and Morgen Witzel better known as AJ McKenzie are the authors of The Body on the Doorstep which is the
first in the Romney Marsh series. SHOTS
persuaded them to interview each other about writing, relationships and the
best and worst thing about writing together.
Morgen: When did you first start writing?
Marilyn: Oh, I started writing when I was a kid.
It was mostly music and poetry then, and also some semi-autobiographical stuff,
which was not a success. I never managed to hide or disguise the real people in
my stories very well, and the autobiographical bits were a lot less interesting
written down than they were in my head. What about you?
Morgen: I used to read novels and then try to
imitate them. I’d read a Henty novel or a Hornblower story and then sit down
and try to write my own version of it. Most of these efforts petered out after
about page four. I remember once getting to page 12 and thinking, wow, that’s a
lot of writing.
Marilyn: Do you remember the first thing we wrote
Morgen: How could I forget? It was huge. It had
a cast of thousands: knights, kings, bandits, actors, scholars, cattle thieves,
Russian merchants, Mongol warlords, Teutonic crusaders; I get dizzy thinking
Marilyn: It was called Journeys, and we
were convinced it was going to make us rich and famous. It’s also one of the
things that brought us together, of course.
Morgen: That’s right. Looking back, it was an
odd sort of way to start a relationship, wasn’t it?
Marilyn: Well, we’re still here after
thirty-eight years, still writing together, so something must have worked. I
still believe in Journeys, you know. I still think it will see the light
Morgen: It absolutely will. Back to the present,
I have another question for you. We’re often told that writers should “only write about the things they know”.
What do you think of that?
Marilyn: I’m not sure I’m very good at writing
about the things I know, in the sense of things drawn from my own life. I said
earlier that when I tried semi-autobiographical pieces, they never worked very
well. You know how we are often asked whether our characters are based on real
people? The answer for me is no. There might be some occasional resemblances to
real people, but I far prefer to create characters out of whole cloth; I am not
very good at camouflaging real people and they would probably get upset if I
put them in books. I like to be able to create
a landscape to put my people in, not be limited by what is around me. That is
probably why historical novels appeal - they offer greater freedom to interpret
places and landscapes. You asked the question; what is your view?
Morgen: Much the same. To write only about what
we know would be terribly limiting. For one thing, if we followed that rule, no
one would ever be able to write about death. Nor, until time travel is
invented, would anyone be able to write about the past. As authors of
historical fiction, we’re always going to be writing about places and times
we’ve never experienced in person. But that’s half the fun.
Marilyn: Change of topic (as usual from me). Who
is your favourite character in The Body
on the Doorstep and why?
Morgen: I’m very fond of Amelia Chaytor, our
detective widow. There’s so much to her, so many facets; she is full of
surprises. I like how we portrayed JMW Turner, too, he works for me and I hope
we can bring him back in later books. But my two favourites are Miss Godfrey
and Miss Roper, the old ladies who pretend to be batty but are in fact sharp as
tacks. I love them to bits.
Marilyn: I think that my favourite is Peter, the
spy. He is very cool and calculating and clever, but also with a touch of humanity.
Joshua Stemp the fisherman/smuggler is also a bit of a favourite; I suspect he
has hidden depths that are not necessarily related to his fishing abilities! I
also have a soft spot for Bessie Luckhurst, the daughter of the landlord of the
Star Inn; I particularly like her taste in men...
Morgen: I thought you might. Here’s a slightly
more serious question. What do you like most about the writing process? Which
bit of writing do you most enjoy?
Marilyn: I love the planning. I especially love
character development. It is so pleasing to think about a character and almost
watch them come to life as you work on them. I used to manage a gallery in
Canada that sold pottery, and I got to know a bit about potting. I think
creating a character is a bit like making a pot. They grow organically, and you
can see the process happening. I also like writing the dialogue and being able
to use different voices.
Morgen: My favourite part, I think, is putting
the pieces of a story together, working out how it will run, how the different
elements will come together to create a whole. My metaphor is music; a good
story to me has a strong sense of rhythm and all the different parts flow
together like the elements of a symphony. Which is quite odd, because I’m not
musical at all. But when I listen to music I often see pictures; and I do the
same when we are writing.
Marilyn: Last question. What is the best thing
about writing with me, and the worst thing?
Morgen: Gulp. Okay, here goes. The best thing is
easy. If I have a problem with something I am working on, I can come to you and
ask for help, and you’ll pull a solution out of the air, just like that.
Sometimes two or three solutions. It’s amazing, and I don’t know how you do it.
The worst? The fact that you keep looking at social media while we’re working
together. I don’t know how you can concentrate. It’s just weird. Okay, your
Marilyn: The best thing about you is how
open-minded you are. You are really happy to have your ideas examined and
looked at critically. If something doesn’t work, you get it immediately, and we
put it aside and move on. It makes working with you a pleasure. The worst? The
music you listen to while you are writing: Liszt, Dvorak, Sibelius, Smetana, et
cetera. It’s too depressing for me. I can’t take all that Central European
angst. I need something either mathematical like Bach or Hadyn or something I
can sing to.
Morgen: But despite our musical differences,
we’ll keep writing together.
Marilyn: Absolutely. The Reverend Hardcastle and
Mrs Chaytor still have plenty of mysteries still to solve. And there is that
history book to finish....
The Body on the
A J McKenzie
Kent, 1796. Smugglers’ boats bring their
illicit cargoes of brandy and tobacco from France to land on the beaches of the
Channel coast. Shocked to discover a
dying man on his doorstep - and lucky to avoid a bullet himself – our alcoholic
Reverend Hardcastle, with a colourful past, finds himself entrusted with the
victim's cryptic last words. Who is the
young man? Where did he come from, and who killed him? Why, five minutes later,
was a Customs officer shot and killed out on the Marsh? And who are the
mysterious group of smugglers known as the Twelve Apostles and why is the
leader of the local Customs service so reluctant to investigate? Ably assisted by the ingenious Mrs Chaytor,
Reverend Hardcastle sets out to solve the mystery for himself. But smugglers
are not the only ones to lurk off the Kent coast, and the more he discovers,
the more he realises he might have bitten off more than he can chew.
You can find more information about them
on their website.
You can follow
them on Twitter @AJMacKnovels