Thursday, April 8, 2021

Jars of moles and kidnapped sisters: an interview with Anna Mazzola (The Lost Files)

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the latest weekly instalment of our 9mm interview series for 2021. This author interview series has now been running for over a decade, and today marks the 226th overall edition. 

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. 

My plan is to to publish 40-50 new author interviews in the 9mm series this year. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. Some amazing writers.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may evolve moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome the wonderful Anna Mazzola to Crime Watch. Belatedly. 

(A few years ago I published some 'lost files' 9mm interviews, which I'd originally recorded with some crime writers during my first attendance at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, only to misplace the audio recordings on my journey back to New Zealand, before stumbling upon them a long time later. Something akin to that happened with my 9mm interview with Anna, with her interview getting misfiled during a semi-botched laptop repair (exacerbated by in the 9mm hiatus last year).) 

Anna is an Edgar Award-winning crime writer who lives in London and also works as a human rights and criminal justice lawyer. Her novels blend literary, historical, and Gothic elements with crime and mystery. Her debut, THE UNSEEING, was inspired by a real-life crime where a young London bride-to-be was brutally murdered the night before her wedding in 1836, and another women was sentenced to death. That book went on to win the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original in 2018.

Anna's second novel, THE STORY KEEPER, is set in 1857 and follows a folklorist’s assistant as she searches out dark fairy tales and stolen girls on the Isle of Skye. Her third historical Gothic mystery, THE CLOCKWORK GIRL, is set in Paris in 1750 and based partly on the story of the vanishing children of Paris. It centres on a young maid with a scarred face and hidden past who goes to work for automaton-maker and his clever daughter. But Madeleine the maid is actually a police spy tasked with a secret investigation. THE CLOCKWORK GIRL will be published next January. 

But for now, Anna Mazzola becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Columbo. Obviously. But if you mean in fiction, then Ripley. More of an anti-hero than a hero, of course, but what a fascinating character. 

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Strange Riders at Black Pony Inn by Christine Pullein-Thomas. I desperately wanted a horse when I was child. Instead my mum got me mystery horse fiction. And so began my lifelong love of mysteries. (I still don’t have a horse).

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Not counting dull legal texts and articles, I began with short stories, and it was out of one of them – a story called "Crossing the Line" – that my debut novel, THE UNSEEING, emerged. I still write short stories occasionally, but god, they’re hard.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Like many writers, I’m still working, so I tend to write at times when other normal people might be watching telly or knitting or playing squash. Fortunately I don’t like knitting or playing squash. I go running, which I find helps me to write. I go to the theatre when I can, and to gigs, to museums and galleries. And of course I read a lot. That’s my real love.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I’m a big street art fan and there is loads of awesome street art in London, especially around Shoreditch. There are also many fascinating cemeteries. And everyone should to go to the Grant Museum of Zoology. Where else can you find a jar of real moles?

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Oh god. No idea. Would anyone want the part? 

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
My first venture into crime fiction: The Kidnapping of Lucy. I wrote it aged 8 and gave it to my mother for Mother’s Day. It’s about the abduction of a baby called Lucy. My sister’s middle name is Lucy and she was a baby at the time I wrote it. My mother kept it, presumably in case she needed it as evidence at any point.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
Mainly shock, and then elation. I found out my novel would be published while I was taking small kids around the Natural History Museum and had to try to act like a normal person, when I just wanted to shout and shake people. I think that day was the high point. I swiftly realised that unfortunately lots of other people were having their books published too.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Someone came up to me after a panel event and said he was writing a novel. What was my top tip When I and my fellow panellist told him to read as much as he could, he got very cross with us and told us he didn’t like reading and didn’t have time for it. That struck me as rather odd: why would you want to write a book if you didn’t actually, you know, like books?

Thank you Anna, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

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