Though a Yorkshire woman by birth, Caroline became an honorary Lancastrian when she studied law at the University of Manchester and stayed on that side of the divide. She worked for several years as a divorce and professional indemnity lawyer, and began committing the stories in her head to paper when bringing up her three daughters took precedence over the law. Short stories and poems in a variety of literary publications and anthologies followed, then in 2017 she made the move into domestic psychological thrillers with her debut novel, Beneath the Skin. More books followed, and in 2021 she adopted the pen-name C E Rose for a series of gothic-tinged psychological thrillers, which she writes alongside the ones under her own name.
Her latest Caroline England novel, The Stranger Beside Me,
is published 3 August 2023.
Lynne: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Caroline. I know it’s a busy time for you, with a new book to publicize. Let’s start with that new book, The Stranger Beside Me. Without giving away any spoilers, can you tell us a little about it?
Caroline: As with all my twisty psychological suspense novels, it is quite tricky to give a spoiler-free resume! The dark tale revolves around the new friendship between Sibeal Matthews and Katy Henry. Sibeal is clever, feisty and a brilliant businesswoman, yet for all her outward confidence, she only has one real friend, her brother Gabriel, with whom she has a startlingly intense relationship. But when her lover Robin dies, she can’t share her agonizing grief as he was a married family man. So she deals with her devastation by turning to booze and stalking Robin’s four-year-old son.
She meets single mum Katy and finds someone she can confide in and share her anguish. They start a fierce friendship. but Katy has troubles of her own. Her mother died in a car crash, and ever since she’s been plagued by fatigue and anxiety, and has isolated herself. Her steps into her new world are tentative and faltering, but she finds herself flowering again when she meets a newly separated doctor, Harry. However, nothing is quite what it seems. Sibeal’s drinking spirals out of control; is she a threat to Katy’s son, Milo? Why does Katy dream about her mother’s car crash even though she wasn’t there? Why is Gabriel always short of money, and so secretive about his trips to London? Is Harry’s scar on his chin from his ‘boy racer’ days significant? Can anyone really be trusted? And finally, who is ‘me’? Who is the stranger? I’d love your readers to find out!
Lynne: I can hardly wait to find out myself! Has writing always been part of your life, or did you come to it later?
Caroline: I put pen to paper in terms of short stories and novels when I left the law to bring up my three daughters. Before that, I had always been ‘writing’ in my head – making up stories to tell the girls, or before sleep. And of course being a lawyer involves a lot of writing, such as pleas of mitigation in the magistrates’ courts when I represented alleged criminals, and long divorce petitions based on unreasonable behaviour when I represented matrimonial clients.
Lynne: A lawyer has a very different approach from a novelist. What motivated your move into fiction? Caroline: Representing ‘criminal’ clients when I was training to be a solicitor meant attending police interviews or taking statements from the client at Strangeways Prison. When I qualified, I specialised in divorce law, so both these aspects of the law gave me fabulous insight into people in general, but particularly those at a low point in their lives. It felt like a natural progression to explore what I’d learned about the human psyche in a fictional arena.
Lynne: And now you’ve taken another different approach: as well as domestic thrillers under your own name, there are darker, slightly spooky tales as C E Rose. Was the pen name a deliberate decision? Do you feel like two different people depending on what you’re writing?
Caroline: I use a pen name for my C E Rose titles as they are published by a different publisher. I think there’s no escaping an author’s style of writing, but I do wear a slightly different hat when I’m writing as my evil twin C E! I certainly hope both types are fascinator hats (haha!), because all my twisty psychological suspense tales are multi-layered stories which explore what goes on behind closed doors. They feature a cast of characters with complicated relationships, not to mention the dark secrets they’re hiding. Using the first person or a close third person narrative means that nothing is ever quite what it seems, and both Caroline and C E love to misdirect and surprise the reader wherever they can. And they both certainly like a jaw-dropping ending! All the books have a domestic setting, a sense of unease and a web of intrigue, but perhaps what sets them apart is the hint of gothic that C E brings to her stories. By making each home almost a character in its own right, from a sprawling old farmhouse to a thatched cottage on the river, from a crumbling aristocratic pile to a luxurious Belgravia residence, the atmosphere of mystery, fear and dread is, I hope, enhanced.
Lynne: Are you a planner, with timelines and spider charts and character sketches? Or do you like to give your characters their head and see where it takes them? Is the Caroline England method of writing different from your alter ego’s?
Caroline: I’d like to be a plotter with everything mapped out, but I’m definitely a writer who gets possessed by characters who might well lead me and my story to the dark side.
Lynne: What lights the fire under a new novel for you? Does it feel different for the C E Rose books? Caroline: This is a tricky question as I’m an extreme pantser, so I’m never quite sure what’s happening in the story until the words start to appear on the page.
Lynne: How do you research your novels? Do you write about places you visit, or base characters, however loosely, on people you know? Or does it all come entirely from your imagination
Caroline: Although my Google history is as alarming as most crime writers’, I don’t research as such. I find it easier to set novels in a village or a house I’m familiar with and I do confess to stalking properties on Rightmove for my C E Rose novels. None of my characters is entirely based on people I know, but I might draw on aspects of them – including myself!
Lynne: Your books are standalones rather than a series. Have you ever considered writing a series? If so, have you given any thought to a protagonist, or a setting? Or if not, is there any particular reason, or is that just the way the cards fell?
Caroline: I wrote Convictions and Confessions, the first two books in a legal series set in my home village, starring Natalie Bach, a feisty feminist solicitor, under the pen name Caro Land. I love the cast of quirky legal
eagle characters in those books, so one day I might I might go back to them.
Lynne: My favourite book of yours is The Sinner, which explores the subtleties and effects of coercive control in marriage. Is this something you have a personal interest in? How did you go about researching it?
Caroline: I came across coercive control in my divorce lawyer days, when it wasn’t yet a crime. It’s a fascinating area because it can be so subtle and yet deadly! I find human behaviour fascinating – you’ll discover more of this in The Stranger Beside Me.
Lynne: It’s been a few years now, but I can’t imagine the thrill of holding that first copy of your debut novel in your hand ever quite goes away. Can you describe the feeling? And when you got to your third or fourth and the novelty had started to wear off, did you recapture that thrill? Does it still feel like your book? Or is it different now that other people have been involved?
Caroline: Having my own novel on my bookcase was a dream come true and I’m still as thrilled as ever to see a new one in pride of place. I’m completely addicted to writing and being published and I really hope I can continue my run.
Lynne: And finally – what next? More Caroline England, or will C E Rose be back?
Caroline: I have twelve published novels so far, and I really do hope both Caroline England and C E Rose will be back!
Lynne: I hope so too. Caroline, thanks for giving Mystery People readers a glimpse into your world.Those twelve published novels are divided between Caroline England and her ‘evil twin’ C E Rose,
with a brief foray into Caro Land with Convictions (2020) and Confessions (2020.
By Caroline England:
By C E Rose:
The House of Hidden Secrets
The House on the Water’s Edge
The Shadows of Rutherford House
The Attic at Wilton Place
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.