We are so excited that our next interview is with debut author T.A. Willberg.
T.A. Willberg’s quirky historical mystery debut, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, hits shelves in the US today, published by HarperCollins / Park Row.
Ahead of publication, this novel has garnered a huge amount of attention. It has been chosen as a Library Reads “Pick of the Month” for December, and was included in Book Riot’s round-up of books strikingly similar to Netflix’s Enola Holmes.
Bestselling author Stuart Turton, author of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle said: “This is the most fun I’ve had with a book this year. Every page is a delight, the worldbuilding is wonderful, and the mystery got its hooks into me from the first chapter. This is what would happen if a trainee James Bond was asked to solve an Agatha Christie mystery, and it’s brilliant.”
Helene Wecker, New York Times bestselling author of The Golem and The Jinni said of the book: “A delightfully stylish romp through London’s foggy streets and secret tunnels, complete with a tantalizing, steampunk-flavored mystery. Willberg has conjured a sharp-witted and sympathetic heroine, a worthy match for the sinister forces and shadowy organizations arrayed against her. Delicious fun!”
And Matthew Sullivan, who wrote Midnight at The Bright Ideas Bookstore, called the novel “perfectly puzzling“.
Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder will be published in the UK by Trapeze in Summer 2021.
T.A. Willberg was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and grew up on a small-holding outside Durban surrounded by horses, sheep, chickens and more snakes and spiders than she cares to recall. Her mother, after whom her protagonist is named, is a trained nurse with a degree in English Literature who worked at the Institute of Race Relations during the years of apartheid. Her father is German and a mechanical engineer with a wildly inventive imagination, and certainly the influence behind many of the gadgets in her novel.
T.A. was home-schooled until she was 16, then spent the next 2 years in competitive horse riding and represented South Africa in mounted skill-at-arms. At 18 she began a seven year chiropractic degree at the Durban University of Technology, where she qualified with a masters, focusing on spinal deformities. After 2 years of working and living in Cape Town, she moved to Malta with her partner where she now divides her time between chiropractic and writing.
What inspired you to write?
Circumstance. When I left South Africa for Malta three years ago, I thought I was going there to work as a chiropractor. But when I arrived, the job I had been counting on was no longer available and I was left in a foreign country with very little savings, no income and a Rand-Euro exchange rate of 16 to 1.
With a lot of unexpected time on my hands and a swiftly diminishing self-esteem (after seven years of university and a master’s degree, I never imagined I’d be unemployed and unable to pay my own rent), I realised I needed a distraction, something to occupy my mind. I can’t tell you exactly what possessed me to choose writing, as it wasn’t something I had ever considered before. But perhaps it was my need to escape, to create a world where I was in control of the things that happened. All I know for certain is that Marion Lane has, without any exaggeration, changed my life.
What’s your favourite book/piece of literature?
When I was young, The Hobbit was my absolute favourite and I still read the odd chapter now and then (especially when I need cheering up). My adult favourite is Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith (or any of the books in the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series) because, whenever I’m homesick, they remind me of Africa.
Where do most of your good ideas come to you?
From reading. I believe most creative ideas are recycled and when I write, fractured pieces of the great stories I’ve read come together to form something that’s my own. Also, inspiration comes to me when I’m about to fall asleep, or doing something completely mundane — I suppose an empty mind is a great place for new ideas to flourish!
Where do you write?
Although I wrote most of Marion Lane from my kitchen table in Malta, I’m now something of a nomad and love to write whenever and wherever I can — trains, guesthouses, airports, cafes. Preferably, however, I love a quiet corner, a desk near a window (see picture) and a cup of coffee at my side.
What is your writing process?
I’m a messy and disorganised writer but I’ve come to embrace it. Usually, when I begin a story, I only have a main character, a vague setting and a general theme in mind. I try to plot a basic structure before I start drafting — inciting incident, midpoint and climax — but this ALWAYS changes as I dive into the writing process. I start with chapter one and write in chronological order for as long as I can, skipping scenes or chapters if they don’t come to me naturally, then filling them in at a later stage.
For me, this is what makes writing so fun. I never know where the story will take me when I start out, or which characters I’ll meet along the way. I do confess, however, that my unplanned methods make the editing stage a nightmare. But it’s a small price to pay.
Where did the idea come from for MARION LANE AND THE MIDNIGHT MURDER?
Marion Lane was the first book I ever tried to write and in some ways I feel like the story came from nowhere. I was sitting at my kitchen table in Malta when I thought, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be cool to write a book?’ I opened my laptop and began typing a scene about a female detective running away from an unknown killer. There was no plot, no point. I just wanted to see what it felt like to create something from nothing. And as time went on, the story became more detailed, the characters more real and I realised just how much I loved writing. I decided I’d finish the story however long it took and maybe even try to get it published.
How do you relax after a day of writing?
Writing is my relaxation but apart from that, I love to exercise, especially outdoors, so a long hike or swim in the ocean is my ideal. Wine helps, too.