Ash Harrier has a great fondness for puzzles, scientific facts, birds and the smell of dried tea. Today we are thrilled to chat to her about her latest novel – The Deadly Daylight, the first book in the Alice England Mysteries series.
From the publisher:
Twelve-year-old Alice England is curious, truthful and smart, but when you work in your father’s funeral home and you get messages from the dead, it can be difficult to make friends. When she comes across the peculiar case of George Devenish, who was allergic to sunlight, Alice is convinced there’s more to his death than meets the eye. With the help of George’s niece, ‘Violet the Vampire’, who shares her uncle’s allergy, and a boy named Cal, who has secrets of his own, Alice begins to investigate. It seems the truth of George’s death may never see the light of day – unless Alice and her companions can put the clues together and solve a mystery much bigger than anybody expected.
12-year-old Alice in The Deadly Daylight works in her father’s funeral home. Were you already familiar with a funeral home setting before writing the book or did you need to do some research before you began?
I didn’t grow up in a funeral home and I have never worked in one, so I had to do a lot of research to understand the kind of things Alice and her dad do each day. I started by reading articles about how funerals are planned and how bodies are prepared for funerals. I have also read documents and guidelines from the funeral industry, watched videos on Youtube and documentaries, and listened to podcasts. Some of the information is quite confronting – if you’re squeamish, you might want to avoid doing this sort of research for yourself. But I found it fascinating and enlightening.
The two main things I have discovered about the preparation of bodies for funerals are firstly that it’s highly scientific and secondly that it’s very important to funeral workers to be respectful of the dead. Because Alice England is an ongoing series, I generally have to refresh my memory or hunt for new information about death, bodies and funerals as I write each book.
Are you good at solving mysteries in everyday life too? (Do you channel your inner-Alice when unusual things happen or items go missing?)
Now you mention it, I am a bit of an amateur sleuth! Like Alice, I’m extremely curious. I love looking into old, unsolved mysteries and trying to imagine what was likely to have happened. I also love trying to solve mysteries in movies I’m watching or books I’m reading, and I am absolutely obsessed with supernatural or paranormal mysteries. I take a highly skeptical approach and believe that, generally speaking, many “paranormal” mysteries can be explained as a hoax or something natural, but I’m intrigued and delighted when I come across things that can’t be explained. In my everyday life, I am the renowned “finder” of lost things at home, and if I suspect there is a little animal or bird rustling around in a shrub, I’ll always pause to try to find out what it is.
What’s different about writing the first book in a series compared to writing a standalone title?
I think the main difference is that you need to know where the stories are going – you need a bit of a roadmap for the whole series, rather than just the one book. Although each book has its own mystery, there also needs to be one big overarching journey that the characters are going on. I think it would be a bit dull if there wasn’t a special, powerful story running through the entire series. Alice has some things to discover about herself and her past, and that thread runs through the whole series.
Do you have a tip for kids who’d like to try writing a mystery novel?
My biggest tip is not to take shortcuts when solving the mystery. You need to know “whodunnit” right from the start of writing the story. Otherwise, you will find yourself struggling to solve it at the end. That’s when it can be tempting to solve your mystery by having a great big coincidence happen – or even a confession. In real life, people would try to cover their tracks if they’d committed a crime. They would not, for example, leave a diary describing their burglary or murder for the sleuth to find! If you decide early on who committed the crime, then you can be looking for opportunities to drop in clues as you go, as well as working out how they have gotten away with it so far, and how you’re going to catch them.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?
Alice Book 2 is called The Eerie Excavation and it will be out next January. If you like archaeology, eerie histories or old witchcraft superstitions, then you’ll like it:
It’s summer break in Damocles Cove and Alice, Violet and Cal are off to Archaeology Camp. Alice’s enthusiasm carries them away to the mysterious Malkin Tower on the edge of the spooky Pendle Woods. The work is hard and the findings are scanty, until the day a fellow camper turns up something shocking, and Alice is plunged into a puzzle from the past. Do curses really exist? Is a monstrous beast haunting Pendle Woods? And who is creeping around the tower after midnight? When camp ends and everyone is sent home without answers, Alice will need her logic, her unusual gift, and the support of her friends to reveal the secrets of Pendle Woods – and bring an end to a fatal family feud that’s gone on for far too long.
The Deadly Daylight is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.
Visit Ash Harrier’s website for more about her and her books.
Are you in Perth, WA? Meet Ash Harrier at the book launch of The Deadly Daylight! (3.30pm, 11 August 2022.)