Hello, Karen – please tell us a little about yourself …
Hi. I’m Karen Charlton and I’m originally a Yorkshire lass. I was born in Sheffield, grew up in Leeds and obtained an English degree from Hull University. After a few years roaming between various jobs in Harrogate, Ripon and Scarborough I finally settled in Teesside, where I was invited to stay and improve the gene pool. It needed improving. ’Catching the Eagle’ is the true story of my husband’s notorious, Regency, criminal ancestor: Jamie Charlton.
Since settling in Teesside, I have studied for a post graduate teaching certificate at Durham University. I now combine a part-time teaching job at a secondary school with my writing and raising my own pair of ‘little villains.’
I have had two historical novels published by Knox Robinson Publishing, ‘Catching the Eagle’ and ‘The Missing Heiress’ and last year I self-published a genealogy book: ‘Seeking Our Eagle.’
What inspired you to write?
I wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old when I used to scribble down stories in old exercise books. Unfortunately, real life got in the way of literary ambition and I just never got around to writing that bestseller.
Then one day we had the most amazing piece of good luck. My husband and I had always shared a mutual interest in genealogy, and In August 2004 we made a fascinating discovery. When we shook our family tree, a convict fell out. But Jamie Charlton’s conviction was dodgy – even by the questionable standards of the Regency justice system.
It was like winning the jackpot; we had our very own miscarriage of justice to explore. I quickly realised that the perfect plot for a historical novel had just landed in my lap and ‘Catching the Eagle’ was born.
Where can we find your book/s?
What was your first reading experience that ignited your imagination?
Coincidently, and very topically, it must have been ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R. R. Tolkien. I was about nine years old and our class teacher read it aloud to us. ‘The Hobbit’ was the first book which made me cry. This was an unforgettable incident; I had no idea how powerful literature could be before then. Needless to say, I became a huge fan of Tolkien, read The Lord of the Rings several times in my late teens and twenties and just can’t get enough of the Peter Jackson films.
You write historical whodunits. What made you choose this genre?
I think it chose me. I’ve always enjoyed a good historical mystery with a strong plot. In fact, many years ago I wrote ‘Murder Mystery Weekends’ for a Yorkshire hotel and I won a Yorkshire Tourist Board award for them. I’ve always had leanings towards crime fiction. And in 2011, during those frustrating months when I was submitting ‘Catching the Eagle’ to publishers, the first seeds of a plot for a whodunit began to germinate in my head. Before I knew it, I had a Regency mystery to solve. I just sat down at the computer and ‘The Missing Heiress’ was born.
How do you feel about self-publishing compared to traditional publishing?
I have been fortunate enough to experience both. My two novels are traditionally published by Knox Robinson Publishing but last year I self-published a genealogy book called ‘Seeking Our Eagle.’ This is the research background to ‘Catching Our Eagle’ and is my own self-publishing adventure. I was fascinated about the whole self-publishing phenomenon and wanted to try it out. But I have to confess that I was startled by the prejudice and lack of interest I encountered from my media contacts towards my self-published book. I was actively courted for interviews about my traditionally published novel – but regarded with suspicion when I informed the same people that I had self-published a non-fiction book.
Yet, some of the best books I read in 2012 were self-published – and several of these dedicated authors are making a small fortune from their royalties (far more than me with a small independent publisher.) Crazy world, isn’t it?
If you could morph into any animal, what would it be, and why?
It would have to be a cat. All cats have ‘servants’ rather than ‘masters.’ They sleep for eighteen hours a day, have their meals provided on demand and can party all night. Hang on a minute, that sounds just like my teenage daughter – has she already morphed?
Your latest book ‘The Missing Heiress’ is based in Northumberland. What made you choose this location?
The Northumbrian location was pre-determined for ‘Catching the Eagle,’ which was the result of many long years of research into the true story of my husband’s felonious Geordie ancestor. However, the beautiful, empty vastness of the Border region – those wide open spaces and that huge ice-blue northern sky – have always inspired me.
I was delighted to return to Northumberland for the setting of my second novel, ‘The Missing Heiress.’ This is a spin-off novel from ‘Catching the Eagle’ and features two of the minor characters from that tale – Detective Stephen Lavender and his good-natured sidekick, Constable Woods. This time, the pair take centre stage as they leave London and travel to Northumberland in search of a woman who has mysteriously vanished from a locked bedchamber in a fictional pele tower in Bellingham. The lady in question, Helen Carnaby, is just weeks away from inheriting a fortune. I quickly realised that the remoteness of the region would the perfect backdrop for the dysfunctional Carnaby family who need to keep grim secrets hidden. Their pele tower has three foot thick stone walls to hide behind and is staffed by a small group of tight-lipped servants.
If you could sit down with any author and have a chat, who would it be, and why?
My ideal author chat would be with the other eight members of my online author chat group; these are the ladies (and one gentleman) who keep me motivated, laughing and inspired. I have been fortunate enough to meet a few of them – including Babs Morton, whom you interviewed earlier this year – but most of us are scattered across Europe. One of these days, we are going to hire a charabanc and tour Britain, France, Ireland and Spain, stop awhile at each other’s homes, sample the local vino and spend hours and hours in the sunshine just chatting about books and writing. Bliss.
Detective Stephen Lavender, the main character in your new novel, is a real historical figure. How did you go about researching him?
I first came across Detective Stephen Lavender from Bow Street magistrates’ court while researching the mystery of the Kirkley Hall robbery for ‘Catching the Eagle.’ Wealthy landowning individual citizens, like Nathanial Ogle of Kirkley Hall, could request the help of a Principal Officer in a difficult case. Bow Street would charge them and the officers would claim lucrative expenses on top of their salary from Bow Street.
I found numerous references to Stephen Lavender in the court case notes and the newspaper accounts of the investigation into the robbery and the ensuing trial. Ultimately, Stephen Lavender was the man who charged our ancestor with the crime and placed him in the dock. But I don’t hold that against him.
What obstacles did you encounter basing your story on a real person from the past?
According to my research, when the Principal Officers like Lavender went out to work cases in other counties of Britain, they usually worked alone. As a novelist, this presented me with an interesting dilemma. Literary convention in crime fiction usually requires that the detective has an assistant. In the end I decided to veer away from historical fact with my novels and bow down to the literary convention; I created the good-natured Constable Edward Woods as Lavender’s assistant.
If you could sum yourself up in one word, what would it be?
If others could sum you up in one word, what would that be?
What does the future hold for you and your writing?
I am looking forward to twelve months of just writing. I’ve published and marketed three books in the last eighteen months and I’ve been on a phenomenal learning curve. I’ve got the plots for another three books in my head, and to complete just one of them by next December would give me a great sense of achievement.
I also have a fancy to learn how to tweet this year – provided I can pin down my nocturnal teenager to give me a quick lesson.
Either way, 2013 looks like it is going to be another fascinating year.
Thank you, Karen, for your your Interview responses!
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