My guest today, Elizabeth Bailey, grew up in colonial Africa 'under unconventional parentage and with theatre in the blood.' After a theatrical career of her own, she turned to writing in her thirties, first concentrating on historical romance. Eighteen - yes, eighteen! - novels later, she has since expanded her writing into both mainstream and crime fiction. Her latest publication, The Deathly Portent, is the second in her 'Lady Fan' nineteenth-century crime series. Welcome, Elizabeth!
If you could retrieve one thing from your childhood, what would it be?
The very first time I read Friday's Child. I was 10 or 11 and I found it in my dad's bookcase. It was a moment containing the supreme joy of discovery, which you can never recapture. Although I reread it countless times, and all Heyer's novels thereafter, and enjoyed them tremendously, that first dip had special resonance. If even one person felt that on reading one of my books, I would be over the moon.
What’s the worst job you've ever had?
Making lanterns! I did it for a week and it was the closest I've been to a factory environment, although it was a small outfit and there were only about three workers. I got fired by the boss in the end because he endlessly needled me for being "posh" as he thought, and in the end I hit back. I refused to leave until he paid me, but I was glad enough to be shot of putting together bits of metal and glass to build the damn things.
Tell us three surprising things about yourself, one of which is a fib - and we'll try to guess the fib!
When I was 14, I won a cup for target shooting with a 303 rifle.
I once created a Regency style high-waisted fur coat and bonnet out of two old furs (bought secondhand when you still could get real fur) and left two inches of fur all over the carpet by the end!
I rode a donkey when I was only 3!
Hmm...I'm wondering about the rifle shooting, but something tells me you're full of surprises...! Elizabeth, what’s on your bedside table/nightstand?
I don't have one, but on the window sill behind my bed at the moment is a calendar of fantastic Regency carriage prints made by a writing friend, my night light, a bottle of magnesium tablets, a cough medicine bottle, a half-used tube of Rescue Remedy cream, an old 4Head headache remedy which just about works, a red biro (for the crossword), and a couple of Propolis lozenges - from all of which you'll gather that I use alternative meds and read in bed. Next to the bed is my bookcase, with to hand a stash of cryptic crosswords (culled from our Radio Times over here) and a crossword dictionary, the current Writing Magazine, about four separate books that I'm reading (the novels I read straight through, the others I dip into). And next to the bookcase is one of the ginger cats (who usually sleeps on the bed). At night, there is also my night drink of Calm (Calcium, magnesium and cider vinegar mix which helps me to sleep) and a glass of water. No glasses because once my contacts are out, I can read comfortably without them. Amazing what a nest one makes for oneself around the bedhead! Don't you just love that moment when you get into bed with your drink, sigh thankfully against the banked pillows and prepare for that wonderful half-hour or so of indulgence. Bliss!
Bliss indeed, and I have to say your little nest sounds a lot like mine, including cat! What your favourite sandwich, and where in the world is the best place to eat it?
Oh lord, it's cheese and tomato! And in bed would be perfect. How uninteresting am I? I hardly ever eat bread these days, though, so don't have it often. But if I'm allowed to be totally self-indulgent about this, my truly favourite thing is to picnic in an Italian piazza with a feast of baguette style bread, olives, continental cheese and sausage or salami, with a small bottle of red wine and that lethal espresso, highly sugared, to follow. Watching the passers-by and gazing at the surrounding architectural beauty. That's when I feel completely relaxed and truly as if I'm on holiday.
Set me a place, I'm coming over for a sandwich! Now tell me - which household chore would you happily give up for ever?
All of them! I'm a rubbish housekeeper and can live in acres of dust and cobwebs without noticing. Suddenly I wake up and look at the place and realise it just won't do. Then I have a binge of cleaning until I get too tired and resolve to do a little every day. Then I'm back at the PC and forget about it completely until the next time it suddenly hits me again. If I cook, I usually don't prepare because I forget I've got to do it, and then I have to do a speed version. I'm not one of these cooks who lovingly spend hours getting it just right, that's for sure. What's in the freezer that I can do in half an hour max is about the sum of it! Though I'm quite enjoying making chips in the new fat fryer because I'm endlessly fascinated with the speed. I don't mind washing up though.
What talent or skill would you love to have that you don’t have now?
I wish I could play the piano really well. I learned but gave up when I was in my teens. I started all over again when I had a piano one time and struggled to play better. I was never much cop at reading music despite learning and was never able to read fast enough to play properly. It's the only instrument I learned and I loved playing - just wasn't good. And then my piano died in a flood in a friend's basement where it was housed and that was that. Also would have loved to play by ear but I can't, never could.
That's a skill I bet many of us would love to have. Now to a subject I suspect will be very close to your historical heart! You're given a time travel machine - where would you go, and why?
I'd do a Doctor Who and pop into several timeframes. Of course I'd spend a while in the Georgian period - just to check on some of my research facts and get them right. But for the hell of it I'd jet off to somewhere that no longer exists like Mesopotamia. I'd definitely jump into Inca country in South America and hope to bring back a bit of gold! Plus have to go to Tudor London and watch a Shakespeare play at the Globe, and Venice during a masquerade, and don't let's leave out Sarah Bernhardt in action and Stanislavski in Russia. I think I'd probably do a through the centuries theatre tour from Greek to Laurence Olivier - wow, what a treat!
That all sounds wonderful! Can I come along for the ride? Elizabeth, what’s the best review you've ever had?
I had some super reviews for my first historical crime The Gilded Shroud, but the best one which beats all reviews hollow was this single sentence: " The late Regency writer Georgette Heyer lives—and she's writing mysteries as Elizabeth Bailey! " What an accolade! To be compared to my favourite writer ever whose work I so much admire - it just totally made my year.
What single invention would change your life for the better?
What a fascinating question! I can think of a number of things I wish someone would invent, but I have to say the one I really really want is an automated maid to do all those personal niggly jobs that drive me nuts. I just find it sooooooo boring having to keep cutting and filing my nails, washing my hair, not to mention messing with unwanted hair, and faffing around with creams and lotions and stuff. I'd love to be pampered. Oh and while it's about it, that automated maid can do the washing and dusting and all that jazz - and the ironing, I NEVER iron! - which would take care of that eternal housekeeping which is quite as boring as bodykeeping. Oh, for a servile robot - know what I mean?
Yes, I know exactly what you mean! Thanks for being such a fun guest, Elizabeth, and for giving us today's One-Link to your website where we can read all about The Deathly Portent and all your other fabulous novels. Good luck with all your future projects, and I'll leave the last word to you - your fib!