Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Interview with Susan McDuffie

This past weekend I shared my review of Susan McDuffie's The Study of Murder, a 14th-century murder mystery set in Oxford, featuring a Scottish amateur detective and scribe and his clever wife. I inhaled this book and am delighted to share my interview with the author.  Read on to learn more about her this book, how she 'found' her hero, and what she does when she's not writing. 

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

Thanks so much for having me as a guest on your blog, Audra! It’s such a pleasure to be here.

My first book was The Magic Mirror, a third grade oeuvre that was kind of a “Through the Looking Glass goes to Scotland”. It was one of those class projects in which we actually bound our little book. I remember thinking at the time how hard it was to plot, a thought that still flits through my mind at times when I’m staring at a blank sheet of paper. I probably would have forgotten all about that first effort, except my mom, who saves everything, sent it to me recently when she was cleaning out some things.

I didn’t start writing in earnest until I was about thirty-seven, after an abysmal day at work in the public schools. My first manuscript was titled Passion's Wild Wind, a historical romance set in Ireland and Spain during the time of the Armada. My dad really liked it, but in spite of that the manuscript is currently reposing in a box in my garage. It took me awhile to work my way over to historical mystery, but I finally realized the truth of the old advice “Write what you love to read.” And I do read more mystery than romance—always historical fiction, though.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I can’t just dive in first thing in the morning; I am not much of a morning person. Although I do like the concept of morning and an early start I find I’m more productive in the afternoons. I tend to clean or putter awhile first—or maybe that is just procrastination—and remind myself of a dog, circling its bed a few times before lying down. Although I don’t always work this way, I enjoy writing first drafts in longhand with a fountain pen, then putting that draft in the computer is a rough re-write; the first of several.

Was The Study of Murder the original title of your book?

No, the working title was The Oxford Murders. It might have stayed that, except I belatedly realized that another The Oxford Murders had been published a few years ago. I had the manuscript all edited and was just about ready to send it off, when the title The Study of Murder came to me. Apropos, since it is set in a university.

As you were writing The Study of Murder, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

I think the teenagers, Anthony, Crispin and Donald, were the most pleasant surprises in the book. They were a lot of fun to write. And Avice. Avice surprised me. I don’t even think I plotted her originally; she just kind of appeared in the story.

This is your third book featuring Muirteach MacPhee, the 14th century 'detective' who stars in your novels. How did he come to you?

Muirteach is based a great deal on the stories of the ancestral clan lands and stories of the McDuffie clan. They were the “Keepers of the Records” for the lords of the isles. As a child I had a great uncle who was quite a “Scottish nut” and I myself heard the stories from my own father, his nephew. It all sounded very mysterious and intriguing. A Mass For the Dead, my first Muirteach mystery, is my own attempt to explain how this might have come about.

On my first trip to Scotland, in 1977, I visited the beautiful priory on Oronsay. Oronsay is a tidal island and can only be accessed at low tide. As I recall we got stuck over there and had to get someone to take us back to the main island by boat. There are some incredibly carved medieval grave slabs at the ruins, memorials for the MacDuffee chiefs and the priors. Many of the priors were succeeded by their sons. My realization that they weren’t celibate churchmen also helped generate Muirteach’s character many years later when I began writing this series; he’s the bastard son of the prior of Oronsay.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Too many things! I love my flamenco dance classes, and the accessories are great—the skirts, shoes, fans, castanets! It’s also really good exercises, and so much fun it’s not hard to get to class. I also enjoy cooking, gardening, knitting (although my cats make that difficult—they’re too helpful), sewing, and reading, of course. In the past I’ve also made pottery but don’t have a workspace at this time (or time, to be truthful). A potter’s wheel currently resides in the garage, along with that first manuscript.

Read any good books recently?

I enjoyed The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye this summer. Another book I really loved is A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman (AKA Arianna Franklin). Also Lady of the Reeds by Pauline Gedge; her books set in Egypt are just fantastic! My “desert island” book would have to be Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff, a retelling of the King Arthur story. Research-wise, I’ve just been reading The Lost Laws of Ireland by Catherine Duggan about Gaelic Brehon law.

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My thanks to Ms. McDuffie for her time. You can learn more about her and her books by visiting her website.


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Study of Murder to one lucky reader!

To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 10/4.

1 comment :

  1. VERY NICE interview....thanks for sharing.

    BTW…a great video on my blog that Simon & Schuster made with authors talking and thanking and praising bloggers. You will love it.

    Also a giveaway for THE RETURNED on my blog.

    Have a great day.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog