Monday, October 7, 2019

A SENSE OF PLACE: Guest Post by Marty Wingate

Marty Wingate
A Sense of Place 

I like to know where I am in the books I read, whether the world is entirely made up or real (literary license notwithstanding). When I set The Bodies in the Library (book one in the First Edition library series) in Bath, there could be no more solid setting than this World Heritage city of Georgian terraces and honey-colored stone, but I wanted to make sure readers believed that Bath was not only the perfect setting for the First Edition Society and its impressive library of books from the Golden Age of Mystery, and a murder or two, but also home to my protagonist, curator Hayley Burke. I looked to other authors for good examples.

First stop—the city of London, both the Square Mile and Greater London. Happily, two of my favorite series make good use of its pubs, squares, yards, and rivers. Bryant & May in the Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries by Christopher Fowler. Arthur Bryant knows London like the back of his hand, so in the books we walk the streets with him. Often, I’ve read passages aloud to my husband, and we both exclaim about the places we recognize. “Judd Street! The Skinners Arms!” When Arthur wanders off into a discourse about Boudicca, I pay great attention, because no one knows London’s history—ancient or modern—better than he.

In the Peter Grant books (aka the Rivers of London) Ben Aaronovitch creates a police procedural deeply rooted in the everyday. With a bit of magic. London is alive here, and let me just say that, although I know Russell Square well, I will still walk round the perimeter and try to guess which house is the Folly.

The Bodies in the Library is not a police procedural, but a traditional mystery, and so I do not try to write Peter Diamond’s Bath as Peter Lovesey does in his series. Instead, I stick to what the reader sees through the eyes of an amateur sleuth. Clues, yes, but also tea.

In At Bertram’s Hotel, Agatha Christie set Miss Marple down in London for a bit of sleuthing, and her surroundings were important to the story. Such a lovely, comfortable, never-changing hotel—apart from the usual difficulties—it was based on either Brown’s or Fleming’s in Mayfair. It’s an author’s prerogative to take a real place and tweak it slightly. Hotels such as Bertram’s are far beyond my main character’s budget, and she doesn’t have a niece to treat her to such extravagance as Miss Marple did, so I’ve had to limit Hayley’s enjoyment of the finer things in life to coffee at the Royal Crescent. Please do visit when you’re in Bath—it’s a classic.

It is not only the city and its buildings that create a sense of place, but also the landscape. Bath is at the bottom of the Avon valley—the river cuts a path through—and the terraces that rise in concentric arcs are built into the hills. Middlebank House, home to the First Edition library, is set in just such a terrace. That means that every walk out the door is up and down, whether Hayley is heading to the pub, Waitrose, or one of her favorite places for tea and cake. It isn’t always a murder investigation that causes her to be out of breath by the time she reaches her destination.

I want the landscape to seep into the story, much as it does in Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway mysteries. She was inspired by the wildness of the Norfolk Broads and its ever-changing coastline. Somerset is a world away from that—the epitome of a green and pleasant land, but still, I want the reader to see both a city built of Bath stone and the Mendip Hills.

A community goes a long way to establishing a sense of place, especially in a series. Forgive me, fellow mystery and crime writers, but the first community that comes to mind are the villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green. Yes, Miss Read. Throughout those quiet books, the characters who populate the villages may be in the background in one book and step to the forefront in another.

More to the mystery point, this is what M. C. Beaton does in her Agatha Raisin series and Hamish Macbeth books. The stories are woven through the community. Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar’s wife, may not have a big role in every book, but she’s always around.

Hayley Burke—newly hired curator and needing to prove her worth—must center her world within the First Edition Society and its library, and that means working closely with the Society’s irritating and enigmatic secretary, Glynis Woolgar, and the board members, only one of whom Hayley counts as a friend. Time to build her community.


Marty Wingate writes three mystery series set in England. The Potting Shed books (Alibi) feature Pru Parke, a middle-aged American gardener transplanted from Texas to England, and the Birds of a Feather series (Alibi) follows Julia Lanchester, bird lover, who runs a tourist office in a Suffolk village. Marty’s newest series—The First Edition Library (Berkley)—presents Hayley Burke, the curator of a collection of books from the Golden Age of Mystery. The Bodies in the Library, book one, will be released October 8, 2019. Marty prefers on-the-ground research whenever possible, and so she and her husband regularly travel to England and Scotland, where she can be found tracing the steps of her characters, stopping for tea and a slice of Victoria sponge in a caf√©, or enjoying a swift half in a pub.

1 comment:

Katherine said...

I won't sleep a wink tonight waiting on your book to arrive tomorrow!