In 1985, an admirer wrote to Mollie seeking advice on how to get started as a new writer.  Mollie’s reply can be read below. Special thanks to Mrs Churchillo (formerly Mrs Redlin) for agreeing to share the contents of this letter.

Dear Mrs Redlin,

I am delighted to hear that you liked my ‘Death in - ’ books, and I am sure you will [find] your own travels as useful as I did - and enjoy them as much.

I have to admit that I wrote those books with the object of making a bit of butter for the family bread, as British-army pay was pretty meagre in those days. And I was fortunate enough to find myself ‘following the drum’ to a lot of lovely and outlandish places, which provided nice settings for a murder, not to mention a romance.

No one can advise you how to write a book. You either can or you can’t, and the only way is to find out.  And the only way you can do that is, in  my opinion, to acquire the necessary tools (typewriter, pen, pencil, or whatever you prefer to use; paper, a dictionary if you can’t spell - I can’t! - and so on) and then, sit down and start writing.  There is no other way.  Too many would-be writers seem to think one must wait for inspiration.  But if I had, I’d never have written a line.  You get it all right; but not all that often, and only while you are pegging away at a book or a short story or whatever. It comes as you are writing - not sitting waiting for it. Or at least, that has been my experience.

Don’t bother about contracts, copyrights, etc.  Those matters only crop up after you have written something sellable.  Not before. When and if you finish a book that satisfies you, then is the time to get yourself an agent.  Go for a good one; the bad ones are useless.  (Worse than useless!)  I don’t know how it is in America, but in England, it’s a lot more difficult to sell yourself to a good agent than to a publisher.  But once a good agent has ‘taken you onto the strength’, they will deal with all the problems; and though you’ll pay them 15% of what you make (10% if it’s only in your own country) you’ll make a lot more with their help than you will on your own.  That’s for sure.

I’ve no idea how you set about getting an agent in America, but that’s your problem. And it won’t arise until you have a manuscript to show them - (typewritten: one side of the page only: double-spacing.  But I expect you know that).  Don’t try and be your own agent.  It never pays, for any publisher’s idea of heaven is a new writer with a sellable book and no agent.  You’d get taken to the wash.

And by the way, watch those exclamation marks.  You’ve used 3 in the first 3 lines of your letter, and not one of them was necessary.  Even I don’t waste them like that. Paul Scott of ‘The Raj Quartet’ was a life-long friend and my agent, before he died; and he rationed me to only two a page, maximum.  Alas, I often used a good deal more than my allowance, and he would go through my M.S scratching them out.  He hated them.  Good luck with the writing and very best wishes.

2nd March 1985