Today I have the pleasure in welcoming Paul Magrs the author of the Brenda & Effie paranormal mystery series. I read and reviewed Conjugal Rites for my All Hallow’s Eve event and absolutely loved it. My review of Hell’s Belles will be posted tomorrow.
I also have TWO copies (with signed bookplate) of Hell’s Belles to giveaway courtesy of Headline Review. So make sure you enter at the end of the interview!
Paul Magrs was born in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear in 1969. He’s always wanted to write the kinds of book he could never find when he was a teenager. Nowadays he is Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.
Paul is the author of numerous books, but probably most well known for his Brenda & Effie paranormal mystery series.
Hi Paul! Thank you so much for being here on Book Chick City, it really is a pleasure. I absolutely loved Conjugal Rites and I’m so looking forward to reading your upcoming 4th installment, Hell’s Belles. For those who are not familiar with your work, can you tell us about the Brenda & Effie series?
This is a series of what I would call Spooky Mysteries. Brenda is a landlady of a B+B who has a very strange past. She lives next door to her best friend Effie, who likes to think she’s posh, and who runs a junk shop (or ‘antiques emporium’ as she calls it.) The two of them are ladies of a certain age and should really be winding down into retirement. However, they live in the quaintly old-fashioned harbour town of Whitby in North Yorkshire, which has been the haunt of supernatural forces for a long, long time. It is Brenda and Effie’s job to safeguard the locals from anything untoward that might emerge from the Gateway to Hell located under the ancient, crumbling abbey.
The important thing to remember is that this is a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Brenda and Effie are continually in dire peril, but they don’t let that spoil their fun. These two are game old birds and the books are about resourcefulness and spirit and having a high old time, even in the face of awful danger. There is also a fair amount of romance, too. Though our heroines always, always seem to hook up with just the wrong men…
Hell’s Belles, the fourth book in the Brenda and Effie series, is released today (12th). Can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s being published on my fortieth birthday…! *Happy Birthday – I hope you are doing something fun and not working!*
In Hell’s Belles we add a few new characters into the mix. We begin from the view-point of Penny, a young woman who arrives in Whitby by train with just a few belongings chucked into a case or two. She’s fleeing from a failed, restrictive marriage. She is about to take up a job as a receptionist at the Hotel Miramar. There she meets the stand-in manager, Robert and pretty soon she is drawn into the heady whirl of his peculiar social life. She meets his friends, Brenda and Effie and, it seems, they are right at the beginning of one more terrifying sequence of events…
A film is about to be made in Whitby. It is coming up to Hallowe’en and the Goth Festival. A horror film classic is being remade by a dedicated cast and crew, who arrive and soon take over the town. Among them is the fabulous Karla Sorenson – the most famous onscreen vampire lady of all time. She hides some terrible secrets, does Karla. She’s hardly aged a day in all her life. She is connected to a nasty satanic cult. When she is shooting the film’s climactic scenes – a black sabbat up at the abbey on the stroke of midnight on Hallowe’en – it’s pretty obvious that something ghastly and hellish will be unleashed upon the world… And only Brenda and Effie and their various friends can do anything about it.
Brenda & Effie are two quirky characters, living in Whitby, Yorkshire, beating up the local supernatural nasties that emerge from the hell mouth they are guarding – not something you imagine two retired ladies to be doing! How did you come up with the idea? Did it take a while for their characters to come to life or did they just appear fully formed?
Brenda was a character who first appeared in my work in 1998. Radio 4 asked me to write something for their ‘Afternoon Story’ slot. Just a fifteen minute original short story, which would feature a star-turn by a minor character from an old novel. I had a single night to get the story done. I stayed up all night, cudgeling my brains and into my head eventually popped…
The Bride of Frankenstein. A character who I thought we never heard enough from. Certainly not in Mary Shelley’s novel. So, I imagined what might have happened, after her various abandoned bits were left strewn about in that makeshift lab in that ruined castle on that faraway Scottish island. I imagined the monster and Frankenstein running away, still in deadly pursuit of each other. And the poor ruined Bride did what every woman has to do for herself sooner or later. She picked herself up and pulled herself together and simply got on with it.
I imagined that she had had a rackety existence, moving from town to town, hiding her scars and her secrets, trying to fit in. But always being drawn into macabre mysteries and situations. Poor Brenda! When we first meet her she is two hundred years old and deciding that she is going to try to have a quiet retirement in Whitby, a town that has called out to her weary bones.
So that was the first story, just an introduction to Brenda’s life in Whitby, her friendship with Effie, and a tantalizing glimpse of her dark backstory. An actress called Joanna Tope read the story as Brenda and her wonderful, warm, yet still enigmatic tones stayed with me. It wasn’t until 2005 and lots of other stories and novels that I sat down and thought at last: ‘Right, now it’s time for that first book about Brenda…’ I sat in the garden every day that summer and hammered out a first draft of what became ‘Never the Bride.’
Those characters were there, fully-formed, it seemed, waiting for me to go back to them.
(What’s nice about Jo Tope doing the voice of Brenda originally, is that she’s just read the unabridged audiobook for BBC Audio, which sees release next spring. A nice circularity to that!)
How many books are planned so far for Brenda & Effie?
Oh, I only plan the next one coming along. With maybe glimpses of one after that. Any more than that and I’d go doolally.
What are you working on at the moment?
Paul: Right now I’m putting finishing touches to what will be Brenda Book Five: ‘The Bride that Time Forgot’. I’m also drawing up plans for a Doctor Who project. And also another series of audio adventures for my character Iris Wildthyme, the transtemporal adventuress, as published by Big Finish Productions (www.bigfinish.com). A small press run by Stuart Douglas called Obverse Books (www.obversebooks.co.uk) are meanwhile publishing hardback anthologies of stories based on the same character, and I’ve been very involved in those. Readers of this blog and Brenda and Effie would love Iris Wildthyme. She’s a kind of sexy, hard-drinking, very glamorous female version of Doctor Who. She goes racketing about the universe in a red London bus, getting involved in ludicrous adventures. She does for science fiction what Brenda and Effie do for Gothic romance…
Any plans on releasing the books in the States?
I hope so! Though sometimes I hear from publishing people that the US wouldn’t ‘get’ a series of books that mixes Buffy with Alan Bennett, and Miss Marple with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. People fret that the US and the rest of the world wouldn’t ‘get’ North Yorkshire and Whitby.
But I think people who read paranormal romance and dark fantasy and cosy mysteries really would get these things. They all know about Dracula and Frankenstein, don’t they? They all know Yorkshire from the Brontes! By definition I think readers of Gothic romances and mysteries are extremely well-read.
My Brenda and Effie Mysteries are simply about the wives and girlfriends of the monsters from the old Universal horror movies, and they all live in the spooky harbour town where Dracula first came ashore. That’s all there is to it! I’m sure readers can get that.
I don’t think the age of my heroines would stand in the way either, would it? I mean, lots of books in this genre have young women at the centre. In my books they’re just older sexy women! What’s not to love, America?
So… we’ll see..!
I’m sure our American friends would love Brenda & Effie! When did you start writing?
I was nine. I wrote a school story, about a weeklong trip our school went on to study nature in a freezing valley in the Pennines. I even sent it to Penguin books, and got a very nice, encouraging letter in reply. But I’d always scribbled stuff down. Earwigging on aunties and grandmothers in our family, noting down all of their gossipy, scurrilous stories. I was typing up my stories on a blue plastic typewriter when I was eleven. The first novel I wrote that wound up getting published I began when I was twenty one. I’ve written at least a novel a year since then and I think I’m quite obsessed.
What’s ‘a day in the life of Paul Magrs’ like?
Today’s pretty typical. I start work with coffee quite early. I like to get some writing done on my current novel project straight away. Hopefully a thousand words. Usually at my desk, but I’ve experimented recently with sitting up in bed with my laptop, feeling like Barbara Cartland. Once my day’s pages are done I do a blog post of some kind, most days (www.paulmagrs.com). Then the rest of the morning I’m on with correspondence and emails. Business stuff.
Lunch is most often at home. My partner works from home, mostly, too, so we have lunch together. Then, today, for example, I’m in work. The day job. I have a post at Manchester Metropolitan University. I teach the MA in Novel Writing and the Children’s Writing MA. So this afternoon I have office hours and tutorials with some of my students, to discuss their works-in-progress. In the evening I’ve a two hour seminar and workshop with my Children’s Writing group. We’re working our way through significant books of the twentieth century. We’ve been taking apart books such as John Masefield’s ‘The Box of Delights’ or Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden.’ It’s about revisiting books that were favourites, or discovering them for the first time, maybe.
Dinner is late and Jeremy and I watch Frasier or something like that – one of our favourites – as we have dinner. Then I’ve got to find some time to read. I like to read stuff that has nothing to do with any of my various strands of work, late in the day. I have to do so much reading for the rest of my life, I need to keep some reading time that’s just for me. That’s what I sustain myself with. And that reading usually happens when I go to bed – with Fester the cat sitting on my chest, reading the blurb, purring soothingly until I doze off. Which takes some doing because I’m an awful insomniac. My dreams are good, though and, when I get to them at last, they’re often very useful for my work.
Thanks so much Paul!
For the chance to win ONE of the two copies of Hell’s Belles (with signed bookplate), all you have to do is the following:
1. Leave a comment and include your email address
2. Blog/Tweet about this contest – please leave link with comment.
This is open to UK & US residents only and ends 19th Nov. The two very lucky winners will be announced on 20th.
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED