Tessa Arlen: On Polite Editorial Tussles and Unraveling Mysteries

In this article, author Tessa Arlen explains how to navigate the differences between American and English audiences and create a realistic historical mystery.
Publish date:

Tessa Arlen transplanted from Britain to America when she was thirty. She is married to an American and lives in the Southwest where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.


In this article, Arlen explains how to navigate the differences between American and English audiences, create a realistic historical mystery, and so much more!


Historical Fiction

Whether history is a backdrop to your story or the focus of the story itself, this workshop will provide you with the tools to find the facts you need, organize the data in a functional manner, and merge that data seamlessly into your novel.

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Name: Tessa Arlen
Literary agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon LTA
Title: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers (Woman of WWII series)
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: December 1, 2020
Genre: Mystery
Elevator pitch for the book: Poppy Redfern is a scriptwriter at the London Crown Film Unit, which produces short films featuring British civilians who perform acts of valor and heroism in WWII. Thrilled to receive her first solo script project, Poppy meets the Air Transport Auxiliary, a group of female civilians who pilot planes from factories to military airfields all over Britain, but she never expects to see one of their best pilots die in what is labeled an accident.


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What prompted you to write this book?

The glamorous and courageous ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) women pilots of WWII. These extraordinary women volunteered to fly thousands of missions all over Britain, delivering planes from factory to airfield, and could fly thirty-five (often more) different types of planes from fighter aircraft to the massive four-engine bomber Lancasters! Their bravery and dedication to the war effort were too tempting to pass up. And then there was the opportunity to work in a murder or two to make things even more thrilling.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

My twelve-page proposal for Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers went off to my editor on January 20, 2019. It was accepted and a complete manuscript was due to the publisher by June 1, 2019—that’s a pretty tight deadline! Thankfully, I had already written the first 20,000 words so it rolled out from there, but I did change who the villain was! The book comes out December 1, 2020, which also gives budding writers some idea of how long a book is in production.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers is my sixth historical mystery, so I am familiar with the steps from first idea to publication.

During the production process for the Woman of WWI series, there was a polite tussle with my copy editor when I pushed back on her changing my English expressions into American English. For example, the English say "aeroplane" and Americans "airplane." I think we have it straight now!

The most fun surprise is when the mockup artwork for the cover is sent to me. It always catches me off balance at first, because I see the various scenes and characters vividly as I write, so it is odd to see someone else’s portrayal of the whole book distilled into a piece of cover art. But I always end up loving my covers.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book? 

I often feel like a conduit for my character’s emotions, actions, and dialogue. However thorough I am in my plot outline, there is always somewhere the story takes me that I hadn’t thought of. Poppy has a way of expressing herself that is unique to her and sometimes she comes up with some ideas that I would never have thought of at the beginning. I swear she’s real!


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

Most importantly, the sense of time and place. Secondly, the unraveling of the mystery. I want everyone who reads Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers to feel that they have been taken back in time to England’s Homefront during WWII. It is almost unimaginable to us now what it must have been like during those anxious times. The dread that a member of your family could be killed in action or in a bombing raid. The very real fear of a German invasion when France fell in 1940 and all that separated Britain from the rest of Europe was a strip of water, 20 miles wide, called the English Chanel. And, on top of that, imagine having to cope with the blackout and very strict food, coal, petrol, and clothing rationing too.

For American readers, I hope that they will understand that when the US joined the war and the tiny British Isles was inundated with over a million US servicemen, that although Britain could not have survived the war without America’s help, it was a hard adjustment for the insular Brits. The ordinary people of Britain were particularly narrow in their view and unworldly in the 1940s, and far more formal than they are now. However glamorous and fascinating the American GI was to young English women, the older generation found the informality of the American culture difficult to understand. The quotation attributed to George Bernard Shaw, "England and America are two countries separated by a common language," was undoubtedly accurate!

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

Always write the book you want to read. Don’t think about what is on the bestseller lists for fiction at the moment. Publishers take forever to get your book out into the world, and all will have changed by then.

If this is your first book, keep writing until you have finished your first draft. Work at it every day and write the story to its finish, even if you want to press "delete" or tear up your work, please don’t! When you are finished, then go back to the beginning and start editing. A book is one-third writing and two-thirds editing!


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