Good Reading : October 2008
writing life Di Morrissey on her latest book Amanda Hampton on writing and tow-trucks Australian Classic The Lucky Country Gangsters and molls Meet Megan Abbot, queen of noir Don’t miss our Christmas Buyer’s Guide ORDER YOUR COPY NOW! NEXT ISSUE I’ve always been a mystery buff. I started in primary school, reading Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven’ and ‘Famous Five’ series, graduated to Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys and eventually to Agatha Christie. Today I still read widely in the genre, as well as being an addict of TV crime series: Underbelly, The Sopranos, Inspector Morse and many more. Although I’d never written a mystery, most of my novels have elements of suspense. About a year ago I felt ready to write a mystery novel for kids and I knew I wanted to write something set in the early 1930s. Partly that’s because it was such an interesting period; partly because I was inspired by Agatha Christie, but also because of a series of photographs I own featuring my grandparents at about that time. My grandfather Robert- Rene Masson was a millionaire playboy, photographer and film cameraman in France, my grandmother Marie-Louise was a beautiful artist and I was always intrigued by the stories I’d heard as a kid about their golden youth. I wanted to write something classy, sparkling and suspenseful, crisply told – something that kids would love but that adults could read with pleasure too. I wanted a mix of adventure, mystery, romance, glamour and humour. But I couldn’t quite find the focus. And then, idling on the internet one day, looking up stuff about Sherlock Holmes, I discovered Harry Ashton-Wolfe, celebrity detective of the early 20th century, who wrote a number of true-crime books. Marvellously boastful, featuring himself at the centre of any number of blood-curdling cases, the books are also real name-droppers. Ashton-Wolfe claimed to have known master detectives ranging from the top guys at the French Sûreté (the French police force – French detectives were held up then as the model of scientific detection) and Scotland Yard, but also Arthur Conan Doyle himself. The books also feature wonderful, bizar re photos of Ashton-Wolfe in action and in disguise. Characters began to spring fully for med into my head: Philip Woodley- Foxe, a celebrity detective who is rather better in his own imagination than he really is; his clever teenage assistant, George Dale; Mrs Peabody the rich widow, and her secretary, a bright young girl called Daisy Miller. Add to that a film star dripping with diamonds, a member of European royalty, a daring jewel thief and a mysterious young Frenchman and hey presto, there was the cast of The Case of the Diamond Shadow ! Also inspiring the book were the lurid crime magazines of the 1930s, such as True Detective magazine. I bought original copies from second-hand bookshops, and had a wonderful time exploring them. They provided me with plenty of pop-culture elements: there’s nothing like old magazines and comics for plunging you back into the atmosphere of a time. Old comics inspired the side story, the adventures of Inspecteur Nocturne, a comic within the novel which provides additional clues. My son Bevis illustrated this comic strip. All of this research was not only fun, but helped me to create a mystery with the authentic feel of those glamorous times. The Case of the Diamond Shadow by Sophie Masson is published by ABC Books, rrp $14.95. on sale 31 October a diamond in the rough A little bit of luck, a lot of research and a love of the genre led SOPHIE MASSON down the inevitable path to writing a mystery novel.