Jacqueline Winspear, author of the popular Maisie Dobbs series set in interwar England, is our latest guest on Scene of the Crime. Winspear hit the ground running with this series: her first installment, the 2003 Maisie Dobbs, became a bestseller, won accolades from reviewers, and earned Winspear the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First novel, the Macavity Award for Best First Novel; and the Alex Award.
Since then, Winspear has sent her indefatigable psychologist/investigator into harm’s way in six further adventures, which have won the author a large following and the Agatha Award for Best Novel for Birds of a Feather, and Sue Feder/Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery for Pardonable Lies. Both An Incomplete Revenge, from 2008, and Among the Mad, from 2009, were New York Times bestsellers. Her latest, The Mapping of Love and Death, opens in California in 1914, and, like the others in the series, has connections to the Great War. Booklist declared this novel “a must read for series fans, especially because the ending hints that big changes are on the way for Maisie.”
Jackie, it is a real pleasure to have you here with us on Scene of the Crime.
The London and south of England of your novels is lovingly and tellingly depicted. Would you describe your connection to that locale. How did you come to live there or become interested in it? And, if you do not live on site, do you make frequent trips there?
My connection to London and the county of Kent in England, is that I was born and grew up in Kent, my parents originally came from London, and I went to college and later worked in London – it’s all home turf! I travel to the UK about three or four times each year; my parents now live in Sussex, which is an easy hop on the train to London, which is where I visit the various archives used in my research – and I walk all the streets used as backdrop to scenes in my novels.
Did you consciously set out to use this part of England as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story or stories?
It was a natural choice to set my books in places that I knew very well indeed – and because I have always been interested in local and social history, it was easy to “see” the settings in the period about which I write: the Great War and the period between the wars.
How do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background inspiration for you?
How does Maisie Dobbs interact with her surroundings? Is she a native, a blow-in, a reluctant or enthusiastic inhabitant, cynical about it, a booster?
My protagonist is familiar with her surroundings – she is a Londoner by birth and knows Kent well, given that she lived there, and her father has lived in the county since the war. She is an observant person, so is as affected by changes in her environment as any person of that ilk would be – perhaps by spring flowers, or a London smog. It’s not an obvious big event, but a transparent observation, if you will.
Has there been any local reaction to your works?
I understand there is quite a following in Kent, and of course, I receive many emails and letters from Anglophiles around the world.
One of my friends described And Incomplete Revenge as being my love-letter to the county of Kent. But having said that, I think the opening of my new novel, The Mapping of Love and Death, presents a good example of how a given location can touch the heart – as it does for the character of Michael Clifton:
“The Santa Ynez Valley, California, August 1914
Michael Clifton stood on a hill burnished gold in the summer sun and, hands on hips, closed his eyes. The landscape before him had been scored into his mind’s eye, and an onlooker might have noticed his chin move as he traced the pitch and curve of the hills, the lines of the valley, places where water ran in winter, gullies where the ground underfoot might become soft, and rises where the rock would never yield to a pick.”
Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?
If I think of authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and John Steinbeck, they were all masters of the art of communicating a deep sense of place and are among my favorite authors. I am interested in the environment around me, so it is a natural progression for me to immerse myself in a given location.
What’s next for Maisie Dobbs?
Oh, that’s for readers to discover next year – but suffice it to say that Maisie Dobbs will be working on an assignment described to her as “in the interests of His Majesty’s government.”
Jackie, once again many thanks for joining us on Scene of the Crime.
For more information on the books of Jacqueline Winspear, please visit the author’s home page.