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Author Interview: Beth Cowan-Erskine


Enjoy an interview with author of Loch Down Abbey, Beth Cowan-Erskine, where she shares how her murder mystery novel came to be…


“It started with breakfast in bed. It was a random Tuesday during the first lockdown of 2020. Hey, if you can’t have breakfast in bed on a Tuesday during a pandemic, when can you? My husband poured the last of the coffee and then we started thumb wrestling over who had go downstairs and make more. I lamented not being able to ring for the butler; he countered with how hard it was to find good help these days. I told him I was going to get a bell for my bedside and then put on my robe to go make more coffee. As I carried the tray downstairs, I said to him in my best haughty English accent, ‘Do I look like the sort of woman who knows where the kitchens are?’ We laughed.


But with those words, a character jumped in my mind. An aristocratic woman, cossetted and privileged, utterly outraged that her servants had the audacity to be sick. During a pandemic. In Scotland. Over the next few weeks, on our nightly Covid walks, I entertained my husband with plot lines and characters, teasing out the story. He corrected my history, I offered up punny names, we riffed about the various situations I could create. There absolutely had to be a dead guy. I felt the overall tone should land somewhere between P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie. One evening, as the sun was setting, I announced my title: Loch Down Abbey. Genius, he roared, and then: Seriously, you have to start writing this down.


In my day job, I’m an interior architect and business was slow because of the pandemic. I offer remote design services, but it’s new to the UK, so my door wasn’t exactly being beaten to the ground by clients. I understood how it felt to be a detective in noir fiction. But writing would give me something to do, a way to structure my day outside of lunch, dinner and cocktail Friday research. And it would keep me off social media, instrument of Satan. My feeds were filled with people doing things. Those people weren’t going to waste this time; they were going to achieve something! Even if it killed someone, they would become Domestic Goddesses, Michelin star chefs. They would develop sixpack abs and train for marathons; they would learn Portuguese and then pick up Romanian because, well, they’re both romance languages, aren’t they? Pft… And they would show off their dogs. Their cute, unbelievably adorable puppies.

It was too much for me. I barely survived the 2008 recession, when Instagram was a mere twinkle in Beelzebub’s eye. The husband was right. I needed to write it down. I shut off my smart phone and merrily decamped my mind and soul to the Scottish Highlands.


Fortunately, last spring was balmy and warm, nearly Tuscan, and it allowed me to head out the front door every day to walk and talk out my story. Was I happy with the plot? Was it plausible? Did I need more structure in another part of the story to shore up what I’d written? It helped me to get moving, literally, in order to move the story forward. I spent those walks arguing with myself (yes, out loud; I’m one of those), trying to decide what each character was going to do, should do, was most likely to do given the situation and their personality. I walked a lot of miles while framing people for murder. Luckily, we live on a farm in the countryside. Had anyone been near to hear me, I feel sure the local police would have been called.


When I felt I had something worthwhile, I rang a friend in Paris. He is a literary agent and has been after me for years to write something for him. I don’t know why. He’s never read anything of mine. But with zero evidence that I could even string two words together, he agreed to read my story. I sent it through to him, nervous and convinced it was nothing more than a great Christmas gift for the family that year. I started looking for local bookbinders.

But then he rang, and said he loved it; he had a few tweaks to make before he sent it out. To publishers. I was aghast. But I did the work, as quickly as I could, and submitted the final draft to him about a month later.

What now, I asked.

Now we wait, he said.

Fast-forward to November, short days, cold weather. One Friday evening, while sitting by the fire, my phone rang. The wait was over. A London publisher wanted to buy the book. I nearly hung up on him and then started to laugh. My husband was beyond delighted.

After we stopped laughing – it took a little while – we popped open the champagne. Hodder has moved quickly and Loch Down Abbey was just published this month, in ebook and audiobook, and in June the paperback hits UK shelves.

When people ask me, in the years to come, what I did during the Great Pandemic of 2020, I think I’ll tell them that I plotted a murder.”