|Kathy and Banjo|
Who doesn’t love hanging out on comfy porch? Thanks for the invitation to drop by. My husband and I added a screened porch to our home in Georgia ten years ago, and this time of year, you can find me there most mornings with Banjo and Puddin’. Only after a relaxing hour or so drinking coffee and reading the paper do we three head upstairs to my office to write.
These two are my muses and inspire the personalities of the dog and cat in my Dickens & Christie cozy mystery series: Bells, Tails & Murder and Pumpkins, Paws & Murder plus a third book due out in August. Of course, they helped me answer the interview questions too.
How did you choose the Cotswolds for the setting of your books?
I’ve been an Anglophile my whole life, and I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t reading books set in England—from historical fiction to mysteries. When I majored in English, I always chose British literature courses first. And finally, after I retired, I got to visit England—for three weeks. The week we spent in the Cotswolds was my favorite.
It helped that I took copious notes while we traveled, mainly because I write a weekly newspaper column. You can find the columns I wrote about our trip to the Cotswolds, Dartmouth, and Oxford on my website (https://kathymanospenn.com/category/this-and-that/.) When I decided in 2019 to write cozy mysteries, those notes came in quite handy.
Tell us more about Banjo and Puddin’.
Banjo is a 70-pound lovable lugger—part Great Pyrenees, part Golden Retriever, and part Australian Shepherd—but his personality is pure GP. That means he’s a bit of a layabout, a gentle giant who wants nothing more than to be touched by anyone who comes near him. Like Dickens in my books, he lives for belly rubs, and he’s a Mama’s boy who rarely leaves my side. Dickens is a dwarf GP, and you can’t just go out and find one. They’re anomalies. I googled mini Pyrs, thinking that would be the right size dog for my character, only to discover there was no such thing. That’s how I stumbled across dwarf Pyrs.
Now, Puddin’ is a feisty calico cat who rules the roost around here. Christie, in my books, started out as a calico, but honestly, it was tough to find pics of calicos to use for my covers, so she turned into a black cat. Since she’s named for Agatha Christie, black is probably more fitting. Puddin’ spends lots of time in my office—atop my desk or curled up in the file drawer—just like Christie. And, like my fictional cat, Puddin’ expects a puddle of milk in her bowl when I get my coffee and is very picky about her dabs of wet food.
Do the people in your real-life show up in your writing?
Absolutely! They say write what you know, and I do. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. I do have two sisters, and though exaggerated, their personalities are recognizable. Belle, the octogenarian who’s one of the main character’s friends, was inspired by a ninety-year-old friend who never slows down.
As for Leta, the protagonist, like me, she’s Greek and she’s a retired banker. Her cooking, the books she reads, her addiction to Words with Friends—all of those traits come from me as does her love of bicycling. I had to laugh when my editor inquired about Leta’s age. She thought Leta was probably in her 50s and wasn’t sure she’d be bicycling if she was. That cracked me up, and I sent her a photo of me and my husband cycling in the Greek Islands—when I was in my 50s. We’ve also cycled in France and the Netherlands, though Greece was by far the most challenging.
By the way, my real-life husband is very much alive and none too pleased that I’m a widow in the books. I keep reminding him I say lovely things about Henry, Leta’s husband, and all those compliments are references to him.
Do you write with a theme in mind?
I don’t know that I’d call it a theme, but there are certain things that I plan to always include in the books. My real-life girlfriends are hugely important to me, so the camaraderie among Leta, Wendy, and Belle plays a big part in the series. I don’t belong to a book club, but I’m an avid reader, and each book includes a scene at the Book Nook, the village bookshop. When a book is read by the book club, you can be assured I’ve read and enjoyed it. And you’ll notice that books and authors are mentioned throughout. That’s the way conversations go with my girlfriends here in Atlanta.
Who’s your favorite author?
Louise Penny is at the top of my list, and I was fortunate enough to hear her speak at a small college in North Carolina. I read two-three books a week, so the names on the list shift around, but I adore Deborah Crombie, Elly Griffiths, and Jacqueline Winspear. Of course, except for Louise Penny’s books set in Canada, all the rest are set in England. And, yes, I’ve read lots of Agatha Christie and am addicted to Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot on PBS. My description of Agatha Christie’s summer home in book two comes from the visit I made there when I visited Dartmouth in 2018. What a treat that was!
What’s the most meaningful thing a fan has said about your books?
The statement that made me glow was from a woman who said that Belle reminded her of her grandmother.
After that, I’m delighted that two things show up time after time in my reviews. One is that readers appreciate the relationship among the friends in the books and that the women are well-rounded and intelligent. One review described them as “full-throated.” Another is that people are pleasantly surprised they love the talking animals, that they add an interesting element to the book. Yes, Dickens & Christie talk to Leta, and she understands them. She’s the only person who does.
Any parting words to leave with us?
Of course! We writers always have words. First, thanks again for the invitation. And, second, I hope your readers will grab a copy of Bells, Tails, & Murder and get to know Leta and her friends—including the four-legged ones!
Kathy, thanks so much for stopping by!
BELLS, TAILS, & MURDER
A Cotswolds village, a grieving heroine, two furry sidekicks . . . and a murder!
Life can change in a heartbeat . . .Tragedy propels Leta Parker to pursue a lifelong dream to leave Atlanta and retire to the Cotswolds. When her dog Dickens stumbles across a dead body—Leta’s inner Nancy Drew is awakened. One call to her friend Wendy is all it takes to get the retired English teacher and her mum involved in solving a murder.
Two whipsmart retirees, one spunky senior citizen, and a feisty dog and cat are on the case.
Who better to unearth clues in the village? Even Dickens and Christie get in on the act gathering intelligence from their four-legged friends. You’ll be captivated as this unlikely team of sleuths ferrets out a long-buried secret—a scenario that would make any BBC cozy mystery producer proud.
And don’t miss the Greek Salad recipe in the back!
Purchase the books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084X6546S
Picture Kathy Manos Penn sitting serenely at her desk surrounded by her four-legged office assistants. Happily retired from corporate America, she’d never considered being an author until a friend suggested she write a cozy mystery.
As a child, she took a book everywhere—to family dinners, to doctors’ offices, and of course to bed. Years later, a newspaper article inspired her to put pen to paper and submit her thoughts to the editor. Before she knew it, she was writing weekly columns and blogs—in addition to her demanding day job. Then came a book co-written with her dog. As she says, “Doesn’t everyone do that?”
Now, she’s writing cozy animal mysteries featuring a dog and cat who converse with their owner. If a dog can write a book, surely animals can communicate. Naturally, her office assistants help with the dialogue. And, yes, they’re angling to be listed as co-authors.
For a special treat, listen to Kathy’s interview on the It’s a Mystery Podcast.
Visit her website for information on the Dickens & Christie cozy mystery series—photos, blogs, a map of Astonbury, and more. To stay up-to-date on book news and releases, sign up for her newsletter
Find Kathy on these social media sites: