The author Charles Todd is really the son-and-mother writing team of Charles Todd and his mother, Caroline. Both will attend the 2010 JRW conference.
“The Red Door” is the most recent of their 11 mysteries in the series starring Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge. Last year, they launched a second mystery series featuring World War I British Army nurse Bess Crawford; the second installment, “An Impartial Witness,” appears in August. They also wrote a stand-alone novel, “The Murder Stone.”
As they do in their work, Charles and Caroline Todd speak with one voice in this April 2010 interview with Jann Malone, a former JRW board member.
QUESTION 1: What are the challenges facing a mother-son writing team?
Many author teams talk about conflicting ideas. If anything, our shared experiences over a lifetime (or two) are an asset. However, the family relationship is a source for old arguments and issues hindering the task at hand. We keep Ian Rutledge or Bess Crawford at the heart of our work. Petty differences that are not germane to the manuscript come second. It is important that our readers can read and enjoy our work as a seamless tapestry of fiction. Who wrote which sentence or had that idea is not important to our readers.
One personal benefit has been the evolution of our relationship from mother and son to professional equals who respect and admire each other’s abilities. As long as we have separate homes and hotel rooms when we travel all is well.
Working with publishers, etc., is not an issue. Charles comes from a career in financial and business management and Caroline understands publishing and marketing. The editorial process requires us to speak with one voice when working with our publishers. We resolve our issues internally with dictionaries, maps, references and swords at dawn.
QUESTION 2: Each book in your mystery series featuring Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge takes place over one month. The months run consecutively as the series progresses. Why did you adopt this timeline?
We developed Ian Rutledge as a character to explore the effects of war on a personal and social level. One month is enough time for Rutledge to absorb the lessons and experiences from the last case while remaining in the same historical setting. We did not want to wind up with a flawed protagonist from WWI solving crimes in the 1950s.
QUESTION 3: Last year you started a second mystery series, this one featuring World War I British Army Nurse Bess Crawford. Why did you decide to launch another series?
When we find a character that intrigues us we may take years to begin actually writing. Bess Crawford had that appeal we wanted to explore. Bess has an air of independence that came from her upbringing at various army outposts in places like India and not the finishing school that was typical of the Victorian period.
We had already done a man, so we thought a woman might give us a very different look at murder. You have to think of a book as something you want to write, but also something that will entertain the reader. Both of our series focus on psychologically complex stories. Rutledge’s books deal with the stress of trying to slog on despite suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, while much of Bess’ books will deal with trying to navigate the post-Victorian society. Standards and expectations in her world are changing as war rubs against tradition.
Bess wants to help in the war effort, but women of that time were raised to take care of family and home, not pursue outside interests. And while she adores her father, she’s not daddy’s little girl in the sense that everything is done to please him. She’s also keenly aware of the expectations that accompany a life lived according to Army rules.
QUESTION 4: You and your mother both read widely and deeply and immerse yourselves in diverse activities. How does this feed your writing?
If you want to become a writer we believe you must be a student of your craft. We may read books that are not typical of our tastes because it challenges our perspective and exposes us to different methods.
After Charles went off to college and Caroline had more time for her own interests, we began our journey of separate paths. Charles began a career and developed hobbies and interests that were based on his own choices and situations. Caroline was able to travel more extensively and continue her constant study and research including ornithology, languages.
QUESTION 5: How did your gift for storytelling develop?
Caroline and Charles share the southern tradition of storytelling. Caroline’s father told the best stories and recollections. Caroline and Charles spent many summer evenings on the screened in porch after dinner when the sun had set. We listened for hours to his voice in the dark harmonized by the tree frogs and crickets. It was not unusual for him to talk of his life experiences telling a story we had heard many times. We looked forward to hearing those favorite tales and would often ask him to retell them. It was not just the content but the way he spoke that made those places and people come alive. There are great storytellers from everywhere, but they don’t sip sweet tea and have fresh peach juice or peanut skins on their hands.