Meet My New Author Friend Connie Berry!
Posted Sep 24 2021
Connie Berry and I recently met online when Connie was featured on the “Molly on Mysteries” program. We soon realized we had an interesting thing in common – we both write mysteries featuring old things, antiques for Connie and old houses for me. We thought you readers would enjoy a little conversation about our books and our love for things from yesteryear.
Diane: What’s your favorite antique you’ve ever owned?
Connie: Antiques are precious to me, not because of their monetary value but because they connect me to the past. One of my favorites pieces is a sampler, completed by a girl named Elizabeth Billinghurst on August 10, 1781. While I can’t know for sure, she may have been the Elizabeth Billinghurst who was born in Surrey, England, in 1767 and died in 1859 at the age of 92 (quite an achievement for the eighteenth century). If so, she completed this sampler when she was fourteen. The saying she chose was a popular one for young stitchers:
Virtue’s the chiefest beauty of the mind
The noblest ornament of humankind
Virtue’s our safeguard and our guiding star
That stirs up reason when our senses err
In spite of the complexity of the project, Elizabeth wasn’t all that detail-oriented. Failing to plan ahead, she was obliged to insert the final letters or word above the line. It’s one of my favorite things about this sampler. I picture her bent over her work, longing for an opportunity to stash the linen in her work basket and race outside to visit the horses or climb the apple tree in the garden.
Diane: What’s something surprising you’ve learned about antiques while performing research for your books?
Connie: In my latest book, The Shadow of Memory (release date May 2022), antiquities expert Ivor Tweedy shows Kate a tiny portrait of a human eye. This is how he describes it to Kate and her friend Vivian:
“You might assume it’s been cut down from a larger portrait, but no.” The gleam
in Ivor’s eye told me he’d been hoping one of us would ask. “This is what’s called a
Lover’s Eye—a fad in the decades around the turn of the nineteenth century. Lovers
would exchange portraits of their eyes, painted on bits of ivory no bigger than a
fingernail, like this one. Both men and women wore them, with the identity of the subject
a mystery. All part of the fun.”
I’d never heard of Lover’s Eyes, maybe because their popularity lasted only about twenty years, but they were lots of fun to research. In October I’m planning to spend a day at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where they have a number of Lover’s Eyes on display. Can’t wait!
Diane: What drew you to setting your books in England?
Connie: If you haven’t guessed, I’m an Anglophile! During college, I studied at St. Clare’s College, Oxford, and fell (hard) under the spell of the British Isles—the literature, legends, and history of those small jewel-like islands in the sea. When I started my first job, I used my lunch break to read, in order, the biographies of all the kings and queens, beginning with Boadicea, the Iceni queen who led a revolt against the Romans in 60 BC. I went on from there to read diaries and letters written by ordinary people from the 16th to the 20th century. Since the 1980s, my husband and I have traveled to the British Isles once or twice a year—until Covid. Writing a book means spending massive amounts of time in the fictional world you’ve created. Since March of 2020, spending imaginary time in Britain has been one of my consolations.
Connie: Your house-flipper series features a female carpenter who rehabs old buildings, and Getaway with Murder, your latest in the Mountain Lodge Mysteries, involves the renovation of a dilapidated lodge in the Blue Ridge Mountains. What draws you to write about building renovation? Have you ever done it yourself?
Diane: I’ve always had a soft spot for old houses, especially Victorians and farmhouses with big wrap-around porches. They take me back to a simpler time when the pace of life was slower, and I find comfort in that. I feel a twinge in my heart when I see a house suffering from neglect, and I know it could be beautiful if just given some TLC. While I can’t give all these old structures new life in reality, it’s fun to rehab them in my books, and turn old eyesores into something people can enjoy anew. I’ve never rehabbed an entire house, but we’ve changed out flooring in the homes we’ve lived in to make them prettier and more pet-friendly. We’ve also painted the walls. I love bright, whimsical colors! I also enjoy gardening, and I’ve added outdoor color with plants, flowers, and cute yard decorations. We plan to install black and white checkerboard flooring in the kitchen of our colonial soon, which will fulfill a decades-long dream of having checkerboard floors. I love the look!
Connie: Do you have a favorite old building?
Diane: I have two favorites. The first would be the Caswell House in Austin, Texas, where my husband and I were married thirty years ago. It’s a gorgeous Victorian with a wide porch and balcony. My second favorite would be our first home in Austin, which we rented. It was a tiny two-bedroom wood-frame house, but it had hardwood floors throughout and oodles of charm. A more recent building I’ve enjoyed watching be rehabbed is the Colonial Inn in my hometown of Hillsborough, North Carolina. Only a year ago, it looked ready for the wrecking ball, but now it’s open as both an inn and restaurant. It’s lovely.
Connie: Misty Murphy, the protagonist in Getaway with Murder, is 50, definitely older than the typical cozy heroine. Why did you choose to make her that age, and are there advantages to being older?
Diane: I turned 50 a few years ago and have found being in my fifties far from the devastating foray “over the hill” we’re told it will be. It’s so freeing to have our children launched, more financial security, and fewer responsibilities for anyone other than ourselves (and our furry, four-footed housemates, of course). We’re having the time of our lives! We’ve also discovered that this phase of life is a great time to rediscover or reinvent ourselves. The independence is awesome! Though I’d love to have the energy I had when I was younger, I’d never want to lose the hard-earned knowledge and forego the experiences I’ve had. With age comes perspective, and I like knowing what is truly important and being able to focus on that.
Be sure to check out Connie and her books at Connie’s website. Find Connie at her author page on Facebook (The Kate Hamilton Mystery Series page), on Twitter at @ConnieCBerry and on Instagram at @ConnieCampbellBerry.
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Haha! Our terrier mix and shepherd mix are certainly selective, too. They hear "treat" without fail, but "down" or "no!" don't always register. Raggs is such a cute name!
Reggie certainly looks happy! My own dog, Raggs, has "selective" hearing--and he's not well trained. But. Our dogs are family and we do love them.
Thanks, Barbara! I wish I could write faster, too! My ideas are backing up in my head. : ) I wish my brain had a USB port where I could automatically download the stories from my mind to the page. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book! I'm hard at work on the second one, A Trip with Trouble.
I LOVED getaway with Murder. The second book can't be published soon enough. Can you write any faster? ;-)
Thanks so much, Gerrie! So glad you enjoyed the book, and your kind words put a big smile on my face. The second book in the series, A Trip with Trouble, will release next fall. I'm looking forward to it, too!