Interview with Jane Steen, author of Lady Helena Investigates

09 Apr 2018

What can you tell us about your new release, Lady Helena Investigates?

Lady Helena Investigates is my tribute to the lady sleuth genre but with an infusion of Downton Abbey-style saga. I wanted to set a series in the area of England in which I now live (although it’s a fictionalized version) and I was inspired by the beautiful country houses that date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Also, I drew inspiration from the fact that this is the most perfect environment for growing just about everything—so Lady Helena became an herbalist. I immediately saw her as a younger child who is unaware of much of her family’s past, and realized that I had a series in which each of her siblings has a secret—either their own or one they’re keeping for someone else. Add in a mysterious French physician with a truly amazing backstory and I had all the twists I needed to build a series which, I hope, will keep my readers glued to the page. I love to write books that entertain people and keep them away from the TV or the computer.

What’s the last book you read?

I usually read about five books at once, so that’s a difficult question. Should I tell you about the books I’m reading for research, or about the ones I read in my downtime? Or how about my book club book? The interesting thing about my book club is that it takes place in Mundelein, Illinois, while I live in England. They wouldn’t let me leave, so I participate via Skype. Our last book was As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner, a novel set against the influenza pandemic of 1918 in Philadelphia, which suffered a high percentage of fatalities. I found it enjoyable but—as anyone who reads my books might guess—I wished it were a little darker. I don’t go for graphic gore and violence, but I like some darkness around the edges of my stories.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

Dorothy L. Sayers, the Golden Age detective writer. She took hold of the pulp mystery genre and elevated it by bringing in three-dimensional characters with complex backgrounds and feelings. I’m always looking for that sweet spot between great writing and entertainment—I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. I love literary writing but refuse to be snobbish about books—I think they’re best when they have plot and pacing as well as good writing.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

Since I mentioned Dorothy L. Sayers, I’d better invite her to the party. I think I’d also bring in Hilary Mantel, because I suspect those two ladies would have one heck of a conversation. Then I’d invite Mary Beard, British classics professor, blogger extraordinaire, and author of many books including Women And Power. I would just sit there listening to these incredibly strong women talk.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

The best thing about writing is sharing it with someone else. I love it when readers engage with my writing by leaving reviews or emailing me or asking questions.

If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?

Queen Victoria and her Consort, Prince Albert. I’d like to know if they’re accurately portrayed in biography, film, TV and all the rest today. I’d like it to be a very intimate supper—which probably wouldn’t happen because to be royal is always to be on stage, but this is my fantasy—and I’d like them both to be just a little drunk.

What scene in Lady Helena Investigates was your favorite to write?

Just about any scene that had Helena and her brother Michael, Earl of Broadmere, in it. There was something about the interaction of those two that completely fascinated me. Michael begins the novel with all the power, but his weaknesses are progressively revealed, while Helena starts off powerless (her family nickname is “Baby”, which is suppose to be just as offensive as I want readers to find it) and gradually builds a backbone.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

I strongly believe we’re all given a job to do in life, and that we’re happiest when we’re doing it. Both of my series heroines—Nell from The House of Closed Doors and Lady Helena from the Scott-De Quincy Mysteries—are fortunate enough to find the one thing that truly inspires them. Being women they never get all the time they need to do that thing, as family responsibilities intrude—but they follow their path by doing the job in front of them, and I believe that’s what we all have to do.

Jane Steen is the author of the new book Lady Helena Investigates

Connect with Jane:
Author Website


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