Wendy Percival was born in the UK and grew up in rural Worcestershire. After training as a primary school teacher she moved to South West England to take up her first teaching post and remained in teaching for 20 years.
An impulse buy of Writing Magazine prompting her to start writing seriously. She won the magazine’s 2002 Summer Ghost Story Competition and had a short story published before focusing on full length fiction.
The time honoured ‘box of old documents’ in the attic stirred her interest in genealogy. When she began researching her Shropshire roots she realised how little most of us know about our family history. This became the inspiration behind the first Esme Quentin novel, Blood-Tied.
Wendy continues to be intrigued by genealogy, its mysteries and family secrets and writes about this in her family history blog.
How did you discover indieBRAG?
I heard about indieBRAG when a fellow SilverWood author, Alison Morton, was awarded a BRAG Medallion for one of her alternative Nova Roma novels.
Tell me about your story, The Indelible Stain.
My ‘genealogy detective’, Esme Quentin, stumbles upon a dying woman at the foot of cliffs. While the police dismiss the death as accidental, Esme continues to be troubled by the woman’s final words and the origins of an old sepia photograph she was clutching. When the dead woman’s daughter comes to ask Esme to help with her own unanswered questions, the subsequent trail leads Esme back into the brutal history of convict transportation and a long forgotten mystery surrounding a local girl who was exiled to Australia for her crime in 1837.
It’s a story of how disturbing events in the past are capable of impacting on the present with devastating consequences.
Please tell me a little about the period and setting for your story.
The story is set in the present day, in a small village on the North Devon coast in South West England. Events take place over a 6 week period during August and early September.
Why did you chose a small village in North Devon as your setting?
It’s a place I know and love well, having lived in North Devon for 35 years. The village is steeped in history, which is always a pull for me, and its location is stunning. Dramatic cliffs with strange rock formations tower above small coves along the coast and waves come crashing in from the Atlantic – the perfect place where you might conveniently ‘help’ someone over the edge if you wanted to get rid of them!
What are a few of the historical aspects to your story?
The story has its roots in the brutal history of Britain’s penal policy of exiling its criminals. Having lost its usual ‘dumping ground’ following the American War of Independence, Australia became a penal colony in 1787. At this time a vast number of what we would now regard as petty crimes, were punishable by death, but amid mounting unease the law was changed to allow judges to commute the death sentence to transportation, generally for 7 years, 14 years or life. The conditions on the convict ships which transported the prisoners were dire and life was extremely hard when they reached land. But as Australia began to develop and grow as a country, its authorities demanded the end of transportation. By the time the final convict ship arrived in Perth in 1868, the number of British and Irish prisoners transported to Australian shores had reached in excess of 160,000.
What is some of the research that went into your story?
The convict ships I mention in the book were all real transport ships, the prisoners’ harrowing experiences on board are from true accounts and incidents concerning the Irish are genuine historical events. As many of Devon’s own criminals were transported to Australia, I also used material from local archives to give a sense of reality to the background story.
Tell me a little about your main protagonist, Esme Quentin.
Esme is an unconventional sleuth. She’s a mature woman whose journalist husband, for whom she was a researcher, was killed some years ago in dubious circumstances while on an investigation. Traumatised by the event, Esme turned away from the world of the investigative reporter and retreated into what she assumed to be a safe area of research – genealogy. An assumption which proves to be ill founded when she discovers digging deep into the past carries its own dangers.
But Esme is a tenacious character with an inherent need to get to the truth. Motivated by her concern for others, she has realised that by applying the same skills, resilience and methodology as she employs in her work as a genealogist, she is capable of exposing and solving the crimes she inadvertently stumbles upon, despite the risks.
Who is Vince Munroe?
Vince is a mortuary attendant and a bit of a wannabe. Once, early on in his career, he was on duty when a murder victim was brought into the morgue. He’s bored people rigid with his “claim to fame” story ever since. As a consequence no one has ever taken his observations seriously. Until now.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Until recent times, having convict ancestry in Australia was considered shameful, a ‘stain’ on one’s heritage. I’d been playing around with the words ‘stain’ and ‘tainted’ when I noticed an episode of a favourite TV crime series was called The Indelible Stain. It fitted perfectly.
Who designed your book cover?
The excellent design team at SilverWood Books designed my book cover, working on a rough brief from me about key aspects of the story. I love what they do!
Do you stick with just genre?
At the moment I’m happy sticking to the crime fiction/mystery genre. I like the structure it gives me and as a family historian (see below) I’m regularly inspired by uncovering of secrets from the past.
What book project are you working on now?
I’m currently working on my third Esme Quentin novel, which is inspired by clandestine activities during World War 2. That’s all I’m saying at the moment!
Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?
I write in an open plan area of our living room which is like a small study. Books line one wall and I can look out from my little corner across the room and see the garden through a pair of glazed doors.
My novel writing process involves scribbling heaps of written notes in notebooks and on bits of paper, as well as lots of reading, researching the era of history where the solution to the mystery will lie. I also write a detailed backstory of the secret from the past which will be revealed in the contemporary story of the book. I need to know what happened and how, in detail, in order to know the trail my protagonist, Esme Quentin, will undertake to uncover the truth.
Once I have a reasonably firm plan of where I’m going with the story, I start writing the first draft. But no matter how much I pre-plan it’s only when I start the actual writing process that new (better!) ideas occur to me so I always end up having to do lots of re-writing.
A first draft can come together fairly quickly and once I’m in the zone, I can be pretty prolific but I have to make time for my other writing commitments – my blogs, background reading (which I continue to do during the first draft), family history research, social media and, of course, ‘life’!
As I get closer to completing the final draft my days become intense and I’m an exhausted wreck by the time I get to the finishing line!
When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?
When I’m stuck on a scene, one way to clear the log-jam is to go off and do something which uses a completely different part of my brain such as gardening, walking or even ironing, allowing my subconscious to work on the problem. Another method I use is to sit down with a pencil and notepad and ‘discuss’ the issue by writing a conversation with myself. Often, before I’ve written down the burning question, the answer has popped into my head.
Is there a favorite food or beverage you like to enjoy while writing?
Eat? Drink? If I’m not careful I can do neither if I’m on a roll. Fortunately my husband drags me away from my desk at intervals and ensures I don’t die of thirst or hunger!
Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?
As well as family history research, mentioned above, my other interests include reading (of course) and gardening. Our garden is an English Country Cottage style where we grow vegetables as well as flowers. Also we have a small campervan (a very mini RV!) which we use to explore coast, countryside and historical locations right across the UK, though as there are plenty of beautiful places in south-west England where we live, often we don’t need to go far to find an inspiring location.
A Message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Wendy Percival who is the author of, The Indelible Stain, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Indelible Stain, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.