When you see the name Charles Todd on the cover of a book, it is actually a writing duo comprised of Charles Todd and his mother Caroline Todd. Kerry Hammond caught up with the two writers to find out their secret to success and what’s in store for the characters in their two bestselling series.
I’m sure you get this question all the time, but readers find it amazing that Charles Todd is actually a two person writing team, and that those two writers live in different states. How do you do it?
CHARLES: We’re fairly good at it now, but in the beginning, writing A Test of Wills, we had no idea how to collaborate. We did know two things—that we didn’t want people to be distracted while reading the story wondering which of us had written what, and we didn’t want to outline. Some writers find outlines helpful but for us it was constricting. Plotting the story out ahead of time, before we really get to know our characters, doesn’t allow them to take over and show us the way. Someone asked me once if it was pixie dust, but the fact is, if you give your characters a chance, it’s amazing what they can tell you that you never even thought of!
CAROLINE: And so, ignorant as we were, we worked on each scene together, suggesting possibilities, trying out dialogue, changing words here, changing direction there, and finally settling on exactly how that scene would come alive. Then we’d discuss where the next scene should take the story, repeating the process. This meant we each needed to know what the other person knew, whether it was the research, the history, or the background of every character. One thing we did discover was that the very first scene in the book was the hardest—and the most interesting—to write, because it seemed to set the stage for everything that followed. Even when we had no idea who done it.
What made you choose the First World War as the backdrop for your series?
CHARLES: Three things. No one else was writing about it then, so we thought it might be fresh, not the usual backdrop. Forensics was in its infancy, and so our detective had to detect. He didn’t have any help from labs or techies, it had to be his own knowledge of human nature and the facts of the case leading him to the right answer. This was much more fun and much more challenging to write. And finally it was recent history—ideal for the reader who loves historical mysteries and the reader who ordinarily doesn’t but who is looking for a really exciting story.
CAROLINE: We were both history buffs from very early on, and it was rather natural for us to think in terms of an historical setting. What we learned very quickly was that we couldn’t use modern sources about the war. They often have material that our characters wouldn’t have had access to at the time. That meant finding first hand accounts and old photographs of places, visiting the Imperial War Museum in London, as well as the American WW1 Museum in Kansas City, and talking to people whose relatives had fought in the war. It’s fascinating, like a treasure hunt—you never know what intriguing bits of information you’re about to discover.
What is the most interesting place you’ve visited while researching the historic information in your books?
CAROLINE AND CHARLES: That’s a hard question to answer, because we’ve been to so many English villages, and to parts of France where the fighting was fiercest. We’ve even walked in one of the trenches there, a scary experience. One recent trip included visiting the new tomb of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral. Having read Josephine Tey’s classic, Daughter of Time, which explores whether or not Richard was guilty of the crimes Shakespeare says he committed (well, Shakespeare was writing for the granddaughter of the man who killed Richard and took his crown), it was exciting to know his bones had been found at last.
When you’re not writing, what authors do you enjoy reading?
CHARLES AND CAROLINE: One of the downsides of writing is that we don’t have time to read the way we used to. Lee Child. Deborah Crombie. Anne Cleeland. Martin Edwards. Ian Rankin. Michael Connelly. Parnell Hall. Judy Clemens. Margaret Maron. Louise Penny. John Le Carre. They all have interesting characters, and that’s what usually attracts us.
Can you give us any hints as to where Ian and Bess’s stories are headed?
CAROLINE: Rutledge had a very intriguing case in Cornwall (No Shred of Evidence) where the evidence rested on one man’s view of events, leaving the police with no choice but to charge four young women with murder. And that was interesting to explore. The Rutledge for next winter (Racing the Devil) takes us to Nice, where five men keep a solemn promise made before a battle, and then to East Sussex, where the Downs end in white cliffs high above the sea, and a man considered to be upright and trustworthy suddenly takes a motorcar not his own and is killed in a violent crash before he can tell anyone why.
CHARLES: We are really excited about the Bess Crawford mystery coming out in late August. The Shattered Tree begins on the battlefield and ends in Paris where Bess must find a killer and a spy. But are they the same person? She doesn’t have her usual resources, and must make do with one old friend and two new ones, to stop a man who has killed before and has no qualms about killing again. Next summer, Bess finds herself involved with an officer from the island of Barbados, who claims he was shot by a man already listed as a casualty of war. And that’s the working title—A Casualty of War.
At Mystery Playground, we're also excited about the upcoming book The Shattered Tree. Come back on August 30th when the book releases to read Kerry Hammond's review.