A Conversation with Author Lori Rader-Day
Disclaimer from Beth:
This transcription is from notes taken during the Jewish Federation’s Book Club’s January session via Zoom. We invited the author, Lori Rader-Day, to join us to discuss her book after sending her a list of questions in advance. Lori prepared a presentation for us, and the following was typed from speed-written notes. There may be inaccuracies, grammatical errors, and incomplete thoughts, with apologies to Lori:
I got the idea for Death at Greenway in 2012. Had no confidence yet. Read non-fiction about Agatha Christie, The Secret Notebooks, (Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making) by John Curran. She was a notebook writer, especially when stuck. Wrote at typewriter. She had many notebooks and many houses, eight homes, so the notebooks were all over the house and many houses. John Curran got family permission to look at the notebooks, collated them—an Agatha Christie super fan.
I got to the part about evacs (evacuees) in Britain and Germany—three million people in metro areas, school groups. A long time before the bombing happened, people wanted their kids back home. Agatha Christie used her home for these kids.
Lots of intrigue in the Agatha Christie books. I had loved those books and loved “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” with Angela Lansbury. I was intrigued with Agatha’s house, the mystery, and mystery solving.
Anyway, I was interested in the kids, the evacs, and nobody had written that story. All the kids taken to her home were under five.
As a crime writer thinking about how young children make readers worry, my goal was to capture as much fact as I could find. It really happened, these people were in the house, Agatha Christie’s house, during World War II. These (characters) were the chaperones. I wanted to create the book that talked about the real thing. When it comes to crime fiction, there are so many sub-categories. I wanted it to be mostly psychological suspense, not about a professional crime fighter. An ordinary person encountering the extraordinary.
I knew I couldn’t do an Agatha Christie story, hard to pull off for modern readers. Mostly interested in the house as a harbor for the children during the war and home base for the military during D-Day.
Lori’s Response to Previously Submitted Questions from Book Club Members:
Donna: What was your inspiration for developing the characters of Bridget and Gigi?
Lori: Fact-based, scraped at it, the estate gave the dates of the kids being there and when Agatha Christie was there. Relatives of Mr. Arbuthnot wrote an email. Got names of butler and cook. The home had hospital nurses. I used them as the two girls and wanted them to get into real trouble.
Matt: Could you comment on the difficulties, or lack of, in being an American writing about British culture?
Lori: The book took from 2012-2021. I don’t love prepping, wanted to get started, but it’s a messy process. One afternoon, it became the thing I had to start working on tomorrow! Had to build the research skills and do it. So much of it was unexpected, I didn’t know what was out there. Agatha Christie wrote three sentences about all this. I went to Greenway 2016-17, walked around, looked for evidence of children.
I asked someone. The military added fourteen latrines. Agatha Christie had them fix her house but left the frieze someone had created over her library. (Shows pictures she took.) In the same room, picture of a six-year-old girl and name. She wrote a letter back, and I got a full letter and her email address; she was eighty years old. This was Doreen. We remained pen pals. Doreen became a character in the book. She remembers the house and group and love but doesn’t remember the war. Like in the book, Doreen believed she was being adopted when her real parents finally came.
Donna: Was Gigi supposed to be a part of the Mass-Observation group?
Lori: Mass Observation—a real group, spying, sent out war propaganda. Gigi was a member of Mass Ob because of it being a group easily misunderstood. Their books are fascinating. In terms of war, things that are perfectly fine may not be. Mass Ob not necessarily spies, but ordinary people knowing they’re listened to, it could be troubling. I tapped into that.
Beth: How did you get the British speech patterns down so pat?
Lori: I watch lots of British TV, read any British novel from that period. British baking shows, plus, friends who are British. Tapped two of them to look for problems, wrong words, etc. For instance: “handbag” vs. “purse.” One was Katrina McPherson from Scotland who trained as a linguist. The other was Anne Cleeves who read it for me and sent it all back! Even the audiobook narrator tweaked one of the sentences.
There was something called, “The Blitz Spirit,” which I didn’t have, so they pointed out places when they didn’t see it in my writing. I felt stuck inside of Bridget, had to get to know her.
Matt: Did you choose to never use Gigi's point of view in order to not reveal something you wanted to hold back?
Lori: No Gigi POV—If it had been there, the book wouldn’t have been a mystery for very long. Gigi stole money, a bad guy is after her, so she’s hiding out. No one seemed to know her, but they all had opinions about her. Eight point-of-view characters—I don’t recommend that. They think she’s mysterious, “fast.” It amused me not to have her on the stage to tell her story. Bridey gets closest to figuring her out.
I visited Greenway twice, then got invited to stay and my husband and I were there for several nights. It’s a coastal area, known as the “Greenway Riviera.” We also went to “The Old Swan,” and the Harrogate Mystery Conference. (Mentions “the River Dart,” which plays a role in the novel.)
Lori’s Response to Spontaneous Questions from Book Club Members:
The murders in the book were not based on real murders. I wedged crime into this story and didn’t want it to happen on Greenway land or near the children. Their experience had to remain loving and safe. Needed someone going back and forth from town house to be transporting Bridey. Anne Cleeves runs a conference on Whitley Bay to hang out with editors. I’ve been on book tours with her. She’s been to Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburg, and library events.
The research took an extra year. You can follow me on Facebook to see posts about my upcoming time with Anne Cleeves. My current book is The Death of Us, takes place in the U.S. Midwest. A limestone quarry is the setting. Family. A woman raising another’s son who’s now fifteen—her husband’s son with another woman he cheated with, that mother disappears. They find her corpse at the quarry, and everyone (other than the baby) is under suspicion.
Link to images of Greenway House:
Lori Rader-Day’s Website: