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Huge congratulations to the two writers who are AJ MacKenzie, whose exciting-looking book comes out today! I first met Canadian husband-wife team Marilyn Livingstone & Morgen Witzel at the wonderful Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai; we spent a lot of meals together and they were fascinating. Morgan had some great tales about growing up in the wilds of British Columbia and Marilyn's been writing as a medieval historian for 25 years; she and Morgan decided to try something new, diving into the 18th century and trying their hand at crime fiction, something page-turning and fast-paced but still very much grounded in history.

the body on the doorstep

Here's the cover art, designed by Jet Purdie (who won and had two titles shortlisted for the most recent Kitschies Inky Tentacle cover awards) and he commissioned the illustration from Head Design. And here's the blurb:

Shocked to discover a dying man on his doorstep - and lucky to avoid a bullet himself - Reverend Hardcastle finds himself entrusted with the victim's cryptic last words. With smuggling rife on England's south-east coast, the obvious conclusion is that this was a falling out among thieves. But why is the leader of the local Customs service so reluctant to investigate? Ably assisted by the ingenious Mrs Chaytor, Hardcastle sets out to solve the mystery for himself. But smugglers are not the only ones to lurk off the Kent coast, and the more he discovers, the more he realises he might have bitten off more than he can chew.

I had a couple questions for AJ MacKenzie:

Marilyn and Morgan, I can't wait to read this new book! What are a couple of the most exciting bits of the history that made you want to write it?

The 1790s were quite a dangerous and (if you don’t have to live in them) exciting time. Romney Marsh, where The Body on the Doorstep is set, was rife with smuggling and dark nights would see parties of smugglers landing on the beaches and carrying cargoes of gin and brandy inland over the Marsh, pursued by the Preventive men, the law enforcement officers of the day.



Then there was the threat of invasion from France, which by the mid-1790s was becoming very real. There is a earlier Hogarth print at the Fitzwilliam Museum that shows hordes of ravening Frenchmen threatening to descend on England:



It looks sort of comical, but in fact the threat was very real and was taken seriously; there were plenty of invasion scares. From Romney Marsh, you can see the French coast on a clear day. In the next picture, the line of clouds is where France begins; it’s only about thirty-five miles.




A lot of French refugees washed up on the coast of Kent after the French Revolution began. But which refugees were genuinely fleeing the Terror, and which ones were actually enemy agents? A lot of this begins to sound rather familiar, doesn’t it?

Finally, there were a few historical characters we could bring in and play with. One was the painter JMW Turner, just starting out on his illustrious career. During the early 1790s, Turner often came to the Kent coast to paint the sea. This is one of his early works, Fishermen at Sea, on show at the Tate. The Tate say this was painted near the Isle of Wight. But who is to say he didn’t make a little unrecorded trip to Romney Marsh around the same time?


'Fishermen at Sea' by Turner, 1796 from Tate Britain collection

Where and how you and Morgen work?

We work in all sorts of places. What we don’t tend to do is lock ourselves in a room and write together. There are several reasons for this; chief among them being that we both listen to music as we write, but very different kinds of music. Marilyn likes mathematical music like Bach and Purcell, or modern performers like Ms Dynamite. Morgen listens to gloomy Central European music from the late nineteenth century. Each person’s music would drive the other crazy.



In fact we mostly work by talking, working out plots and characters and ideas and conversations, and we can do that anywhere. We often sit opposite each other in these two chairs in our sitting room, talking and reading text to each other.



If the weather is fine (not always a given in the West Country) we go outside. The beaches of west Cornwall and the tors of Dartmoor are some of our favourite places to work.



After all, we live in a beautiful part of the world; why not take advantage of it for inspiration and ideas?



Thanks, guys! You can read a lot more about The Body on the Doorstep and The Romney Marsh Mysteries over on the AJ MacKenzie website and blog. And you can follow them on Twitter: @AJMacKnovels. (They're very friendly; feel free to ask them questions.) Right now you can buy the first book in hardcover and for Kindle, and the paperback comes out in August. (I ordered mine from Tales on Moon Lane, through the Hive Books button on the AJ MacKenzie website.) Published by Zaffre.

Age appropriateness: Aimed at adults but might be accessible to high-school/secondary-school kids and secondary school libraries. No sex, some violence, quite a lot of bad language (mostly f***).

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