Arts + Entertainment

Sci-Fi in Sussex: An Interview with Linda Stratmann

With a black belt in aikido, a first-class honours degree in psychology, and a past that includes being a chemist’s dispenser and a tax inspector, author Linda Stratmann has lived a colourful and interesting life. From Leicester to London, she has brought her style, wit, and interest in all things (including Star Trek, astronomy, and zoology as well as much, much more) to her books set in stunning Sussex.

You’ve loved books since you were two, and started writing at six. You wrote your first novel when you were 11 — can you tell us what it was about?

It was about an expedition into outer space, inspired by science fiction and an interest in astronomy.

What is it about Sussex that lends itself to your fiction?

Brighton was the perfect setting for this series about fraudulent spirit mediums. It was once known as ‘Dr Brighton’ because of its sunshine, fresh air and sea bathing. Visitors who went there for their health were the ideal subjects for mediums to prey on.

You honed your writing skills in sci-fi fan fiction. What was your favourite show, and how did it inspire your later work?

Star Trek — it shows how we might create a future but always retains a basic humanity. The theme is setting out on a great adventure, and that is what my characters do, solving puzzles and exploring mysteries.

Do you plot your books in advance, or does the story come to you as you’re writing?

I construct an outline plot and determine the hidden things that will be revealed. Then I have to work out how my sleuth will solve the mystery. As I write, the story becomes more detailed and weaves all the threads together.

Out of the many dozens of characters you have created, is there one that stands out as your favourite? Or perhaps one you dislike intensely?

It’s hard to pick just one. Sarah, Frances Doughty’s assistant, has such a practical turn of mind and blunt way of dealing with things. And I love writing Cedric Garton’s conversation. Mina Scarletti’s brother, Richard, is a devil-may-care character who is fun to write. The nastiest person in my books is Mr Wheelock — and then there is also — oh, but that would be telling! No spoilers!

How important is research to you, and to your readers?

I am delighted when readers say how real the environment feels, because that is my aim. A lot of research goes into this, so it is a good thing I enjoy it. For my non-fiction books, research is the bulk of the work, and it is very demanding.

How long does it take you to write one book?

For fiction, planning takes two or three months, and writing, another seven or eight. A large non-fiction project takes two to two-and-a-half years, but I work on things concurrently. Right now I have three projects on the go.

Can you tell us a little about Mr Scarletti’s Ghost, your latest novel?

The setting is Brighton in 1871. Mina Scarletti is a tiny lady with scoliosis, who writes ghost stories. When a spirit medium comes to Brighton, Mina realises that her family and friends are the victims of a heartless extortioner who uses dramatic séances to entrap the vulnerable. She enlists the help of her rascally brother Richard, his mistress Nellie, and Dr Hamid, who runs an oriental steam bath, to help her catch the villains.

If you could offer one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Write lots, and write from the heart.

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