I’m thrilled to be co-hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster. The book is based on the true story of Madeleine Smith who was accused of murdering her lover. Be sure to check out the other great book bloggers taking part in the tour.
Below I have a fascinating interview with Kathryn in which she talks about her research for the book, the need for multi-tasking, why Sunday is writing day and her childhood fascination with true crime stories.
Why not enter my giveaway with a chance to win your own ebook copy of Blackmail, Sex and Lies. To enter, click here. The winner will be selected at random. Entries must be received by 20th December 2017.
About the Book
Blackmail, Sex and Lies is a story of deception, scandal, and fractured traditional Victorian social values. It is the tale of a naïve, young woman caught up in a whirlwind romance with a much older man. However, both have personality flaws that result in poor choices, and ultimately lead to a tragic end.
This Victorian murder mystery, based on a true story, takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, 1857. It explores the disastrous romance between the vivacious socialite, Madeleine Hamilton Smith, and her working class lover, Pierre Emile L’Angelier. After a two-year torrid, and forbidden relationship with L’Angelier, that takes place against her parents’ wishes, the situation changes dramatically when William Minnoch enters the scene. This new man in Madeleine’s life is handsome, rich, and of her social class. He is also a man of whom her family approve. Sadly, insane jealous rages, and threats of blackmail, are suddenly silenced by an untimely death.
For 160 years, people have believed Madeleine Smith to have been guilty of murder. But was she? Could she have been innocent after all?
Format: ebook, paperback (198 pp.) Publisher: Drama Llama Press Published: 30th August 2017 Genre: True Crime, Historical Fiction
Find Blackmail, Sex and Lies on Goodreads
Interview: Kathryn McMaster, author of Blackmail, Sex and Lies
Without giving too much away, can you tell me a bit about Blackmail, Sex and Lies?
The book is based on a true story that took place in 1857. A young, naïve, Glaswegian socialite, Madeleine Smith is charmed and beguiled by an older man, Pierre Emile L’Anglier. He is a social climber, not of her class, who uses Madeleine in the worst possible way to improve himself in seducing her and then telling her that there is really no way out of the situation, as under Scottish law they are now married. The relationship becomes controlling and abusive, and eventually he dies, rather unexpectedly. For 160 years, Madeleine was suspected of murdering him. But did she? Evidence shows otherwise, but you will have to read the book and decide for yourself.
Blackmail, Sex and Lies is described as ‘creative non-fiction’. Why did you choose to write a fictionalised account of the story of Madeleine Smith?
There were already eight or nine books published as true accounts of the Madeleine Smith story, but nothing that showed us the terrible state of mind she must have been in. She was still a minor, she was forbidden by her family to see this man, but continued to do so, and therefore she had no one to unburden herself when the relationship turned toxic. Reading a dry, factual account does not bring the characters to life, shows their inner fears, nor do you get a feel for how society was in those days, and how the events affected all those involved, including her family. Fictionalising true crimes does this. However, you have to be still careful that you stick the facts and you don’t stray too far from what took place.
You’ve chosen an arresting title for the book. How did you come up with it?
Blackmail, Sex and Lies encapsulates the contents of the book perfectly. L’Angelier seduces her, Madeleine lies to him as she tries to extract herself from the relationship that has turned abusive, and then he blackmails her.
How did you approach the research for the book? Do you enjoy the process of research?
I love researching. For about ten years, I researched both my and my husband’s family trees, and so poring over old documents, court records, census records, and newspapers of the day is nothing new. I use all of these resources at my disposal before sifting through the facts, inconsistencies and opinions of others before writing. The research period can sometimes be as long as three or four months before I start outlining the book, and deciding whether the accused was innocent or guilty. Only then do I start writing.
What was the most surprising fact you uncovered during your research?
It would have to be the open use of arsenic in everyday living during the Victorian era. Yes, they impregnated flypaper to kill flies, fair enough, but they also used it in dyes for wallpaper, paint, and even fabrics. The users often complained to the manufacturers that these products made them ill, but their complaints were ignored. In addition to that, they used it as a beauty product to soften the face and skin when added to water. Right up until the late 18th century, and even the early 19th century arsenic soap and arsenic wafers were used as cosmetics both in Britain and America. In the book I have advertisements where they advocate the use of arsenic. L’Angelier himself was an arsenic eater, taking it for stamina and to improve his health. So you can see the dilemma now of his death and the accused’s position.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered when writing the book?
Time. I run several author Facebook groups and I also co-own the book marketing platform, One Stop Fiction. This takes a lot of time away from my writing, and it always a difficult balance to make sure one doesn’t suffer at the expense of the other.
You’ve written that what fascinates you is the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’ of crime. Where does this interest come from?
For about forty-five years I have been interested in crime and the criminal mind. My father had a large library of true crime books, and while others were reading Enid Blyton and other safer fiction for their age, I would sneak these books into my room and read them with the aid of a torch under the bedclothes. I was fascinated and horrified at the same time.
This interest never left me, and after a long career in secondary and adult education, I started taking courses on criminal profiling and a degree in Forensic Science, Criminal Investigation. It is definitely the most interesting part of the crime, because nine times we know how a crime has been committed. However, the motive behind such a killing is more interesting. What was the trigger that caused this person to turn to crime, and to commit heinous acts against others? What makes the mind of the criminal tick? How different would they have turned out if they had been brought up in a different environment? Are criminals born or are they created? These are the questions that I find the most interesting.
Do you have a special place to write or any writing rituals?
Because I am so busy, and at my computer every day, for a lot of the day, I write when I can. I now set Sunday aside as my writing day, but do try and write a few paragraphs each day, during the week. It is not ideal, and I get frustrated when I can’t find the time to write. If I am at a part in my writing where I cannot break off and leave it, it is not uncommon for me to be writing late into the early hours of the following morning, or even getting up at 3:00 a.m. to get a chapter written before my working day begins. My special writing place is usually either in bed or on the couch. As all my children are adults, and I am ‘retired’ I have very few interruptions within the home, for which I am grateful.
Which other writers do you admire?
I admire anyone who can spin a good, entertaining story that sucks you in from the first pages, and has you captivated until the last. There are some authors who are consistently good at doing that, and then there are others who write a ‘one hit wonder’ and seem to lose their mojo and never write anything great after that. While I love reading, I won’t pick up a book based on the author, but rather by the reviews that it has received, and the storyline to see if it will be of interest to me. With time being so precious, I don’t have the time to waste on authors who trade on their reputation they made with one or two novels, and then didn’t write anything great after that.
What are you working on next?
I am a little undisciplined in my writing as I have so many ideas for books that I may start one manuscript, and then something else pops up that grabs my attention, so I leave that book to research the next story. I think I have at least four manuscripts that I started recently, none of them finished, or even close to finished.
One deals with a very strange murder that took place in the late 1990s down in the south of England. Another, entitled Six Short Summers, is about Barbara Whitham Waterhouse who was murdered in 1891. Her murder needs to be told as it is related to my first book, Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?. John Gill’s murder and mutilation was so atrocious that it was thought to be the work of Jack the Ripper, however, when Barbara was murdered, her injuries were very similar to that of Johnny Gill’s, who had been murdered in Manningham, Bradford, three years earlier and just eight miles apart.
Barbara’s story is the one I need to finish after the one I am currently writing, entitled Triple Murder at Sea, about a murder that took place aboard the sailing vessel the Herbert Fuller in 1896. I started writing this after Johnny Gill, but then Madeleine Smith derailed me, and so I left it for a while. Triple Murder at Sea is a novella, offered free to subscribers to my website – when it is finished – which should be before Christmas, if all goes well!
Thank you, Kathryn, for those fascinating answers to my questions.
About the Author
Kathryn McMaster is a writer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and champion of good indie authors. She co-owns the book promotion company One Stop Fiction where readers can sign up to receive news of free and discounted 4 and 5 star reviewed books. She is also a bestselling author of historical murder mysteries set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Her debut novel, Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? was well received. All her novels are based on true stories and she melds fact with fiction, writing in the creative non-fiction style. She lives on her 30 acre farm in the beautiful Casentino Valley, Italy for 6 months of the year, and during the other half of the year, on the small island of Gozo, Malta.
Connect with Kathryn