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H.Y. Hanna is an award-winning mystery and suspense writer and the author of the bestselling Oxford Tearoom Mysteries. She has also written romantic suspense and sweet romance, as well as a children’s middle-grade mystery series – and (under the pen name, “Penelope Swan“) romantic Regency mysteries inspired by Jane Austen.
Hsin-Yi graduated from Oxford University with a BA and MA in Biological Sciences and a Master of Studies in Social Anthropology. She tried her hand at a variety of jobs, before returning to her first love: writing. She worked as a freelance journalist for several years, with articles and short stories published in the UK, Australia and NZ, and has won awards for her novels, poetry, short stories and journalism.
A globe-trotter all her life, Hsin-Yi grew up in many different countries and has lived in a variety of cultures, from Dubai to Sydney, London to New Jersey, but is now happily settled in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband and a rescue kitty named Muesli – who stars in her Oxford Tearoom Mystery series.
You can also learn more about her on the “Meet the Author (for Kids)“ page of the Big Honey Dog Mysteries website. This is her middle grade mystery series inspired by her Great Dane, Honey – who has now sadly gone to the Rainbow Bridge but lives on in the books and children’s imaginations around the world.
Interview Q&A with Hsin-Yi:
Q. Tell me about yourself and how you became a writer.
A. Well, I’d have to start with the cliché of always wanting to be a writer, from the time I was a little girl! I was a complete bookworm and the only thing better than reading a book, in my mind, was writing one. I was that annoying child in school who loved getting English composition homework! And always wrote 2,000 words when the teacher asked for 500. 😉
But a creative career was frowned upon so I went off to university in the U.K. (I grew up mostly in the United Arab Emirates, although I was born in Taiwan), did a science degree, followed by a Master’s, and then got a job in advertising and marketing. I worked in that field for a few years, then tried various other jobs, including teaching English as a Foreign Language and working for an international children’s publisher as an Education rep – always trying to dutifully follow society’s expectations of having a “proper” job… But then as I was approaching my big 3-0, I had one of those early mid-life crisis moments when I realised that I didn’t want to waste my life stuck in jobs I was unhappy in.
So I decided to return to my real love: writing. I began working as a freelance journalist and wrote for a variety of publications in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand – before deciding that I really wanted to be a book author. I published my first book, a children’s middle-grade mystery featuring a Great Dane detective and her canine friends, in Sep 2013 – and haven’t looked back since! I now have several books published: aside from my children’s mystery series, I also have a romantic mystery series, a sweet romance series and my new cozy mystery series, the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries.
Q. What made you decide to publish your work?
A. I think any writer wants to share their stories with readers 🙂 and so the aim is always to publish your books and find your audience. As for why I chose to do it independently, I did actually have a literary agent in London and had come close to a “traditional” book deal in the past but when I got back into writing this time and completed that first manuscript, I decided I preferred being an “indie author”. Not only does this mean getting a better share of the royalties and being in a better position to earn my living as an author, but I also have more creative control over my branding strategy, story & character development and career direction. Of course, I do work very closely with a support team which comprises a freelance editor, beta readers, proofreaders and various “expert consultants” to check facts in my stories. The indie author community is also very helpful, so I have wonderful support from my fellow indie author friends. It IS a lot of hard work and being an indie author can take over your life but I enjoy the challenge! 🙂
Q. What kind of inspiration helps you write? Any particular songs, art, or movies that help keep you going or get you through writer’s block?
I don’t tend to get writer’s block – I tend to have the opposite problem, which I’ve heard is called “writer’s ADD” 😉 – I usually have too many ideas all pulling at me and not enough time to write them all. I wish I could clone myself – or not need any sleep!
As for inspiration, I tend to get it from everywhere – fragments of conversation I overhear, people I meet (even a random person I walk past in the supermarket!), the news, things I see while surfing the net, real-life stories at dinner parties, something I observe at the gym, my mind wandering as I’m sitting in the waiting room at the dentist… people are a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration. I don’t tend to watch TV or movies much so I don’t tend to look there for inspiration. Oh, and of course, books always inspire me – not necessarily consciously but just because they take me to another place and stimulate the imagination.
Q. What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
A. Well, I’ve always loved mysteries more than any other genre – my favourite books as a child was Nancy Drew and when I grew up, I naturally gravitated towards reading crime fiction: mysteries, romantic suspense, psychological thrillers and police procedurals. The first book series I wrote was a children’s middle-grade mystery series starring a Great Dane detective and her canine friends.
However, when I turned my attention to writing adult books, I dabbled in a few other genres for a while – I have a romantic mystery / suspense series and a sweet romance series – before deciding that I’m really more of a mystery writer. I had several ideas for different mystery series and the Oxford tearoom one was the one that called to me the most – so I started with that one first and I discovered that it fit perfectly into the niche known as “cozy mysteries”!
Q. The genre seems to be very popular today. What do you think makes your book/series stand out?
A. Well, I set out to write a series which had many of the well-loved ingredients of a good cozy mystery, including quirky characters, a quaint village setting, a fascinating insight into a special “world”—in this case, the world within the Gothic spires and beautiful cloisters of Oxford University, based on my own experiences as a student there—and lots of humour, all wrapped up in a gripping whodunit in the best British mystery style. Oh, and not forgetting the adorable cheeky little tabby cat!
But I also wanted to give it a fresh twist: something original, which hadn’t been done before in other series and to make sure I delivered a solid, intelligent mystery that would keep the readers guessing. I am known for writing wonderfully vivid atmosphere and settings, and my books are often called “page turners”—so I wanted to make sure that my new series lived up to the same promise!
I’ve been getting a lot of lovely 5-star reviews saying things like: “I couldn’t put it down, staying up way too late last night for just one more chapter….” and “I love a good mystery and I just couldn’t put this one down….. I had to finish the novel in one sitting! This author has the unique ability to describe scenes in such vivid detail that you actually feel as though you are there (I’m sure I could smell those scones baking). Such wonderful and loveable characters and twists and turns in the plot, I was kept guessing till the very end”—so hopefully, it looks like I’ve achieved my aim! 🙂
Q. Do you write in any other genres?
A. Yes, I also write classic romantic suspense / mystery – I ADORE Mary Stewart and I have a romantic mystery/suspense trilogy called the TENDER series, set in Singapore, which is sort of like a modern Mary Stewart: woman-in-peril, alone in a foreign country, with an enigmatic man she’s not sure she can trust but with whom she’s rapidly falling in love… there’s murder, island cults, long-buried family secrets and it’s very atmospheric, suspenseful and gripping. I plan to write more romantic suspense books eventually.
I have also written sweet romance in the past (I have a series called Summer Beach Vets which are sweet romances for pet lovers, starring the handsome veterinarians at an animal hospital in an Australian beachside town) but I’ve decided that mystery is more for me, so I won’t be continuing in that genre. Oh, and I also write children’s middle grade fiction: a series called the Big Honey Dog Mysteries – action-packed mystery adventures with lots of humour, featuring a Great Dane detective and her canine friends. The sleuthing Dane is inspired by my own Great Dane, Honey.
Q. Tell me about A Scone To Die For.
A. A Scone To Die For is the first book in the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries and it is a culinary cozy mystery for cat lovers and British mystery fans. The first book introduces us to Gemma Rose, who has given up a high-flying corporate career overseas to return to England and open a traditional English tearoom in a picturesque little village on the outskirts of Oxford. Business seems to be going well until a cranky American tourist is found murdered in her tearoom, by one of her famous scones, no less!
Before she knows it, Gemma is putting her sleuthing skills to the test as she dives back into the world of her old university and uncovers a mystery with roots in the hidden past. Of course, it’s not that simple, though—for one thing, the CID detective in charge of the murder investigation is none other than her first college love, Devlin O’Connor, and Gemma also has to contend with four meddling little old ladies from her Cotswolds village… and that’s before you add in Muesli, the mischievous little tabby, and Mrs Rose, Gemma’s technologically-challenged, match-making mother!
The second and third books in the series, Tea with Milk and Murder and Two Down, Bun To Go, respectively are also out already so for those who enjoy Book 1, they can dive straight into Gemma’s (and Muesli’s) next adventures!
Q: In A Scone to Die For a tourist is murdered in an Oxfordshire tearoom. How quintessentially British! Not that England boasts of murdered tourists, but you set the stage for a very traditional mystery. What made you decide to set your series here?
A: Well, one of the main reasons was because I was at Oxford myself for several years, first as a student and then later living there while I commuted to work in London. Oxford is a unique city with spectacularly beautiful architecture in its Gothic spires, medieval towers, old cloisters and elegant college quadrangles. And the world of Oxford University is full of fascinating centuries-old traditions and quaint customs, which I thought would be interesting to readers.
Oxford itself is located in the middle of the Cotswolds, one of the most beautiful parts of the English countryside, renowned for its rolling hills and picturesque villages filled with winding cobbled lanes and thatched cottages… what better place as a setting for a cozy mystery? 😉
Q. Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
A. Ooh, that’s a hard one! I think, if I really had to choose, it would have to be Gemma’s mother – who also seems to be many readers’ favourite! She always says the most outrageous things sometimes and her very “proper” kind of British-ness” can be very entertaining. I think we can all relate to Gemma’s exasperation with her mother, via our own relationships with our mothers, aunts, mothers-in-law or older close family friend, who might have different attitudes from ourselves – and/or who are a bit technologically-challenged!
Q. Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
A. Well, as I said, it is partly inspired by my own experiences of being a student at Oxford (minus the dead bodies!) and living in the Cotswolds region for several years. I used to love visiting the quaint little Cotswolds villages on the weekends, strolling down the winding, cobbled lanes, browsing the antique shops and local markets, having afternoon tea at the traditional tearooms… so I thought it the perfect setting for a British cozy.
Q. If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
A. Mary Stewart – (my favourite author of all time! I love her style of classic romantic suspense, with the focus on the heroine and the exotic locations, all beautifully described. It is partly her books that have inspired me to write in the descriptive style which brings a setting to life.
Reginald Hill – (I LOVE his Daziel & Pascoe series, his wonderful characters and his wry sense of humour. He was incredibly intelligent and well-read and cultured, without being pretentious in any way, and it came across in his books – loved finding little “Easter eggs” of references to things which added depth to the story if you knew the mythology or poetry or history or philosophy ideas behind what he was referring to. Sadly he passed away recently)
Val McDermid – (I saw her speak once and it was amazing – she is hilariously funny and a wonderful public speaker, so humorous and warm – not what you’d expect from her books, which tend to be very dark psychological thrillers about serial killers and child abuse and things like that! But a fantastic writer – so suspenseful and really intricate plotlines and complex characterisations)
Suzanne Collins – (although I enjoyed the Hunger Games, I’m actually a bigger fan of her middle-grade series, The Underland Chronicles – really wonderful, wonderful stories with fantastic characters and relationships and incredible world-building. I admire her courage as an author to make bold story-telling decisions, such as not being afraid to kill off characters just to “play safe” and give readers a perfect happy ending – she challenges you and her stories always have deeper themes and thought-provoking messages. A very intelligent, well-educated author and I imagine she’d be fascinating to talk to across a dinner table!)
Q. What are you currently reading?
A. At the moment, I’m on a bit of an Agatha Christie binge, actually, and catching up with some of her lesser-known mysteries that I hadn’t had a chance to read yet—although the one I’m currently reading is probably very well-known: it’s called Sparking Cyanide.
Q. Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
A. Well, like most authors, I would have to say that Reading is my No. 1 favourite past time and hobby. I also love dancing – I have done all sorts, from classical ballet to bellydance, burlesque to hip hop and even “doggie dancing”, a.k.a. canine freestyle, which is a form of competitive dog sport. I love dogs and am very interested in dog training & behaviour. Although I have to admit that since having our first cat, Lemon, and now Muesli, I’ve been converted to the feline side too!
Q. Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
A. Fresh chillis, Chilli oil, Chilli flakes, Chilli jam (can you tell that I like spicy food? 😉 )
Q. Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
A. Ooh, yes, I have ideas for LOTS more books in the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries. I just published Book 3 and hope to have Book 4 ready soon, with Books 5 and probably 6 before the end of the year. I also have a couple of ideas for other mystery series – a paranormal / magical one and one that is more “chicklit women sleuth” in style – so I may start work on a new series towards the end of the year. The hard part is going to be trying to decide which idea to write next and juggling all the different series!
Q. What’s your favorite thing about being an author?
A. Being able to go to work in my pyjamas. 😉 No, seriously, being able to spend my days doing what I love best – making up stories in my head and writing them down – and then sharing my world and characters with readers.
Actually, no, seriously, being able to go to work in my pyjamas is the best thing!