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Mysteries from Caroline and Charles Todd: a Mother and Son

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An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Caroline and Charles Todd,
Authors of A Lonely Death

By Diane Slocum
February 2011

A Lonely Death cover
A Lonely Death
by Charles and Caroline Todd

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In A Lonely Death, the mother and son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd have sent their Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge to investigate a series of grisly murders terrorizing a small British town. With townsfolk already mentally and physically ravaged by the effects of World War I, someone seems to be seeking revenge on soldiers who survived the carnage. Rutledge needs to sort it out before the killer strikes again, but he’s hampered by people who want him off the case, both in the town and in the Yard, and haunted by his own ghosts from the lingering effects of war.

“. . .we found the right character in Inspector Ian Rutledge, and the right time in history, and that’s what made it work.”
—CHARLES TODD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUTHORLINK: How did you decide to write together?

CAROLINE TODD: I made the suggestion, after we’d visited a battlefield where there was an intriguing historical mystery. While walking the mountaintop, the ideas we both had sort of meshed—not surprising, since we both loved history and had a feeling for what had happened there: How the battle had happened, who held the high ground, what the strategy was on both sides, so we could make some guesses about that extra body showing up among the dead.

CHARLES TODD: I thought it was an interesting suggestion but didn’t see how we’d manage to do a book together. Later, when I was traveling so much on business and had time on my hands, it was a much more attractive possibility. Looking back, we found the right character in Inspector Ian Rutledge, and the right time in history, and that’s what made it work.

AUTHORLINK: Did you write all of your 16 novels together?

CAROLINE AND CHARLES: Yes, all the novels, as well as a growing collection of published short stories. The latest short story, “Yesterday,” was just published in the CWA Anthology, Original Sins, edited by Martin Edwards. “Yesterday” explains how Rutledge and Hamish first met.

AUTHORLINK: Do you have individual publications?

CHARLES TODD: I’d done a great deal of business writing. Not the same thing as fiction, but I learned a lot about choosing the right word and how to discipline my thoughts.

CAROLINE TODD: I think I wrote my first story when I was seven. And I’d done some short stories. I’ve always read—and this is something all writers need to do. You need to see how others go about plotting and making characters work, and keeping up the pace of a story. You soon learn what’s good writing and what isn’t—and why. Writing is a craft, not a hobby.

“We don’t outline, we just discuss each scene, where it takes place, who will be in it. . .”
—CHARLES AND CAROLINE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUTHORLINK: How do you work together?

CHARLES AND CAROLINE: We don’t outline, we just discuss each scene, where it takes place, who will be in it, where it will be carrying the story, how the central character (Rutledge or Bess Crawford) will react to what is said or done, and then we start writing. From that we cull the best of both viewpoints and create the final version. We’ve found that the characters make most of the decisions for us. What works for them is what is real. If we start making the decisions for them, they don’t come to life.

AUTHORLINK: Do you ever disagree?

CAROLINE TODD: Mother and son we may be, but we are also two entirely different people who happen to have similar interests in some areas. So there are arguments. It never gets to the shouting stage, because the solution is always what is best for the characters and the story. We’ve never had ego issues, either.

CHARLES TODD: We’ve grown to trust Rutledge and our instincts, as well as each other. And usually when we argue, it’s because we have yet come to the right conclusion. Then the break-through comes, and we’re back on target again. We’re business partners, who happen to be related.

AUTHORLINK: After 13 Rutledge books and two on Nurse Crawford, do you have more planned?

CAROLINE TODD: Both Rutledge and Bess Crawford are here to stay. Rutledge continues to thrive because we still have a great deal to say about him and his time. We’ve just turned in the third Bess Crawford, A Bitter Truth. The more we see of her, the more we like her as a person and as a character.

CHARLES TODD: It’s almost as if the two series bounce off each other, the energy that goes into one spilling over to become the excitement driving the other. I don’t know quite what it is, but I’m happy it’s there. Time is the limiting factor, not our imaginations.

AUTHORLINK: Has Inspector Rutledge changed as the series progressed?

CHARLES AND CAROLINE: If he’s to be a real person, he has to change over the months between A Test of Wills and A Lonely Death. He’s gaining more confidence in his ability to pick up the threads of his career, though he is still haunted by the war, and it still threatens sometimes to overwhelm him. Rutledge is learning to trust his instincts again. The resilience of the human spirit is remarkable, and Rutledge’s search for answers is no different from that of thousands of people today, faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s what makes him so believable.

AUTHORLINK: Any ideas for historical settings besides World War I?

CAROLINE TODD: I can think of several periods in England that it would be exciting to explore. And Charles knows a great deal about the American Civil War. We’ve even talked about a modern series, but we like the idea of the detective on his own, without the help of modern forensics to solve a case. There’s something elemental in the battle of wits between a killer’s cunning and a detective’s skill. I expect we’d look for that again, if the right character and situation came together.

CHARLES TODD: The social and political changes brought about in England as a result of the war and of so many men dying or coming back severely wounded, make an ideal dramatic backdrop for murder. Will we find similar rich veins in another period that we’d like to explore? I never rule anything out.

“. . . finding out what goes wrong in their relationships to the point that one of them kills another, is the secret to creating a good mystery.”
—CHARLES AND CAROLINE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on now?

CHARLES AND CAROLINE: We’re writing the next Rutledge, which will come out in January 2012. It’s a story about guilt, and how that can change people’s perception of themselves. When we’re finished, it will be time to go to England for more research. Research is so important, a continual process of learning about a time we never lived in. Finding the right place for a murder to happen, creating the people who will live there, and then finding out what goes wrong in their relationships to the point that one of them kills another, is the secret to creating a good mystery.

About Charles
and Caroline Todd:

Charles and Caroline Todd come from a family tradition of listening to the stories of their elders, which sparked in them an interest in history and in spinning a good yarn.

Diane Slocum
About
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.