In your own words, please describe your book.
The Tender Herb: A Murder in Mughal India is a crime novel set around 1812, starting in Edinburgh and Italy. My main characters travel to Delhi via sea and land to solve a murder and exonerate the husband of an old acquaintance. As they struggle in a strange place to find facts from nearly a year before, other deaths occur and they find themselves unwittingly involved in the Great Game, the spying match between Britain and Russia with India as the prize.
What genre/genres does your book fall under?
It’s essentially a historical murder mystery.
Is this book part of a series?
Yes, it’s the sixth in the Murray of Letho series, which starts with Death in a Scarlet Gown.
What was the inspiration behind your book?
While I was writing the first Murray book in 1996, I happened to travel to the Himalayas via Delhi. I liked Delhi very much and thought I should try to set a book there one day. Later I read William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns and saw a couple of excellent exhibitions, one in London and one in Edinburgh, to do with the British in India, and the plot started to take shape. Scots did very well for themselves in the East India Company, and one of them was William Fraser, from near Inverness. He was an extraordinary man, multi-lingual, scholarly, soldierly, and friends with a wide range of people. He was related to William Dalrymple’s wife and I have visited the house he was brought up in: he had to feature in the book, too. I wanted to lift Murray out of his comfort zone and India seemed the perfect place to do it. The main problem, though, was the very long journey to get there: things had to happen on the journey as well as in Delhi, or readers would wonder when they were ever going to get to the plot!
What led you into writing? Was it a lifelong ambition, or the result of some type of turning point in your life?
When I was about seven, I realised that there were people who wrote those lovely story things I read, and I wanted to do the same. One Christmas when I was about eleven, I picked up Agatha Christie’s short story collection, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, and knew by the time I’d finished it that I wanted to write crime fiction.
So far, what has been the greatest moment in your writing career?
It’s a bit obscure, but Margaret Skea, another historical author, told me that she had heard my work being discussed at a Dorothy Dunnett conference she was at. I love Dorothy Dunnett’s work, heard her speak once, and have probably been considerably influenced by her, so to think that people were mentioning me in the same breath (maybe it was just to say ‘Well, she’s nothing like Dorothy Dunnett, is she?’) was tremendous!
Are you self-published or published through a small-press? Can you tell our readers what led up to that and your publishing experience?
For years I tried to get on to the mainstream publishing track, and even briefly had an agent, but nothing worked. I had given up trying, for the most part, though I hadn’t given up writing, and the first four and a half books in the series were in files on a shelf. I occasionally thought about burning them, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I published one factual book under the name of The Kellas Cat Press, using a local printer and doing everything at home, and that was good but it wasn’t fiction. Then e-publishing came along. I’m not particularly computer literate, but two friends who are pinned me down at a dinner table one evening and wouldn’t let me go until I agreed to try to publish the first two Murray books via Kindle. I went home and gave it a go. One of my friends mentioned the books on an Amazon Kindle forum, someone else noticed and gave them good reviews, and it went on from there. I still design my own covers and enjoy the freedom of self-publishing – it would take a huge advance from a mainstream publisher for me to want to change now!
What are you working on now?
I’m already writing number seven in the Murray of Letho series, Death of an Officer’s Lady, which is set around Waterloo. I’ve also dug up a book I’d nearly finished some years ago, Windhorse Burning, which is set in modern day Sussex and 1950s Sikkim – obviously not a Murray book! My main reader has some expertise in this field and fortunately / unfortunately he has provided me with lots more information which I want to include, so it will take longer than I’d hoped to publish it!
In your own words, please tell us about yourself.
I’m a self-employed historian and teacher (at university), living in North East Scotland in a very untidy granite cottage with people, cats and degus, and what seems like the U.K.’s allowance of sparrows in the garden. There are very few spare minutes in the day, and it seems a shame to waste them on housework, but we like having guests so sometimes it has to happen!
What are some of your likes and dislikes?
I like the outdoors (preferably not too hot and when I’m doing something, like walking or gardening), and I love antiques and old buildings. Part of writing about the past is trying to catch that elusive perfume of touching something old. I also love craft, particularly any involving wool – knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning.
Dislikes? Over-packaging, food waste, and bad grammar!
How can readers connect with you?
I’m on Goodreads (and there’s a thread about my books on the U.K. Kindle Forum there), and I can be contacted through my blog, www.murrayofletho.blogspot.co.uk. The blog is not terribly writing-focussed – I tend to write about gardening and cats and crafts, all of which take up time, too!
Tell us one thing about yourself that we wouldn’t know?
I have about eight medals for target rifle at university level, and I once shot for Scotland!
If there was one thing you could tell your readers, what would it be?
A writer writes. Don’t just think you might have a book in you – get on and write it.