I’d always wanted to write a novel. Who doesn’t, right? I’d written a few children’s stories done some illustrating for friends, done some professional illustrating and artwork. Okay. But I wanted to write something like a novel. And my favorite pass-time reading is murder mysteries.
The first time I determined to write a novel, I began to write. I hand wrote, filling a lot of composition spirals, did my research, hand-wrote more or less a plot. But I didn’t like it. It wasn’t good enough.
The morning after a bad dream I wrote it down. The story, I wrote in a logical beginning, middle and end which real dreams rarely have, turned into six neat pages. There was conflict. It was fairly interesting. I took it to my critique group at Houston Writer’s Guild and Tony told me “there’s way too much you’re not telling us. This needs to be a novel.”
Great, I thought, how do I start? I thought about it for a few days. The first chapter has to have an eye-opening, cut-to-the-quick scene. Do I open with the murder? Do I open with the victim confronting the killer? Do I open after the deed has been done? AND most importantly was this really a murder? I wasn’t sure. It was bad but was it murder bad?
In early versions I opened with the deed done. In later versions this morphed into the killer confronting the victim. Then later, the victim’s point of view was included. And still later, the victim became not a dead girl but a kidnapped girl.
But the kidnapper was still a killer. His inaction was not weakness. One victim at a time, please.
Now the setting was a matter that needed serious thought. The terrain or setting is extremely important in any story. In this one there had to be a beach, a lot of fields, a storm of great magnitude, a cave, an ancient house with secret passages. Hmmm. Where could that be?
I’ve always. ALWAYS been a fan of British Murder Mysteries. I think because in the place of guts, gratuitous sex, and unnecessary language there is the best hook of all – suspense. Alfred Hitchcock hook ’em with shadows suspense. PLUS I happen to adhere to the school of “write what you LOVE” not “write what you know.” Because if you love something truly, you will know it through the research you will do to write it.
So naturally the setting had to be in Britain – but where? Should I choose my own ancestral home of Scotland? I’ve grandparents from both Glasgow or Edinburgh? Or can I manipulate my Texas-born heroine to consider the warmer climes of Cornwall?
The answer came after I viewed the mood-setting “Coming Home”, “Wuthering Heights (the newer one), and of course the best of all – “Rebecca” (the old one). Creepy stuff. Love it.
It took me a year to write the entire story, taking the chapters one at a time to critique group and writing and re-writing everything a ga-zillion times. I researched Cornwall and established friendships with an inspector with the London Metropolitan Police, a nurse in Devon, and the owners of the best little Bed and Breakfast in Cornwall (more on that later, if you want more info on that- ask). With lots of questions and making myself a real nuisance with queries about titles, and names, and the way things are pronounced. This was before all the flood of books on the subject which are now on the market.
It is amazing that a country so close to ours in culture and language is soooooo different! There are as many colloquial sayings, different accents and different cultures within England as we have here in America. It is an endless fascination for me.
In all this I researched the material I needed through the internet. A wondrous thing. This was before September 11, 2001 and the open government policies on police procedures and the available brochures from the Home Office were beneficial.
But I didn’t have a FEEl for the place still. I knew that in order for my novel to have any kind of honesty about it I needed to go to England. I needed to taste and smell the place. Something, thankfully the internet can’t provide yet. So I set my plans in motion.
My family didn’t have any desire to travel clear across the “great pond” to stare at grass in Cornwall. My neighbor Elizabeth was more than thrilled to accompany me.
Meanwhile, I invited the Met Inspector to lunch via email to pay him back for all the putting up with repeated questions and endless emails. He had also agreed to read the clumsy tome itself which was an added bonus for me.
Elizabeth and I set out for England. A grand adventure for both of us. She would see relatives she hadn’t seen in years and I would see … what? The place my forefather’s left. The place that had always been in my blood. Why I read and watched anything and everything English. That was where I was going. I was going home.
The plane touched down and I looked out on a gray morning like all the gray English mornings in London I had ever read about. The drizzle inching down the plane windows and the cold hitting me as I disembarked. So unlike Houston. I was thrilled. My heart sang. Here it was … England, at last!
It was a week of amazement and wonder. The first thing Elizabeth and I did was visit her cousin whom she called “Auntie”. Auntie offered us kippers and eggs. I had never had kippers and eggs. I can truly say now that I won’t ever again have kippers and eggs. I happen to love smoked herring which is what kippers are. But our canned smoked herring is a far cry from the vacuum packaged smoked herring I had that morning. I got it down and it stayed, but I didn’t feel like eating the rest of that day.
My kind, generous, wonderful hosts at “The Old Rectory” Bed and Breakfast just outside Boscastle, Cornwall drove me everywhere. They wouldn’t ask but I offered money for their gas. I don’t think I gave them enough, I just have that sinking feeling, because petrol (gas) there is so much more there than it is here. It’s the VAT. Drat the VAT!
Back in London it was time to meet and take the inspector out to lunch. I didn’t realize it but he was nervous because before lunch he wanted to meet at a Starbucks. And he brought a colleague. After all, it was an email friendship. I could have been anyone or anything!! We met. I passed because we had a great time. After a full lunch at “The American Cafe” he took me to meet his family and his wife served “high tea” which is usually served at about four but they were so nice to give me tea and finger sandwiches and desserts at ten at night.Thank you, Anne for serving high tea out-of-place.
That’s one thing I wasn’t used to. Here in America we tend to go to bed early. Maybe it is the old Ben Franklin early-to-bed-early-to-rise thing but in England they eat later and hit the hay later. So I think I got back to the London Bed and Breakfast around twelve. Elizabeth had been worried. We didn’t have cell phones back then. I apologize again, Elizabeth. It was thoughtless.
The next day it was time to go and I cried and I sobbed and I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay forever. I don’t know. Maybe because Elizabeth and I were so well-treated. We felt like stars at every turn. Maybe it was the Foot and Mouth that had kept all the other tourist away so that E and I were just about the only foreigners in Cornwall that week … I don’t know. It was a wonderful trip where words can’t quite convey how great it was.
I met a good friend Jamie on the train between London and Cornwall. (Hi Jamie, told you I’d include you here.) I met Sharon and found a soul-mate. I met lots of wonderful people who brought alive that England which I had stored up as a dream.
I got the book researched. Smells and tastes included.
It was a good place to go. There aren’t so many murders, really. That’s the point isn’t it? The quiet, peaceful village and then the piercing scream? Ha! It’s fiction. England is everything it was ever chalked up to be in all the books. I recommend it.
Years passed while I DIDN’T work on the novel because I wanted to write a children’s fantasy novel that had me intrigued. Then my father passed away and I couldn’t write or think of anything but trying to work out the logistics of getting my invalid mother to a safe environment. They lived out in the countryside.
When I went to rewrite the novel, it took a different course. It isn’t so much mystery as suspense now. So let’s see what happens soon with this.