Crime always leaves a stain…
Lena Szarka, a Hungarian cleaner, dusts off her detective skills when a masterpiece is stolen from a gallery she cleans with her cousin Sarika. When Sarika goes missing too, accusations start to fly.
Convinced her cousin is innocent, Lena sweeps her way through the secrets of the London art scene. But with the evidence against Sarika mounting and the police on her trail, Lena needs to track down the missing painting if she is to clear her cousin.
Embroiling herself in the sketchy world of thwarted talents, unpaid debts and elegant fraudsters, Lena finds that there’s more to this gallery than meets the eye.
1. When and where do you prefer to write?
I wrote my first novel In Strangers’ Houses when I was working full time. It’s about a Hungarian cleaner who turns detective when her friend goes missing. I’d treat writing like any other project – an hour would go into my diary every day after work and I’d make myself comfortable as soon as I got home and write until my husband came through the door an hour or two later. I always write reclined on my sofa – sitting at a desk feels too much like being at work.
I wrote the second in the series, A Clean Canvas, the same way, but I was also pregnant. It was harder to find the energy, but luckily that book came very easily. It’s set in a gallery in Islington and sees Lena’s cleaning agency accused of theft when a masterpiece goes missing. The conflict between the very down-to-earth Lena and the pretentious London art scene was great fun to write – and I hope it will be fun to read too!
2. Do you have a certain ritual?
I just sit down and write. I think it’s a mistake to wait until I’m feeling inspired and creative – I could be waiting a long time! Instead I try to write a little every day – sometimes I’m pleased with what I’ve done, other times it needs a lot of editing. But that’s fine, the words aren’t carved from stone and can always be changed later.
3. Is there a drink of some food that keeps you company while you write?
Unlike Lena, I love to drink tea – as a die-hard coffee fan, she’d be appalled! But I also like to munch on the kiflis my mother bakes. They are nut filled pastries based on a recipe from my Hungarian grandmother and something Lena frequently indulges in too. There’s a recipe for them at the end of my third book A Messy Affair, but that’s not out till January 2020.
4. What is your favourite book?
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. The Jazz age is vividly drawn, the parties often hilarious and the depiction of the American dream powerful. But for me it’s the little details that are the best. Fitzgerald makes dog biscuits decomposing in milk poetic, symbolic and beautiful. That’s the kind of writing I can read over and over and never tire of.
5. Do you consider writing a different genre in the future?
I love writing crime because there’s always that element of mystery to keep the pages turning, but I’d like to try something else one day. There’s some romance in my novels between my Hungarian cleaner and a police constable and I’d like to have a go at writing that sort of novel perhaps. I’ve also had an idea for a thriller, and I’d absolutely love to write something more literary. But for the moment I’m sticking to crime.
6. Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
I take inspiration from things people around me do and say, but I wouldn’t say any of my characters are straight representations of anyone I know. You have to be careful with that as friends and family will be on the lookout to see themselves in your books. I have one character in my first book who is a little lazy, messy and loves sausage rolls. My poor husband is convinced it is based on him!
7. Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
Yes! There’s nothing worse than coming up with a great idea and then forgetting it. Because I write murder mysteries I worry if the police ever came across that notebook – it’s full of ideas for how to kill people!
8. Which genre do you not like at all?
I think all genres have their good and bad books. I can’t read anything too gory though, the images come back to haunt me. I keep my murders fairly clean for that reason – I never dwell for too long on the blood and guts.
9. If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
I’d love to write with Alexander Mccall Smith. I’ve seen him talk and he’s hilarious. His books have a wonderful warmth to them that I really enjoy. I think my Hungarian cleaner would love to travel to Botswana and work for the Number One Ladies Detective Agency!
10. If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
While I was writing my first book in the Lena Szarka series In Strangers’ Houses I went to Hungary to research. I had already drawn inspiration from my Hungarian relatives, but it was brilliant to be there in the flesh, listen to their speech patterns – and eat a lot of Hungarian cakes!
Thank you, Elizabeth Mundy and Rachel’s Random Resources.
About the author
Elizabeth Mundy’s grandmother was a Hungarian immigrant to America who raised five children on a chicken farm in Indiana. An English Literature graduate from Edinburgh University, Elizabeth is a marketing director for an investment firm and lives in London with her messy husband and two young children. A Clean Canvas is the second book in the Lena Szarka mystery series about a Hungarian cleaner who turns detective.
Social Media Links