Charles Todd is the bestselling, award-winning author of the Inspector Rutledge and Bess Crawford mysteries. Topeka is reading A Test of Wills, the first in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, as part 2Book Topeka this fall. A Test of Wills is an English countryside murder mystery set post WWI-era, starring a veteran who solves crimes for Scotland Yard, even as he battles his own demons and memories. The books are meticulously researched and Rutledge is a complex, compelling character.
Fans might not realize that author Charles Todd is actually a mother son writing team, Caroline and Charles Todd. Two writers putting their heads together to produce book after book. You can meet both authors here at the library on Sun, Oct 7, 2-3:30 pm. Check in with our Facebook event to get a reminder.
It’s hard enough for me to write what’s in my own head, without having to process my ideas with another writer. So I had to ask them, how do they do it?
“It’s so much easier to work on everything together,” Caroline said. “We each have copies of the same books and same photos and same materials, so that we are always on the same page—literally.”
“We call it the way of sanity,” he said. “We tried several ways of collaborating, and this was the only one that made sense to us. It’s hard to work out a plot or what makes a character tick if one of us does one thing and the other does something else.”
For writers who are interested in trying collaborative writing, the pair have some advice.
“It’s important to work out just what each of you will do, and how you will work out any differences, BEFORE you start to write,” Caroline said.
Charles adds that it’s important to get the agreement in writing, too.
“In reality this is a business proposition and should be handled that way up front before getting creative,” he said.
When it comes to research Caroline and Charles travel to locations featured in their books and they immerse themselves in the information and artifacts of the time period.
“The history of a place, the layout, pictures of what it was like in the period, make it possible for the story to come to life for you and for your readers,” both authors said.
Charles and Caroline are noted for using sources contemporary to the time period of the books so the viewpoints expressed with be authentic to the time, rather than colored by hindsight. Caroline points out that this sometimes means characters will seem to be in the wrong in their opinions or perceptions of events.
“But it is all the information that was available to them,” she said, “and so you must go with it.”
Charles cites Winston Churchill as an example.
“After Gallipoli, it was thought that he was washed up politically,” Charles said. “To have a character mention that he was a great man and would go on to greater things, would be contrary to what was believed at the time.”
Of course I had to ask the authors to share their library stories and I wasn’t surprised to hear that both authors greatly value reading and libraries. Charles told me that he got his first library card as soon as he could write his name.
“I was not even in kindergarten, but my parents were happy to read my choices to me,” he said.
Charles Todd just published a new book in the Bess Crawford series, A Forgotten Place, and a new Inspector Rutledge book is due out in February 2019. You can get a Charles Todd book signed when you meet the authors on Oct 7. The Raven Book Store will also be selling copies of A Forgotten Place and A Test Wills at the library event.
Check out book recommendations from Charles and Caroline, and see below for the full interview with the authors.
An Interview with Charles Todd–via email between the authors and librarian, September, 2018
It’s so impressive that you write as a team to craft one great book at a time! Do you split up research and writing tasks, or work on everything together?
Caroline: It’s so much easier to work on everything together. We each have copies of the same books and same photos and same materials, so that we are always on the same page—literally. 😊
Charles: We tried several ways of collaborating, and this was the only one that made sense to us. It’s hard to work out a plot or what makes a character tick if one of us does one thing and the other does something else. We call it the way of sanity.
What are the biggest challenges of writing as a team? Biggest advantages?
Caroline and Charles: Biggest challenge? Writing page 1 of Chapter 1. We find that if we get that just right, it sets the stage for everything that follows. And so it takes us longer than any other part of the book. There’s a lot of back and forth as we work it out. The biggest advantage? Two people to do the research, although it’s always shared, and someone to talk to when there’s a scene that isn’t going just right. As you probably saw on the website, we even went up in a WWI type plane, to be sure we knew what it felt like flying in the Great War.
What is the number one piece of advice would you give to writers who want to collaborate?
Caroline: There are many ways of collaborating, and it’s important to work out just what each of you will do, and how you will work out any differences. BEFORE you start to write.
Charles: And also put in writing what will happen if one of you wants to quit. In reality this is a business proposition and should be handled that way up front before getting creative. This prevents your relationship from breaking apart just when you are successful.
You do a great deal of research for your novels, and often travel. How does traveling to a site before you write about it help you write a better story?
Caroline and Charles: The setting is very important to the story. It anchors the characters in a place that fits their background, it gives you great flexibility in writing action scenes, and often you find something in that setting that becomes central to the plot. The history of a place, the layout, pictures of what it was like in the period, make it possible for the story to come to life for you and for your readers.
I read in another interview that you use sources contemporary to the time period you’re writing about in doing your WWI research, because you want the stories to be authentic to the time, rather than based on modern reflections that are colored by hindsight. I love it, and confess I might not have thought of it. What sort of challenges does that pose during the research process?
Caroline: You can only know what your characters knew at the time. In wartime there are a lot of secrets, military, political, even in families. Later research often has access to these, and in writing more definitive histories of the war, they can bring such points of view into the study. Often these are very interesting. They may even make what your characters knew at the time seem historically wrong. But it is all the information that was available to them, and so you must go with it.
Charles: My favorite example of this is the career of Winston Churchill. After Gallipoli, it was thought that he was washed up politically. To have a character mention that he was a great man and would go on to greater things, would be contrary to what was believed at the time. And so you stay with the period. The death penalty is another problem. At the time, it was the standard punishment for some crimes. Rutledge knows this, but for him to talk about ending the death penalty would go contrary to the accepted attitudes. However, we can make him aware of his responsibility in getting it right when he brings in a murderer, to be sure he has the guilty party.
I imagine in the course of your research, you’ve visited a number of libraries. Do you have any memorable stories of library or archive discoveries to share?
Caroline: We found in the National WWI Museum in Kansas City a mask that we used to great effect in a Rutledge mystery. We were speaking there that evening and took a very thorough tour of the exhibits, and it was marvelous.
Charles: Perhaps this is time to mention how much libraries meant to us when we were both young and just starting to read for ourselves. Caroline had two marvelous librarians, a man and wife, who helped her find all sorts of books she might never have discovered on her own, and even brought her books from the adult section when they felt she was ready for them. I could get a library card as soon as I could print my name. So I worked hard at writing it, went to the library and demonstrated what I could do, and I got a card. I was not even in kindergarten, but my parents were happy to read my choices to me. Caroline’s family and our family were all voracious readers and usually took out about fifteen books a month, on every subject imaginable.
You have a new book coming out this fall. Can you tell readers a bit about what to expect?
Caroline and Charles: We write two series a year, and September means a new Bess. A FORGOTTEN PLACE is set in southern Wales. Bess, a battlefield nurse in the Great War, is now working with the severely wounded for whom there are no banners and parades. A company of Welsh soldiers, former miners, dread going home because there will be no work for them. Their officer writes to Bess, telling her that he fears peace will do what war can’t—kill the rest of his men. Bess travels to Wales to do what she can to help these men, and in tracking down the last of them, she soon finds herself at the tip of a wild and isolated Welsh peninsula in a village where secrets and death walk hand in hand. The question is, who can she trust? And with only her wits to protect her, how can she survive?
What are some of your personal favorite books and authors?
Caroline: I love to read–suspense and mysteries usually, but my father also introduced me to Westerns and Zane Grey. I like Ian Rankin and Lee Child and Nelson DeMille and Diana Gabaldon and Ann Cleeves, and Anne Cleeland and Deborah Crombie. I love poetry too. Favorite books? Oh, Treasure Island and Moby Dick and DAY OF THE JACKEL and Jack Higgins’ A Prayer for the Dying. And Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Series. Poe’s THE GOLD BUG.
Charles: I enjoy many of the same authors and books, but I enjoy reading about Constitutional Law and Winston Churchill’s various titles. David McCullough’s too.
What’s coming up in 2019 for Charles Todd?
Caroline and Charles: We’re really excited about the new Rutledge in February, THE BLACK ASCOT, and it’s a page-turner. Rutledge is faced with a cold case that suddenly turns hot, and he’s got to find answers not only for Scotland Yard but to save his career—and possibly his own life.
And where can readers best follow your writing progress and adventures?
We’re on Facebook: @CharlesTodd and @CharlesToddNovels and Twitter: @CharlesToddBks and Instagram: charlestoddpic, there’s the HarperCollins author site. And of course our own Website: charlestodd.com.