Interview With Mystery Author Carola Dunn/Review/Giveaway

Feb 25, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Lorie Lewis Ham, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Lorie Lewis Ham
& Sandra Murphy

Today at KRL we have the next in our series-On The Road to Left Coast Crime 2012 where we get a chance to talk to authors who will be attending this year’s conference and review their books. This week we are talking to mystery author Carola Dunn, reviewing her latest book Gone West, and giving away a copy of the book (details on how to enter at the end of this post).

Gone West by Carola Dunn
Review by Sandra Murphy

Daisy Dalrymple’s gone and got herself involved in another murder. A simple visit to an old school friend who’s asked her to see “if something is going on”, ends with the murder of Humphrey Birtwhistle, the master of the house and a writer of Wild West pulp books.

The house is full of relatives who may or may not benefit from his death—wife, son, brother, sister and young woman they took in as a child, as well as his assistant (Daisy’s friend, Sybil), her suitor the Doctor, two suitors vying for the attentions of the young woman and a pair of maids.

Unfortunately for Daisy, her friend Sybil told the Doctor that Daisy is married to a Detective Chief Inspector. Birtwhistle’s cause of death is undetermined and the Doctor asks local police to call in Scotland Yard, in the person of none other than Daisy’s husband, Alec.

Set in England in 1926, this story tells of strict behaviors between the gentry and working class as well as within ranks of the police. For once, Daisy is able to assist, although Alec doesn’t like it. In turn, she gets to see her husband on the job.

1926 is post-war so there are improvements from the last book—there’s a telephone in the house but the operator listens in; Daisy drives herself instead of being driven but it’s still cheaper to send a telegram than to make a long distance phone call.

The plot is good and characters well developed. The murderer is not easily guessed. Take a trip back in time and relax for an afternoon in England as Daisy solves another murder.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble.

Interview with Carola Dunn:

Lorie: How long have you been writing?

Carola: I wrote my first book—longhand, at the kitchen table—in 1979, typed and sold it in 1980.

Lorie: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?

Carola: Toblethorpe Manor (later published in large print as A Girl with No Name) came out in paperback in 1981 (Warner Books). It’s a Regency romance, though it has a mystery at its heart. The hero finds a girl with amnesia on the Yorkshire moors, and her identity isn’t discovered till about 2/3 through. At that point, she forgets what has been going on since she got lost on the moors! So the poor hero has to woo her all over again. It’s still selling, as an e-book.

Carola Dunn

Lorie: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?

Carola: I’ve written 32 full-length Regencies, plus about a dozen Regency novellas. Looking back, I’m amazed at how many of them have mystery/suspense elements: attempted murders, smugglers, spies, kidnapping, wicked heirs–a bit of everything, including a time travel book and some fairytales reimagined with a Regency setting (Aladdin’s Lamp, genie and all, in Regency London and Brighton? Mayhem!).

Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.

Carola: My new book is Gone West, the 20th in the Daisy Dalrymple series, set in England in the 1920s. The specific setting for Gone West is Derbyshire, in the North Midlands. It’s rough country, with high, steep, bare hills and wooded valleys. What I needed was a place to put an isolated farmhouse, not too far from London as Daisy has recently acquired motor-car, a 1925 Gwynne Eight, and I didn’t want her to have too long a drive from London.

She’s been invited to the farm by an old school friend. Sybil, widowed in WWI, is live-in secretary to an author. She’s afraid something fishy is going on at Eyrie Farm, and she’s heard that Daisy is a wiz at solving mysteries.

Daisy finds a house full of grudges, jealousies, and resentment, as well as incipient romance. When one of the residents dies an unnatural death, her husband, Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, is called in.

Apart from recurring characters such as Daisy, Alec, and a few others who reappear irregularly, I create my characters according to the needs of the plot. Then they take on a life of their own, and the plot starts to bend according to how they act and react. That’s one of the most exciting parts of writing.

Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?

Carola: My main purpose is to entertain, and I love hearing from readers who have found my books a source of comfort in difficult times. I do strike serious themes, though, more in some books than others.

For instance, Anthem For Doomed Youth (just out in paperback) explores some of the after-effects of the First World War. It was inspired by a poem by Wilfred Owen, whose title I borrowed, together with contemporary reports of the physical and mental problems of today’s war veterans.

Tolerance is another theme I return to often—Daisy can get along with practically anyone, even an occasional murderer. Not that I’m advocating tolerance of murder!

Many readers enjoy learning a bit of history, not so much actual events of the 1920s as the sort of world Daisy was living in.

Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Carola: I’ve been earning my living from writing for twenty years now, so it’s my full-time job. I work at the computer six days a week, but writing is really a 7/24 occupation. When I’m not sitting at the computer, my characters and my story are percolating in my mind. Ideas strike in the shower, in the wee hours of the morning, walking the dog—anytime. I have pads of paper all over the house for when inspiration arrives.Not to mention that I spent today, Sunday, writing this and answering readers’ letters. And pruning the roses.

Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Carola: For many years, I would write a 7-8 page outline for my editor, but nowadays I get contracts with numbers: Daisy Dalrymple Mystery #21, Cornish Mystery #3. So I tend to just wing it. Makes life interesting! I usually know whodunit and how before I start, but not necessarily. With Sheer Folly, I was writing the next to last chapter when I decided which of two people was the murderer.

Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?

Carola: If I don’t get going in the morning, I find it very hard to start later in the day. And the older I get, the harder it is!

Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Carola: As a matter of fact, no. There weren’t many Regency publishers, though more than there are now, and no sooner had I signed a contract with one of the six than another made an offer (luckily the same amount, or I would have been pretty upset!).

That’s not to say all was smooth sailing. By the time I’d written a second Regency, my publisher had stopped publishing the genre and I had to find another. Then, years later, I was writing for two publishers (Walker and Harlequin) and both dropped the genre within 6 months of each other. But that gave me the boost I needed to try mystery, so it was a good disaster.

Lorie: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Carola: Acceptance: I had a good but completely undeveloped idea for a Regency story that didn’t fit too easily within the genre. However, Zebra was quite open to different ideas, so I mentioned it to my editor. She really liked it, said they could do it as a “Regency Historical,” and asked for a couple of paragraphs she could show to the editorial committee. So I sent her—literally—a couple of paragraphs, and they bought it.

Quite unexpectedly, as I was writing it turned into a sort of “Perils of Pauline.” At the end of each chapter, my hero and heroine were in dire straits. I rescued them at the beginning of the next chapter, only for disaster to once again nearly befall them.

I was a bit nervous about how my editor would like this, but after all, she had gone for the original idea. Then I discovered that she had left and I had a new editor. I was sure she’d think it was really peculiar and hate it, but I shipped it off.

She called. She loved it. But she said there ought to be a couple more scenes—she explained just what she thought it was missing. Extraordinarily (I’m not afraid of either adverbs or long words!), they were both scenes I’d originally planned but just hadn’t got around to putting in. I quite easily found where to insert them, and Scandal’s Daughter was published. It’s my longest book, an adventure story of a journey from Istanbul to London.

Lorie: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Carola: What springs to mind is something that happens whenever I have a local multi-author signing; where I have all my mysteries available. I get people coming up to the table, looking at the array of books, and asking me, “Which have I already read?” Sorry, that’s not a question I can answer!

Lorie: Future writing goals?

Carola: I’m about to finish writing the third Cornish Mystery and I have a contract for a 21st Daisy book. Beyond that, I don’t know. I’d like to slow down a bit, though not retire entirely. I have lots of ideas that I’d like to develop. But if St Martin’s Minotaur wants a 22nd Daisy, who am I to say no?

Lorie: Writing heroes?

Carola: The authors I return to time and time again are Jane Austen and JRR Tolkien.

Lorie: What kind of research do you do?

Carola: Endless. Besides information necessary to my plots and settings, I have period detail to worry about, and I’m very particular about using the proper language for the particular time I’m writing about (Regency, 1920s, c. 1970). OED and Eric Partridge are my best friends, with occasional help from

Lorie: What do you read?

Carola: A lot of old mysteries and a few new ones. Science. History. Mainstream fiction. A little SF/fantasy, but not as much as I used to. The newspaper, most of it except sports and classified. I never did read any romance besides Regencies, and these days I don’t even read those.

Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?

Carola: I don’t have a TV and I rarely go to the movies. The few movies I would quite like to see have usually gone before I get around to seeing them, and after spending all day at the computer I don’t want to watch movies on it in the evening.

Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Carola: Two things:
Being an author takes three qualities, Luck, Talent, Persistence. You can get away with two of the three but the only one you control is Persistence.

Don’t take lists of rules too seriously. As Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.”

Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-Books?

Carola: All my long out-of-print Regencies are going strong as e-Books. I approve! And my mysteries are mostly available for Kindle, Nook, and Sony—the few that aren’t yet soon will be. Anything that offers my work to a wider audience is fine by me.

Lorie: Do you read e-Books yourself?

Carola: I have an e-ink Kindle, mostly for travel. I love being able to download books that are unavailable in print, especially old mysteries.

Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Carola: I’m a chocoholic. But maybe that’s no surprise.

Lorie: Website? Twitter? Facebook?

Carola: Website and Blog Http://

1st and 3rd Wednesday Blog

Facebook: Personal page, plus and (Yes, Daisy has her own FB page!)

Lorie: What advice would you give people attending their first LCC?

Have fun. Never be afraid to go up to someone and introduce yourself, especially if you can follow that with “I love your books!” Or the other way round.

The bar is always a good place to meet people, but I’m not much of a bar person and I prefer the hospitality suite—not always present, but I hope LCC Sacramento will have one. See you there!

Check out our other On The Road to Left Coast 2012 interviews with mystery author Cindy Sample & and L.F. Crawford, interview with Lee Goldberg, and an interview with Michael Orenduff, along with an article on Left Coast Crime‘s past and present.

To enter to win a copy of Gone West, simply email KRL at with the subject line “Gone”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 3, 2012. U.S. residents only.

If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime: Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012. Registration is only $225 & day passes can be purchased for $75 for Friday and Saturday panel sessions. Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to or

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.


  1. If anyone already has Gone West but would like to win one of my other books, I’m open to negotiation 🙂

  2. I loved this article. Lorie asked the questions which I would like to ask. And Carola is one of my favorites, so I really enjoyed the interview. Thanks.

  3. Carola is a treasure and we love having her in Eugene. I descovered her mysteries at Tsunami Books in Eugene just after I moved here from Los Angeles. I got a chance to meet her and talk with her and she is a delight. We have had tea several times and discussed her books and literature in general. I love her “Daisy” and hope she keeps writing. Her Cornish mysteries are superb; I am waiting for the next one.

  4. This sounds like a very intriguing read.

  5. This one sounds like wonderfully constructed mystery. I haven’t read any of her books yet so I would love to win.


  6. I enjoy the Daisy books and love the Cornish Mysteries.

  7. Latest news on Cornish mysteries: the 3rd in the series, Valley of the Shadow, is already listed on Amazon for December. And I haven’t even done the final editing yet…


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