Monday, 15 July 2013

Author Interview: Anna Lee Huber

We recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Anna Lee Huber, award-winning novelist of The Anatomist's Wife, the first in a series of mysteries featuring Lady Darby. The series takes place in the 1830's; the first is set in Scotland, and as we're half Scottish, we immediately took an interest. 

How long did it take for you to write The Anatomist's Wife?

It took me about nine months to write and polish The Anatomist’s Wife before I submitted it to literary agents.

What gave you the idea for Lady Darby?

I wanted to write a historical mystery series where the heroine was the main protagonist, but I wanted to be certain she had skills to bring to the table other than just keen powers of observation. In 1830, most men would not have allowed a woman to take part in something so gruesome as a murder investigation, unless there were extenuating circumstances. So, I decided to make her a portrait artist, talented at reading people. And then I decided I also wanted her to have a useful knowledge of anatomy. Crafting her back story in order to give her this knowledge gave me the idea for the plot of The Anatomist’s Wife, and everything continued to build from there.

What sort of research went into the writing of The Anatomist's Wife?

I did a lot of research about the time period, especially in regards to medicine, trying to discover what knowledge the surgeons of that time possessed and what they didn’t. I read extensively and also traveled to Scotland to have a firsthand feel for the setting and other details. Such a beautiful country! The most useful destination I visited was the Surgeons’ Hall Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons at Edinburgh. They had fascinating exhibits, including ones on the infamous body-snatchers, Burke and Hare.

Do you have any other novels planned that aren't part of this series?

I do. I’m currently working on a Gothic suspense novel that I hope will be the first in a trilogy of related novels.

Who is your favourite author and why?

I absolutely adore Mary Stewart. Her novels are absolutely riveting and stand the test of time. And I don’t think anyone has such an amazing gift for writing setting.

What is the writing process like for you?

I don’t really have a set routine, and it’s constantly evolving. The beginning of my novels are usually a bit more free-form. I let my imagination take me where it will, and when I think I have a good idea to work with, I then pause and loosely plot out the rest of the novel. I try to allow myself some give and take, but I also need the structure to be sure I slip the clues and red herrings in where they are needed. I try to stick to a word count goal for each week, which gives me flexibility with my days while still keeping me on track. I usually go through three or four drafts before sending the manuscript to my editor.

Is writing a lonely occupation for you? If so, how do you combat it?

It can be. And when I feel the walls closing in on me I try to get out and do something, even if it’s just taking a walk. If I absolutely must work, I’ll go to a coffee shop so that I feel less isolated.

How long did it take you to break into writing? Do you have any manuscripts that haven't got published?

It took me seven years from the day I started to research my first novel to the day I signed with my literary agent, and soon after my publisher. I have four complete manuscripts that are saved on my hard drive that have not been published. (The Anatomist’s Wife was my fifth.) Someday I might try to revise them, but for now I’m more interested in writing new stories.

Can you give us some tips on establishing a writing routine? 

My routine is pretty fluid, because that’s what works best for me. But I will say that to be a writer, you absolutely must make time to write, if not every day, then at least a few days a week. It’s so easy to let your time get away from you, or your fears steal your words. I have a post-it stuck to my bulletin board over my desk that says, “You cannot call yourself a writer if you don’t write.” It’s as simple as that. If you write, whether or not you publish, you’re a writer. If you don’t, you’re a dreamer or a washed-up has-been.

Do you have any advice for authors looking to write a series?

Be sure to leave enough mystery to carry over into the other books in the series. It doesn’t matter whether you write mystery or romance or fantasy, whatever the genre, you need to leave a bit of mystery to your characters and plot. Each book needs a satisfying ending, but you also need threads that run continuously through each book that will drive the reader to pick up the next novel to find out what happens. I try to be as ambiguous as I can get away with, that way I have a greater variety of options later. If you make things too concrete, then you might write yourself into a corner.


  1. Great questions! I especially like the question about how to combat writing as a lonely occupation. It certainly can be, though sometimes its necessary.

    1. Glad you liked the questions; it's good to know we're on the right track.