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Posts Tagged ‘Katherine Cowley’

Vic’s Review

Mary-Bennet-Cover-Smaller-VersionImagine a mystery novel that features Mary Bennet as its investigative heroine! Author Katherine Cowley’s choice of Mary, the largely unnoticed Bennet daughter in Pride and Prejudice, piqued my interest. While Cowley kept some of Mary’s idiosyncrasies and insecurities as the middle child, she has created a sympathetic character, whose strengths as a keen observer accustomed to sitting on the sidelines help her solve a murder.

The book opens just after Mr Bennet’s death, with 19-year-old Mary sitting vigil near her father’s body at Longbourn. It is night and the house is deathly quiet. As she reminisces about past regrets and current events, she comes to dread her future as an unmarried daughter. Her safest choice would be to live with Mrs Bennet, but Mary wants to leave Meryton and wonders if she should take the bold step of earning her own way in life, as a governess perhaps? 

Her reveries are interrupted by the sound of a carriage. Not expecting company at such a late hour, Mary reluctantly asks a maid to let the mysterious visitors in. The door opens to two strangers, Lady Trafford, a strong-willed woman who rarely considers the word “no” as an answer to her requests, and her secretive nephew, Mr. Withrow. Lady Trafford ostensibly came to pay her respects to the mourning family, claiming kinship, but the reason for her visit soon becomes clear—to offer Mary an invitation to live with her at Castle Durrington in Sussex, for reasons that don’t quite make sense to the young woman.

After some persuasion and mental list-making, Mary accepts Lady Trafford’s invitation, and so her adventures as a sleuth begin. The following passage with Mrs Bennet, Lady Trafford, and Mary gives you some idea of Cowley’s writing style, which is her own, but echoes Jane Austen’s in a delightful way:

“Surely it is owed to us, Mary, for you to have such an opportunity. Especially as you are not beautiful like your sisters, and you have had no suitors.”

“I have already made up my mind, Mother.”

“You cannot possibly think to turn down Lady Trafford’s offer! What an inconsiderate child you are.”

“I did not say how I had made up my mind.”

“What do you say, Miss Bennet? Will you join me at Castle Durrington?”

“How big is your library?” asked Mary. “And do you have a pianoforte?”- p.56

In her first days at the castle, Mary becomes embroiled in a mystery. Then, during a brisk walk to the Sussex coast, she stumbles upon a body lying face down in the sea. After meeting a few more characters and getting to know Lady Trafford and Mr Withrow better, she no longer knows who to trust. Given free rein to Castle Durrington’s library, her research leads her to more unsettling truths. 

Cowley writes the book from Mary’s point of view, which is refreshing, for we come to know her as a fully realized person, one who is willing to learn and eager to take lessons to improve herself. She is a careful list maker and planner, and one who combines the characteristics of a good investigator—that of an observant, nondescript, determined, and note-taking woman—who people seldom notice. 

This first published book by Katherine Cowley will appeal to readers who enjoy murder mysteries set in the Regency era with a castle and rugged English coastline as a setting. Readers are also given a host of suspects to suss out until the solution is revealed. I had a great time sussing wilst arriving at my own conclusions to the mystery in this novel!

Interview with Katherine Cowley 

  1. Photo of Katherine Cowley

    Katherine Cowley

    What about Mary Bennet’s character appealed to you to write about her? Which of her traits in Pride and Prejudice did you develop to further and enhance your mystery plot for this novel and make her more interesting?

One of the things that appealed to me most about Mary Bennet is the fact that others overlook her—she is ignored, dismissed, and snubbed. And shouldn’t those who are quiet and overlooked be able to have their own stories, their own adventures?

Mary Bennet is very analytical, she loves to read, and she’s good at remembering things. Like Mary, I know what it’s like to say the wrong thing in a group setting, or to embarrass myself in conversation, or to not feel comfortable in all situations. 

So much is left open about Mary’s character—what is it that she wants? It’s clear that she wants to read and play the pianoforte and have peace and quiet, and there’s a brief mention by Austen that Mary had hoped Mr. Collins would propose to her. But beyond that, we don’t know what Mary wants. In part, I wrote this book to figure that out.

In terms of characteristics that I developed, I played up Mary’s observational skills, and I gave her a desire to learn French and drawing. Also, if Mary does not know what to do in a situation, she’ll think about what one of her sisters would do in such a moment, and often that ends up being the perfect action for her to take.

  1. Briefly describe your writing process for us (if this is possible). What I mean is, did you develop a plot outline first (with the ending always in mind)? And then allowed the characters to speak to you as you wrote about them? Or did you “stay with the program?” You also mentioned a community of writing help in your acknowledgments—how did they influence your thoughts before, during, and after the process?

I would categorize myself as both an outliner and a discovery writer. I did write an outline before the first draft, with some of the major events I wanted in the story (for example, I knew I wanted French and drawing lessons, and I knew I needed a big ball scene that had all sorts of mystery and intrigue and would also act as an important moment for Mary’s character). I also had a very clear vision of what the final chapter would look like. 

But then I “discovered” (or figured out as I went along) all sorts of characters and events and situations as I wrote.

I don’t know the exact how length of my first draft, but the second draft of the novel was about 55,000 words. While there was mystery, there was not a dead body—it was not yet a murder mystery. That came in a later draft.

I wrote five drafts of the novel before querying literary agents. My writing group read one chapter a month and gave me feedback, and I sent the second, third, and fourth draft of my novel to new sets of readers—a mixture of other writers and trusted readers who love Jane Austen. This community was so helpful in helping me refine my ideas, improve my writing, solve plot problems, and figure out what was and was not working.

I wrote two additional drafts with my literary agent (the first was a major revision, and the second was a minor revision). After my book was acquired by my publisher, I did a revision with the editor, a second revision to shorten the book by 1000 words, a copy edit, and proofreads.

Now that it’s finished, the novel is about 90,000 words (so 35,000 words longer than the second draft). It was a lengthy process to get the story from where it started to where it is today.

  1. In this day and age, it is unusual for a new author to have a book published, but you have two more Mary Bennet mystery sequels in the pipeline. Kudos! I suspect this has more to do with hard work than luck. What advice would you give to other hopeful authors who are writing their first books?

If you’re writing a first book, my biggest advice is to keep writing, and to push through and finish the book. When I first began trying to write books, I started a lot of novels that I never finished, sometimes due to perfectionism or not knowing what I wanted to do with the story or because I became distracted by a shiny new idea.

I learned a lot from books that helped me understand structure and plot, and there’s so much you can learn about writing craft from the Internet, from books, and from writing conferences. But there’s a lot that you can only learn by doing it. Push through, finish a first draft, and let go of perfectionism. And then take the time to get feedback from other writers and revise, revise, revise. Then, if you would like to publish the book, make sure to take the time to learn all you can about publication and different publishing options.

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The book will be available on April 22nd, 2021. Find purchase information for preordering in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and other locations on Katherine Cowley’s site.

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