NancyAtherton, the author of 21 books in the Aunt Dimity mystery series, is stopping by today to discuss her latest book Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure, and to tell us how she keeps track of 21 books.
Aunt Dimity is a great series and has a unique premise. How in the world did you come up with the idea?
I don’t know where Aunt Dimity came from. The first two lines of my first book, AUNT DIMITY’S DEATH, popped into my head one night, as follows: "When I learned of Aunt Dimity’s death, I was stunned. Not because she was dead, but because I had never known she’d been alive.” I had no idea who was speaking or who Aunt Dimity was, so I wrote the book to find out. It’s fair to say that my entire writing career began with a burning desire to appease my curiosity.
How has making a living at doing what you love (hopefully this is writing) changed your life?
Writing has freed me to live by my own, somewhat eccentric, schedule. I can write all night and sleep all day if I choose, which I do because I'm a night owl by nature (it's 3:04 AM as I write this). Better still, writing has allowed me to meet some of the kindest, funniest, and most interesting people in the world: my readers. My book tour days are over, but they were great while they lasted because they gave me a chance to spend time with my wonderful, wonderful readers.
You have just published the 21st book in your Aunt Dimity series, so a lot has happened to your characters. Do you have a system for keeping track of all the adventures they've had?
I may quite possibly be the least systematic writer on earth. I didn't even create a character list until I was three or four books into the series, mainly because I never in my wildest dreams imagined that my series would continue for as long as it has. I also avoid re-reading my books once they're published because I tried it once and it drove me crazy. All I could see were the thousands of things I would change if I had just one more shot at a re-write. Which is why my readers (some of whom re-read my books on an annual basis) know my stories much better than I do. I don't recommend my unsystematic work habits but I doubt that I'll change them. If I were an organized sort of person, I probably wouldn't be the sort of person who writes Aunt Dimity stories.
Your characters are so wonderful, and when I read each book it's like visiting old friends. Do you sometimes have to remind yourself they're not real?
I'm so happy that you like my characters! I'm awfully fond of them, too. I tend to slow down as I approach the end of a book because I find it so difficult to say good-bye to my characters, even temporarily.
I shall answer your question by quoting the immortal Dumbledore: "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" My characters are as real to me as you are. They just happen to live inside my head.
Your books have been published in several countries and you have fans all over the world. Is there a favorite story you can share with us. Maybe about an event or interaction that was more special or stood out?
I have many such stories, but my favorite occurred after a deadly earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, in February 2011. Having visited Christchurch, I felt a pressing need to do whatever I could to help the city from afar. I donated to every charity I could find online and while I was looking for other ways to help, I read an article about a young woman, a mother of three very young children, whose home had been repeatedly inundated by liquefaction silt (horrible black stuff that bubbles up from the ground in torrents during quakes). The young woman happened to be a potter and she chose to respond to the quake by making beauty out of ugliness. She mixed the horrible liquefaction silt with clay and used it to make jewelry and other items which she then sold online, with 30% of the proceeds going to the Christchurch Earthquake Relief Fund. My admiration of her creativity and her indomitable spirit knew no bounds. I immediately ordered several pieces of jewelry, and when she sent my order confirmation to me, she added a PS: "Are you Nancy Atherton the author?" I was flabbergasted! My books aren't well known in New Zealand, but by some miracle she had a friend who'd read them. I pleaded guilty to the charge and a wonderful friendship began. When I learned that her books had been destroyed in the quake, I began sending my series to her, one book at a time, because it wasn't much fun to live in post-quake Christchurch, but it's always fun to open packages! And when I returned to New Zealand in 2012, I had the great privilege of spending a few days with her and her completely adorable family in their quake-damaged home. I'm happy to report that they were finally able to move into a new house last year. We may live on opposite sides of the planet, but my heart is always with them. Our friendship is one of the greatest gifts Aunt Dimity has ever given me.
View the New Zealand Mudbird Ceramics that Nancy mentioned HERE. You can read about a Nancy Atherton book signing here, and see what drink Kerry paired with Aunt Dimity and the Vampire Hunter here.
You can follow Kerry on Twitter @kerryhammond88 and Mystery Playground is on twitter @mysteryplaygrnd or find us on Facebook.