I am so excited to be talking with author Linda Stratmann today! She is the author of the lovely Mina Scarletti mysteries, which I read through at lightning speed and reviewed the first one here.
- Introduce yourself and give a little information about how you became a writer.
I was always destined to be a writer – I started scribbling little poems when I was six! But I never received any encouragement or advice – it was not seen as a viable ambition. I have been a chemist’s dispenser and a civil servant, but the scribbling always went on in the background. I have always loved history – my mother was a great history enthusiast – and we used to watch true crime programmes on the television. I started collecting books on crime when I was eighteen.
Many years later I wrote articles about crime for a friend’s amateur magazine, and this led to my first serious project, a book about the 1886 Adelaide Bartlett chloroform murder case, which took me three years to research and write in my spare time and resulted in my deep fascination for the nineteenth century. Although I didn’t find a publisher for that book, I was commissioned to write a history of chloroform, which was published in 2003. I was commissioned for a number of non-fiction crime books, and then I decided to write the sort of Victorian crime fiction mysteries I wanted to read.
- How did the Mina Scarletti Mysteries come about?
I was writing the Frances Doughty mysteries about a Victorian lady sleuth, but felt I wanted to do something a little different. One day as I was walking along the street it just popped into my head – an investigator who debunks fraudulent mediums. The whole area of Victorian spiritualism is absolutely fascinating, and the 1870s was such a free-for-all as there was no real critical investigation, and charlatans could make a lot of money out of the bereaved.
- Mina is such a unique character. Can you tell me a bit more about how and why you developed her this way?
I wanted a character who was not going to pushed into the typical roles of marriage and motherhood. Mina is small and frail. She has scoliosis – a twisted spine – and has been advised not to marry. In creating her I was inspired by two people, a lady I knew when I was a child, and also Fanny Maclean a murder victim, who had scoliosis. In 1879 she was romanced by a scoundrel who persuaded her to sign over her property to him and then he killed her. It demonstrated how vulnerable a disabled woman with property could be in the Victorian marriage market. In creating Mina I wanted to develop a character who could overcome her difficulties from sheer determination and force of will.
- Your books are unique in the historical/cozy mystery genres in that there is no murder to solve. All of the books seem to focus on just the spiritualism at the time. Why did you decide to write outside the norm in this way?
There are other crimes to explore, such as fraud and extortion, which can be more interesting than murder, because of the planning and deception involved. I have always been fascinated by how people think and what they believe and have spent a number of years delving into the history of spiritualism and the psychology of belief. But there are some murders, or suspected murders in the series – in An Unquiet Ghost Mina looks into a twenty-year-old murder case. And I do have plans for a future Mina book with a murder in it.
- What can we expect from you in the near future?
The fourth Mina book, The Ghost of Hollow House should be out in the next few weeks. Mina is asked to advise some newlyweds about a haunted mansion. Look out for all sorts of spooky mayhem, and the re-appearance of an old enemy.
I am working on two projects at present, one fiction, one non-fiction. I am honoured to have been asked to edit a volume in the new Notable British Trials series being published in the traditional format by Mango Books. My subject is the horrific murder of Patrick O’Connor by Frederick and Maria Manning in 1849. I am also writing the fifth Mina book, His Father’s Ghost in which I have set fresh challenges for my diminutive heroine.