Every Thursday I ask ten questions to authors of mystery, thriller and suspense about their books, their inspirations and how to get away with the perfect murder. In the hot seat this week is... Tracy Tonkinson.
British born Tracy is the author of the Diamond & Doran Mysteries and the Drew McMillan Case Files series. She lives with her family, three cats and a host of imaginary characters in the village of Orono, Ontario.
Q1. Hello Tracy! Can You Tell Us A Bit About Yourself And Your Books?
I live in Ontario Canada, though I was born in the UK and spent a portion of my childhood in Bermuda. I love history in all forms and I am addicted to mystery, whether it’s on TV, at the movies, or especially in books. I write because it’s something I knew I always wanted to do, even as a young child. I was constantly concocting some little fantasy and playing around with stories so, even though life got in the way for quite a few years, the stories were always bubbling away inside and on the verge of overflowing.
I packed hundreds of notebooks with jottings and research and bits and bobs that have been squirrelled away, some for years, and when I got the chance to release the steam on that pressure cooker of imagination I started to write Madman, and here I am, four books and counting later, doing what I love to do best.
Q2. What Three Things Should Readers Expect From A Tracy Tonkinson Novel?
Hmm. Three things readers should expect from my books. Well, let’s see. I would like readers, first and foremost, to get a really enjoyable, exciting read from my books.
Then I hope they will find the characters loveable and engaging enough to laugh and cry and rage alongside them as they move through the story. Particularly the Doran sisters as they are at the heart of these books to a large degree.
And finally I would like to think that readers have learned something about the period I’m writing about that they didn’t know before they picked up my books. If that sends them off to do their own research then so much the better.
Q3. Can You Tell Us About Your Characters Diamond & Doran?
The main characters in my Diamond and Doran series are two Chicago cops, pounding the mean streets in the 1880’s. When we first meet them in 'Madman' they are poles apart as people.
Arthur Diamond is a rookie, born in Toronto, Canada, but freshly invalided out of the British army. He’s a bona fide hero, having been awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the Sudan. But he is also a conflicted hero and you’ll have to read the book to find out why.
He’s a loner, having no one to call family and he’s looking for somewhere to call home, to find a place where he fits in and find a family of some kind. It used to be the army, now he hopes it will be the Chicago P.D.
Billy Doran is a man at the end of his rope. He is an Irishman, a catholic and has been a widower for four years. He is struggling to bring up five daughters on his own, and as a twenty year veteran of the Chicago P.D. he feels about ready to hang up his uniform, he feels so jaded.
So when we have the opening event of Madman which also adds grieving to Billy Doran’s troubles, the last thing he wants is to have to deal with some lanky, English rookie while he cleans up a pretty big mess. Doran wants to see his daughters happy and conclude his career without a load of drama.
Q4. If Your Books Were Turned Into Movies, Who Would Play Your Main Characters?
That would be a fantasy come true! But as to who would play Diamond & Doran that’s a hard call to make. I think the beauty of books as opposed to movies or TV is that the reader can create a picture of the characters for themselves based on what the writer gives them to work on. And if you were to ask 100 of my readers what they think Diamond & Doran look like you would likely get a hundred different answers, so I think I will let the readers pick their own cast for the Diamond & Doran movies.
Q5. How Do You Come Up With The Ideas For Your Stories – What Is Your Inspiration?
The inspiration for my stories can come from almost anywhere. 'Madman' was born out of reading about a real explosion that took place in a square in Chicago in 1886. It was an incident that sparked the beginnings of the labour movement in the city and later with other groups a whole revolution in how workers were treated through the later part of the 19th century and early 20th century.
'Poison' came to me reading about the plight of newsies - kids that sold newspapers on street corners. But I have had stories come to me as snippets of dialogue that morph into whole books and in one case I bought a gruesome looking piece of jewellery at a craft fair and it inspired the third book in the D&D series, 'Vendetta'. So inspiration can come from the wildest places.
Q6. What Do You Enjoy Most About Writing Mysteries?
I think what I enjoy most about writing mystery novels is the opportunity it affords me to work out the puzzle of the plot and all the twists and turns that go into that, and I hope my readers get a buzz from that too. But also I think that for me there is a very deep desire to create worlds where justice is seen to be done.
The characters in my books don’t always get a happy life, but where there is injustice, cruelty, meanness, then I have to find a way to make that understandable and if not acceptable, at least seem a bit less chaotic and random than the real world can often seem to be.
Q7. What Are You Working On Right Now?
Like most writers, I always have a number of irons in the fire. At the moment I’m going through my least favourite part of the writing process, which hunting down corrections to the first draft of a new novel called San Francisco that is a follow up to 'Argent' in the Drew McMillan Case Files series, which I hope I shall be bringing out in time for Christmas this year.
I also have rough drafts of a book series set in the UK in the 1920’s and 1930’s, another mystery series. There is a fourth Diamond & Doran in the works, and I’m playing around with a couple of other ideas too, so there is never a dull moment.
Q8. Who Are Your Favourite Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Authors?
Another tough question to answer because there are so many I love, but I have a fondness for historical mystery and so I suppose that writers like Jacqueline Winspear and the Australian writer Kerry Greenwood are great favourites, but I also like writers like Donna Leon who writes about contemporary crime in Venice.
Q9. You're Being Sent To A Desert Island. You Can Only Take One Book With You. What Is It?
Oh, the old desert island. Well, I’m tempted to say the book I would want with me is How to escape from a Desert Island for Idiots, but if I have to go the mystery route I’m thinking about the fattest compendium of golden age of crime writing available. I’m talking a book chock a block with Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, you get the idea. Those women could really rock a good mystery and there is all the history I could want in there too.
Q10. How Do You Get Away With The Perfect Murder?
How to get away with the perfect murder? With Diamond & Doran on the case there’s no such thing as the perfect murder!