The Daily Bongo

Nancy Atherton

Scones and mystery were on the menu on Saturday morning at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop. Nancy Atherton, creator of the Aunt Dimity mystery series, was giving a breakfast talk about her life, writing, and her newest mystery book, Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea.

Atherton drew many chuckles from her mostly middle-aged female audience with the stories of her life. Career changes happened at a frequent pace, but through it all Atherton would write, keeping a journal or writing stories for her own amusement. The jobs were not high-powered, high paying positions, but they succeeded in one aspect. They gave Atherton the opportunity to collect material about people and situations that she would later use in her mystery stories.

“Live your life, and keep your eyes and ears open,” Atherton advised. “A writer is God. You are creating a world, and in order to create that world, you need to look on your own life experiences. All the stuff that I did before writing was collecting material.”

For the prospective writer in the audience, Atherton had many words of encouragement. She stressed that there wasn’t just one way to write. As Atherton said, every writer has a method, and for that writer, it is the correct method. “I use an outline because my publisher expects it, but I make it up as I write too.”

The hardest thing for Atherton to accept with her first book, Aunt Dimity's Death was the criticism made by her editor. After reading the comment that no one would want to read a book from the perspective of a 30-year-old woman, Atherton said she had to be peeled from the ceiling. A call to her agent resulted in a change to a more agreeable editor. However, Atherton stressed that every author needs an editor to make sure the end result is a readable and marketable book.

The actual writing process for Atherton is character driven. “The characters know what the story is, and if I just shut up and get out of the way, they tell the story,” Atherton chuckled. Those characters are based on people from Atherton’s life. The main character in the book, Lori Shepherd, is very much like Atherton, and the best friend in the book is based on Atherton’s best friend. However, not all the characters are based on real people. As Atherton sheepishly admitted, some of her friends will think that they are the basis for some of the characters in the book, and she has to disabuse them of that perception.

The characters aren’t the only driving force behind the creation process for Atherton. There are times when a particular scene will pop into her mind. In one of her books, Atherton imagined a scene where Lori and her husband were driving to an English manor house and the topiary was on fire. “The question that I asked myself is how did that happen? It’s always why, why, why, and to explain it, you write the book.”

Atherton stressed her luck in finding a career that she loves, even if isn’t high paying. Her final words to the group were encouragement to find one’s heart’s desire. “Whatever that thing is that you want to do, do it.”

February 11, 2006