An Interview with Rowan Coleman

Please tell us everything we need to know about the new book!

The Vanished Bride imagines that before they were famous authors the Bronte sisters were amateur sleuths. In the first of the series they hear of the disappearance of a young wife and mother, who has vanished from her home, Chester Grange, leaving behind a room covered in blood. Naturally curious, intelligent and formidable, the sisters decide to become ‘detectors’ and discover what happened to Elizabeth Chester.

Is there going to be a lovely series of Bronte adventures, that will continue forever..?

I really hope so! I’d love that, because they are a joy to research and write. Book 2 is coming in 2020 and at present I have two more planned. Each book is interwoven with the real biographical facts, and takes place over a few days – so it is possible to fit in a lot of detecting into their all too short lives. 

How do you go about slotting these mysteries into what we know about the sisters’ real lives?

It not too difficult, we have a great archive of material, particularly Charlotte’s letters to her friend Ellen Nussey, the diary papers that Emily and Anne wrote, and a great number of other artefacts that give us a really good idea of who the sisters were, their voices and personalities, while still leaving open a lot to interpretation. There have also been some amazing finds, particularly the torn-up love letter that Charlotte sent to her unrequited love, Monsieur H├ęger, which his wife took out of the waste bin and stitched back together and kept! Even so we still only know about five percent of what they did on a day to day basis, so there is still plenty of room for detecting! 

Where did such a fantastic idea come from..? Did you have a single moment of inspiration?

I did, as it happens. I was spending a lot of time in Haworth and at Ponden Hall, where my contemporary ghost story The Girl at the Window is set. I was briefly considering a thread in that novel where the Bronte sisters investigated the same mystery my contemporary heroine does. But as soon as I thought of the Bronte Sisters investigating anything, I knew it was an idea that deserved its own novel!

Why do you enjoy the mystery genre, and which books / authors / series would you recommend?

 This is my first foray into mystery writing as an author, but I have loved it for a long time as a reader. Like many I love Christie, Du Maurier, Conan Doyle, all the classics! I love gothic fiction too, and most importantly I am devoted to the novels and poems of the Bronte Sisters, which all contain an element of mystery. For contemporary authors I have been reading Robin Stevens with my son, the Murder Most Unladylike series, and they are brilliant!

Tell us about the landscape and setting of your series. Where in the world are we, and why should everyone want to go there..?

We are in beautiful West Yorkshire, and the village of Haworth, though it was a good deal less picturesque in the Bronte’s time that it is now! Then the average life expectancy was 24, and the drinking water came right off the moor, got filtered through the putrid contents of the graveyard, flowed down the sewage strewn streets and into the town well. Typhoid, tuberculosis and cholera were rife, and infant mortality meant that on some headstones lost babies were numbered instead of names. It was a very hard life for most of the occupants of Haworth. The Parsonage at the top of the village was something of a beacon for the residents, and Patrick Bronte served his community well, eventually successfully lobbying for a series of fresh water reservoirs to be built. Today Haworth is a beautiful little village, surrounded by stunning countryside and it feels like my second home. If you want a wonderfully wild walk, at any time of year there is nothing to beat a good march up to Top Withens, the geographical location of Wuthering Heights, or my favourite (and Emily’s) spot Ponden Kirk, better known as Peniston Crag, where the view is astounding.  

How did you get into writing in the first place, and how did you first get published..?

I’d always written, but I never really tried to do anything with it. Then when I was 29 ½ and reading a magazine on my lunch break that had a young writers short story of the year competition. I realised the cut-off point was 30! Horrified I thought I better enter, and I wrote a story set in an alternative reality where all women aspired to be fat and single. Anyway, it won! That opened a lot of doors for me, and within in two years my first novel was published.

Why do you have different pen names, and do you see them as distinct personalities and types of writers?

Yes, basically. I write a wide range of contemporary fiction under my own name Rowan Coleman, sometimes emotional family stories, sometimes time-travel adventures, sometimes historical ghost stories. But when I write something that is more of a pure genre I write under a pen name to define that. Bella Ellis is also a little tribute to the Bronte Sister’s pens names they were first published under of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.

What is your readership like..? Do you meet them, or get letters from them?

They are lovely, diverse, ever changing. There are a core of readers I have had now for nearly twenty years and they honestly feel like friends, even though I haven’t met them in real life! The great joy is every time I try something that is more genre fluid like The Summer of Impossible Things or The Girl at the Window, I meet new readers, and that’s always brilliant fun. I meet quite a few at book events, but I suppose mostly I talk to my readers online, we all love books and that’s great thing to have in common. 

What are you going to write next..?
 I’m just finishing Bronte Mysteries 2 and then I have a new idea for a Rowan book that I could tell you about, but then I’d have to kill you.

Finally… tell us something surprising about yourself that your readers might not already know..!

I am a chronic over sharer so there isn’t much mystery to me! I am dyslexic, I harbour a long held desire to write a vampire novel and I’m married to Rick Astley’s guitarist, who is also my childhood sweetheart, Adam.