Release of Unlikely Traitors

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

It’s an exciting week for me with the release of Unlikely Traitors, the third in my Edwardian mystery series featuring Ursula Marlow.   It’s been a long time coming and I’m thankful my readers no longer have to wait to find out what happened after the unexpected ending to The Serpent and The Scorpion (but don’t worry I’m not going to give it away – no spoilers here!) 

The inspiration for Unlikely Traitors was a classic ‘what if’ scenario that came out of my research on Irish history. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been obsessed with the history of ‘the troubles’ in Ireland (I certainly disconcerted the librarian at our local library by asking for a copy of Bobby Sands’ poetry when I was ten years old…)

While researching the issue of Home Rule for Ireland (which was, not surprisingly, an ongoing controversy in Edwardian England) I found references to Sir Roger Casement and was immediately intrigued. Casement was an Irish born diplomat who was knighted by King George V in 1911 and hanged for treason in 1916. 

Prior to the war, Casement was most famous for having exposed illegal slavery in South America and the Congo but when he returned to England (and despite his Protestant roots) he became a fervent supporter of Irish Independence. The outbreak of the First World War only cemented that fervour and, after traveling to Germany to secure aid for an armed Irish uprising against Britain, Casement was arrested and subsequently executed for treason.

Immediately I wondered – what was therefore happening in Ireland before the outbreak of the First World War? What if people had been attempting to get armaments and aid from Germany in support of an Irish Republic before war broke out? Turns out my “what if?” scenario wasn’t too far from the truth.

By 1912, Ulster was a powder-keg. Divided between the protestant pro-Ulster forces and the Irish Republicans, both sides were seeking to arm themselves to defend their opposing political positions. Within the pro-Ulster movement there already was a secret committee established to buy arms from abroad to resist any moves toward home rule or Irish independence. On the Irish Republican side, the Edwardian era provided fertile ground for resistance, rebellion and frustration over stalled Home Rule efforts. By the time I had finished my research, I knew that my third Ursula Marlow book would deal directly with tensions over Home Rule and the murky past of some of Ursula’s closest friends (particularly when it came to support for Irish Independence). I also knew that in the third book, the stakes for betrayal had to be higher than they’d ever been before. 

So an exciting (and, I confess nerve-wracking) time for me as Unlikely Traitors is released into the world (first as an ebook then in print on August 12th). For me it’s the culmination of a “what if?…” scenario.

I wonder, how many “what if?” questions have led you, TKZers, to a new book or work in progress? 

Getting Inside a Character’s Head

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I have just finished the first part of an online short story I’m posting on my website which requires a change of perspective. Both Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion incorporated a distinctly Ursula-esque POV but in the new story I have delved inside the head of another character – namely Lord Wrotham – which has opened up all sorts of possibilities (I can’t help but grin as I write that).

It does, however, also raise some challenges which go to the very heart of character development. You see I have only ever viewed him the way Ursula views him. Although I know his background (I created it after all), in many ways he’s as much of a mystery to me as he is to Ursula. Hence the fun in writing the story…and for those of you who have read The Serpent and The Scorpion, the story also offers some tantalizing clues as to what led to his arrest…

When I develop characters some of them appear pretty much fully formed in my head, whereas others take a while to ‘ferment’, as I ponder their past and what has made them who they are. Now I know many writers take offence at the prospect of characters doing unexpected things (aren’t we the ones in control after all?!) but I do find that many times my characters start behaving in ways I never intended – in a way rewriting themselves as the book progresses. For me, that’s all part of the fun of character discovery and development.

So how do writers flesh out their characters and what did it take for me to write this story from another character’s perspective?…You’d think it would be a methodical, well-organized process but instead I found myself:

  1. Rummaging through my old electronic files for the backgrounder I developed for Lord Wrotham then realizing that as I wrote both Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion I basically discarded most of it and reinvented him as I went along (bugger!!)
  2. Rewriting the bloody backgrounder from scratch only to find a couple of minor characters unexpectedly popping up in his past (Bugger! Bugger!) which meant I had to take a closer look at them as well
  3. As I am also working on the third Ursula Marlow book, Unlikely Traitors, I then sifted through that draft manuscript to check his story and then started playing the ‘what if’ game….(triple bugger, No!!!)

So what happened at the end of this process? Well, I decided I liked pottering around in Lord Wrotham’s head…In fact, I was discovering he was one complicated sexy man…then my husband stopped talking to me.

I guess that’s what happens when characters take over.

So how do you approach character development – are you better organized than me? Do you have it all figured out? Or do your characters, just occasionally, take you by surprise? Are there any writers whose characters you wish they would explore more – characters you wish you could get inside their head and have a bit of a rummage?


By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Inspired by my panel at Bouchercon on social issues in crime fiction, I thought that I should be clear and unapologetic – yep, I have a feminist heroine and I’m proud of it.

One of my fellow panelists also pointed out that I have a lesbian main character too and that it was great that this was not an issue in the book at all. In Edwardian England the concept of female ‘close friends’ was tolerated in a way that male ‘friendship’ most certainly was not – so in both Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion, the sexual orientation of Winifred Stanford-Jones is really only background to the plot and not a social issue per se.

One of the questions I and my fellow panelists (the terrific Neil Plakcy, Karen Olsen, Charles O’Brien, Frankie Y Bailey and moderator extraordinaire, Clair Lamb) were asked was whether we had a particular readership in mind when we considered addressing social issues in our fiction – to which I replied that I guess for those who didn’t believe that women should have got the right to vote, my books were probably not for them.

Other than that though we all agreed that the issues were integral to the story but not a pulpit from which we were determined to preach. In The Serpent and The Scorpion I raise all sorts of issues – the rise of socialism, the potential culpability of the so called ‘merchants of death’, feminism, Jewish settlements in Palestine, Egyptian nationalism – but none of these issues was something I necessarily felt compelled to write about – they all arose organically out of the creative process – through research on my settings, history, character and plot.


Nonetheless it was interesting to hear about the ‘ghetto-ization’, particularly of gay and lesbian as well as African-American crime fiction. Seems that all too often these books will be marginalized in bookstores – often placed in a hard to find corner somewhere at the back of the bookstore (probably near self-help). Typically I have found my books are placed squarely in the mystery or general fiction sections – sometimes the historical mysteries are separated out but not usually hidden away where no one can find them!

On our panel we got to explore the ways in which mystery and crime fiction in general can provide a framework in which to view the world – to focus in and illuminate social issues that transcend genre as well as time period. I’m not even sure we can divorce crime fiction from social issues (crime is after all a social issue!)

People after all do not change. Their vices do not change. There is still injustice. There is still a passion for change. One day let’s hope there will be no need for boundaries and labels – genre fiction will no longer be considered literary fiction’s ugly stepchild and crime fiction, no matter who the protagonists are or what the social issues may be, the books won’t be marginalized in a bookstore but will be out there for all to see, find and read.


By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Did that get your attention? In my latest book, The Serpent and The Scorpion, lust plays a pivotal role. Lust for power that is. Set in 1912, the book takes place against a backdrop of an increasing arms race between England and Germany. England, determined to retain its naval superiority, is focusing on building the famous Dreadnaughts so Britannia really can rule the waves. One of the main characters in The Serpent and The Scorpion is an arms dealer – like the real Basil Zaharoff – one of the so called ‘merchants of death’ blamed for escalating tensions between the world superpowers at the time and fomenting war. Behind this is a lust for power of a more patriotic kind – the lust for maintaining the power of the British Empire at a time when she was beleaguered on many fronts.

The Serpent and The Scorpion starts in Egypt (occupied at the time by the British) amid growing unrest and increasing nationalism. Indeed the first murder, that of the wife of a wealthy Jewish financier, Katya Vilensky, is blamed on political extremists hell bent on destabilizing British power. Having researched both the nascent nationalist and feminist movements in Egypt I found it fascinating to juxtapose their struggles with that of the British suffragettes. By 1912 members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had ramped up their militancy, smashing windows and calling for further attacks on private property against those who opposed granting the vote to women. This is also the year of the great schism in the WSPU and many believe this was symptomatic of the Pankhursts’ (Specifically Emmeline and her daughter Christabel) lust to maintain absolute control and power over the union. So as you can see, lust is a powerful motivator in The Serpent and the Scorpion.

Ursula Marlow of course is hardly immune but she fights a different kind of lust – the kind that will cause scandal and notoriety. She is not one to conform to Edwardian standards of propriety and her refusal to marry, in her quest to be recognized as an independent businesswoman, unsettles and disturbs those around her (particularly the man who asked her to marry him!) And of course there’s the return of her ex-lover, Alexei who has returned to England from exile on the continent. A Bolshevik and supporter of Lenin, he has his own lust – not just for Ursula but for revolution.

Those who think history is boring need look no further than the real life characters whose lust for power define the Edwardian period to prove them wrong…and of course my fictional characters cannot help but take their cue from them. So who is your favorite historical person (and let’s keep this in the past boys and girls before we all get into hot water!) whose lust for power defines their time – though, come to think of it what period of history isn’t defined by someone’s lust for power?…

Just Released – The Serpent and The Scorpion!

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Well it’s blatant self promotion and birth announcement time! I’m so excited the second Ursula Marlow mystery, The Serpent and The Scorpion, comes out tomorrow and I can’t help myself! It’s hard sometimes to remember that it takes such a long time, 18 months typically, from manuscript to print, so for an author it’s like a very, very long pregnancy (and trust me I know what that feels like having had twins!) So now it’s time to celebrate – and I confess a few glasses of champagne have already been drunk (and the book isn’t officially in stores until Tuesday!)

When describing The Serpent and The Scorpion, Kirkus Reviews wrote “Pre-World War I England is a seething cauldron of conflicting ideologies as Bolsheviks, suffragettes, socialists and merchants of death battle for control.” I couldn’t have summed it up better – and reading this it’s obvious why I was drawn to this period in history!

All this month however I’m going to explore the themes in the book rather than the historical period in question – because I’m fascinated how, as an author, I find certain elements in a book suddenly coming to the fore. In my first book, Consequences of Sin, there were past betrayals and lost innocence. In The Serpent and the Scorpion, Ursula Marlow is still recovering from the events in Consequences and trying to make her way in the world as an independent businesswoman (a rarity in Edwardian English Society). The themes in this book are therefore a little different – the betrayals are more personal, the stakes are higher and Ursula is now older and wiser – yet still all too vulnerable. So I get to explore lust and greed, the pursuit of power and the cold calculation of those who relish the prospect of war with Germany. Whoever said history was dull and stuffy!

Next week I will be focusing on the theme of lust in my books: not just lust for another person but also lust for power, independence and revolution. The Serpent and The Scorpion is set in 1912 against a backdrop of socialist activism, militancy amongst the suffragettes and an escalating arms race. Oh and there are a couple of murders thrown in for good measure. My mother-in-law advised me when I started the manuscript for The Serpent and The Scorpion that I also needed “more sex…tastefully done of course!” and I’m pleased to say this aspect of lust is also taken care of. Ursula Marlow is named after a DH Lawrence character after all…

October is a big month for my fellow Killzone authors with Joe Moore and Kathryn Lilley having new books released as well, so it will be ‘champers’ all round for us here! Over the next few weeks I’ll be traveling on tour so I hope to meet some of you in person as well as in the blogsphere. For all the details about events, locations and times please visit my website at:

Oh, The Glamour of it all

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

How I wish that air travel was like it used to be – glamorous, exotic, even adventurous. Now it is a grueling ordeal which, after the recent long haul flights to and from Australia, makes me wonder why I even bother to fly at all (probably because I have no choice).

Our flight to Sydney was actually good – we had two rows of four seats for us all risking that no one would, in their right mind, want the middle two seats in the final two rows in economy if they knew there was a three and a half year old sitting on the aisle. Our plan paid off and the boys got to stretch out, so we actually got a fair amount of sleep on the 15 hour flight over. But landing in Sydney in the middle of a thunderstorm,with each twin threatening to throw up and crying the eternity it took for us to land amid the lightning and rain, soon brought home the realization that flying is no fun at all.

Once on the ground we also had to wait on the tarmac as lightning prevented any of the ground crews from operating the jetways with the result being that four jumbo jets (at the very least) all deplaned (a word which I never thought existed) at the same time once the storm passed. Two hours getting through customs and immigration – and we’re bloody Australian citizens – meant that we missed our connection to Melbourne and could not get on another flight for four hours. Great, four hours in Sydney airport with three and a half year old twin boys after a 15 hour flight. The thing that got to me the most was that no one seemed to give a shit. Not at the airlines, not at customs. That’s what flying is all about now – endurance.

Can you put up with the power play of the customs guy who refuses to let you go in the shorter line because (and I quote) “Just because I said no” (bastard!) despite two little boys in tow.

Can you put up with the Qantas staff who shrug and say ‘oh well’ when you are faced with a four hour wait after a long flight mainly due to the fact that Qantas had originally cancelled your international connecting flight (without telling you) forcing you on to a domestic flight which meant clearing customs etc. in Sydney – which meant you were screwed.

On the return flight, there were no spare seats so the boys got to sprawl over us instead (I was in a mini Yoga session trying to contort my body so I could sleep amongst the toddler heads, feet and arms). Qantas flight staff appeared maybe three times the whole flight and couldn’t even be bothered handing out a kids activity pack (good thing I always have about 100 hours worth of entertainment packed into a backpack and miracle of miracles our in flight entertainment did work – the family behind us had none that worked!) I guess at least the return flight was smooth but still the food was lousy, the service (if you can even call it that) was indifferent and this was on an Australian airline – which used to be a safe haven – an expensive but welcome change to the American flying experience.
No more.

So as I gear up for my first ever book tour which my publisher, Penguin, is actually paying for (!) for The Serpent and the Scorpion my excitement is tinged with trepidation. Because lets all face it – flying today is not what it used to be. Flying even in Australia is not what it used to be and that’s damn depressing.

So much for jet-setting to glamour and fame.