I’ve been writing the first book and half of the second book of a new series this year. Book One is due out this autumn, and will be called – more or less – Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery. It’s set in London in the winter of 1932/3. Dottie is a young woman, single, and although from a fairly well-to-do background, also works as a mannequin–these days we would call her a model–in a small fashion house called ‘Carmichael and Jennings, Exclusive Modes’.
To quickly explain, as the story opens, Dottie is on her way to the house of her married sister Flora, after an evening at the theatre. As Dottie walks along the dark street, she finds a man lying on the pavement, he has been stabbed. As he dies, he sings a few words to her from the song Night and Day, from the stage play Gay Divorce.
I chose the era because it is a time that fascinates me – that all-too-brief moment between the end of World War I in 1918 and the realisation in the late 1930s that there was going to be another terrible war, with its consequent devastation.
How they must have rejoiced when the Armistice came. It meant so much – not just no more fighting, no more war, no more death on a vast scale. It meant people could get back to their lives again, no more dreading the knock of the postman, no more fearing to marry or start a family; the men could think about working again and for those who were well-to-do, they could plan a career again. Optimism believed that social and political issues would be confronted and dealt with, in the great new era of progress, and everything was ‘normal’ again. Women had the vote, and if actual equality was still lagging behind, at least there was the sense that things were changing.
I wanted to capture that time; I’m not trying to hold a mirror up to society to confront major issues, I leave that to those who know more about those things. I just want to entertain, and help readers escape into a time when the biggest war was over, life was less driven than it is today, a time when ideals were still intact and most people still thought politicians were people of wisdom and integrity.
What was happening in 1932?
There were already troubling events and the Nazis were already on the rise; in Britain hunger marches were taking place and of course the recession had bit hard. There was, as now, a great gulf between the haves and the have-nots. According to Good Housekeeping in 1931, a reasonable family annual budget, including school fees and medical expenses, was £410: many people didn’t even earn that much.
It can’t be a coincidence that during these difficult times, a whole new range of chocolate confectionery was introduced, including in 1934 the Mars bar at 2d (a penny in today’s Britain) and a new-fangled electric kettle would have set you back 12/- 6d or about 50p.
In 1933 Schiapperelli introduced the new ‘zip’ fastener to her fashion range, and buttons on dresses began to seem like old hat. The zip had been around for about forty years by then but was not used in clothing before the 1930s apart from on windcheaters and the odd boot.
Fred Astaire and Claire Luce had enjoyed success with a Broadway show called Gay Divorce which featured the songs of Cole Porter, and they brought the show to London in November 1932; in 1934 the show was released as a film, with Ginger Rogers replacing Claire Luce in the female lead role, and the film was renamed The Gay Divorcee.
I am planning – and hoping, with everything crossed – to release a series of murder mystery books featuring Dottie Manderson as the amateur detective, and with Inspector William Hardy as the professional detective she butts heads with and has a bit of a thing for.
I’m planning to release The Mantle of God – Dottie Manderson mysteries book 2 in the Spring/Summer of 2017 and later the same year, book three – The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish.
If you would like to read chapter one of book one – Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery, please click on the title to go to the page.