Earlier this week I reviewed the latest in L. C. Tyler’s Elsie and Ethelred series, Cat Among the Herrings, which is to be released later this month. This is a series which sees a less than successful writer and his literary agent take on baffling cases of murder in their own hilarious and less than professional way and there is a definite nod to the Golden Age of crime in these books, regardless of them being set in modern times. To get an inside track on what goes into the series I decided to ask L. C. Tyler some questions…
1.What were your inspirations for this series? How did the Elsie and Ethelred series come about?
I suppose the first thing I should say is that, for some time, I wasn’t aware I was writing a crime series. Initially, I just set out to write a book. Then somebody in it got killed and I became a crime writer. Then I got asked to write another and it became a crime series. The inspirations for my writing were mainly humorists rather than mystery writers, especially Wodehouse and Waugh – and Hemingway (who could be quite funny when he wanted to be). There are affectionate parodies of them, and of Sartre and Milne, in the first book in the series.
- Something I have always wondered about is that both Elsie and Ethelred share the same initials. Was this accidental or deliberate?
Complete coincidence, though it does mean that in talking to my agent and publisher I can abbreviate the name of the series to E&E.
- Amateur sleuths have had a range of jobs in fiction from being artists and lawyers to Oxford dons, but what do you think Elsie and Ethelred’s jobs bring to their investigations?
Ethelred is constantly having to point out to people that being a crime writer in no way assists him in his investigations – real crime is far more mundane than fictional crime, and involves long, dull hours looking at CCTV footage rather than having flashes of inspiration and gathering all of the suspects together in the drawing room. That the police do not recruit crime writers to assist them suggests Ethelred may be right.
- Which was your favourite book to write out of the series so far and why?
I’ve enjoyed them all in different ways. The Herring Seller’s Apprentice was the first, when writing was very much a journey of discovery. It’s also the only one I’ve written without a deadline hanging over me. Ten Little Herrings proved I could turn it into a series. Herring on the Nile entailed a research trip to Egypt, which was fun. But the latest, Cat Among the Herrings, was the one I most enjoyed plotting.
- One of the key strengths of your series is in the relationship between Elsie and Ethelred, but for readers who may be new to the series, how would you describe this detecting duo’s relationship? And do you have a favourite from the pair?
Ethelred is the constant butt of Elsie’s sarcasm. Ethelred snipes at Elsie’s dress sense and addiction to chocolate. But there’s a lot of genuine affection there. Elsie is quite willing to perjure herself on Ethelred’s behalf, even when he’d much prefer she didn’t. I wondered early on whether the series wouldn’t end with them getting married, but I don’t think that’s going to happen – they are both somehow too self-contained. But there’s a close bond there that it would be difficult to break. If I had a favourite, I’d never admit it …
- Would you say there are any similarities between yourself and Ethelred or do you identify with him in anyway?
There’s a sense in which Ethelred and Elsie are different sides of my own character. I can do sarcasm with Elsie and nostalgia for Peter May’s batting with Ethelred. I think it’s difficult to write a main character unless you can identify with them at least a little bit.
- Having been a speaker at last year’s British Library’s Bodies from the Library Conference, it is safe to say you are a fan of Golden Age detective fiction. But what would be your top 5 favourite novels from this period?
Actually, I read all sorts of things and not primarily crime. But since you ask … Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express, The Nine Tailors, The Daughter of Time, Tiger in the Smoke – all Golden Age or thereabouts, all classics.
- Continuing on with the Golden Age theme why did you decide to pastiche/parody this genre in this series and in what ways do you try to achieve this in the novels?
I’m not sure they are really pastiche or parody – or not consistently anyway. Maybe ‘tribute’ is the right word. The style of writing certainly isn’t Golden Age and they are set in the present, albeit that Ethelred would rather live in the past. The plots are however traditional Golden Age plots, with nods towards country houses and locked rooms and baffled policemen. In three of the books Elsie actually does assemble all of the suspects in the drawing room, though not with any great success. Oh, and there’s not much blood on the pages. Those who know their Golden Age will I hope enjoy spotting the references. But in the end I just set out to entertain.
- The nods to Agatha Christie in the series are easy to spot such as in your choice of titles, but has this series been influenced by other specific Golden Age writers?
Yes, it’s easy to see where the titles come from, though the plots of the various books are not actual Christie plots. Only in Herring on the Nile are there faint echoes of a Christie original. But there’s no doubt I owe a debt to Christie, as do most crime writers. Many of the real influences are however probably post Golden Age – Colin Watson, Sarah Caudwell, Edmund Crispin – and outside crime, as I say, PG Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, plus Jerome K Jerome, Anthony Powell and Mark Twain (in no particular order!)
- Finally and perhaps most importantly for us diehard fans, will there be another book in the series?
I certainly hope so.