Rhys Bowen: Universally Beloved Mysteries, Writing That Warms The Heart

Well, this is a first! An interview so fun and enlightening that neither myself nor our editors could get the word count down enough to squeeze into one issue without losing some of the very best parts!  So, our conversation with Rhys will continue into next month’s issue! 
What was it about her that caught our hearts? It could be her very proper English accent or the very droll way she would casually say the funniest things. Or her warm and engaging style whenever she would tell a story or experience. All combined, it was absolutely delightful spending time with her!  From her inside knowledge of the English aristocracy (which you’ll see even more of next month) to her incredible insight into human nature as a whole and how to weave that into spell-binding stories specifically, read on and we’re sure you will fall in love with her just as we did!

InD: Ms. Rhys, you were born in Bath, did you grow up there?
No. I was born there and my family has roots, but when I was really young, we moved to Kent, which is about 30km south of London where my father managed a paper factory.
InD: How do you remember your childhood?
It was a very idyllic childhood because we were living in the country in a big, old house that my brother swears is haunted. I used to roller-skate down the corridor—that tells you how long they were! The house was really cold and drafty. My brother and I had bedrooms on the top floor. We had an apple orchard nearby. I would climb the trees and build tree houses. At one stage, I was very much into a comic with a trapeze star, so I put a trapeze in one of the trees and I used to do these awful stunts on it.
It was a great childhood for imagination because I had to amuse myself. If you went back to that same place now, you would be so disappointed. London has just swallowed it up. You can't even see orchards anymore.
InD: How sad. It sounds idyllic to so many of us because we read all the other wonderful stories, set in historical England with the beauty and the big homes. We have the fantasy and fairytales of England and what it would be like. You say it was very drafty, so obviously it was not everything it was cracked up to be, but was it at all like the fairytales?
When I watch shows like "Downton Abby," I have to laugh because real houses are very, very cold. Our living room was probably 30' x 20' and there was no central heating, so if you sit next to the fire you are warm and if you walk three feet away, you are cold. You get used to wearing lots of layers, especially in bed at night. When I see "Downton Abby" and those women in the backless dresses I think, “No, no, no you don't know what it was really like. It was too cold for those!”
InD: Would you say it was worth it to live in those big old homes or would you prefer heating?
I think I would not change it for anything because it was perfect for my writer’s imagination. I was really being tested and given free reign. The other thing, too, was England was so safe in those days. I used to get on my bike and ride. I would go down by the river and catch tiny fish and splash around and nobody said, "Oh, where are you going? Do take care." I would come back when it got dark and nobody worried.
InD: So, when you go back do you still see the little river?
That actual place is still there. It is one of those very idyllic villages that has the pub and the bridge going over the river and is still exactly as it was.
InD: Were you a reader growing up?
: I was very much a reader. At a very early age, I remember reading this series called "The Famous Five." There were four kids and a dog that went off on adventures and solved mysteries. If you were to read them now you would laugh out loud because they are so improbable. The children would go off camping on their own and discover that there are smugglers in a cave, and they arrest the smugglers and the smugglers say, “Oh, we are sorry!” and “We won't do it again!” I loved fantasy. I read CS Lewis, then I moved on to Agatha Christie and all those ladies of the Golden Age. I love the mysteries.
The book that changed my life was "Lord of the Rings." Until then, I had just read books for fun and pleasure, but "Lord of the Rings" made me see what a book could do. I mean, literally, the basics of good versus evil and the little man being called to do something he wasn't capable of. It just affected me so much. I was about 15 the first time I read it, and I read until the part where Gandalf falls into the pit. I threw it across the room because I was so annoyed Gandalf died and I didn't read it again for another two years. When everyone was talking about "Lord of the Rings," I thought, perhaps I should read it again, past the part where Gandalf died. That book literally changed my life.
Many years later, I took my oldest daughter around Europe when she graduated from high school and on these long train journeys we would play "Lord of the Rings" trivia. We would think of these really hard things to try and stump each other.

Read the entire interview in the February 2020 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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