Today we welcome Serena Kent as we travel to the Provencal area of the Luberon and a Kentish village near London as we discover how robust English tea, an aardvark, a puffin, the Luberon mountains, trees, David Bowie, and Mary Shelley come together to create the husband and wife writing team of Serena Kent. Grab the lantern and the magnifying glass. Let’s go ….
Serena Kent is the pen name of husband and wife partnership Robert Rees and Deborah Lawrenson. Deborah is a best selling novelist and has had eight novels published previously, including the bestseller The Lantern which was featured in the UK TV series The TV Book Club. Robert Rees, after retiring from the City of London has had one book published, A Season in the Sun.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Robert: I am from the UK and worked for most of my career in the City of London. After finishing with this about 10 years ago, I have been able to concentrate more on the type of work I enjoy, writing music, songs and plays. A few years ago I began to think about writing novels, and after the first was published some three years ago, I and my wife have joined forces to produce a series of cozy mysteries based around the Provencal area of the Luberon, where we have a house. In the UK we live in a Kentish village near London.
Deborah: I’m also British but grew up in various countries around the world as my parents were in the diplomatic service. I worked for some years as a journalist in London while I gathered the courage to write a first novel.
In which genre do you write?
Light humoured murder mysteries.
How many published books do you have?
Robert : Death in Avignon will be my third
Deborah: Death in Avignon will be my tenth
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
Robert: I thoroughly enjoyed writing the local pantomime (words and music) for our village, and it seemed a logical step to move to books, after I had an idea for a novel which became eventually ‘A Season in the Sun’. I have always enjoyed writing, though in the City it was more legal than imaginative.
Deborah: I always wanted to write. I was the kind of child who bought notebooks and set out to fill them with deeply derivative adventure stories that ran out of steam by the third chapter.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
Deborah: I have to earn the cups of robust English tea that fuel my writing by achieving word counts. Tea is the stuff. I have never been able to understand how Fitzgerald and Hemingway can have been so brilliant while drinking strong liquor – I can’t write a decent sentence after just one glass of wine!
What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?
Robert: An aardvark – I feel sorry for them as they get a pretty bad press and are not chosen nearly enough.
Deborah: A puffin. Puffins are stocky, loyal and vocal at their colonies but silent at sea while they concentrate on their work.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
Robert: I particularly like writing at our house in France, on the kitchen table (close to food and wine). It has a low ceiling of provencal beams, a truly magnificent cooking range, and a view out to our garden with the Luberon mountains in the background.
Deborah: I prefer writing in my study in Kent, where the red walls are gradually getting covered in floor-to-ceiling bookcases and my desk faces out onto trees. I love writing through autumn and winter especially on grey, rainy days when the pictures in my head seem to get more vivid.
What are you currently reading?
Robert: The latest Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child , the Life of PG Wodehouse by Frances Donaldson (brilliant) and ‘Guns Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond .
Deborah: Pulse, a collection of masterly short stories by Julian Barnes, the biography of Agatha Christie by Janet Morgan and Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia because I now know that it is based on her own experiences of archaeological digs in Iraq in the 1930s.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
Robert: Play the piano and take part in music shows and plays locally.
Deborah: Walk, exercise, have lunches with friends, read, paint, travel.
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author or famous person from the past or present, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Robert: David Bowie – and I would ask him how he remembers the words to all his songs (I never can). More seriously I guess, Albert Einstein. I studied science at Cambridge and still find it fascinating.
Deborah: Mary Shelley. If possible, when she was only 20, so I could see for myself what kind of young woman could have written the brilliant and prophetic Frankenstein. I’d also like to warn her that Romantic poets were all very well on paper, but in real life Percy Bysshe Shelley would make a terrible husband.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
Robert: I can occasionally make people laugh out loud.
Deborah: I am extremely and stubbornly determined to achieve what I set out to do.
Do you journal write or keep a personal diary? Has this helped with your published writings? If so, how?
Robert:. No, but it is extraordinary how certain events in one’s life are definitely locked away for future use in stories. This is not always conscious, but I do find myself now looking at objects and considering how they could work as murder weapons…
Deborah: I have kept a diary since 1974. It reminds me of all kinds of details and sequences of events, though it’s of no help at all with writing.
What is the most amusing, crazy or inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?
Robert: I once had to audition Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie for singing in the Cambridge Footlights Pantomime. Not that I would have dared criticise any of them! Even by then they were outstandingly good and extremely funny.
Deborah: When I was a journalist on the Daily Mail, I once had to ambush the actor Michael Caine on a street near Piccadilly. He was not only very charming and forgiving, but unexpectedly tall for an actor. Proving yet again that one should never judge people before actually meeting them.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking? Or, what do you do to prepare yourself?
Robert: A glass of rosé (if it is after six o’clock). I tend to listen to music most of the time, so I wouldn’t have any favourite song in particular.
Deborah: I’d join Rob in a glass of rosé and hum something jazz-bluesy.
What do you miss about being a kid?
Robert: Anticipation and the passing of time so slowly. And those wonderful summer parties where we drank lemonade and played games on the lawn until it was quite dark and getting chilly.
Deborah: The sense that anything was possible.
If you were trapped in a cartoon world from your childhood, which one would you choose and why?
Robert: Not quite a cartoon world, but I always longed to be able to visit Narnia. Talking animals, magic, and that feeling that the side of right would always win.
If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do?
Robert: They say your characters have a bit of you in them, so I could say any of them, but I do like my main character in my first novel. Henry is a slightly diffident bon viveur who discovers hidden strengths when tested.
Deborah: Hate to say it, but it’s the other way around: there’s a lot of me in Penelope Kite!
What’s the last movie you watched and why did you choose to watch it?
Robert::I saw Bohemian Rhapsody with Deborah in a rather nice cinema in Apt, a small town near our French house. It was subtitled and so the dialogue was still in English. The actors playing the parts of the Queen group were outstanding – Brian May in particular. It is a great story with a suitably tragic ending and the songs have stood the test of time.
A penguin knocks on your door and is wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he there?
Robert: ‘Can you hide me? The polar bears are on my tail and the Mexican disguise just hasn’t worked!’
Do you believe things happen for a reason?
Robert: I do have a certain fatalist element in my make up, and sometimes I feel that there is a karma about us. But most of the world is a mixture of randomness and luck. I remain cautiously optimistic.
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
Robert: A measure of stubbornness, and an optimistic outlook.
Deborah: Stubbornness has also worked for me, but allied with a romantic nature and belief that eventually most things work out for the best.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
Robert: In England it would either be Grasmere in the Lake District, the most idyllic lakeland scene, or standing on one of the London Bridges on a clear night.
Deborah: I’ve always loved the sea and am particularly drawn to the Kent and Sussex coasts, and to Northumberland out of season. Bambrugh with its brooding castle over the beach is spectacular.
Describe the perfect solo date you’d take yourself on … where, time of day, weather, place, etc.
Robert: Beauvallon Bay, the Seychelles, in the dry season, snorkelling mask at the ready to dive down amongst the coral and the fish. With a plentiful supply of Mojitos and a radio broadcasting England thrashing the Australians at cricket.
Deborah: Sanary-sur-Mer in the south of France, in September. A wander around the market, followed by lunch overlooking the port. It’s warm but not stifling, and the perfect time to go along the coast to swim at Bandol. After that, a glass of local rosé at sunset.
Tell us about the book.
It is a sequel to ‘Death in Provence’ and follows our heroine Penelope Kite as she gets caught in yet another web of deceit in Provence. This time the Southern French art world conspires to drag her into the shady underworld of fraud, poison and murder.
Thank you Serena Kent (Deborah and Robert) for being a part of MTA. It was incredibly interesting and inspiring to learn more about each of you. – Camilla
DEATH IN AVIGNON – BOOK BLURB
When Penelope Kite attends a gallery opening on the arm of the gorgeous mayor of St Merlot, her dream life in Provence seems finally to have become a reality.
But beneath the glamour, scandal is brewing. Shockwaves ripple through the art world when a controversial painter, Roland Doncaster, chokes on an almond-stuffed olive.
A tragic accident? Or a ruthless poisoning? Embroiled once more in a murder investigation, Penelope discovers that any number of jealous lovers and scheming rivals could be in the frame. And with dashing art dealers to charm, patisseries to resist, and her own friends under suspicion, Penelope will need all her sleuthing talents to uncover the truth…
Where to find the book.
Death in Avignon (published by Orion in the UK) came out on June 27th and is available in most bookshops and on amazon.
UK Amazon: https://amzn.to/2K8cPqw
US Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Mzm2K5
Harper Collins US link to Death in Provence: bit.ly/2X0racY
Instragram link @serena.kent
Here are some reviews of Death in Provence – our first novel together.
“As scenic murders go, it’s hard to beat the dead man floating in the swimming pool of Le Chant d’Eau, a stone farmhouse hilltop-high in Death in Provence…. Who could resist a vacation in Provence?” (New York Times Book Review)
“Riffing on Peter Mayle and his year in Provence—as well as Alexander McCall Smith and his Ladies’ Detective Agency—this is the first in a breezy mystery series set among the vineyards and olive groves of the Luberon.” (National Geographic)
“Peter Mayle fans will enjoy this first novel and series opener.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Penelope sparkles, turning what could have been a lightweight Shirley Temple into champagne. Although Kent makes no promises, updates on her heroine’s further adventures would be most welcome. “ (Kirkus)
“Charming…. While the quirky characters are enjoyable, it’s the details of the details of Provençal life that will attract armchair travelers, fans of Peter Mayle.” (Library Journal)
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And if it feels the thing to do and you are inspired to do so, I would be deeply grateful if you’d like to “Buy Me a Coffee” … Camilla – Host of Meeting the Authors …