PW: You've written scholarly books on England's Restoration era. What brought you to write mysteries set at that time?

FM: I chose that particular time because there are so many parallels to our own. In The Rival Queens, I quoted people who said, "If traffic continues at this rate and there are so many people with carriages and horses going about London, by the year 1900 the streets of London will be 20 foot deep in horse manure." That is exactly the same as people saying, "If we go on driving in cars we're all going to be gassed out."

PW: How is it that your first novel, Unnatural Fire, is a more conventional mystery, whereas The Rival Queens is more character driven?

FM: I suppose because it is the first book, and you have a new contract and you're feeling obliged to fulfill the mandate. As you get more relaxed, you can then get easier with the story.

PW: You tell us that your heroine, Lady Ashby de la Zouche, aka the Countess, was a mistress of "Good King Charlie." Are you planning to write those episodes?

FM: I'm toying around with that. She is partially based on some of his mistresses. And myself and my mother. I have quite a few plots on the go.

PW: What is your next in the series?

FM:The Ambitious Stepmother, which comes out in England in the autumn. The Countess goes to France, where she encounters all the debauchery at the court of Versailles.

PW: Your heroine makes a small living writing gossip for a scandal sheet. One of your books was about Restoration plays and another about the Tatler, a scandal sheet. Tell us how you came to dramatize and act in this material.

FM: I was asked by the National Theatre to give a lecture and I could think of nothing more boring than standing behind a lectern talking, so I got hold of three actress friends and we spun scripts of the plays together. We performed it all over Britain and Europe and were hoping to get it to America and nearly did it in Washington, D.C., but Ronald Reagan cut off the money.

PW: Were you were really born in a gypsy caravan? It sounds like one of the Countess's stories.

FM: People all think I make it up, but I have documentation. We owned that caravan up to about two years ago when my mom retired and she sold it, but I know where it is. There is a shopping center there now, where they deliver pizza. Funny, because the doctors wouldn't come to deliver me. They thought we were gypsies.

PW: There was talk of a film of Unnatural Fire.

FM: We did actually sell it to a company one Friday afternoon, but that weekend their satellite branch decided to go bankrupt. The film department had to bail it out. Dame Judi Dench would have been a perfect Countess.

PW: Who could play her buxom maid, Alpiew?

FM: I don't know, but bosom jokes can go on and on, they're so eternally funny, aren't they?