Charles and Caroline Todd, a mother-son team who write under the name Charles Todd, are the authors of the new mystery A Fine Summer's Day, the latest in their Ian Rutledge series. Their many other novels also include the Bess Crawford series. They live on the East Coast of the United States.
Q: How did you come up with your character Ian Rutledge?
A: When we decided to write about the Great War, we realized that our character had to be an Englishman rather than an American. The thinking was, since America was involved in the actual fighting for less than six months, we hadn’t suffered as Britain had done, we couldn’t “speak” for the period as clearly.
And we wanted several things from Rutledge himself. First a career that he could come home at the Yard, not the Met or county police, the intelligence and experience to solve crimes on his own without modern forensics, which were in their infancy then, and to be the kind of man who would fight his own battles with PTSD and struggle to deal with four years in the trenches.
He must speak too for all those who had gone to France in hope of fame and glory, and speak as well for those who had not come home. And the person who came into being has more than fulfilled our expectations of him—he’s someone we’ve come to care about quite deeply.
Q: Why did you decide to set the new mystery, A Fine Summer's Day, in 1914?
A: We’d written sixteen books about Rutledge the man who had survived the Great War and come home to a very different world in 1919. And we were increasingly curious about what he might have been like in 1914 before the war cast a shadow over Britain and Europe.
We thought we knew how the war had changed him, but as we wrote this prequel, exploring the man and his times, we were often surprised by what we didn’t know we knew about him! It will be interesting to see how Rutledge fans take this book, but for us it was an experience and a challenge.
If you’ve never read this series, try A Fine Summer's Day, and then read A Test of Wills, the 1919 story of Rutledge’s return. If you’ve read Test, and are now enjoying A Fine Summer's Day, you will see this man in a very different and powerful light. We made a point not to reread Test ourselves, until we had finished Day, and it was an amazing journey.
The next Rutledge of course takes us back to the point where we left him after Hunting Shadows, and we’re well into it.
Q: What kind of research do you do for your novels?
A: Everybody does research of some kind, but since we jumped into a time not our own, a country not our own, and even a language not our own, we have to do a great deal of research.
About the period, about the war, about the countryside, about France, about what people wore and felt and thought, and even about the food they ate or the cars they were just starting to drive.
Fortunately we both love doing research, and we try to use sources contemporary to the period so we know what they knew. It’s amazing to find an old postcard depicting a place you’re deciding to write about: there’s the main street on a winter’s day, or a village square as it was then. Or to find a description in someone’s memoirs or to see a photograph of a lorry or a woman’s hat or the way sheep were shorn.
But the most important research takes us to England, because walking around in the village we are to use, finding its past roots, talking to people who have lived there, listening to how they express themselves and what is important to them can’t be found in a book or on line.
Q: Do you generally know how your books will end before you start writing, or do you make changes as you go along?
A: We never know who did it or why. From page one we are following our characters through the story, listening to what they have to say, what secrets they are trying to hide, what Rutledge can pry out of them, and what their interactions are with other characters, and we figure out who did it and why about the same time Rutledge does. It’s a way also to keep the book fresh, rather telling the same story in 18 different ways.
We sort of had to figure out how to collaborate, and the system of doing everything together, and letting our characters loose has really worked. Not every author does it that way, of course—there are as many “ways to write” as there are writers. What works for YOU is the always the best approach.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: We’ve just turned in the next Bess Crawford—end of December—and we’re busy with the production stages of that. Line edits, copy edits, cover art, and so on.
The title is A Pattern of Lies, and Bess is facing an unusual situation where her help might change a man’s fate. If you are on trial for murder, and all the evidence is against you, sifting through a pattern of lies and whispers just might finally get at the truth.
And we’ve begun the new Rutledge, which seems to be taking place in Cornwall, rather than Wales, as we had expected it to. No title yet, early days, but one of the things we’ve really enjoyed is switching from Bess for one part of the year to Rutledge for another. And we’ve promised several short stories, so we’re working on them as well.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: We’ve just had a wonderful tour through six states, and met the most terrific people. We were interviewed by PBS stations and radio stations, met with book clubs, saw some absolutely marvelous bookstores, and had a great time.
It’s tiring, doing all that traveling, but the chance to walk into a bookstore we have visited before or are just coming to for the first time, is really what it’s all about. You stand up before a group and talk about your books—and then they ask questions and you learn how they feel about the characters or the setting or the plot. Since you write in a room by yourself, this is important to do.
We also have to admit that we found some books to buy as well. Each independent bookstore is an adventure, different tastes, different books on the shelves, different opportunities. So we make the most of it.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb