HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I hope you know Rhys Bowen. The words “indefatigable” and “hilarious” and “surprising” spring to mind…we secretly call her the Duchess. She’s had tea with the Queen—yes! And knows Simon and Garfunkel, she’s been a singer, and a broadcaster, and is endlessly glamorous.
And thing is, with all that, she’s still a brilliantly clever writer. When I read her books, it’s as if I’m hearing that fabulous accent reading them to me. She’s done three series, amazingly, and writes TWO books a year, and they all are bestsellers and amass starred reviews.
Wait—I just remembered that in her intriguing and multi-layered past she’s written a bunch of other things, which I hope she’ll tell us about in the comments—one of which is being made into a TV series in the UK!
And—pant pant—she still has time to give back. She’s such a supporter of her beloved Malice Domestic, and helps in ways she never talks about, but just quietly does.
So you know about the Royal Spyness books, right? In her new one–the eighth!–Lady Georgiana, 35th in line to the throne of England but penniless, finds herself dragged off to America, and becomes entangled and immersed in the glamor and intrigue of old Hollywood.
So, yay for Rhys! She’s done it again. And in honor of her brand new QUEEN OF HEARTS, I did my best to get the scoop on Not Quite Twenty Questions from the hilarious and wonderful Rhys Bowen.
I’ve had quite an eclectic life and the opportunity to live in different parts of the world.
So—what would you still like to do?
A safari is still on my bucket list. And I’d like to write that one definitive book, like To Kill a Mockingbird. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind winning an Edgar either. (Only modest ambitions, as you see.)
Very Rhys! Book you wish you had written?
The Lord of the Rings.
Movie you would see again and again?
Out of Africa
It’s so beautiful and so sad, and reminds me that I never experienced that great and doomed love. Also Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep’s hair in one of the sexiest scenes ever.
Exotic drinks–yes? No?
When I’m somewhere exotic. Sangria when I’m in Spain, Mai Tai when I’m in Hawaii, Margaritas in Mexico. At home I’m sensible.
When in history would you choose to visit?
I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Rome.
They were so modern in many ways. Central heating, lending libraries for novels! Of course I’d stay away from the gladiators.
Very sensible. Pizza or chocolate?
No contest. Chocolate. Dark chocolate. After 8 mints.
Does that mean do I want one or have I got one? The latter. Doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t want to trade him in sometimes.
Four kids and now 5 grandkids. The latter are much easier because I can send them back. Actually they are all wonderful and adorable. I love them to pieces and we have great times laughing together.
No pets. We travel too much.
We travel a lot. I hike once a week with friends (saved a fortune in therapy bills). I sing. I paint (not very well) and I play the Celtic harp. All of the above only when I have time, unfortunately. With 2 books a year it’s not easy.
Well, we have a lot of land, but we live on a hill and there are deer so it’s impossible to grow much. Mainly citrus and lavender. Actually I have no free time for anything more right now.
Fear or phobia?
Hate spiders. Hate ‘em but I’m civilized enough not to kill them. I trap them in a glass and carry them outside, which I think is very noble of me.
What someone might not know about you.
I used to sing in London folk clubs with Al Stewart and I knew Simon and Garfunkel.
Dish, please! Just tell us ONE cool thing about that.
I had been singing with Al Stewart. We were in a café late one night when Paul and Artie came in. They said they’d come to say goodbye because their manager wanted them to come home to the US. It seemed a record they had made, called The Sounds of Silence, was doing quite well. The rest, as they say, is history.
Paul and Artie, huh? Oh, Rhys, I bet you have SO many stories! But let’s see…Do you have a recurring dream? What is it?
I’ve had several. The one I have most often these days is rushing to catch a plane and trying desperately to pack but can’t find my clothes.
I also dream I’m in a play but don’t know my lines. Sound familiar?
Had that one myself. Last night, I dreamed I was supposed to find the cello player for the concert, which I did, and was so proud of myself. But then I couldn’t find him again, and the concert had started. Shaking head. DO you think we’re all a little…stressed? Anyway. Relaxing. Do you watch TV? What?
Mostly PBS. Masterpiece and Mystery, and travel and Nova and British comedy.
I also like watching sports, especially tennis.
Can you sing?
I’m Welsh. All Welsh people can sing! But the answer is yes. I’ve sung all my life, from folk clubs to the local opera chorus.
Best concert you’ve ever seen?
Hard to think of this one. Harry Connick was terrific once. So was Pavarotti.
I’m good at boogie boarding!
That I’ve GOTTA see! Thing you always say to yourself when writing?
For the first half of the book it’s usually that this one will be a hopeless failure and I’ll be revealed as a fraud. Then by the second half I can see it’s going to be okay after all. But the one mantra is “Nothing is written in stone.” You mustn’t love anything so much that you’re not willing to axe it.
So—you had a pub day last week! Yay. Tell us about QUEEN OF HEARTS!
It’s the 8th Royal Spyness book. Georgie is dragged across the Atlantic by her much married mother who wants to get a quickie divorce in Reno. On the way they meet a jewel thief and a movie mogul who persuades her mother to do a cameo role in his movie.
Of course I had to research this well, including taking the Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic. (How one suffers for one’s art…)
But such fun to satirize Hollywood in the 30s.
Whoo hoo! Does it ever get old—pub day? What are you thinking RIGHT NOW?
Never! It is still always a thrill to see one of my books on a shelf and to get fan mail. And to do a book tour and see expectant faces waiting for me.
As to what I’m thinking—I always worry that this book won’t do as well as the last one.
Tell us one more thing about that.
What can I say—I’m a born worrier.
Are you working now? On what?
The 9th Royal Spyness book called Malice at the Palace.
Are you…enjoying it?
I’m still in the first half. But I’m beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, and these books are fun to write.
Can you believe how amazingly your career has turned out?
I still remember my first mystery with a first printing of 2500 and I realize what a big part luck plays. I think I’ve learned how to craft good books, but so have many people whose books have gone unnoticed. Being a friendly person has helped with all those fan-based awards. Paying my dues in writing and travel and outreach have certainly contributed.
But things like being an Audible bestseller—that was pure luck for me. Right place at right time.
Right place at the right time, sure. But with a terrific book, and a terrific attitude, and a lot of hard work. Right? Do you have a motto? (What is it?)
No pressure, no diamonds. (I borrowed it from someone else, and now I don’t know who that was.) But I have it on my bulletin board.
HANK: Terrific. And readers, the Reds want to award a copy of The Royal Spyness book of your choice to one lucky commenter! So—what’s your favorite old Hollywood movie? I have dibs…what’s the Preston Sturges movie where he plays the director, and it has Veronica Lake? That one is my favorite. And Adam’s Rib. And Desk Set. (Which Hallie’s parents wrote!)
How about you?
RHYS BOWEN was born in Bath, England, of a family that was half Welsh, half English. She was educated at London University and then began her career with the BBC, where she became a drama studio manager. She had made up stories all her life. While working on a boring play she decided to write a play of her own. With the bravado of a 22-year-old, she marched into the office of the head of BBC drama and handed him the script. Two days later he summoned her and told her that they were going to produce the play. Rhys has never looked back.
The British climate forced Rhys to escape to Australia, where she worked for Australian Broadcasting before meeting her future husband, a fellow Brit who was on his way to California. So Rhys packed up again and found herself in San Francisco, where she settled and has lived ever since, raising four children.
Finding nothing like the BBC in San Francisco, Rhys turned to writing children’s books under her married name, Janet Quin-Harkin. Her first picture book was an immediate success and won several awards. More picture books followed, then her agent asked her to write a book for young adults. This was a turning point in Rhys’s career. Her first young adult novel was an instant hit. By her third she was selling half a million copies. Many more popular YA novels followed until Rhys decided she had said all she wanted to say about teenage love and angst, and she turned to her real love—mysteries.
The sort of books she loves to read are those with a great sense of time and place. So she considered where to set a series of her own and chose the mountains of North Wales, where she had spent many happy childhood vacations, and used her grandfather’s name as her nom de plume. Constable Evan Evans was the hero of these novels that took place in a tiny fictitious village in Snowdonia. The series was well received from the start. The second book, Evan Help Us, was nominated for a Barry Award. Evan’s Gate achieved the ultimate success when it was nominated for the Edgar best novel—the highest prize in mysterydom.
But it was a chance visit to Ellis Island that made Rhys start thinking in a new direction. The spunky and not always wise Molly Murphy came into her head, fleeing from Ireland and finding herself implicated in a murder on Ellis Island in the first book, Murphy’s Law. This book won the Agatha Best Novel award, plus three others. Every subsequent book in the series has received awards, nominations and glowing reviews. Book eleven, Hush Now, Don’t You Cry, was a New York Times bestseller. The latest Molly Murphy book, City of Darkness and Light, was published in March 2014.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Rhys reacted to the gloom and doom of real life by creating a second heroine—this one aimed to amuse. She is Lady Georgiana, 34th in line to the British throne but utterly penniless and struggling to make her own way in the cruel world of the Great Depression. Her Royal Spyness was a bestseller, nominated for many awards, and instantly endeared readers to her heroine. The following books have all received award nominations. The 2011 book, Naughty in Nice, started off with a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was then nominated for an Agatha, Bruce Alexander and RT Reviews award. The audio version was also nominated for an Audie. In April 2012 it won the Agatha Award for best historical mystery. The next Lady Georgie book, Queen of Hearts, will be published in August 2014.
Rhys is listed in Who’s Who in America under her married name, Janet Quin-Harkin.
As well as novels, Rhys has written many short stories, including an Anthony winner. She is an ex-chapter president of Mystery Writers of America. When not writing she loves to travel, sing, hike, paint, play her Celtic harp, and spoil her grandchildren.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal. She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.