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Jennifer Ashley: On Writing the Whodunnit

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Ashley discusses how she writes a whodunnit historical mystery and the process of writing her latest release, Death at the Crystal Palace.

Jennifer Ashley is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 100 mysteries, romances, and historical novels. She also writes as Ashley Gardner and Allyson James. 

Jennifer Ashley

Jennifer Ashley

In this post, Ashley discusses how she writes a whodunnit historical mystery, the process of writing her latest release, Death at the Crystal Palace, and much more!

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Name: Jennifer Ashley
Book title: Death at the Crystal Palace
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Release date: July 6, 2021
Genre: Historical Mystery
Elevator pitch for the book: Cook Kat Holloway is approached by a woman who claims she is being poisoned, immersing Kat in the dark secrets of a wealthy London family. Meanwhile, Daniel’s new assignment plunges him into grave danger, and he turns to Kat for help.
Previous titles by the author: Murder in the East End (Below Stairs Mystery series)

Death at the Crystal Palace: A Below Stairs Mystery by Jennifer Ashley

Death at the Crystal Palace: A Below Stairs Mystery by Jennifer Ashley

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What prompted you to write this book?

Death at the Crystal Palace is book 5 of the Below Stairs Mysteries series which features a young cook in Victorian London who cooks brilliant meals and solves mysteries on the side.

I became fascinated by the Crystal Palace, which spent only a few months in Hyde Park in London in 1861 before it was taken down, transported, rebuilt (and improved upon) in the suburb of Sydenham, there until it burned down in 1936. Why not set a mystery there?

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How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

My books typically take me two to three months to write. The idea might gestate for a year or more, but once I put fingers to the keyboard, the draft comes out in about six weeks, and then I rewrite and revise for another two weeks. I can’t always work steadily, which is why it takes two to three months instead of a solid two.

The idea definitely changed during the process. I start off with the opening scene and an overall idea, but I find that I have to let the story develop as I write it. I can come up with scenes and a vague idea of how I want the book to end, but I meet many interesting characters and have better ideas while I write, so I let myself change it as I go along. I never know “whodunit” until the character does!

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Readers will learn about what was inside the Crystal Palace in the later 19th-century (I used guidebooks from the day in my research). It had devolved somewhat from a place featuring cutting-edge science and industry to a sort of amusement park featuring exhibits about worldwide cultures.

Also, I hope they enjoy the mystery involving a rather poisonous family who live uneasily together in one silent, overly lavish house in Park Lane in London.

In addition, I am letting Kat play a few new roles in this book, to let her out of her confines a little more, as she helps Daniel, who works for Scotland Yard (but is not a policeman), uncover a conspiracy connected to the Phoenix Park murders in Dublin.

Jennifer Ashley: On Writing the Whodunnit

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Never give up. The only way your book will not be read is if you don’t write it. It’s tough work, and sometimes you have to wrestle a book to its end, but keep on trying! I wrote probably ten books before one was good enough to share with other people who were not my family. That one got published.

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