It only occurred to me to start writing crime fiction after I had tried writing in a variety of genres and with varying degrees of success. A passing comment that perhaps I should write what I enjoyed reading led to me embracing the world of ‘cozy crime’. The Euphemia Martin’s Mysteries, published by Accent Press, is already a series of seven books with two more contracted for later this year and early next.
The biggest hurdle to jump when switching to this genre was not choosing the time period. I knew I wanted to write about a world before forensics was a proper science and when my detective would have to rely on instinct and the raw beginnings of the study of the human condition. I wanted to write stories that my readers could, like my heroine, put together piece by piece and unfold the mystery by understanding the characters and their motives. I didn’t want anyone to ever be making a sudden appearance, clutching a piece of paper that showed blood or DNA results providing the vital breakthrough needed to solve the case (which is an inherently lazy plot device that happens all too frequently in contemporary televised drama series).
I’ve always been fascinated by what was happening in the world in the run-up to the First World War. Particularly, how in Britain, class systems were beginning to face challenges, but that it still remained the last hoorah of the Big Houses with their armies of servants. I never had an intention of romanticising this – although Euphemia does have a troublesome habit of attracting suitors. I wanted my readers to be clear that life below stairs was hard and that it was exceptionally rare for there to be any bond between those above and those below stairs that was worth more than a farthing!
But this left me the problem of who I would cast for my detective. Not a policeman – and certainly not a policewoman, as there simply weren’t any at the time. In general the police were not well regarded by the owners of the Big Houses, the aristocracy of the day. They were far too used to sorting out their own little issues, even if one of those turned out to be murder. The police in general, at this time, were drawn from the lower classes and had a hearty respect for their betters – especially as their so-called betters actually tended to be the local justices of the peace, or happy ensconced in the upper echelons of the legal systems of the court.
And after the superb Lord Peter Whimsy it takes a very brave writer indeed to conjure up a peer with a hobby in criminology.
But, when you are in a tight corner, who better to rely on than family?
My Great-Grandmother came from a very rich family. After her mother died and her father remarried, she came to hate her stepmother. Shockingly, her father gave her the choice of accepting her new mother or leaving. She chose to leave.
At this time, a genteelly educated young woman was fit for nothing but marriage or, in extreme circumstances, reducing herself to menial domestic duties as a maid or becoming a prostitute. There were no other options. My Great-Grandmother chose to go into service. There she found the work extremely hard, and before long had become very ill. Fortunately for me at this point a young tobacconist enters the scene. He sweeps my Great-Grandmother off her feet, they marry and have thirteen children. All of whom survive to adulthood. It may sound like a fairy tale, but this part is true.
I created my detective, Euphemia Martins, inspired by my Great-Grandmother. Euphemia is also prepared to step out of her class and to descend to the level of a servant, in her fictional case to help support her widowed mother and little brother. Euphemia also has the caché of being the estranged Granddaughter of an Earl, which my Great-Grandmother certainly did not. However, the strength of character it must have taken my Great-Grandmother to walk away from her life of luxury on a point of principle is what I have bestowed upon Euphemia. They also share the unique perspective of seeing and knowing life both above and below stairs.
I hope my Great-Grandmother found happiness with her tobacconist. Her family never again acknowledged her. My heroine, Euphemia, is just beginning to realise that she cannot stand on both sides of the great class divide and part of her story is about what side she will ultimately chose.
My family history has led me to look at the lives of those of the Great Houses of Britain in the early 1900s without rose-tinted spectacles. My heroine faces her challenges bravely, using her quick wits, humour, and the best weapon of all virtuous young women, her scream. But like my Great-Grandmother she cannot exist in isolation, and has created a group around her, a mixture of those from upstairs and downstairs, who have nothing in common except her. Much, as I suspect, I would have nothing in common with my Great-Grandmother’s relatives except her.
Caroline Dunford has indulged in a variety of careers from journalist to psychotherapist. She is the mother of two rambunctious sons and lives in a cottage by the sea, on which the building work seems unending. She writes plays, YA, Crime and Romance, and the occasional short story. Writing is her way to stay sane in a world she finds confusing and chaotic, and infusing her writing with hope and humour reflects her hopes that in stories we can all find not only entertainment, but an echo of our own humanity.
The Euphemia Martins Mysteries are available in both ebook and paperback.
Read more about Caroline on her CRA profile