Mrs. Malory is Back on the Case

Coffeetown Press is proud to reissue the first four novels of Hazel Holt’s Mrs. Malory mysteries, a classic “cozy” series based in the fictional English town of Taviscomb featuring a forthright, middle-aged female detective who has a lot in common with the delightful Hazel Holt herself.

Your biography mentions that you were a television reviewer. Can you tell us more about that phase of your life?

I reviewed television programs, wrote feature articles and did some interviews for “Television Today,” which is the television section of The Stage, a weekly newspaper for the theatrical profession (a bit like the American Variety, though very much more sedate!). One had to have a general overview of the profession and be knowledgeable about the technicalities. I joined the staff part- time after meeting the editor at the British Theatre Museum, where I did volunteer work. Before that I was editor of the publications of the International African Institute for 30 years.

You wrote a very well received biography of author Barbara Pym. Where and how did you meet?

At the Institute, when I was working as an editor. We were close friends for 27 years, and she appointed me her literary executor. After she died, with the help of her sister Hilary (also a dear friend), I made a collection of her letters and diaries that I published under the title “A Very Private Eye.” It made several bestseller lists here and in the U.S. My publisher (Macmillan) suggested I should write the official biography (A Lot To Ask), which also did well.

I know you admire Victorian literature. Are there any contemporary novelists you can name that are on your list of favorites?

I read virtually no fiction published after 1950.

Are you excited about seeing the first four Mrs. Malory books reissued?

I am, of course, delighted. About six of the most recent ones (in the U.S. and U.K.) are still in print in hardback and paperback.

I see that you published roughly one Mrs. Malory book a year between 1989 and 2009 [19 in all]. Are there more planned? Is it useful to read the books in order or can one easily skip around?

I can still manage to produce one a year. Since the main characters appear in all books it is best to read them in sequence, but each can stand alone.

What is your process: do you have a schedule you try to follow? How long on average does it take you to write a Mrs. Malory novel?

I try to write a bit every day, but there are often gaps. Also, since I am now 81 and partially disabled, all my household chores take much longer and so there’s less time for writing. Also I don’t always feel like it! I don’t edit—just read over the bit I’ve written the day before and try to catch any inconsistencies. Fortunately my publisher’s copy editors are very good at spotting these….

When did you move to Somerset? Is Taviscombe a stand-in?

We moved to Somerset from London about 20 years ago when my husband retired and were able to go back to the family home down here, where his family has lived for about 90 years.

Is Flip the original inspiration for Foss the Siamese cat? Is there also a Tristan?

Foss is mostly Flip, with memories of my original Siamese (called Foss) and my Burmese (called Madam). Tris is the West Highland terrier that belonged to an American friend.

Offhand, what percent of Mrs. Malory would you say is based on you? Do you share key elements of her past history?

Mrs. M has many of my opinions but not my lifestyle— she is far more energetic, a bit younger, and much more involved with local affairs. I’ve never sat on a committee in my life.

I’m delighted to say I’m NOT a widow, but I do have a son (who was a lawyer but is now a successful novelist), a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter. I read English at Cambridge but was never an academic as such. I also have a good friend who is much like Rosemary.

What was the impetus for embarking on the Mrs. Malory series?

I can’t remember exactly what sparked off Gone Away; it’s so long ago! But I did find it convenient to set the novels in Taviscombe, which is the name Barbara Pym gave to Minehead in one of her novels—a little in-joke for Pym readers.

Do you have any interesting stories to share about the general response to this series? Fan mail, public recognition?

I do have quite a few fan letters from all over the world. Some of my fans (especially in the U.S.) have become good friends, and one is now practically our adopted daughter!

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