Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Tessa Arlen Interview - Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders

Photo Content from Tessa Arlen

Tessa Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen.

Tessa lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.


What inspired you to pen your first novel?
I was a gardener long before I ever thought of writing a novel. They are similar pursuits: you dream up an idea, plan the design of the garden, populate it with plants, shrubs and trees that you hope will provide year round interest and drama. Over the seasons you edit: moving specimens around so that they show to their best advantage, getting rid of ones that simply don’t work. Gardening like writing a novel requires more transplanting and pruning than a creative idea! One wet October, after I put the garden to bed for winter, I asked myself what on earth do I do now? I found myself writing the pages of what turned out to be my first published novel.

Tell us your latest news.
Poppy Redfern mystery #2 is in the works and I had huge fun writing it. After coming through the harrowing business of Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Poppy starts her new career writing scripts for short films that focus on Acts of Heroism by Ordinary British People. The Crown Film Unit send her off on her first location where she becomes embroiled in an extraordinary adventure with the redoubtable women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary—who delivered planes from factories to military airfields all over Britain. Whether or not the irresistible Lieutenant Griff O’Neal joins Poppy in this adventure remains to be seen, but her little dog, Bess, plays a huge part in this installment!

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I have always enjoyed writing. My parents lived and worked abroad when I was a child, so I was put into a boarding school in England. Letter writing ‘home’ was compulsory on Sunday afternoons—for one long and achingly boring hour. Believe me there is very little interesting news to share from a girls’ boarding school perched on the top of a hill in the windy Chilterns, so I used to make things up. Luckily, my parents and grandparents suspected that my newsy letters were fiction otherwise they would have been frantic with worry. The challenge when I wrote my first novel was not what to write about, but whether I could actually structure a complete novel. I didn’t realize what tremendously hard work it would be!

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Writing can be a rather isolating experience. A year ago, a reader wrote me a direct message on Facebook to tell me that she had read all my books as she recovered from breast cancer, and that she wanted to thank me for helping to distract her from her fear of not making it through. It was an incredible moment for me, and as much as I resented posting on Facebook in the early days of publishing my first mystery (I think I my posts have improved somewhat over the years!) it is a wonderful way to stay in touch with readers. I love hearing their stories and their opinions. So, please join me on Facebook—I really enjoy hearing from you!

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I have tried to take the reader back to the WWII Homefront in England and an isolated village trying to an American airfield that has been built on its outskirts. Rural England in 1942 was deeply conservative, immersed in tradition, and its country people often very narrow in their view. Little Buffenden is no exception: its villagers are a pretty insular bunch who strenuously resist change in all forms. But patriotism during the war years was the order of the day and Little Buffenden gradually comes to some sort of acceptance. Then one of the local girls who was dating an American is murdered. Inevitably the village closes ranks. 

We all suffer from fear of the unknown: the fear of difference, or being different, in our world today. As I worked on the story I found myself paying attention to this theme: the business of being different or ‘other,’ either from within a close knit community or as an outsider, and how change impacts long held beliefs. 

In your new book; POPPY REDFERN AND THE MIDNIGHT MURDERS, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
The book is set in 1942 when the America has just joined the war against Nazi Germany. Poppy Redfern is a young woman, orphaned by the death of her parents during and after WWI, and raised by her grandparents. The Redfern family’s farmland and house have been requisitioned by the War Office as an airfield for the American Army Air Force. 

Although Poppy dreams of becoming a novelist she has just completed her Air Raid Precautions training in London and has returned to her village of Little Buffenden as its first air raid warden. When the Americans fly into their new airfield all the local girls are swept off their feet by the sheer energy of their arrival. Poppy enjoys patrolling her village at night to enforce the blackout because it gives her an opportunity to think through the plot of her romance novel. Then popular and pretty Doreen is found dead under a hedge in the church graveyard—and the villagers waste no time in accusing the young American she was dating of her murder. 

The plot of Poppy’s romance novel takes off to include murder—and so does her rather mundane life. Encouraged to investigate by a dashing American pilot, Poppy discovers as she works through her list of suspects that he is either one of them, or he is leading a double life.

For those who are unfamiliar with Poppy, how would you introduce her?
Tall, reserved and independent, Poppy is a twenty two year old Englishwoman determined to do ‘her bit’ for the war effort. She would rather be living in London doing something more exciting than patrolling a small village at night checking on the blackout, but her grandparents are getting up there in years and she is all they have. 

Poppy is not exactly a village girl: her grandfather is a comfortably-off farmer and is the commanding officer for Little Buffenden’s Home Guard, but the Redferns are not from the gentry either, so Poppy is a little isolated from the close community of the village. Because she is naturally shy, she of this often unsure of herself which leads her sometimes to be a bit outspoken—occasionally to the point of being quite blunt. She has never had a boyfriend, but like a lot of young women she has her share of romantic day-dreams and her naivete makes her susceptible to good-looks and outgoing charm! From her dreamy, rather withdrawn life she focuses her attention on writing her first romantic novel—and finds herself living the life of her outgoing and courageous protagonist Ilona Linthwaite.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
I suppose in some way I replayed some of the eccentrics from my childhood, but what I most enjoyed was adding to them in ways that entertained me, or in ways that I might be perceive them now as an adult.

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Write reviews of the books you enjoy! It doesn’t have to be paragraphs, even a line or two is sufficient. is free to join and is a great opportunity for readers to review books they have read, as well as get ideas and recommendations for new reads. And most on-line booksellers provide the same opportunity to put up a review. It is important for writers to be reviewed by their readers. It helps new readers find our books and gives us a good idea of how our books are received. Your review is an opportunity to tell us what worked, what didn’t and what you enjoyed about the book. And remember that we are sensitive souls…so try and do this in a positive way!


  • 1. Poppy on night bombing and the importance of blackout: “All this . . . would be gone in a flash, reduced to blackened timbers and broken brick, just because a Luftwaffe pilot saw a spark of light on his way home and ditched his last bomb.”
  • 2. The Postmistress on the arrival of the American Airforce: “I feel sorry for anyone who has a daughter in this village, because from what I hear those Americans are girl-mad. My sister’s daughter is seeing a Yank and she has become a right handful, talks back something shocking if she’s asked to do the slightest thing about the house.”
  • 3. On meeting American pilots: I watched him pick up his cap and slap it against his thigh before putting it back on his head. It took him a while to get it set the way he liked it. It’s interesting how male vanity emerges in the most unlikely situations.”
  • 4. On suspicious activity: I heard the breath hiss out of her like and old bicycle tires with a puncture. “All right then, if you’re so keen on finding a culprit who isn’t an American, what about that man who retired from London? Lives on Water Lane and says he’s a bird watcher . . . “
  • 5. On the Home Guard: “Sid is not much of an outdoors type. He failed his army physical because he has flat feet, couldn’t possibly join the RAF because he is color blind, and was turned down by the navy because of his asthma.”
  • 6. On Doreen’s terrible death: Audrey reached out her hand for an apple, without lifting her eyes from the page of her magazine. “You wouldn’t catch me running around with a Yank. But Doreen was always a flirt.” I heard her first savage bite as we left.
  • 7. Poppy on coffee in WWI: “I’ll make you a nice cup of ersatz coffee, and as a special treat we’ll open a tin of Carnation milk.”
  • 8. Poppy on rationing: “No one in Little Buffenden has sunk their grateful teeth into roast beef for at least three years.”
  • 9. On life in the blackout. “There is nothing worse than a man who hides in hedges when he should be taking off his hat and saying a polite good evening.”
  • 10. Americans on the English. “You Englishwomen, you’re formidable…Some fella does something you don’t like, you call him out, right then and there, or you grab him by the belt and toss him over your shoulder.”
Choose a unique item from your wallet and explain why you carry it around.
I have just opened my wallet, and I am afraid there is nothing remarkable in it at all other than the usual credits cards, punch cards for coffee and IDs. A few corgi hairs did float out as I opened it. I didn’t put them there as a reminder to pick-up more dog food, but there they were. We have two lovely little dog friends who keep me company as I write and welcome us home vociferously if we leave for a few minutes. Pembroke Welsh Corgis do three things very well: they love their pack; they tell you how they feel, and they shed. We have sticky roller brushes stationed all over the house to help rid our clothes of as much hair as we can before we go out—but most of the time it provides an extra layer of insulation in winter. Poppy’s corgi, Bess, is a combination of both of our lively and demonstrative little dogs, and it was introducing Bess into the story that had me laughing as I wrote Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders.

What are 4 things you never leave home without?
I travel light if I can. If I am off on a walk with the dogs I always check whether I have enough poop bags (compostable!) before I check to see if I have my cell phone. When I leave the house for appointments, trips, and anything that might require a wait, I always put my e-reader in my purse. The next thing that I reach for is my favorite lipstick, it is a gorgeous berry red and I love the name: Phénomène.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
My father worked for the British Foreign office and he and my mother lived in the Far East, so I went to boarding school when I was ten. I hated it. I was an inattentive student and we were often very naughty and spent a lot of time breaking really silly rules. Anyway, my sister and I would fly out to wherever our parents were living for school vacations. When I was about fourteen we flew from London Heathrow to Moscow to change planes for an Aeroflot flight to Beijing. This was in the mid ‘60s when Russia was the USSR, very much behind the Iron Curtain, and Beijing was closed to tourism. 

It seems strange to remember the aircraft and airports of forty odd years ago in comparison to the crowded, noisy shopping malls we call airports today. The Aeroflot planes we flew in were old Ilyushin turbo props and the pilots would take off straight up, military style, so your ears would bang away for the first hour or two. The interior of the plane was severe: linoleum floors with utility seating and there was nothing glamorous about Aeroflot flight attendants either, they were big, motherly, and did not have access to deodorant, but they were particularly kind to us. 

We made two stops en route to Beijing, to refuel at Omsk and Irkutsk. For some reason we never completely understood at the time, either because no one spoke any English or seemed to think they should explain what was happening to two middle-school girls, we were always grounded in Irkutsk. We were taken to overnight in a stuffy, dusty and half empty mausoleum of a hotel about fifteen minutes’ drive from the airfield: a military one with squads of very young soldiers in uniform wearing black fur ushankas and carrying Kalashnikovs. At fourteen I thought some of them were really cute, but my ten year old sister was terrified that we were going to be lost somewhere in Siberia, and never heard of again. 

On one occasion when we landed in Beijing, after our unannounced one night stop at Irkutsk, the Beijng airfield was thronged with bands, and colorful formations of the Red Guard waving flags. It was an astonishing sight to two very tired girls who had been travelling for well over twenty four hours, often wondering if we would ever arrive. We were too exhausted to care who the elderly Chinese man was, as he was reverently ushered through the plane to the exit before we were allowed to disembark. He stopped and looked down at my sister’s pale little face and gave her the sweetest smile as he patted her cheek.

When we finally reached our parents, standing quietly at the edge of things my father said. “Well, congratulations, you were travelling with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai –he was probably hatching plots with his old pal Khrushchev, again.” It was only years later that I understood who he was and what he had been doing in Moscow.

We were probably the only Europeans on those long Aeroflot flights, and certainly the only children. Today when I think of it I am amazed that I wasn’t really scared when they packed us into a smelly soviet army bus and drove us off to that echoing empty hotel. But I truly believe that flying from London to Beijing as unaccompanied minors made my sister and I far more resilient than the average teenagers!

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I don’t sleep well, so I usually try to empty my mind of introspective questions and answers too banal to mention anywhere! I certainly avoid thinking about what I am writing—I have spent all the morning doing that, so by afternoon I try my best to do something completely different—like weeding, cooking dinner, or walking the dogs. If I take my plots and characters to bed with me I would wake up every morning and re-write everything.

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?

I have an overactive imagination, so I am scared of many things: the dark, heights, swimming in deep water, and snakes.

There is a reason I will never swim in deep natural water, or even shallow water come to that. I used to live in Brighton, in the south of England, on the seafront. If the summer was warm, my friends and I would go for a midnight dip in the English Channel. One night we were swimming out to a large buoy, perhaps a hundred feet from the beech, and some silly idiot shouted “Shark!” to gales of hilarity. 

The image of Jaws sprang into my mind: swimming in a slow circle under my flickering white legs. I was so terrified that nothing seemed to function, certainly not my ability to swim or breath. I truly believed I would be pulled down into the dark to be torn to pieces by a huge mouth with massive triangular teeth. I can still remember that awful feeling of powerlessness, the panic that made rational thought impossible. It took all my self-control not to think about the black depths below me, where terrifying creatures were quite at home as I flailed helpless and out of my element on its surface.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
I think coming to live in America, all those years ago, changed the way I look at things and the way I think today. It took a few years, but I was gradually assimilated into a culture that was not my own, but in many ways felt like it might be. We spoke the same language, but we expressed things differently and clearly we thought differently. So differently that I found myself sometimes completely out of step in a country that I thought I knew! Perhaps what I was doing was evaluating the American culture according to the standards my own. And then I realized that within this massive ‘America’ were many separate cultures. The east coast was different from the west, Los Angeles was in another civilization entirely from Houston, Florida or Minnesota. After twenty years of living in America with children who were born here, I realized I lived in an in-between world: no longer an Englishwoman, and certainly not an American. So, I am free to enjoy the parts of the many different American cultures I have lived in, and equally free to ignore the parts that I find unacceptable.

The start of an exciting new World War II historical mystery series featuring charming, quirky Air Raid Warden Poppy Redfern....

Summer 1942. The world has been at war for three long and desperate years. In the remote English village of Little Buffenden, the Redfern family's house and farmland has been requisitioned by the War Office as a new airfield for the American Air Force.

The village's Air Raid Warden, twentysomething Poppy Redfern, spends her nights patrolling the village and her days writing a novel of passion. It is a far cry from the experience of the other young women in town: within days, two of the village's prettiest girls are dating American airmen and Little Buffenden considers the "Friendly Invasion" to be a success.

But less than a week later, Doreen Newcombe, the baker's daughter; and the popular Ivy Wantage are both found dead. Poppy realizes that her community has been divided by murder, and the mistrust and suspicion of their new American neighbors threatens to tear this town, already grappling with the horrors of war, apart. Poppy decides to start her own investigation, but she soon unearths some unfortunate secrets and long-held grudges. She will have no choice but to lay a trap for a killer so perilously close to home, she might very well become the next victim...


“Absolutely smashing! Arlen pens a dynamite beginning to a new series, filled with wartime suspense, skillfully wrought emotions, and a liberal dash of romance. Readers will fall in love with clever and quirky Poppy Redfern and the colorful villagers of Little Buffenden, as well as their dashing new neighbors—the American Airmen.” —Anna Lee Huber, bestselling author of the Lady Darby Mysteries

“This engaging mystery introduces an intrepid new sleuth in Poppy Redfern and draws us into the lives of a small English village, upturned by war and the unexplained murders of two young women. I was enamored by the story and the residents of Little Buffenden from first page to last. Three cheers for Poppy!” —Shelley Noble, New York Times bestselling author of Ask Me No Questions, A Lady Dunbridge mystery.

“Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders is a WWII gem of a novel with such a strong sense of time and place, you feel like you’re there. Filled with characters you’ll want to meet again, it’s a compelling mystery that grabs the reader from the very beginning! A must-read for fans of historical fiction.” —Emily Brightwell, New York Times Bestselling author of the Victorian Mysteries.

"The enemy doesn't stand a chance with courageous Poppy on patrol. You'll love this character so much you'll want her as your best friend. I know I do! I can't wait for the next Woman of WWII Mystery! " Alyssa Maxwell, author of the Gilded Newport Mysteries and a Lady and Lady's Maid Mysteries

You can purchase Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you TESSA ARLEN for making this giveaway possible.
Winner will receive a Copy of Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders 
(A Woman of WWII Mystery #1) by Tessa Arlen.


  1. "Who was the last person you hugged?" A relative on her birthday.

  2. That would be my husband. Thank you

  3. I hugged my hubby when he went off to work this morning...just like I do every day!

  4. Historical Fiction helps me learn about the past and the people's roles in making events happen.

  5. The last person I hugged was my daughter.

  6. My husband... he nearly toppled into me as we collided in the hallway, so grappling him seemed the safest option.