Interview with Rhys Bowen: “I had constant interruptions when I was raising children.”

Rhys Bowen is the New York Times bestselling author of more than forty novels, including The Victory Garden, The Tuscan Child, and the World War II-based In Farleigh Field, the winner of the Left Coast Crime Award for Best Historical Mystery Novel and the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel. 

2021’s The Venice Sketchbook was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel of the Year. Bowen’s work has won over twenty honors to date, including multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. A transplanted Brit, Bowen divides her time between California and Arizona.

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Hi Rhys, welcome to Famous Writing Routines, great to have you here with us today! Your books have been nominated for every major mystery award and you have won twenty of them to date. What do you think has contributed to this success in your writing?

I think I create characters that people can relate to. I do my research well and recreate a time and place exactly as it was, and I tell a good story! Also I try to make every book better than the one before.

You write about turn-of-the-century New York City in the Molly Murphy series and the Great Depression in the Lady Georgie series. What draws you to these historical periods as the setting for your mysteries?

Modern detection has become so scientific and boring to me. I enjoy writing about a period when a detective still had to use her wits, her powers of observation, when life wasn’t simple. Also New York in the early 1900s was such a vibrant, exciting place to write about, as was London in high society in the 1930s.

The Lady Georgie series is lighter and funnier than the Molly Murphy series, poking gentle fun at the British class system. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind these books and why you wanted to write about this topic?

I wanted a heroine who was quite different. I thought ‘what if she’s royal? But penniless? In the 1930s? How would she survive? And I draw a lot on my own experience. Of course I’m not royal but I am married to a British aristocrat. I stay with his family at manor houses. I’ve heard tales about the butler. We have cousins with silly nicknames. It’s a familiar setting for me. And it’s such fun to write about: Queenie the awful maid, Fig the poisonous sister in law.. I chuckle all the time when I’m writing.

You spent time with relatives in Wales as a child, which influenced your first mystery series, the Constable Evans in the mountains of Snowdonia series. Can you tell us a bit about how these childhood experiences have shaped your writing and your approach to mystery writing?

This was my first mystery series. Again it’s write what you know. Those villages huddled under a mountainside are so evocative, and the people of the region are so quirky that it gave me plenty of plot ideas. I still miss Evan!

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Can you tell us about your writing routine? What does a typical day look like for you?

I am writing two and a half books a year at the moment. So I have to be very disciplined. I go to my office after breakfast and I write until I’ve done at least 1500 words. Some days that’s easy, other’s it’s hard. But I can’t quit until I have done it. That way I know I’ll have a first draft done in about three months, which I need to keep to schedule. In the afternoons I have all the other author-chores to do: sending out review copies, doing interviews like this one, promotion, answering fan letters, etc. 

If you could have a conversation with any author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be?

The male authors always had a convenient wife to cook their meals and clean their houses. I had constant interruptions when I was raising children. I made a T-shirt that said ‘Shakespeare didn’t drive car pools”. So it would be a female author. I’d love to chat with Jane Austen because I’m a big fan. Virginia Woolf? We’d be on the same page, I’m sure.

I’d love to know about the books you’re reading at the moment. What have been some of your favorite recent reads?

I’ve just finished the latest book by my friend Deborah Crombie, called A Killing of Innocents. It’s the 19th in her London detective series and it’s sooooo good. Also just read the advance copy of my friend Cara Black’s new thriller, Night Flight to Paris. So exciting.

What does your current writing workspace look like?

We have two homes, one in California where we spend summers and one in Arizona where we spend winters. So I’m in AZ right now. I have a lovely big office with a corner desk, bookcase, sofa and its own bathroom and walk in closet for all my extra stuff. I set and look out of glass doors at the mountains, a lovely view that always cheers me up.

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