Author's Note

Writing with a quill pen while naked is fun!

WHEN I FIRST SET OUT, SOME YEARS AGO, to write a book, the thought that was foremost in my mind was that I should write the kind of book I like to read. I have been a rabid devotee of traditional (or ‘Golden Age’) mystery fiction for as long as I can remember; I spent my formative years devouring the entire works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Patricia Wentworth et al, and what I really wanted was more of the same. It wasn’t just the mysteries I loved; I was also fascinated by the tantalising glimpses they gave of life and society in the 1920s and 1930s—and glimpses they were, nothing more, because the authors were writing for their contemporaries and had no need to explain their surroundings, which would already be well understood by readers.

This is where historical fiction generally differs from the ‘real thing.’ However skilfully done, there will always be something slightly self-conscious about a historical novel, since to please the reader the author must weave large amounts of research into the story. Thus, you will always find far more period detail in a modern-day historical novel than you will in a story written at the time—far more description of the cars, the fashions, the hairstyles, etc, to satisfy readers who want to be transported back to the era in question. Just to give a simple and obvious example: a reader in 1926 would know automatically that whenever a character went outside, he would be wearing a hat. This would be so obvious to everyone that an author of the time would be unlikely to mention it. By contrast, since hardly anyone wears hats these days, a present-day writer of historical novels will tend to dwell on the hat.

In writing the Angela Marchmont novels, my aim was not to produce a work of historical fiction, but rather to reproduce as faithfully as I could the tone and style of those original Golden Age works, since I was sure there must be many mystery fans who wished for more ‘genuine’ Golden Age novels, just as I did. In an attempt to make the experience more immersive for readers (and also, I admit, because, like many writers, I am uncomfortable with public attention), I decided to write ‘in character’ as Clara Benson, an author of the 1920s. It was a sort of challenge to myself, to see whether I could do it convincingly. I had no idea whether my little conceit would pass muster, but since I was certain nobody would buy the book anyway, I didn’t think too hard about it.

The result of my efforts was The Murder at Sissingham Hall. I published it online in March 2013, complete with fictitious back story, and forgot about it for a few days. When I next looked I found it had sold about ten copies. By the middle of April it had sold a thousand and I began to think I had better dust off its sequel, The Mystery at Underwood House, which I had begun and half-abandoned. By the time I published the second book I was enjoying writing Angela’s adventures so much that I could not stop. I had planned to write three or four and then abandon the Clara Benson pen name without ever admitting to it, but events overtook me somewhat, and I found myself keeping the series going for far longer than I had originally intended. We are now at Book 10, The Shadow at Greystone Chase, and I’m sure I need not say that I have been absolutely astonished and overwhelmed at the response from readers. It has given me the greatest pleasure to discover that people seem to love Angela and her friends as much as I do. I might have kept the series going longer, but I hate to see a character outstay her welcome, and so I decided to give Angela an adventure of her own and then send her off happily into the sunset. (Concerned readers who have been paying attention may have noticed that she returns to America in the summer of 1929. As a stockbroker she is going to be far too busy in the next few months to investigate any mysteries, even if she wanted to—although she has been astute enough to sell the company for cash, and so with any luck will ride out the crisis without too many losses.)

But if the series has ended, why, then, have I decided to admit to my little fiction now? There are a number of reasons. The first is that I was never entirely comfortable with it to start with—which is part of the reason I gave so little information about the mythical Clara Benson, since I was reluctant to compound the deception. The second is that many people guessed anyway. The third—and perhaps the most important—is the fact that I am unable to abandon this pen name owing to a certain Mr. Frederick Pilkington-Soames, who is a young man with a great sense of his own importance, and who wants to know why, if Angela has had one, he can’t have his own series too? Since Freddy is well versed in the art of persuasion, I find myself unable to refuse him, and since it would be a little too much to believe that the long-dead Clara Benson left yet another series in a trunk in the attic, I have decided to come clean. Freddy will have his series and I will stop pretending to be dead. It wasn’t much fun anyway.

Not wishing to outstay my own welcome either, I’ll stop now, but before I go I would just like to say a heartfelt thank-you to all my readers. Your support has meant everything to me, and if I have managed to help you pass a pleasant hour or two with my stories, then it has all been worth while. Thank you.


Clara Benson

21 thoughts on “Author’s Note”

  1. I stumbled upon the Marchmont series; finished those and reluctantly just finished the Freddy series. Your characters are so rich and you describe them so aptly, that they become friends thatI actually miss when the book ends. I just want to hang out with Freddy and his mother again-hope you keep the series going!

  2. I am about to begin Book 5 and I am thrilled to have discovered your series! I love that you have so deftly created a “Golden Age” world — in my opinion, better than Christie and as good as Dorothy Sayers. I’m enjoying the way you reveal a bit more of Angela’s personality and history in each successive story. One of the things I like best about your series is that you give your reader a fair chance of sleuthing along with the characters. You do not hide the essential clues “offstage” and out of sight as Agatha Christie often did.
    I am trying not to finish the Angela series too quickly, but I look forward to continuing with the Freddy mysteries next. Brava!

  3. Bob The Reader

    Thank you for capturing the magical tone of that era of mysteries, and thank you also for avoiding the trap so many historical novelists fall into, of not being able to leave out any research.

  4. I am the reviewer of ‘The Murder at Sissingham Hall’ who said that you were dead! I swallowed wholesale the fiction of a deceased author from the Golden Age. I read a lot and am a bit of a cynic, but the style and quality of the writing was itself convincing. I am glad that you are not dead, as much as anything because it means that there will be more books. Also for your own sake, of course! I will amend my Amazon review!!

  5. As a huge fan of the Golden Age mysteries I can’t tell you how happy I was to find another author publishing such good stories with such likeable characters. Having read the Freddy Belgravia book, you certainly succeeded in matching the style of the time, and with characterization equal to Christie’s (something many of her contemporaries did not do as well). As a reader you get a feel for the characters very quickly, and instinctively gravitate toward the more interesting and likeable ones. You communicate their personalities with remarkable ease and rapidity.
    I’m looking forward with great anticipation to reading the rest of your work and sincerely hope that you will continue to write these Pitch Perfect works for as long as you continue to enjoy them.

  6. I totally didn’t guess that Clara was fictional. I’m re-reading the Angela books again, she is so wonderful! Very glad she got her happy ending, though Angela’s Christmas spoilt that a little bit- I though they would be one small happy family.
    So glad you’re alive and can keep writing!

  7. Jacqueline Cranston

    I thoroughly enjoyed the Angela Marchmont books, and I look forward to Freddie’s ongoing adventures.

  8. I do love the books. I am one of the ones that didn’t get that Clara was fictional. But I am ok with that, I just adore the books so much and thought you did such a wonderful job on them that I didn’t mind the charade. I don’t like to think of it as deceit. Please keep up the wonderful stories. I’ve got them all in my collection.
    I do have a question how is Freddie’s last name actually pronounced it seems to be a mouth full?

  9. OMG! I just finished today The Murder at Sissingham Hall, and I thought for sure that Clara Benson was an authentic Golden Age author. I have The Mystery at Underwood House queued up. Thank you for these books, they are great fun.

  10. I’m really delighted by your resurrection and I hope fervently that you change your mind about finishing Angela’s series which is such a terrible crime ( in my opinion of course ! ). I’m fond of her anyway….
    But I’m looking forward to your next series
    Please, forgive my poor English.
    Congratulations !!!
    A French reader and fervent British addict

  11. Michael Harkins

    Not since a tin dispatch-box—bearing the name “J.H. Watson”—was discovered at Charing Cross station so many years ago, has this reader found himself as enthused and enthralled by heretofore “lost stories” as by these lovely mysteries by the “late” Clara Benson.

    Thank you for all you have written, and for that is which to come…

  12. I agree with the other commenters that your books were so skillfully written, that I assumed they were Golden Age classics. You are an amazing writer!! I discovered the Angela Marchmont series only a month or two ago and have read them all. I was crying last night as I finished The Shadow at Greystone Chase, already missing Angela, Freddy and my other friends from the series. I was extremely happy to read that you are bringing Freddy a series of his own, and only hope that Angela will at least make an appearance in it, if not a reappearance in her own series?!?!

    I’m so glad that you set out to write these mysteries. They truly are worthy peers to Agatha Christie’s. Thank you!


  13. I agree with all of the other comments. So glad you’re not dead. I’m on Book 6 and have enjoyed all your books. I did notice that your books lacked the prejudices of many of the Golden Age mystery novels, prejudices which were reflective of the time; but nonetheless, ones we can do without. Thanks you for your work. I look forward to Freddy’s series.

    1. The slightly more modern mindset of some of the characters was my only indication that this might be a modern-day author. However the characters occupied such a well-crafted representation of the time period and genre that they only served to help a modern reader more easily immerse themselves in the story. Not to mention the fact that these elements were occasionally wryly hilarious, as with Freddy asking his mother who normally helped her dispose off her dead bodies.

  14. Great news! Some mystery solver I am, I’d never have guessed and now realize how clever your ruse was and how it actually added to the mystique. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that we were at the end of the line with the series but, of course, I’m thrilled to find this isn’t true. Bravo on your success, well deserved. Now I can still look forward to those little emails popping up every so often.

  15. Your aim to “reproduce as faithfully as [you] could the tone and style of those original Golden Age works,” was right on target! When I stumbled onto your books (as a recommendation from Amazon- and that first novel was an Agatha Christie level masterpiece), I thought I missed a series from an ‘old master.’

    I am currently on book five and looking forward to reading more. I have to say I am glad I found them late; it means that by the time I finish the last Angela Marchmont, Fredrick Pilkington-Soames will be waiting for me instead of me waiting for him.

  16. Your books are clever and smartly written. I do enjoy how you only allow enough information about your re-appearing characters that is needed for each story line in order to use that “power” in each new book. I read a reviewer’s comment that you were dead. . . .so happy to hear there are more books in the future to look forward to. I have my own prediction of Edgar’s storyline and look forward to see if it actually unfolds, even in part.

  17. Yay! So glad that we will hear more from you! I have so enjoyed your books and especially Angela. I only found out the truth when I was trying to find the fictional Clara Benson story to tell my husband! Looking forward to the next series.

  18. I am so happy you are not dead yet as they say and look forward to watching fast Freddy talk himself in and out of trouble.

    1. So late in offering a comment….you really managed to verbalize why I’m not a fan of historical novels. Thank you! No matter how well written, most of their authors tend to over explain why such is so. You are so right – books written in the present voice of whatever time it is feel so much more true. Perhaps that’s why I am always annoyed when someone comments that a writer from another era is “too old fashioned.” Of course, they weren’t considered old fashioned when they wrote. And, I’m pleased that you are still with us, as well. Happy Holidays!

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