Francine Mathews: past, present, fact, fiction
Excerpt from the interview by Virginia R. Knight in the February/March 2007 issue of Mystery News
Francine Mathews writes thrillers and at one time wrote a police procedural series set on Cape Cod. As Stephanie Barron, she writes an historical mystery series with Jane Austen as the amateur sleuth. Her most recent thriller is The Alibi Club; her most recent Jane Austen mystery is Jane and the Barque of Frailty. When I told her that I saw definite similarities to the Jane series in The Alibi Club, she seemed surprised.
Virginia R. Knight: They are set in different centuries. But they still have historic settings, real people in fictional plots, and international political intrigue during a time of war. Then you've got your basic human nature, and life and death struggles. But you've also got the women who have no interest in letting men tell them what to do for their own good or otherwise.
Francine Mathews: Yes, yes, that's true. I find that both of those threads are very compelling to me over time as I evolve as a writer. Part of what brought me to writing The Alibi Club was similar to what brings me back to Jane all the time. And that is looking at how ordinary women cope with creating normalcy in the midst of crisis. So having written about terrorism and finding that physically, almost viscerally, difficult to keep doing, I thought wouldn't it be engaging and in a sense, indulgent for me as a writer, to look instead at a period of profound upheaval, those last few weeks in Paris, before the Germans entered, and look at how different types of women coped with trying to lead, you know, a normal life, in a way that still reflected an engagement with the time and what it demanded. So that did inform the whole approach to the story.
VRK: Well, I've always been interested in that time and I am not just talking Casablanca. I've read about Josephine Baker...I've seen documentaries on her and Lynn Whitfield's movie. It was a fascinating time. I was telling one of my friends last night that Coco Chanel collaborated (with the Nazis) and my friend said, "And she succeeded after that! How'd that happen?"
FM: Yes, I've been trying to sell my desire to write a book about her, I really think it is going to end up a screenplay, but that simply looks at her interrogation and uses that as a vehicle for flashback and everything that led her to that point. You know, it is just so remarkable that she did go on to have a career in her seventies, after years of exile, a really extraordinary story of survival. I think that most Americans don't know that about her, whereas most Europeans do. And that is an interesting dichotomy. I think Americans think of Chanel as a sixties phenomenon almost -- late fifties and sixties phenomenon and they don't recognize the sort of long prelude to what she became in her seventies, though. To me, that's a story that ought to be told and I am hoping to work on that some time soon.
Read the complete interview in the February/March 2007 issue of Mystery News