Michael Sears in convo with Katie Gayle
Published in the Big Thrill (01/11/2021)
Katie Gayle is two South African writers — Kate Sidley and Gail Schimmel — both best-selling authors who write across a variety of genres. Apparently, it seemed natural to try their joint hands at a cosy mystery series, though they admit wine was involved.
The series is set in England and their protagonist, Epiphany (Pip) Bloom is a young lady of many talents — at least in her own mind. Her latest adventure, Death at the Gates, is set at an upper-class girls’ school where Pip goes undercover as a sports teacher, an unlikely role as she isn’t keen on sports and knows very little about most of them. Nevertheless, she soon develops relationships with the teachers and the students. Almost all of them seem to have motives or opportunity to be involved with a clever scam to sell exam papers. Pip feels she’s making progress until the school fete, where the murder of one of the parents is discovered. After that, things get a bit out of hand.
If you enjoy a clever, cosy mystery with good laughs along the way (and who doesn’t need a good laugh these days?), don’t miss the Epiphany Bloom series.
Both Schimmel and Sidley live in Johannesburg, with husbands, children, dogs and cats. However, unlike Pip, neither has ever stolen a cat from a vet.
In this interview for The Big Thrill, Sidley and Schimmel talk more about the series and writing together.
Epiphany (Pip) Bloom is a delightful character. She’s smart and funny but naive and poignant at the same time. How did you come up with her, and how do you keep her sparkling through the series?
Our initial vision was that we wanted a hapless heroine — we’d actually pictured the comedy as being more physical. We thought she would trip over things and land on clues. But then she took on a persona of her own, and while hapless, wasn’t quite as hopeless as we’d originally pictured. She was really such fun to write that she sort of carried us along in her wake.
Pip comes with a cast of eccentric characters in tow. Her mother traded in a boyfriend for some llamas in South America, Pip has two tentative romantic interests — an ex-bouncer and a computer nerd — and a sister with truly strange dietary beliefs. Did you have them worked out in advance or did they grow with the series?
We knew the characters would be unusual and, obviously, hilarious, and we had the mother pictured quite early in the planning, but the rest of the characters appeared as we wrote, sometimes taking on much stronger roles than we expected. One of the things we love about writing is finding ourselves surprised by where the characters or story take us.
Why did you decide to set the series in England though you are both successful writers in SA?
We were wary of setting a funny cosy mystery in SA. There’s so much history and complexity here, we didn’t know if we could write what we wanted without getting drawn into explanations and discussions. It was somehow easier to step outside our environment.
Strangely, we hardly even had a conversation about setting it in England. We think it must have been a partly commercial decision in keeping with the cosy genre, but we can’t remember any conscious thinking about it. Maybe Pip told us that was where she needed to be.
Katie Gayle is actually the two of you. What persuaded you to write a series together in the first place, and how does the process work for you?
We think that we are cumulatively hilarious. So over a glass of wine, or two, at a Franschhoek Literary Festival, we agreed that we are so funny that we should write a book together. The unusual part is that when we got back to Johannesburg, it still seemed like a good idea. The even more unusual part is that we actually wrote it. It was picked up by the first — in fact the only — publisher we sent it to, Bookouture in the UK. That’s seriously unusual. We’re working on book four together and still having fun, so something about the partnership works.
Click here to continue reading the interview.