This page contains: an Author Interview; Media Packs; and Author Photos.

Author Interview

1. How did the idea for the Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series form?

My original inspiration for the series was a sense of wanting to give back.

Like many quiet, studious children I never quite fit in. I spent much of my childhood escaping into storyworlds created by others. As an adult I continued to snatch an hour or two in those otherworlds to recharge my batteries. As a writer I realised I wanted to construct another space for readers to escape to.

The most sensible course of action was to draw on what I knew. I have a degree in archaeology, a degree in library management and a PhD in palaeogenetics, so felt most comfortable writing about these subjects. I could also indulge my love affair with other cultures, past and present.

Like many, I am intrigued by the classic whodunit. I love to pit my reasoning skills against the fictional detective of the hour.

And so the Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series was born. My hope is, ultimately, that the Intermillennial Sleuth chronicles become another place of refuge for readers everywhere.

2. How would you describe the series?

Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth is a new Australian crime fiction series with cosy mystery sensibilities. It’s the journey of an archaeologist/librarian who solves ancient mysteries from across the globe, with plenty of forensic science, culinary exploration and historic trivia along the way.

3. You’re writing about many locations across the globe. Have you travelled?

I’ve been fortunate to travel widely.

I’ve raced an Arabian stallion across sand dunes to the Great Pyramid of Giza; examined hundreds of skulls in the bowels of the British Museum of Natural History; chilled with a boa constrictor in a 13th century underground jazz den in Prague; and climbed into a volcano in Papua New Guinea, nearby teenage boys giggling behind their hands at the cumbersome Westerner.

I’ve witnessed a Turkish lovers’ quarrel end in public murder; been kidnapped in Egypt; fallen in love with cholent in Budapest; and bathed in the Çemberlitaş Hamam of ancient Constantinople.

I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China; gazed into the depths of the Grand Canyon; skinny dipped in the streams of Snowdonia; played hide-and-seek in the tropical forests of the Seychelles; and marvelled at the melting pot of cultures in West Africa.

I’ve bartered for beads in the drunken parades of New Orleans Mardi Gras; ridden the crush of a 40,000-strong moshpit at Glasgow Hogmany; sipped a Singapore Sling in Raffles; prayed in ancient temples in the outer Hong Kong islands; and cried for the elephants of Thailand.

Living in London I undertook the research component of my ANU PhD in palaeogenetics at the British Museum of Natural History, applying the Arizona State University dental non-metric system featured in Olmec Obituary to over 2,000 Iron Age and Romano-British skulls.

I bring my impressions and experiences of these and other places, people and cultures to the laptop whenever I sit down to write.

4. How did you approach writing Olmec Obituary, your first novel?

As a planned writer I love the ‘snowflake method’ developed by Randy Ingermanson, which he provides free on his website (just Google ‘snowflake method’). When it came to drafting my first book I followed this method fairly closely. I prepared the overarching storylines for the whole series of nine books and developed full character sketches for the top twenty characters in the series.

To be honest, it turned out that the process of writing felt as natural as breathing. It’s everything else that goes along with being a writer that I struggle with. Typesetting, printing, distribution, marketing, PR and social media were far more challenging for me than writing. I’m not suited to self-publishing, so I’m endlessly grateful for the opportunity to work with Echo Publishing.

5. How did your book deal with Echo happen?

In December 2014 I launched a self-publishing project for Olmec Obituary on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding site. Five days later I received an email from Angela Meyer, the commissioning editor at Echo, saying that the novel looked interesting and asking if she could see a copy. I was so hazy with exhaustion that her email seemed like a dream – that turned into a wonderful reality. I hadn’t intended to make any submissions to publishing houses until I’d self-published at least three books, so to be picked up by a publisher after just five days on Kickstarter was extraordinary!

I was also extremely lucky in that my supporters joined together to ensure the Kickstarter project reached it’s goal amount. So I self-published a ‘Kickstarter’ limited edition of Olmec Obituary in May 2015, the second ‘Echo’ edition was released in November 2015 and Echo have just released Olmec again with a gorgeous new cover from Josh Durham.

6. What was different about writing the second book in the series, Mayan Mendacity?

Writing my second book was a vastly different experience to writing the first one.

Becoming part of the writing community in the past year has changed my perspective on writing. Before publishing Olmec with Echo last year I was 'non-scene' - I hadn't gone to a writing course and didn't know any other writers. 

Writing is a particular kind of madness. Getting to know other authors I realised I'm not alone in the asylum after all.

Being able to check in with my commissioning editor at synopsis stage, and then as I was drafting, gave the second manuscript more shape from the outset. And being able to bounce ideas off someone with extensive industry knowledge made a huge difference to my confidence. Having published once, though, meant my hands were already full with both a full time job and marketing and promotion for Olmec Obituary. So I got even less sleep this time around.

The greatest difference, though, has come from my readers. Their support and engagement has been uplifting. Everyone who's bought, read and reviewed Olmec Obituary, or written to me to let me know what they liked about the book, or engaged with me in public events, lectures and social media, has helped me keep writing. Reader engagement tells me the series does have an audience. Now it's my job to get the books into their hands.

7. Who is the Dr Pimms series for?

Those who enjoy archaeological, historic or forensic crime fiction – similar to Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series or Kathy Reichs’ TV series Bones – have particularly enjoyed Olmec Obituary. Readers have also drawn comparison with the Alan Grant series by Josephine Tey, Falco series by Lindsey Davis and Corinna Chapman series by Kerry Greenwood.  

Some younger readers have written to say they identify with the introverted, slightly awkward main character, including Elizabeth's struggles with home, family, work and love life; while those who are technically-minded or normally read sci-fi, fantasy or steampunk have been fascinated by the forensic detail. Readers of lighter feminist literature also enjoyed Dr Pimms' first outing.

The series is cosy in style, so no swearing or sex scenes, making it suitable for younger adult readers and up.

8. What drove the creation of the characters in the series? Why so many librarians?

Many fictional heroes are extroverted, brash and celebrated in their own storyworld. In real life most of the heroes I’ve met were quiet, reserved, thoughtful people who worked diligently behind the scenes. I wanted to explore the lives of some gentler, more reasoned personality types that may be overlooked when many authors assemble their cast of characters.

I have a deep-seated love of libraries and librarians. In many parts of the world – both modern and ancient – librarians are a revered occupation. Unfortunately this is not so in many sectors of contemporary Western society. The librarians I've met are diverse, dedicated and fiercely professional; people who put their hearts and minds into preserving knowledge and making it available to all. They help to keep the wheels of truth, discovery and imagination turning. Thus the high librarian count.

I also speak – to varying degrees –  English, French, Chinese, Spanish and Welsh and have some understanding of the originating cultures of each language. There are touches of my own Welsh Taid, beloved French and Berber friends and the lovely Chinese women who helped me struggle through years of Chinese grammar in Dr Pimms' grandparents.

Through a combination of all these loves and interests the multicultural troupe of archaeologists, forensic scientists and librarians in Intermillennial Sleuth sprang to life, almost of their own accord.

9. And readers have named some of the characters in the series?

Yes. As part of the Kickstarter for the original publication of Olmec Obituary two supporters bought the right to each name and/or inspire a character introduced in Mayan Mendacity. But who those supporters were - and which characters they inspired - remains a secret for now.

In the lead up to submitting Mayan Mendacity to Echo I also ran a competition for one reader to name a librarian and another to name a patron at the Mahony Griffin Library. I was overwhelmed by the passion some readers have for supporting libraries and librarians.

Frith Firman from Geelong in Victoria, Australia, whose own mother named her after Fritha from the poignant novella The Snow Goose, has lent her name to a young library patron whose love of books and literature is growing.

Natalie Aked, currently of Canberra, Australia but originally from San Diego, California, nominated her former school librarian, Amy, for the librarian character. Natalie explained why.

"Our school was in the 'bad' part of town with low literacy rates when the kids entered year 7, but most left with much better grasps of reading thanks to Amy. Amy gave me a picture book when I was in year 4, Leo the Late Bloomer. It acted as an inspiration to me and helped me to overcome my learning difficulties. Amy just knew the right book for each of us."

And the right to name a character in the forthcoming Alexandrian Athenaeum, Book Three in the series, will go to silent auction in New Orleans this year, at BoucherCon, the World Mystery Convention.

10. What can you tell us about Dr Elizabeth Pimms?

A skilled archaeologist, knowledgeable Egyptologist and reluctant librarian at Australia’s Mahony Griffin Library, Elizabeth’s best friend describes her as curious, intellectual, tenacious and secretive.

From the age of four Elizabeth dedicated herself to the discovery of lost civilisations and ancient treasures. Young and a touch naïve, Elizabeth is aided in her investigations by the machinations of her phrenic library...and a growing sense that something is awry in her world.

11. In Olmec Obituary, what inspired you to write about a female ballplayer from an ancient Mexican civilisation?

I was already entranced by the magnificent Olmec ritual complexes, their colourful festivals, colossal stone heads, fascinating mythology, and the Mesoamerican obsession with corn, ‘the ballgame’ and fertility.

Then one day I came across a photo of an Olmec female ballplayer statue that utterly captivated me. The way I describe the model in the novel is exactly what I thought the first time I saw her:

“It looked like a figurine based on a B-grade movie about topless women competing in roller-skate derbies, right down to the rounded crash helmet with side straps. How bizarre! It might have been a three-thousand year-old depiction of a woman playing a gruelling and violent forerunner to basketball, but it would also have been right at home amongst modern movie merchandise.”

I was fascinated by this complex and difficult sport, the players, the rules, and the female athletes who competed against males and won. I wanted to create a story that shone a light on this tiny moment in collective human history.

12. The skeletal analyses in both Olmec Obituary and Mayan Mendacity take place in Canberra, rather than on their ‘home soil’ of Mexico or Guatemala. Did the Australian setting create opportunities or set up limitations for the novel?

Anchoring the majority of action in the city of Canberra, at least at the beginning of the series, was a decision based on efficiency. Going by the maxim ‘you should write what you know’, it made sense for me to draw on my experience of the Canberra cityscape, institutions and culture as a major component of the story. Basing the main character in Canberra also allows for strong future comparisons with the civilisations (past and present) readers will encounter as the series unfolds.

13. What are the underlying themes of your writing?

Everything I write has the same underlying driver – humans are essentially the same everywhere, it's only the details that differ.

All humans need to breathe, drink and eat. We all have to balance the instincts of our hindbrain against the emotions of our midbrain and the conscious thoughts of our forebrain. The choices and preferences we express through that balancing process, both as individuals and collectively as societies, create endless cultural variations.

When researching a past culture I ask, ‘How did this group deal with existential angst? Meditation or frenzied human sacrifice?’

‘How did these people express the fierce, wild side of joy? Exquisite, intricate melodies or ground shaking drumming?’

‘How did they channel the competitive urge? Sport as ritualised warfare or an intense poetry recital?’

I look at social structure, ritualised roles, creative expression and the relationship of the people with their environment. I do my best to imagine the emotional experience of being human in that other time and place. At the same time I’m aware that I’m looking through a 21st century Western lens at layer upon layer of distorted history and religious, state and gender politics. Nonetheless, I think many human emotions are universally shared and I try to capture that in my stories.

14. Why do you have a focus on women in science and forgotten women’s history in the series?

I write about women in science and women from history for the same reasons: I’m passionate about both topics and I think they’re neglected facets of our collective modern narrative.

Growing up I received messages about ‘the place of women’. In thick textbooks and rich historical tomes I found thin condescending chapters, or a page and a half, or a complete absence of women. While the men of an ancient society brought unique and interesting politics, wars, religions, agriculture, architecture, art and social hierarchy to collective human history, the women cooked and raised children. No agency. No narrative. Half the human population a mere side-note.  

Digging a little deeper I found women being actively wiped from history for all of, well, history. Over 3500 years ago Hatshepsut ruled ancient Egypt for 22 years; her male successors chiselled her name from their records. Rosalind Franklin photographed the double helix in 1953; Crick and Watson were given full credit for the breakthrough in the scientific community. When Corey Cogdell-Unrein won a medal at the recent Rio Olympics a newspaper couldn’t bring itself to mention her name in the headline – just her husband’s job.

So I write about forgotten or neglected episodes of women’s history because I want them back in our shared consciousness.

That's why, in Olmec Obituary, I wrote about a 3000 year old female player of the violent and dangerous Mesoamerican Ballgame where women competed against males and won. That's why, in Mayan Mendacity, I introduce readers to one of the Maya civilisation’s greatest female Rulers. 

I write about women in science for the same reason. I’ve experienced prejudice a time or two in my scientific journey, based solely on my perceived gender. So my novels reference women erased from the records of their own discoveries because they deserve their rightful place in the history of science.

15. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

The most important thing is a sense of relaxation and having escaped the everyday for a while. If they pick up an understanding of the myriad ways humans define culture, or an appreciation for the work of archaeologists or librarians, or question underlying assumptions in their own lives, then all the better. But the key experience I hope to deliver to readers is entertainment.

16. What’s next, for you?

Getting Mayan Mendacity out into the world, meeting as many readers as possible, then on with Book Three – Alexandrian Athenaeum! The remainder of the series will explore the ancient cultures, homicides and libraries of Egypt, Mongolia, Persia, India, China, Britain and Crete. Alexandrian Athenaeum sees Dr Pimms contend with an ancient defleshed philosopher, opposing Pythagorean enclaves, Egypt’s first archaeologist and terminal milk and honey...so I'd best get cracking.

 

Media Info Pack for Mayan Mendacity

The Blurb

Mayan Mendacity, Book Two in the Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series

Dr Elizabeth Pimms has a new puzzle.

What is the story behind the tiny skeletons discovered on a Guatemalan island? And how do they relate to an ancient Mayan queen?

The bones, along with other remains, are a gift for Elizabeth. But soon the giver reveals his true nature. An enraged colleague then questions Elizabeth’s family history. Elizabeth seeks DNA evidence to put all skeletons to rest.

A pregnant enemy, a crystal skull, a New York foodie, and an intruder in Elizabeth’s phrenic library variously aid or interrupt Elizabeth’s attempts to solve mysteries both ancient and personal.

With archaeological intrigue, forensic insight and cosy comfort, Mayan Mendacity takes readers back into the world of Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

Mayan Mendacity Key Points

1.     Mayan Mendacity explores the society of the ancient Mayans of Guatemala, including their political system, female rulers and practice of human sacrifice. The archaeology, ancient history, forensic science and library services described in book are based on significant academic research.

2.     It’s a classic crime novel, reminiscent of lighter works from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, where the reader pits their skills against a fictional sleuth and attempts to solve an historical mystery based on evidence uncovered a modern-day setting.

3.     The protagonist, Dr Elizabeth Pimms, is a skilled archaeologist, knowledgeable Egyptologist and librarian at Australia’s Mahoney Griffin Library. Curious, intellectual, tenacious and a touch naïve, from an early age Elizabeth dedicated herself to the exploration of ancient civilisations. She is aided in her voyage of discovery by the machinations of her phrenic library.

4.     Underlying themes include the recovery of forgotten women’s history, human evolution and contemporary social issues.

5.     With a warm cosy setting, including Elizabeth’s multicultural family, delicious meals, a rambling house and glorious gardens, the series is suitable for new adult readers and up.

About the Author

Dr L.J.M. Owen escapes dark and shadowy days as a public servant by exploring the comparatively lighter side of life: murder, mystery and forgotten women's history.

A trained archaeologist and qualified librarian with a PhD in palaeogenetics, L.J.’s first novel, Olmec Obituary, was published in 2015. Opening the Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series, in Olmec Obituary L.J. introduced readers to a young Dr Elizabeth Pimms who contends with ancient murder and family secrets in a world of archaeology, forensic science, libraries, food and cats.

In Mayan Mendacity, the second book in the series, L.J. explores the ancient world of Mayan politics, scribes and female rulers. Dr Pimms has been described as "the thinking person's cosy mystery".

L.J. spends as much time as possible creating Dr Pimms' world to provide refuge for bookworms everywhere. Recipes in the series are tested under strict feline supervision.

'm'ayan mendacity' - out november 2016    cover by designbycommitee.com.au 

'm'ayan mendacity' - out november 2016    cover by designbycommitee.com.au 

 

Media Info Pack for Olmec Obituary

The Blurb

Olmec Obituary, Book One in the Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series

Archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Pimms thoroughly enjoys digging up old skeletons.

But when she is called home from Egypt after a family loss, she has to sacrifice her passions for the sake of those around her.

Attempting to settle into her new role as a librarian, while also missing her boyfriend, Elizabeth is distracted from her woes by a new mystery: a royal Olmec cemetery, discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, with a 3000-year-old ballplayer who just might be a woman.

She soon discovers there are more skeletons to deal with than those covered in dirt and dust.

Suitable for readers young and old, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a delightful cosy crime series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

Olmec Obituary Key Points

1.     Olmec Obituary explores the ancient Olmec culture of Mexico, including the riveting and violent Great Ballgame. The archaeology, ancient history, forensic science and library services described in book are based on significant academic research.

2.     It’s a classic crime novel, reminiscent of lighter works from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, where the reader pits their skills against a fictional sleuth and attempts to solve an historical mystery based on evidence uncovered a modern-day setting.

3.     The protagonist, Dr Elizabeth Pimms, is a skilled archaeologist, knowledgeable Egyptologist and reluctant librarian at Australia’s Mahoney Griffin Library. Curious, intellectual, tenacious and a touch naïve, from an early age Elizabeth dedicated herself to the exploration of ancient civilisations. She is aided in her voyage of discovery by the machinations of her phrenic library.

4.     Underlying themes include the recovery of forgotten women’s history, human evolution and contemporary social issues.

5.     With a warm cosy setting, including Elizabeth’s multicultural family, delicious meals, a rambling house and glorious gardens, the series is suitable for new adult readers and up.

About the Author

Dr L.J.M. Owen escapes dark and shadowy days as a public servant by exploring the comparatively lighter side of life: murder, mystery and forgotten women's history.

A trained archaeologist and qualified librarian with a PhD in palaeogenetics, L.J. first published Olmec Obituary in 2015, bringing the Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series to life.

In Olmec Obituary L.J. introduced readers to a young Dr Elizabeth Pimms, who contends with ancient murder and family secrets in a world of archaeology, forensic science, libraries, food and cats. Dr Pimms’ first outing has been described as "the thinking person's cosy mystery".

Book Two in the series, Mayan Mendacity, hits shelves in November 2016.

L.J. spends as much time as possible creating Dr Pimms' world to provide refuge for bookworms everywhere. Recipes in the series are tested under strict feline supervision.

'olmec obituary' - august 2016    COVER BY DESIGNBYCOMMITEE.COM.AU

'olmec obituary' - august 2016    COVER BY DESIGNBYCOMMITEE.COM.AU

Author Photos for use in Media

author photo   copyright L.J.M. Owen

author photo   copyright L.J.M. Owen

AUTHOR PHOTO   COPYRIGHT L.J.M. OWEN

AUTHOR PHOTO   COPYRIGHT L.J.M. OWEN

AUTHOR PHOTO   COPYRIGHT L.J.M. OWEN

AUTHOR PHOTO   COPYRIGHT L.J.M. OWEN