Today we travel to south-west France to chat with Danae Penn about how pilgrims, Argentina, an enormous garden, medieval life, giving lectures, going for walks, red herrings, traveling alone, and avoiding buffaloes come together as part of Danae’s current and past life.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I live in south-west France, halfway between Bordeaux and Toulouse, in a small town called Condom which is where I base my novels. It is on the Way of St James pilgrimage track from Le Puy to Santiago de Compostela and there are thousands of pilgrims walking through the town every year. There were many pilgrims 500 years ago too, and some of them have walked into my novels.
In which genre do you write?
I write historical mysteries with a Gascon woman detective called Belina Lansac who helps her husband William. He has to hide the fact that he is English so he is always known as Guillaume, the Bishop’s Inquirer.
How many published books do you have?
I have just published my second book, A Mystery of Blood and Dust. Book 1 of the Belina Lansac Murder Mysteries is called False Rumours and that was translated into French by David Manson, with the title of Les Princes et le Pelerin. David is translating Book 2 into French now, and I am already plotting my third book which is about Basque sailors reaching America before Columbus did – but keeping that very secret. I have (with difficulty!) found a reason for these sailors to be travelling through Condom and getting involved in a murder mystery.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I wrote my first book when I was 22 and living in Argentina but I did not bother to revise the text – so I ended up with rejection slips! My teacher/lecturer husband became an author of topographical guides to England, France and Spain and I helped him a lot with that. I decided to try to write a novel again, bought several how-to books on creative writing, and half way through doing the first draft of my novel I bought a book which I can really recommend: The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick. They advise working out the characters first: the Killer, the Victim, the Sleuth, and the Catalyst. Only after that should you start on the plotting, and then the crime scene, dialogue, action and setting. That gets the Weekend Novelist to Weekend 13, and the rest of the year is spent on writing and revising drafts.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I spent most of 2020 at home, locked down in my house and enormous garden. This was beneficial for the garden as well as for making progress with A Mystery of Blood and Dust. Previous years have been very different. I have given lectures in English and French about medieval life, wearing a gown borrowed from the local dramatic society, and borrowing ancient objects found in friends’ attics and barns to give some idea of the difficulties of life in previous centuries. For example, for my medieval cooking demonstration I piled some logs on the church/museum floor, but did not light them of course, and showed a variety of ancient blackened cauldrons, ladles and mortars. The audience and the local journalists love my lectures. I go to many history meetings and visits, all in French, learn about Gascon history, and sell my books, each one signed and dedicated to the buyer. Every Sunday I come back into the twenty-first century and walk with the local rambling club for three hours, and twice a year we spend a week somewhere in France or Spain and walk all day, every day. It is very healthy!
What is the most enjoyable thing you’ve found through writing?
Creating characters, especially those who are red herrings. I try to make them all different and slightly quirky, with plenty of hidden background to their lives. At least, they try to keep it hidden, but I know their qualities and their faults. I also enjoy signing and dedicating my books and talking to journalists about them and then seeing their friendly reviews in newspapers and magazines.
What is the most crazy thing that has ever happened to you?
I usually travel to far-away countries and by myself, although organised by English tour operators. Rather too often something crazy happens, and a friend of mine once sent me an email wishing me ‘Bon Voyage Danae, but don’t do anything excessively adventurous.’ She had in mind the time I hiked up a remote mountain in Myanmar with two Burmese guides and they insisted I came down it on the back of a motorbike instead of walking down the rocky track among swerving motorbikes, avoiding buffaloes, children and chickens. I thought that was a very dangerous idea and insisted on wearing a crash helmet. The following day I learned that at dusk there was a worse danger: bandits moving into the area and kidnapping me.
Tell us about your most recent book.
A Mystery of Blood and Dust – A Belina Lansac Murder Mystery was published in November 2020 and is the second book of the series, the sequel to False Rumours (and its French translation by David Manson, Les Princes et le Pelerin). Both novels show how my Gascon heroine-detective takes over the murder investigations which her husband William/Guillaume should be doing, but he has to leave Condom in a hurry. I include a town map of Condom at the beginning of each book so that readers can follow Belina as she walks through the medieval town full of pilgrims, pie-sellers, animals, smells, yells – and people trailing Belina.
It was wonderful having you be a part of MTA and to learn more about you and your writing style. Wishing you all the best, Danae! – Camilla
Where to find the book.
All three books can be found as paperbacks and ebooks on Amazon and in bookshops world-wide, and the first chapters can be read as previews on the Home page of my website https://belinalansac.com which has links to Amazon, Facebook and Linkedin and which gives plenty of info about medieval life for all the readers who have time-travelled back 500 years when reading my Belina Lansac mysteries.
Blurb for A Mystery of Blood and Dust:
Gascony 1483. Why is a consul’s daughter lying dead in the Sainte Eulalie chapel when she should be in a mansion attending her betrothal banquet?
Bishop’s enquirer Guillaume Lansac is tasked with solving the mystery – until he is called away by a danger that threatens English King Richard III’s nephews who are travelling to safety in Portugal. He must ride fast to Navarre to save them, leaving his wife Belina to solve the murder alone. But she is more worried about the dangers facing her family. One of her brothers has returned wounded from the war in Granada, bringing a Moorish girl with him, while the other risks being turned out of his mill and robbed of his livelihood and family home. Belina finds herself surrounded on all sides by enemies who seem determined to destroy her.
How can she survive in Guillaume’s absence, let alone solve the crime?
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