.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I kinda do. I write under my married name and feature on social media under my maiden name for social interactions. I also write under initials. I don’t hide my gender, but it’s not immediately obvious when you look at the book cover.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’ve met many wonderful people on this journey and I’ve found them to be an incredibly generous and open community. I’d really encourage new writers to reach out and make contact. Not only will you find that they share resources, but you’ll probably make all kinds of new friends too. There are too many to mention but Kit Prate and Joanie Chevalier deserve a special mention. Both have been so supportive and inspiring to a brand new writer and have gone the extra mile in helping me cross over so many barriers. Kit introduced me to her publisher after reading my work, and helped me out of the slush pile. Joanie helped to point me towards the various groups which help a new writer with marketing and publicity. Not only that but she actually made up some advertising material and told me to ‘get my swag on.’ I was being far too Scottish—reticent and unwilling to look like I was bragging by saying my book was good. Both ladies have been incredible and I can’t thank them enough. Read their books and you’ll soon see how lucky I was to be assisted by them.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
‘The Innocents’ is definitely meant to be part of a larger body of work. It’s the first of a trilogy, but if people like them there’s plenty of scope to keep them going. I would still continue with each book being a self-contained mystery with the larger universe of the characters providing an over-arching connection between the books. The third book is written and at editing stage, but there are plenty of trials I can still put the characters through yet.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
So far it’s been on editing. I’ve learned so much from every bit of feedback given to me and I they all go towards making me better writer. That said there’s been free advice from other writers. As a newcomer to the writing community I have found great generosity of spirit and so many people have shared some of their valuable time to help me. I’ll be very happy to pay that forward. On another note I have just spent some money on publicity. I’ve yet to see how that will work. That may be my new enthusiasm if it really pays off.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
That would be in my work as a young police officer. I learned that talking people down from spiraling emotions is a powerful tool in keeping people safe, and more potent than violence. I also learned that listening to detail is vital too. Noting the small things helped to push cases along in gathering evidence. I also learned the complex and intricate ways people use language to put you down and grab power in a situation. Understanding that really helps you stay in control of a situation. It’s useful for a writer to grasp that and be able to shift the dynamics in a scene through clever use of words.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
That would have to be ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins. Not only is it considered the first proper detective novel in the English language, it also shows working class females as rounded characters instead of foils for male attention. It also is the first to introduce many of the elements we take for granted in mysteries such as red herrings, false suspects, the skilled investigator, and a final twist. Collins was actually vastly more popular than Dickens in his day, but is now largely forgotten in comparison
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Lol, maybe a giant sloth? Or one of those dogs or cats which go viral for bumping into glass doors or falling off things.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
‘The Innocents’ has been written and re-written to death. It’s probably in about its tenth incarnation. The second book in the trilogy was launched on 26th July and the third is at the editing stage before being submitted for publication. I have numerous other mysteries plotted. It all depends on public demand on whether or not I continue the series or write them as standalone mysteries.
What does literary success look like to you?
To have people read and enjoy my stories. I make no pretence at literary genius or at writing anything worthy. I write stories which I hope people will enjoy.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Copious amounts. ‘The Innocents’ has taken years of research into the work of the early Pinkertons, especially the female agents and the kind of work they did, including their methodologies. I research everything, even the stationary which was in use and the correct codes for the telegraph stations mentioned in the books. The forensics are fascinating to dig into too. You name it I researched it. Everything which influences every aspect of the stories. Abigail’s ability to disguise herself and alter her accent is taken directly from reports on the skills of the original female Pinkerton, Kate Warne. The theatrical make up and wigs were also true to the period. Stage make up had been primitive earlier in the century, but better stage lighting revealed a need for far better make up techniques, products, and prosthetics. Greasepaint was invented in the 1860s by Ludwig Leichner, building on the work of Karl Freidrich Baudius (1796–1860) in the 1850s. Lighting also improved costumes and acting techniques. It drove a desire for more natural representations in every area, simply because people could see the stage more clearly. Crepe hair went out and quality wigs came in. Colors were mixed to mimic skin tones and classes in their application were popular in the acting profession. Latex wasn’t invented until 1920, but prior to that rubber was moulded or even applied to a light fabric backing. When it was the right shape it was expertly painted to look exactly like a nose, dewlap, bald cap, or any other body part. I even researched whether someone with as much hair as the average Victorian woman could wear a short wig. The answer came from a young woman who enjoys cosplay – and she explains online how to pleat her long thick hair and coil it flat under the cap before putting the short wig on. It absolutely IS possible. I was really surprised to find how many really strange crimes and mass murders from the past seem to have been forgotten by all but a few. The past is littered with remarkable characters; honest and dishonest. There are cross-dressers, madmen, greedy people, selfish people, arrogant people, and clever people on both sides of the law. I was also conscious of how often history repeats itself and how themes come up time and time again as history stratifies the same issues and concerns time and time again. I was also impressed by the dedication of a few clever people who worked to catch criminals and close down their attempts to cover their tracks.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
I have no set timetable. I wish I was that organised. Some days I write into the wee small hours, other times I can be researching and go down the rabbit hole following some amazing character or story. In the end all of it is productive and results in a story though. The actual process of writing is only the end of a longer mechanism. The invention has to come first.
How do you select the names of your characters?
As I write 19th century characters I try to keep them in period and maintain a sense of place. I’ll research popular or unusual names as well as using names of people I know if they’re appropriate. I’ve also been known to add really unusual names to my note as I come across them. Some are too good not to use.
What was your hardest scene to write?
The interrogation scene. I had to inject a sense of menace into it to make it work. I know it’s not usual to make your hero do bad things, but he’s a professional criminal and he has to find out who this mysterious woman is and how much danger the heroine poses to him. It disturbed people who initially saw this as a straight romance, which it isn’t.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I only write mystery. I loved them right from the start because the reader can play along with the story. There are rules to writing a mystery, and the writer has to keep to them if the reader is to be able to play along. The story has to keep moving, all the clues need to be available and the plot needs to be convincing. The rules were set out in ‘The Detective Club’ which featured members such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterson, and E. C. Bentley. Not all the rules hold true today – for instance rule 5 states, “No Chinaman must figure in the story.” That I simply a ridiculous premise today. Agatha Christie broke rule 7 “The detective must not himself commit the crime” but they still provide a framework for the modern mystery writer. The method of murdering the victim must be a robust and feasible technique and not invented or spurious. The motive for murder in a whodunit should be personal, and not an act of war or part of a professional hit. That takes the killing into a different genre of writing. Many of the old rules say that a twin or a servant cannot be used as the murderer, but those rules have also been broken in modern writing and shown to be no longer relevant.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been playing with this story and universe since 2008. It looks like I’m a slow developer. I started writing seriously about two years ago and spent about a year being turned down by everyone. I acted on every bit of feedback and continually got my work reviewed and improved until it was polished enough to be accepted.
What inspires you?
Anything and everything. I can meet someone with an unusual name and I have to note it. I can read news story, read remarkable history, or find some amazing spy gadget. Somehow I piece them all together to form a mystery.
How do you find or make time to write?
I found myself with enforced leisure after a serious accident. Like many people I always wanted to write but life and family got in the way. I got hooked and wanted to get good enough to be taken seriously. I’m lucky to be in a position to dedicate time every day to writing. I look in awe at friends with families and job and wonder how they do it.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m editing the third of ‘The Innocents’ trilogy and have outlined some more mysteries I can have my characters solve if they are a success. I also have a completely separate mystery set in 19th century Edinburgh planned which I’m quite excited about starting.
What do your plans for future projects include?
Another mystery. No surprised there. I want to continue with the universe I created in ‘The Innocents’ as I think there are still a lot I can do with the characters. I also have a Gothic 19th century medical mystery set in Edinburgh in mind which is not related to that series.
Share a link to your author website.
Blog which includes things obscure and strange in the Victorian period http://caasbrey.com/
Facebook group for The Innocents Mystery Series
Chris Asbrey has lived and worked all over the world in the Police Service, Civil Service, and private industry, working for the safety, legal rights, and security of the public. A life-changing injury meant a change of course into contract law and consumer protection for a department attached to the Home Office.
In that role she produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and wrote guides for the Consumer Direct Website. She was Media Trained, by The Rank Organization, and acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog. She has also been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.
She lives with her husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. She’s moving to the beautiful medieval city of York.