A guest post by author Helen Hollick on using familiar and unfamiar settings in fiction
Setting in A Mistake of Murder
The third Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery by Helen Hollick
They say ‘write what you know about’, which is all well and good, but as a writer of historical fiction and nautical adventure, I don’t know any Romano-British people, anyone who actually fought at the Battle of Hastings, nor any early eighteenth-century pirates.
Chingford Library, North London
I did, however, work in a North London suburb public library during the 1970s, so I chose this era and location as a background setting for my venture into the Cosy Mystery Genre.
A familiar location – the ‘where’ – is, in fact, probably more practical for a writer in the ‘what you know about’ stakes. Buildings, roads and such can change through the centuries, after a long while perhaps rivers too, but the general ‘lie of the land’ stays pretty much the same.
When writing my Arthurian Trilogy (back in the 1980s!) I went up to the top of Glastonbury Tor to study the view. The tower atop the Tor would not have been there in the fifth/sixth centuries, nor the roads or houses spread all around below, but the shape of the Tor itself – and the trudge up it – would not have altered that much. Nor would the apparent flatness of the Somerset levels or the distant surrounding hills. I could smell the grass, hear and feel the wind as it brushed my left cheek… all that was enough to give me the atmosphere I needed to bring those particular scenes alive.
The same with the sea. OK so I’ve never sailed on a pirate ship. In truth, I’ve never been aboard a moving tall ship. The largest sailboat I’ve been in was a small pleasure craft Mirror Dinghy. But I have been aboard a cruise liner, I have crossed various seas on modern ferries. The smell, sound and general feel of the sea really doesn’t change that much.
For the location of my library in Chingford, North London, I decided to use many of the real places and buildings that are either still there, or were, back in the ‘70s. The library itself is still there in Hall Lane, but alas, it is now offices, not a library. (The Council, shame on them, closed the library due to lack of money.) So the Old Church atop Chingford Mount features, as does the Odeon cinema – no longer there. The blue police telephone box was in Albert Crescent where the buses terminated. Those police boxes, so familiar to us all back then, which is why one was chosen as Dr Who’s TARDIS – even the early scriptwriters could not envision those police boxes would be superseded by mobile phones!
Another decision I made, however, was to change the names of any roads or locations where a murder would take place, (although the names I use instead are fairly similar to the real thing.) I made this choice because I didn’t want to offend or upset anyone living there today. To write about a fictional murder in XXXX Avenue, only to discover there really had been a murder there, I thought, could be a little insensitive.
Fiction is fiction, stories made up with the imaginative bits mixed in with the factual research detail. Using your knowledge of locations can bring that novel to vivid life.
Helen Hollick’s crime fiction (so far):
Jan Christopher #1 A Mirror Murder
Jan Christopher #2 A Mystery of Murder
Jan Christopher #3 A Mistake of Murder
In Book 3 There are a series of burglaries, and an elderly person is murdered. Can library assistant Jan Christopher help discover whether murder was a deliberate deed – or a tragic mistake?
January 1972. The Christmas and New Year holiday is over and it is time to go back to work. Newly engaged to Detective Sergeant Lawrence Walker, library assistant Jan Christopher is eager to show everyone her diamond ring, and goes off on her scheduled round to deliver library books to the housebound – some of whom she likes; some, she doesn’t. She encounters a cat in a cupboard, drinks several cups of tea… and loses her ring.
When two murders are committed, can Jan help her policeman uncle, DCI Toby Christopher and her fiancé, Laurie, discover whether murder was a deliberate deed – or a tragic mistake?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and Helen also writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages.
In recent years, Helen has also branched out into the quick read ‘Cozy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s. The first in the series, A Mirror Murder, includes some of her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.
Helen’s non-fiction: Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler.
She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon where she occasionally gets time to write.
A Mistake of Murder by Helen Hollick available on Amazon or order from any bookstore. Paperback and e-book available.
Helen’s Amazon author page: https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
Helen’s Website: https://helenhollick.net/
Subscribe to Helen’s Newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick