Victoria Dowd was a criminal law barrister for many years, until she finally hung up her wig in favour of more fictional crimes. An award winning short story writer, Victoria’s début novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, was published by Joffe Books in May this year and is the first in a series featuring the Smart women.
Hi Victoria how lovely to see you in my virtual cocktail lounge. What can I get you at the bar?
V: Hello! I’d like a Guilty 12 please, the cocktail invented on The Orient Express in homage to Agatha Christie. The 12 mystery ingredients represent each of the suspects. Sounds pretty lethal to me!
Deadly but I’ll join you – probably keeps all viruses at bay! So I don’t think we’ve actually met in real life, have we?
V: Sadly not but after lockdown ends I’ve made a promise to myself to meet all the wonderful authors, bloggers and reviewers I’ve met online as a result of my book being published. I’m going to be very busy!
But happily busy, I hope. Apart from both being authors what else do you think we have in common?
V: I absolutely love the Cocktail Lounge! Cocktails and books – two of my favourite things. And crime, of course.
Of course. Tell me about your début.
V: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder was published by Joffe Books last month. It’s a crime novel in the tradition of the Golden Age of crime fiction. Members of a book club stay at an isolated country house and when they are snowed in the murders begin. There’s a lot of dark humour between the guests, particularly the mother, daughter and aunt. The atmosphere is very far from cosy! To survive, they will, of course, need to work out “whodunit”.
Another one for my TBR pile. What are you working on now?
V: I’m hard at work on the follow up book in the series. It’s called The Smart Woman’s Guide to Survival since the women who survive the first book decide they need to get better at surviving so they go on a Bear Grylls style survival course. They’re not well-suited to this kind of environment. When they find themselves on an uninhabited island in the Outer Hebrides and people start being murdered, it’s either one of them or someone else is on the island with them. I’m loving writing this novel. It’s based on an actual island in the Outer Hebrides which has one large Manor House and a very small chapel. I first saw it in photographs taken by John Maher and got in touch with him. It turned out he was the drummer in the punk band the Buzzcocks. The island is uninhabited but I managed to speak to the owner who is absolutely wonderful and agreed to take me over there. There’s no electricity and, of course, no phone reception or WiFi – perfect for a murder mystery so it’s all very exciting, if a little scary. I’m hoping to get over there later in the year or next year maybe – who knows?
What would be your dream panel (at any event) – subject, fellow panelists or a Q&A with someone you have met or would love to meet?
V: I’d love to be interviewed by Caitlin Moran at a literary festival such as Hay. I’ve seen her in conversation a few times and love her books. Because it’s a “dream” panel, I’m going to have to say Agatha Christie. She is my heroine and I utterly adore her work. Alongside her, I’d go for Sophie Hannah (because she writes the new Poirot so beautifully), Susan Hill (as I adore everything she writes and love her gothic novels such as The Woman in Black), Hilary Mantel (for sheer genius and eccentricity) and crime writer Margaret Murphy. Margaret gave up so much of her time just before my book was published to speak to me on the phone and email to give me so much advice and support. I couldn’t believe a best selling crime writer would be so interested and helpful to a new crime writer. She really made such a huge difference and is an amazing author. And finally, I’d have to have Helena Kennedy QC. When I had my first case in the Old Bailey, I remember sitting in the loo just saying to myself, “I can’t do this!” There was a knock on the loo door, I opened it and there was Helena Kennedy who simply said, “Yes, you bloody can. Now get out there!” She is the very epitome of yes, you bloody can and a strong, incredibly intelligent woman who, no matter what the case, crusades for justice. I think that’s a wonderful panel of Smart women to dream about sitting alongside.
An amazing array of smart women – a real dream panel. And what a lovely tribute to Margaret Murphy and Helena Kennedy. In the meantime, what are you most looking forward to when lockdown is finally lifted?
V: Having a hug with my sister and having a launch party for my book – which I’m hoping to combine. It’s been a little weird having a launch during lockdown but it has been very special and unique. The wonderful authors at Joffe Books and Books ‘n’ all Promotions came together for a Facebook launch that involved virtual drinks, food and quizzes with real prizes to celebrate the launch of The Smart Woman’s Guide. One of the lovely ladies even made prizes for the quiz of key rings of my book and fridge magnets. I was just so incredibly touched by the effort that went into this for a first time author that none of them had ever met. I also had a zoom party with close friends who all appeared on the screen in various forms of fancy dress. There were quite a few cocktails drunk that night. People have been absolutely wonderful and, in some ways, it has been so different that it’s made it something I will always cherish the memory of. Having said that, I think I can still have a real party too. As I’m sitting in the garden for this interview, my lovely neighbours who are part of a jazz band called Kalamazoo are rehearsing, I’m having a cocktail in the sun and talking about books. What could be more perfect?
What indeed? Is there anything lockdown has made you think about/want to do?
V: It’s really made me think how important independent bookshops are and libraries. I used to spend a lot of time grabbing a coffee and wandering around my local bookshop browsing and chatting to the owner and all the people who work there. I miss that a lot and hope that when we surface, those shops are still intact and can thrive again. Local based businesses have been so important over the last few months. Not just for books, but round us the farmers, dairies and local farm produce shops have been utterly invaluable. It used to be so easy just to click on a supermarket website for whatever we wanted but I’m never going back! I love the local farm shop and the tiny dairy who have never failed to deliver milk and fresh eggs. I think it has really hit the re-set button for me and I’m going to hold my family and friends so close and value all the small, irreplaceable things in life.
It’s been lovely to chat with you Victoria and I’m really looking forward to celebrating with you in the real world!
Your can find out more about Victoria Down here and follow her on Twitter @victoria_dowd