murderonthecliffsWhen one is writing a novel in the first person, one must be that person.” – Du Maurier.

Writing a novel where the protagonist is a real-life person is challenging.

When I read Daphne du Maurier’s own words in Myself, When Young – The Shaping of a Writer, I immediately connected with the young Daphne. In it she paints a painfully honest picture of herself, her relationship with her family, her education in Paris, her endearing love for history and Cornwall and her passion to succeed as a writer. Daphne loved the same things I did: travel, writing, history and her voracious imagination often left her out of touch with the world.

The Daphne du Maurier we know today translated her observations into a succession of novels, the most famous being Rebecca. Who can forget that chilling first line: Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again? Or the black & white movie classic starring Laurence Oliver and Joan Fontaine…the eerie mansion set by the sea…the mystery leading up to its suspenseful climax?

Rebecca has its roots in the old traditional gothic romance-mystery. Daphne herself was a great fan of the Brontes, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is not dissimilar to Rebecca. Both are set in a remote location: a crumbling old mansion or castle. Both have an innocent heroine entering a house where protocol and formality conceal long-buried secrets and both have the young heroine attracted to the mysterious owner of the house.

This kind of book had a huge following in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s with such writers as Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, Elizabeth Peters and Mary Stewart making their own blend of Jane Eyreand Rebecca. Those books are still popular today. Many readers love them and are waiting for a gothic revival.

Is such a revival possible? Yes, but it depends firstly on the publishers (to put such a book out there) and secondly, the readers (the fans of the genre to support it). I am such a fan of those books, my favourite authors being Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, the Brontes and Victoria Holt. I devoured all of them in my teens and during my twenties and now again in my early thirties.

It’s important, if you’re a writer, to write what you love. So even though the market said these kind of books were dead, I refused to believe it. My first book, Silverthorn, a traditional gothic, became a 2004 Romantic Book of the Year Finalist in Australia. Here was proof that readers love that kind of story.

The recipe ingredients in: mystery, history and romance, my agent came up with the idea of modernizing the old favourite: a new mystery series featuring Daphne du Maurier. MURDER ON THE CLIFFS was born, providing inspiration for Daphne’s Rebecca. The idea was new and fun and faithfully incorporated all those old elements we enjoy.

Of course, when using a real life person, I knew particular criticism would be levelled at me. I had to distance myself from the many biographers out there who all had a pre-conceived idea of who Daphne was. Nobody knew Daphne but Daphne and since she is no longer with us, her words speak for her.  When asked: “In My Cousin Rachel, was Rachel good or evil?”, Daphne replies, her tanned face creased into a smile beneath her silver hair: “Lots of people have asked that and, to tell the truth, I don’t know. You see, I was Philip when I wrote the book.” She went on to explain. “When one is writing a novel in the first person, one must be that person.”

Daphne loved to create characters and worlds. People interested her and her imagination guided her, just like writers today.

Fascinated by Daphne and her works, I endeavour to fictionalize the real Daphne and help her find fresh inspiration for her novels. In each of the series books, Daphne help solves a murder and readers will pick up what may inspire her future novels – whether it come in the form of character, circumstance, setting, or merely a thought etc. Essentially, the Daphne mysteries are stand-alone stories of their own and I’m having great fun writing them (with a certain degree of liberal licenseJ).

So is a gothic revival of the old classics on the cards?

I sincerely hope so.

MURDER ON THE CLIFFS (published by St Martin’s Minotaur) is out 1st December, 2009.

For more information, please visit

Joanna Challis is giving away a signed copy of her book, Murder on the Cliffs, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to her book tour page, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 4176, for your chance to win. Entries from The Friendly Book Nook will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on their book tour page next week

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3 Responses to “Author Guest Post: Daphne Du Maurier–A Gothic Revival by Joanna Challis”

  1. Molly Says:

    With each book tour post I read, I become more and more excited about reading this book. I love Rebecca and gothic romantic/mysteries.

    There are several other authors listed in this post that are new to me that I will also have to check out as well.

  2. itsamystery Says:

    All the ingredients going into this book make it so appealing! The more I read about it – as well as the history behind the book – the more I want to pick up Murder on the Cliffs!

  3. kaye Says:

    I just adore Daphne DuMaurier and the whole gothic book scene. Murder on the cliffs sounds really exciting!

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