‘ALL CHARACTERS IN THIS NOVEL ARE ENTIRELY FICTITIOUS...’
Q: What’s in a name? North Carter Moor Farmhouse
I had a fun conversation with my Mum yesterday. She had done some family history research into her own ancestors and was bemused to discover that she had a seventeenth century relative called BARNABUS GOULDSMITH. For some reason this tickled her pink. She loved the sound of his name and spent twenty minutes persuading me to put Barnabus into my next novel. To keep the peace and to avoid being disinherited, I finally agreed. However, I may draw the line at her suggestion that I make him into a smuggler.
This made me wonder how many other authors find themselves under similar pressure to adjust their plots and characters for the amusement of their loved ones? And more intriguingly, how do authors choose the names for their characters in the first place?
When I wrote Catching the Eagle the naming process should have been simple. This novel was based on the true story of our criminal ancestor, Jamie Charlton. Genealogical research had already revealed the real names of his family, the witnesses at his trial in 1812, the court officials and half the population of rural Ponteland.
But it quickly became obvious that I would have to make some adjustment to those names. For a start, nearly everyone back in 1812 was called ‘John.’ This included Jamie’s father, son, brother, best friend, the man he robbed and the magistrate who charged him. Obviously some of them had to go or be known as ‘Jack.’ (Or even Nathanial.) This tradition of calling children after other family members had helped us trace our relatives back through the centuries and uncover Jamie’s sorry tale of injustice. But to write a novel about three generations of the same family, all in the same farmhouse and all called either ‘John’ or ‘Ann’ would have confused the hell out of my readers.
Then there was the problem of the sheer number of people our research had uncovered. They had big families back in the nineteenth century and ours was no exception. A cast of thousands may have worked well in the bible but it rarely works in modern fiction.
Fortunately, novelists can use artistic license. In Catching the Eagle, I changed names, liberally handed out nicknames and killed off one character a couple of decades early. However, this process can still be dangerous in a novel based on a true story because someone somewhere is going to be unhappy that you have altered history. I think I may have inadvertently offended a distant cousin in Australia when I changed the name of his 4 x great-grandmother from ‘Ann’ to ‘Mary.’
From the naming point of view, it was quite refreshing to sit down and write my second novel, The Missing Heiress. Apart from Detective Stephen Lavender and a brief appearance by Magistrate Clennell, the rest of the characters were fictitious and I could call them what I wanted. I took a pragmatic approach. I picked a different letter from the alphabet for each character, chose names indigenous to Northumberland, appropriate for the Regency era and tried to make sure that there was no repetition. I often find it confusing if characters in novels have similar sounding names or if they begin with the same letter.
However, when I called the younger brother of the missing heiress, ‘Matthew’, I never imagined the embarrassment this would later cause me. Matthew was a very popular name in late 18th century England. It is also the name of my own younger brother. (Yes, I think you can see where this is going.) When I plotted the book I instinctively named Matthew Carnaby after my own brother and thought nothing more about it. In my head, this was a convenient – possibly temporary - arrangement which would help me remember who he was while I sorted out the rest of the details about him and the other characters.
At the start of a novel, everything is fluid and full of potential. Minor characters like Matthew Carnaby are particularly sketchy; his personality and circumstances were vague. He eventually became a sad and tragic figure, the victim of horrific abuse in his infancy which had left him mute and physically scarred. He developed into one of my favourite characters and will probably appear in a later novel in the series, but somehow while I was writing the novel I completely forgot about the significance of his name.
Post-publication, my slip up came back to haunt me. Mum was the first to contact me with feedback after Heiress was released. Of course she loved the book (bless her) and was full of praise. But at the end of the conversation she quietly asked me:
'Why did you name the ‘idiot’ younger brother after our Matthew?'
Ooops. I didn’t see this one coming. Cue a blustering and red-faced author. I can honestly say that until that moment, I hadn’t realised the implications when I gave the Bellingham village idiot the same name as my sibling.
‘Our Matthew’ also read The Missing Heiress and he sent me a text:
Reading Heiress and loving it. Just got to the bit were the idiot younger brother has the shit kicked out of him…
Ouch. He noticed. In fact, he’s mentioned it several times recently. Matthew has made it clear that I’m not going to get away with this one lightly - innocent mistake or not. I sense a lifetime of ribbing ahead. Happier times: My siblings and I
It is amazing what else those close to you read into your work. In the same conversation, Mum also wanted to know why I had called the unsavoury Baxter Carnaby after my gentle, God-fearing uncle: Howard Baxter. I hadn’t. In my mind, Baxter was just a strong, memorable name. Memorable is vitally important in fiction.
I will be more cautious in future when naming my characters but I’m not sure that it will help. In my experience, authors face an uphill struggle against the boundless imaginations of their close family and friends. Our nearest and dearest fly off on a tangent when they read our books. They hear our voices as they read and automatically look out for connections – obscure or real - to the life we lead and the people we know. Their spiralling tangents have no limits.
The last I heard, I am still in my parent’s Last Will and Testament (just) but I may have to avoid being alone with my brother in the same room for a while. In the meantime, for penance, I am doing a little research about Kentish smugglers and sketching out the character of one Master Barnabus Gouldsmith...
Q: What’s in a name?
Bow Street Runners and Early British Detectives
Kirkley Hall, Ponteland
In 2005, we made two surprising discoveries while researching my husband’s ancestors. We first learnt that he had a convicted felon, a Regency jail-bird, roosting in the branches of his family tree, called Jamie Charlton. Then we found out that a Bow Street detective, Stephen Lavender, had been involved in the investigation which sent our Jamie to trial.
Naturally, our first priority was to find out more about our skeleton in the closet but we were also intrigued by Detective Lavender. He was referred to as ‘a principal officer’ with the Bow Street magistrates’ court in London. I had heard the phrase ‘Bow Street runner’ many times before but I had no idea that there were British detectives as early as 1809. I had always assumed that detectives were created along with the rest of the police force by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.
Years of research at The National Archives in London and the Northumberland Records Office gradually disclosed that our Jamie had been convicted of stealing the rent money from the Northumbrian manor house, Kirkley Hall. It was an audacious crime; over £1,157 had been taken from the estate office at the hall. Our research also revealed that Nathanial Ogle, the wealthy owner of Kirkley Hall, had paid for Detective Lavender to come up from London to solve the case.
To Ogle’s delight, Lavender recovered the bulk of the missing money. It had been thrown back over the wall of the kitchen garden in a sack, and lay half-hidden by a currant bush for several days until the detective instigated a thorough search of the grounds. Only £162 of coins remained outstanding. This is not as surprising as it may seem. Most of the recovered money was paper banknotes which had only been in circulation for a few years; in 1809 most British commoners did not understand or trust paper money.
Lavender also discovered that Jamie Charlton, a disgruntled ex-employee of Kirkley Hall, had been on a generous spending spree in the weeks after the robbery and his investigation focussed on him. In May 1809, he had Jamie arrested and sent for trial at the August Assizes in Newcastle. However, they released him after an initial hearing because there was no evidence to actually connect him to the crime. At this point, Stephen Lavender went back to London, famous for retrieving most of the stolen rent money but unable to secure the conviction of his main suspect.
Jamie Charlton also went home but he was rearrested a year later. This time the evidence came from Jamie’s former cell mate, William Taylerson, and the local magistrate instigated the arrest. Taylerson claimed that when they shared a cell together in prison, Jamie Charlton had confessed to him that he had, indeed, committed the crime. Taylerson was a horse thief, already sentenced to death. After a trial which lasted fourteen hours, a jury of local landowners and nobility found Jamie guilty in just five minutes. They sentenced him to transportation, and granted Taylerson a full pardon. The whole thing smacked of a miscarriage of justice - even by the dodgy legal standards of the Regency.
The ideal plot for a historical novel had just landed in my lap and Catching the Eagle was born. It took two years to write this book, which was eventually published by Knox Robinson Publishers of Historical Fiction in December 2011.
Bow Street Magistrate's Court, London
According to my research, when the principal officers like Lavender went out to work on cases in other counties of Britain, they usually worked alone. As a novelist, this presented me with an interesting dilemma. Literary convention in any crime fiction usually requires that the detective has an assistant. In the end, I decided to veer away from historical fact with Catching the Eagle and bow down to the literary convention; I gave Lavender an assistant, Constable Edward Woods. Although they were only minor characters in this first novel, I thoroughly enjoyed creating Woods and Lavender and developing the rapport and humorous dialogue which erupted spontaneously between them. I felt that I had created a winning duo of crime fighters and I didn’t want to let them go.
Natural curiosity drew me towards their world. I began to invest time, money and effort on investigating those early British detectives. ‘A Certain Share of Low Cunning: A history of the Bow Street Runners 1792 – 1839’ written by David J. Cox became the main source of my research. I discovered that back in 1809, Bow Street Magistrates’ court, was the thriving centre of policing in the crime-ridden capital of England. Bow Street and the Old Bailey Criminal Court were the vibrant partners in London’s justice system.
http://www. oldbaileyonline.org/ is ripe source of information and inspiration for any author interested in crime, criminals and early British detectives. This website documents the proceedings of the Old Bailey, between the years of 1674-1913 and contains details of 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court. Stephen Lavender frequently appears on the stand as a police witness in these documents.
Number 4 Bow Street was where Sir Henry Fielding, novelist and magistrate, first persuaded the British government to establish a police force in 1747. This was in response to the growing call to find an effective means to tackle the increasing crime and disorder in the capital, where every fourth shop was a ‘gin house,’ a vast sex trade sprawled across hundreds of brothels and gangs of highwaymen and cut-throats terrorized the roads on the outskirts of London. Fielding brought together eight reliable constables, who soon gained a reputation for honesty and efficiency in their pursuit of criminals and later came to be known as ‘the Bow Street Runners.’ But Fielding faced an uphill struggle against both organised crime in the capital, and the mistrust of the politicians who paid for his policemen.
George IV, The Prince Regent
In the late eighteenth century, the wealthy elite of Britain preferred to spend their money on personal security, rather than funding a communal police force. If you needed to track down a criminal there were plenty of ‘thief takers’ – an early form of bounty hunter – whom the rich could employ to drag a suspect into the dock. There was huge resistance to the notion of a centralised police force because of the brutal excesses of the French police system across the Channel, under the revolutionary fanatic, Joseph Fouché. Nevertheless, the crime fighting force started by Sir Henry Fielding expanded and gained national recognition.
By 1809, the year of my novels, the number of police personnel had dramatically increased and a horse patrol had been established to bring some law and order to the crime-infested outlying areas. Principal officers were restyled ‘detectives’ and had various roles. Apart from supporting their colleagues in the capital, they were often sent out to help magistrates in the provinces with difficult cases. They took part in undercover work in periods of insurrection, for example, during the Luddite riots in the Midlands.
The principal officers were a policing elite, famous throughout London, and the aristocracy loved them. They did security work for the Bank of England and acted as bodyguards for Royalty, especially the Prince Regent. They were the only policemen allowed into Buckingham House, the forerunner of the palace. On occasions they were even sent abroad to help with crimes and criminals who had spilled out over our borders onto the continent.
According to the records I have unearthed, Stephen Lavender spent a lot of his time working on difficult cases out in the provinces. Wealthy landowning citizens, like Nathanial Ogle of Kirkley Hall, could request the help of a principal officer. Bow Street would charge them a hefty fee and the detectives could claim lucrative expenses on top of their salary. Many principal officers became very rich.
The arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst
However, the Bow Street officers were still regarded with mistrust by the general population and there were many allegations of police corruption – some of them genuine. In 1829, the government charged Sir Robert Peel with the task of creating a new national police force; a force which was properly funded and more accountable. Following this transition, Stephen Lavender became the highly-respected Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester.
Bow Street itself remained a magistrates’ court until 2004. During its two hundred and fifty year reign as Britain’s most famous police station, it has had both the famous, and the infamous, pass across its threshold. From the legendary lover, Giacomo Casanova, to the murderer, Dr. Crippen, and the notorious East End gangsters, the Kray twins; from the famous mother and daughter suffragettes, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst to the brilliant, homosexual playwright, Oscar Wilde and more recently, the Chilean dictator , General Pinochet.
In that tense and frustrating period between the completion of my debut novel, Catching the Eagle, and securing a publisher for the book, the first seeds of a Regency whodunit began to germinate in my head. As far as I was concerned, there were only two policemen in England who could crack this mysterious case. I sat down at the computer and The Missing Heiress was born, with Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods as the main characters. Ultimately, Stephen Lavender was the man who charged our ancestor with stealing the Kirkley Hall rent money and placed him in the dock but I’ve never held that against him. He was the natural choice for the detective in my new novel. In my mind, he had grown from an interesting minor character to a fully-fledged and fascinating protagonist. The Missing Heiress flew off my keyboard like silk and I completed it in ten months.
In this first novel in a new series, the two policemen are called back to Northumberland, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful young heiress from a locked bedchamber. Convinced that this is a simple case of a young woman who has eloped with her lover, Lavender and Woods are later alarmed to discover a sinister world of madness, violence and secrets lurking behind the heavy oak door of the ancient pele tower at Linn Hagh.
The Missing Heiress was published by Knox Robinson Publishing on 6th December 2012.
(Article first published on Shots: Crime and Thriller eZine, December 2012)
The Frustrations of Plotting Crime Fiction
Artwork by Bradley Wind
Successful crime fiction needs the fertile imagination of a confident author who can plot with the precision of an engineer, while juggling motive, clues, suspects and conflict like a circus clown. It can be a frustrating process.
Crime fiction is essentially plot driven, which is rather annoying when you consider that it is primarily the strong character of the sleuths whom everyone remembers. From Sherlock Holmes to Miss Marple, Rebus to Morse, this truth is self-evident. No matter how well they are crafted, crime and thriller plots are easily forgotten. Yet, crime fiction demands a compelling and credible plot to sweep the reader to a satisfying dénouement.
Ideas for crime novels often come from seemingly unconnected events. Recently, I viewed a BBC program Imagine, which followed best-selling writer Ian Rankin for six months. I watched with fascination as he pulled out a battered manila folder bulging with press cuttings, scribbled notes and photographs. These unconnected events were the source of his inspiration.
The two unconnected events which led to my own novel were my desire to set readers the challenge of a locked room mystery and the chance discovery of a family will from 1770. Back then, ours was a dysfunctional family of ten half-siblings, two mothers and a mistrustful father. This damning document revealed that favouritism, injustice and cruelty were rife in that farmhouse. I began to imagine the burning resentment the will could ignite in the unbalanced mind of one of those spurned, and the murderous consequences which might follow.
A crime fiction writer who relies exclusively on real life murders for stimulation may find that their work becomes flat. Stripped of their grisly horror, real murderers are remarkably predictable and murder is one of the easiest crimes for the police to solve. Criminology reports throw up the same information time and time again. Murder victims tend to know their killer. A trio of three deadly motives, money, sex and revenge, generally lie behind the bloody act. Statistically, serial killings by fiendish monsters are a relatively rare occurrence. Women usually murder in self-defence or after years of abuse by a husband or partner, whereas men tend to kill out of sexual jealousy or as a matter of honour.
This is where the fertile imagination of the crime fiction author needs to enrich the banal, avoid the stereotypes, switch genders and exaggerate. Have the honour killings committed by a woman. Let two Hannibal Lecters lurk in the dank alleys of your sleepy town. Blur the edges of the motives. Yes, a large inheritance is an excellent reason to kill someone but alone it can become predictable and one-dimensional. Spice up your novel by allowing your sleuth to also uncover the murderer’s deep-seated psychological need to take revenge on the dead father who always favoured his youngest child.
Many, if not most, crime fiction writers fear readers will suss out their plot before the end of the book and be left disappointed. This fear sometimes pressures authors into the fantastical, or they create a plot with more twists and turns than a staircase in a New York skyscraper in order to stay one step ahead of the reader. These decisions can be a disaster. Crime fiction writers need self-confidence and control. Have faith in yourself and faith in the imagination of your readers. If you’ve got doubts about your plot ask for the help of a couple of honest friends to tell you how your storyline has developed.
I was initiated into the genre of crime fiction in the bizarre world of Murder Mystery Weekends at a luxury hotel. I wrote the scripts and directed the action but quickly learned that the guests’ imaginations were more twisted than my own. What seemed obvious to me, sent them spiralling off on a tangent. I didn’t need to create red-herrings; they went fishing and happily netted plenty for themselves. This experience gave me confidence. When I wrote The Missing Heiress, I felt comfortable drip feeding clues into my story, knowing that my readers would not always spot them or understand their significance. I wrote the book I wanted to write – and so should you.
Crime fiction writers also need supreme organisational skills and discipline. The first step is to strip the story down to its bare bones and pin point where the conflict lies. Make notes and place these sparse details onto a timeline or blank calendar which covers the timespan of your novel. This helps you keep track of everything - especially the suspects. Insert subtle clues into the plot and check your plan for pace, flow and balance. Is your sleuth’s investigation a frenzy of activity on some days, while not much happens on others? Does the conflict build gradually towards the climax of your book?
In its initial stages any novel is fluid and gradually evolves. Nothing is sacred, and authors can reinvent and reject until they settle on something that feels right and continues to feel right. But as criminal investigations intensify one wrongly placed incident can throw the whole thing off track.
Half way through writing The Missing Heiress, I hit a wall. I just couldn’t see the ‘big picture’ of my novel on the computer screen. So I grabbed the family noticeboard from the kitchen and divided it up into days. I scribbled down the scenes of my novel onto post-it notes and pinned them into the cork. It worked. I now had a physical representation of how my story would unfold and could shuffle everything around with ease until balance and pace were restored. On top of this, I had the added satisfaction of watching the post-it notes vanish as my novel crept towards the finish line.
I have since learnt that Apple Mac have devised an ingenious computer program called Scrivener which provides a digital representation of a cork noticeboard. No doubt, it reduces the frustration of some authors busy plotting crime fiction. However, I wonder if it can mimic the kinaesthetic satisfaction I experienced when I ripped down those final post-it notes, rolled them into a ball and hurled them into the bin?
This article was first printed in The View from Here magazine on December 3rd, 2012.
The View from Here online literary magazine has published my article on 'The Frustrations of Plotting Crime Fiction.'
If you are interested in writing crime fiction, or who just wants to know how I wrote The Missing Heiress then please feel free to check it out... oh, and please leave a comment on the page.The View From Here Magazine
SECOND NOVEL TO BE PUBLISHED BY KRP
I am delighted to announce that my second novel, The Missing Heiress, will be published by Knox Robinson Publishing on December 6th 2012. It is the first in a new series of Regency mystery novels called The Detective Lavender Series.
Set in Northumberland 1809, The Missing Heiress is a spin-off novel from my first book and features two of the minor characters: Detective Stephen Lavender and his good-natured sidekick, Constable Woods. Their first case in the series takes them back to Northumberland to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful heiress.
Detective Stephen Lavender was a real historical figure. One of the first principal officers with the Bow Street magistrates court in London, he became the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester after the formation of the police force by Sir Robert Peel. Landowner, Nathanial Ogle, called Detective Lavender up from London to solve the mystery of the Kirkley Hall Robbery in 1809 (the subject of Catching the Eagle. ) Ultimately, Lavender was the man who placed our ancestor in the dock. But we don’t hold that against him.
I loved creating the characters of Lavender and the comical Constable Woods when I wrote my first novel, and I quickly decided that that I didn't want to let them go. The strong personality of the intelligent detective became one of my favourite characters and the dialogue and rapport which developed between him and his fictional assistant was great fun to write. I felt that I had created a winning duo of crime fighters.
I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery. In fact, many years ago I wrote ‘Murder Mystery Weekends’ for Raven Hall Hotel and won a Yorkshire Tourist Board award for them. Last year, the first seeds of a plot for a whodunit began to germinate in my head. Before I knew it, I had a Regency mystery to solve and as far as I was concerned there were only two policemen in England who could crack this case. I sat down at the computer and The Missing Heiress was born.
Writing Heiress was fun. It slid off my keyboard like silk and I finished it in ten months. Because it is pure fiction, I never felt constrained by historical fact and it was an unfettered pleasure to write. I particularly enjoyed creating the female characters in The Missing Heiress. My first novel was dominated by men because the historical records decreed it so; they dominated the crime, the investigation and the ensuing court cases. In Heiress I created a diverse range of women from the delightful young maid, Anna; to the mysterious gypsy girl, Laurel Faa Geddes and the intelligent Katherine Armstrong. I loved breathing life into these women and hope that I gave them a significant voice in this book.
The Missing Heiress is already available to pre-order from amazon.
The Missing Heiress....
Northumberland, November 1809: When heiress, Helen Carnaby, vanishes into the night. Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods are summoned from London to find her.
‘Oh it's nothing I’m sure you can’t handle, Stephen. Apparently, the girl vanished from a locked bed chamber. Shouldn't take you long to fathom that one out, should it? You’ll be back in Bow Street within a fortnight.’
Convinced, at first, that this is just a simple case of a young girl eloping with a lover, Lavender and Woods are alarmed to discover a sinister, murderous world of madness, violence and secrets lurking behind the closed doors of an ancient and respected family home. Why did Helen Carnaby flee on that wintry October night? How did she get out of her locked bed chamber? And where is she now?
Hindered by Helen's uncooperative half-brother and sister, distracted by gypsies, rebellious farmers, highwaymen and an attractive and feisty spanish senora, Helen Carnaby's disappearance is to prove one of the most perplexing mysteries of Lavender's career.
Set in the beautiful market town of Bellingham, Lavender and Woods eventually strip away the facade and discover the grim truth which lies behind the closed doors of Linn Hagh, the Carnaby family's pele tower.
The Missing Heiress is the first in a series of Regency whodunits featuring Detective Lavender and Constable Woods.
This series is not subject to a publishing agreement. The opening chapters are available to read free in 'Works in Progress.'
A busy, busy summer...
The front and back of my new postcards
I did not get much chance to notice the blistering heat and balmy evenings of summer 2011. During the six week school holiday, I was so busy with marketing, writing and researching book two in the Regency Reiver series, that I forgot to nip into the back garden and top up my tan. What's that? I would probably have caught pneumonia if I had tried to sunbathe this year? Oh well, maybe next year. ;)
Marketing Catching the Eagle
This is going well. I have read the tomes which were recommended to me about how to market your book. Following this, I had some fantastic postcards printed with the book cover on the front and the blurb and other details on the back (see above.) Armed with these, I jumped into the car and set off for Northumberland. As you can see from the forthcoming events column, I managed to interest four Waterstones managers in book signings. The Northumberland Book Launch is organised at Kirkley Hall and the guest list seems to be getting larger all the time. I am also investigating the beautiful Middlesbrough Reference Library for my Teesside Book Launch. Thanks to help from my friend Jill Boulton, I have put a press pack together and we are about to start approaching the media.
The Missing Heiress
A Detective Lavender Mystery
I had hoped to have had this nearly finished by now but it is only half way through. However, the writing is going smoothly and I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I have decided that 30,000 words is not bad for four months work.
Is this our James Charlton?
Researching Book Two in the Regency Reivers Series
We have taken two trips to The National Archives in Kew this summer, and spent four very long and tiring days pouring over 200 year old, dusty manuscripts, searching for further details about Jamie Charlton's fascinating life. He has never been an easy character to pin down in the archives but we have now got some very tantalising leads. Of course, most of his escapades were because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time - he should have been awarded a medal for this skill - he definitely was a born survivor when it came to dealing with the curved balls which fate dealt him. Quite frankly, I think that people are going to be very surprised about what happened next. Book Two in the series is already an amazing journey for me - and hopefully it will for the readers, as well... :)
Plotting and Planning...
I recently arrived at a very confusing stage in the writing of The Missing Heiress. I had spent a long time laying down the chronological outline of the plot into an excel document but I could not work with it. Every time I thought of a new clue, redherring or lead for Detective Lavender to follow, I struggled to place it into the scheme.
I just couldn't see the 'big picture' using the excel format and the 'balance' did not seem right. There is majot event about three quarters of the way through The Missing Heiress. My plan revealed too much information in the days leading up to this event and left nothing for Lavender to uncover afterwards. On some days, his investigation was a frenzy of activity - on others not much happened at all.
I had read somewhere that many authors use postcards to help them with the hundreds of ideas flashing around in their imagination. Events and scenes can be written down on postcards and shuffled around physically, to see how they follow each other and build up to the climax. Well, I didn't have any postcards handy but I had a pair of scissors and plenty of paper. Two hours later, I had a huge pile of paper slips, all covered with scribbled notes.
The next thing to do, was to lay them out in a chronological format which worked. I needed something big. Whilst the family were away at a football match, I requisition the kitchen noticed board, covered it with paper and marked out large squares. Each square was a different day of the investigation. Finally, I laid out my scribbled notes and shuffled them around until I felt the plot flowed smoothly and balance was restored.
It worked. Delighted with the results, I promptly sat down and wrote another 1,000 words. Is this the way to beat writers' block, I wonder? I can see at a glance where I am going next and I love the tactile and visual nature of my two foot by three foot novel plan. I look forward to steadily removing the slips of paper, binning them and gradually watching the kitchen notice board reappear.
Sadly, my family were not impressed with my brilliant idea when they returned home from the match. They were more concerned that the flyers from the pizza takeaway shops had disappeared. It took a while before peace was eventually restored...and I think I'm going to have to buy another kitchen notice board. ;)
Beautiful, beautiful Bellingham...
The cricket pitch outside our hotel room
We have just returned from a very pleasurable stay at the Riverdale Hotel, Bellingham, on the banks of the River Tyne.
The food there is fantastic and it is one of our favourite places to just chill out. Bellingham is also the setting for the first novel in The Detective Lavender Series: The Missing Heiress.
Naturally, we were not going to miss out on the opportunity to combine a bit of research with some hedonistic pleasure. ;)
Elsdon Pele Tower
In my novel, a young woman, Helen Carnaby, disappears in mysterious circumstances from her family home in October 1809. She lives with her half-brothers and sister in an ancient Pele Tower which I have called Linn Hagh (from the old words for 'waterfall' and 'hall.') Pele Towers were family homes. They were built for protection during the dark days of the Border Reivers, when this area of Northumberland, was a lawless, no man's land between two warring nations. Linn Hagh Pele Tower is a figment of my imagination, but in the novel I have based it on the famous Pele Tower at Elsdon (still a private residence.)
The case of The Missing Heiress is investigated by Detective Stephen Lavender and his assistant, Constable Woods.
Between my fictitious Linn Hagh and Bellingham, are the very real Hareshaw Woods. This steep-sided ravine is virtually inpenetrable, apart from the single path which meanders alongside the river. Above the path, the hillside rises steeply up to the rocky crags above. Many trees are contorted into grotesque shapes as they try to defy gravity, balance and reach the sunlight all at the same time. Some of the tree trunks are split like the sides of Chinese paper lanterns. Most of them are covered in moss, many sport a fabulous display of giant fungi. Fallen trees can look like huge serpents or prehistoric monsters.
The path crosses the river at several points as it heads towards the waterfall - Hareshaw Linn. This was our favourite bridge. Here, Chris and I saw a dipper bobbing in an out of the water from the slimy, black rocks below. Earlier we had seen a small flock of goldfinches weaving around collecting seeds from a cloud of thistledown.
Finally, we reached the magnificent Hareshaw Linn. At over 100ft high the waterfall is a spectacular sight and extremely noisy, as hundreds of gallons of water crash down onto the black, Jurassic rocks below. Combined with the overhanging sides of the gorge above, it is also quite unnerving. Huge boulders jut up from the black pool like tombstones. We made this journey on a brilliantly sunny day. Just imagine how forbidding it must be in in the depths of an icy winter - or in those dark, brooding days of late autumn, when The Missing Heiress is set.
Reluctantly we turned around, and headed back for the hotel. The entire walk was about seven miles from start to finish and I loved every step of it. Although, I have to confess that I had a good half an hour nap when we got back, while Chris watched the cricket match from the patio outside our room.
The Birth of a New Book
At last the muse is with me.
And I've found the time to make a start. :)
I sat down yesterday evening and started plotting my new novel onto an excel sheet. Just twenty two chapters at the moment, with a few sentences each, and a massive 'to do' list at the bottom, concerning the research I need to undertake. It has got no title (although, I think the words 'disappearing heiress' may feature prominently) and it is very, very rough. But it is a start. Detective Lavender and Constable Woods have another case to solve.
The location is sorted and it will mean spending more time spent at one of our favourite hotels, The Riverdale in Bellingham, wandering around beautiful Northumberland to get 'a feel' for the backdrop. How we have to suffer for our art... ;)
I'm looking forward to a good summer. Research aside, I'm setting myself a target of 5000 words a week for the next seven weeks and then maybe, 1000 words a day during the six weeks school summer holiday. Hopefully, it should be finished by September. It will not be as long as Catching the Eagle but the events only span six weeks, rather than the twenty six months of my first book.
Wish me luck, folks.