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Author Interview with Imogen Robertson

Interview with Author Imogen Robertson by Jerelyn H. (I-F-Letty)


As a lover of books, there is nothing better than finding an author whose writing you can become lost in, such is the case with Imogen Robertson.  My friend in the H/F forum sent me the first book in Ms. Robertson’s Westerman and Crowther series, Instruments of Darkness.  I saw these books described as Georgian CSI, it is partially true, this is when anatomists began to study more openly  the science of body and causes of death be it natural or not. 

One of the things that I have come to love most about PBS is the sharing of information, it seems we cannot help ourselves when we find an author we love; we have to tell people about it. Word of mouth still sells books.  This series has created quite a stir in our little corner of PBS.  They are beautifully written, interesting, and sometimes poignant.  I love them and can’t wait for the next release of Circle of Shadows on April 26, 2012.

I want to thank Ms. Robertson for agreeing to this interview and would like to welcome her to the PBS blog.

Imogen: Thank you for that lovely introduction! Pleasure to be here.


Jerelyn: I read that you have always written stories.  But how did you make the leap from television into writing, or did you also write for television?

Imogen: It was a bit of a leap of faith. For several years after I began working in TV I wrote very little but did I learn a great deal about story and structure. At some point I realised the urge to write was still there and I needed to do something about it, so I started going to poetry workshops, writing short fiction and reading a lot about the craft of writing. The ideas for Instruments of Darkness started to take hold and I spent my spare time on research. Things really changed for me when I won a competition in the Daily Telegraph for the first thousand words of a novel. The judges were incredibly encouraging and I’d just had a very good year directing, so I actually had some money on hand. That’s where the leap came. I decided not to look for any more directing work and just wrote the novel instead. That became Instruments of Darkness and Headline in the UK offered me a two-book deal. I’ve been very lucky. There was a moment there when I thought I was going to have to sell my flat and start all over again.


Jerelyn:  I always am interested in where an author’s inspiration comes from, so where did Mrs. Westerman and Mr. Crowther come from?

Imogen:  Funny, difficult to reconstruct now. Characters emerge out of the fog of your imagination, observation and research. That said, Crowther felt like he arrived fully formed. I had an image of him working in his study by candlelight in his shirt sleeves, and there he was, utterly himself. Harriet was more difficult. In my first draft she was too good at everything, too reasonable, too wise. I spent a lot of time staring at the Thames in London and wondering what her life would really be like; imagining a woman who had had a glimpse of a wider world and was now feeling confined by the conventions of her day. Then her voice emerged and off she went. Mind you, I’m still finding out about them both; that’s one of the great pleasures of writing a series, watching your characters grow.


Jerelyn:  What drew you to the Georgian era?

Imogen:  Short answer – Amanda Vickery’s book, ‘A Gentleman’s Daughter’. Longer answer? I live in London so am surrounded by Georgian architecture, I’m a great fan of baroque and early classical music and for years I just kept picking up biographies and collections of letters from the period. The more I read, the more interested I became. This was a time of enormous change; the industrial revolution was gathering pace, a consumer society was developing, science flourished, literacy rates were climbing and the towns and cities were growing very quickly, but at the same time it was still a world where life could be brutal and short. There was no modern medicine, no police force worth the name, conditions for the poor in the cities were foul, very high child mortality rates and even the wealthy found their money often provided very little protection from tragedy. A world in flux. What writer can resist that?


Jerelyn:  I love that there are family and friends and social expectations upon Harriet, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, has it?  Was it your intention to show these parallels to a modern woman’s life?

Imogen:  Yes indeed. Any historical writer is inevitably writing about their own time as well as the one in which they have set their novel. The lot of women had improved drastically in the last two hundred years; we have rights and opportunities now that were undreamed of then, but society still knows how to exert pressure on those within it. The idea of the proper role of women is still with us; more subtle and insidious perhaps in some ways, more blatant in others. Whenever I hear a woman saying ‘I’m not a feminist,’ I hear echoes of women in the 18th century who sneered at the blue stockings or the Anti-suffrage leagues of the early 20th. All opinions are welcome, but we need to keep thinking about these issues and asking questions.


Jerelyn:  Did you always see yourself writing mysteries?

Imogen:  You have to write what you love, so yes, I did always want to write crime. I love seeing what characters do under pressure and there is a heritage of superlative writing and story-telling in the genre.


Jerelyn:  Do you see yourself branching out into other genres, i.e. straight historical fiction?

Imogen:  Perhaps. I think the genre that pulls me most at the moment is the ghost story. I obviously read too much M R James when I was a child. That would probably be historical too. I hope I’ve got many years of writing left, we’ll just have to see what stories I get snagged on.


Jerelyn:  Really good books have to be well researched, is the research something you enjoy?

Imogen:  I love it. There is a great period when I am starting research for a new book when I read very widely and generally, just letting myself suck it all up and only thinking very vaguely about the plot. That’s incredible fun, browsing through the newspapers of the time and picking up nuggets for further investigation. It’s opening your mind up to all the different voices. Very exciting. Then finding the sources with all the small details that make your period come alive is very satisfying; the account books of opera houses, the advertisements for patent remedies…


Jerelyn:  What did you find most surprising while researching your novels?

Imogen:  Probably when I was looking at a guidebook to the Lake District from 1782 and found it used to belong to an H Crowther!


Jerelyn:  Which of the characters do you identify most strongly with?

Imogen:  I wish I were more like Harriet, she’s braver than I am, though I did give the poor women my vertigo in Island of Bones. I hope I have her curiosity about people. Secretly I’m probably more like Crowther in some ways, every writer needs to have a bit of the hermit in them, the observer.


Jerelyn:  I love Crowther and Harriet’s partnership, they kind of complete one another (In a nonromantic way) don’t they?

Imogen:  I hope so. They appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses, even if they clash from time to time. I think what they have been through together makes them quite accepting of each other and unusually honest.


Jerelyn:  Your write great children characters, are they drawn from the children in your life?

Imogen:  Thanks! I don’t have any children myself but I have six nephews and lots of friends with young children. I’ve always enjoyed their company, it’s fascinating to see how they learn about the world, watching them work it all out, the way they are unique personalities from the very beginning.


Jerelyn:  Did you read a great deal as a child? What were your favorite books?

Imogen:  I always had a book with me and read precociously. I was an awkward, rather lonely child and adolescent and spent a lot of time escaping into books. Georgette Heyer was a favourite, I fell madly in love with Natasha from War and Peace, sunk into Dickens and Austen and lots of Dorothy L. Sayers. My favourite children’s books were Ballet Shoes, Secret Garden, Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Phantom Tollbooth. Must have read all of those a dozen times.


Jerelyn:  Do you find that you have time for leisure reading?  If so what do you read now?

Imogen:  You have to keep reading. At the moment I’m reading Penelope Lively ‘How it all Began’, just finished ‘Capital’, by John Lanchester, ‘The Psychopath Test’ by Jon Ronson and yesterday when I’d done my words for the day I re-read ‘Off-loading Mrs. Shwartz’ by George Saunders from ‘Civilwarland in Bad Decline’ which is a masterpiece. So it’s an eclectic mix I hope. I read a lot of poetry too: Sarah Gidley, Laura Kasischke and I’m lucky enough to know some great British poets; Roddy Lumsden, Ahren Warner, Sarah Howe…


Jerelyn:  When I contacted you about doing this interview, you said that you were busy writing, is it something you can share with us?

Imogen:  Happily. I’m at work on my fifth book at the moment and it’s not part of the Crowther Westerman series, but is a mystery set both in Paris in 1909 / 1910 and in the present day. It’s exciting to be writing about a new period, especially one as rich as the Belle Époque. I’ll be returning to Harriet and Crowther next year though, which I am really looking forward to. I miss them.


Jerelyn:  I don’t know if they have a site similar to Paperback Swap in the UK.  What are your feelings about such sites?

Imogen: Anything that encourages reading and sharing recommendations has to be good. Hopefully sites like this are a way for writers to find new readers who might then buy our other books, so it would be short-sighted to worry we are loosing sales. I’ve always lent and borrowed books myself and it’s part of the pleasure of reading. The sites that bother me are the ones that offer illegal downloads of books. Those can really hurt! Though I’m sure no one on this site would dream of using them.


Jerelyn:  Are you comfortable with the amount of marketing an author is required to do now days?

Imogen:  This is where the Crowther part of my character becomes a problem! It is great to meet readers and doing interviews like this is fun. I also get a real kick from fan mail. Somebody writing to say they’ve got pleasure from your work can be a real boost at the end of the day. That said, it can be tough sometimes when you feel you have to be out selling yourself at events when you’d rather be in a library or at your desk, but my publishers put a lot of effort into producing and publishing my work. It would be churlish, having been lucky enough to get a deal, not to go out and support your work as much as you can. I am rubbish at the hard sell though.


Jerelyn:  How do you feel about e-readers?

Imogen:  I love mine. It’s great to throw a library into my handbag on the rare occasions I leave the house, and it’s lovely to go from ‘I’d like to read that book’ to having it in front of you in a minute. I never feel I really own a book until I have a hard copy on my shelves though, so for me ereaders are a way to spend a fortune because I end up buying things twice! It is tough for the industry to adjust, but publishing is full of smart people working hard so I’m sure they’ll figure it out. In the meantime I just write and read.


Jerelyn:  When I putter about the house or I am in the car I love to listen to audio books, I have Instruments of Darkness on audio as well.  Are there plans for the others to be released in this format also?

Imogen:  It’s one of the strange things about being the writer that I don’t really know what plans there are for audio books. I’m sure they’ll appear in time though.


Jerelyn:  I would like to thank-you for visiting with us here on the PBS blog, and wish you best of luck with Circle of Shadows which will be out in e-book format on April 26, 2012. Do you have a print release date?

Imogen:  It’s been a pleasure! Circle of Shadows comes out in the UK in hardback on 26th April (Headline Review). Anatomy of Murder is coming out in paperback in the US in September (Penguin), and Island of Bones comes out in hardback in the US in October (Pamela Dorman Books). I don’t have a print release date for the US version of Circle of Shadows yet, but I’ll certainly add it to my website as soon as I know.


To read more about Imogen Robertson you can go to her website at, http://imogenrobertson.wordpress.com/  or follow her on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Imogen-Robertson/108977532473638 , but I have yet to enter the world of twitter.  Also there is a wonderful video introduction to, Anatomy of Murder on You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SLOXpqkt2o



Book list:

Instruments of Darkness


Anatomy of Murder


Island of Bones


Circle of Shadows







Tags: , ,

48 Responses to “Author Interview with Imogen Robertson”

  1. Bonnie (LoveNE) , says:

    Thank-you Jerelyn for another chance at meeting an author! Imogen, thank you for an honest, interesting interview. I look forward to my next trip to B&N to check out your books!

  2. Jeanne L. (bkydbirder) , says:

    Great interview Letty, with an author who is on my list of “Five most Favorite” authors! I managed to get the first 2 books from PBS, but have purchased the next two of course. I will anxiously be awaiting the fifth installment of Crowther and Westerman books since I too will be missing them!

    Thank you for this insight into a very gifted writer!!!


  3. Jerelyn H. (I-F-Letty) says:

    Well Jeanne I have you to thank for introducing me to Ms. Robertson’s work. I agree she is one of my must read authors.

  4. Aimee (peculiarway) says:

    Excellent interview, Letty! I love getting a “behind the scenes” glimpse at an author’s influences and writing process…as well as the scoop on upcoming projects! And you gave us both in your interview, yay!

    Ms. Robertson has moved very near to the top of my “must read” list, and I greatly look forward to the next Crowther and Westerman, as well as her other upcoming project.

  5. Bonnie (LoveNE) , says:

    I forgot to say one more thing…Imogen, Thank-you, Thank-you for some awesome covers! No half-dressed women that don’t look like me!!!

  6. Aubree G. (notyourstar) , says:

    Great interview Letty! I love meeting authors whose books I love! I’m very much looking forward to reading more from Ms. Robertson!

  7. Cheryl M. (hannamatt52) says:

    Another interesting interview. Thanks to both Letty and Ms Robertson for their time. I am certainly going to have to add “Instruments” to my wish list.

  8. Jill says:

    I am such a fan of the CSI type shows. The science as part of the story, and the conclusion. It had to begin somewhere. Add in rich and layered characters, a well thought out story line, and it’s a can’t lose books.

    Thanks Jerelyn, once again you show a knowledge of the author’s work, and insteresting questions that bring them into our homes as interesting people!

  9. Jeanne L. (bkydbirder) , says:

    @ bouillabaisse – HUH???? NOTHING whatsoever to do with this interview is in that comment!

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