Research for A Silent Stabbing
(Originally posted on the Chicks on the Case blog)
I do a lot of research for my writing, much of it intentional, some of it accidental. Since I write two books a year, alternating series, it means that while I’m writing, say, a Gilded Newport book, I’ve got to start thinking about and plotting the next Lady’s Maid. That doesn’t give me much (or any) down time, and there are times when I think, “Yikes, what’ll I write about next??” Of course, that’s where research comes in to generate new ideas, but sometimes you just stumble on things and ideas spring up where you least expect them.
Take A Silent Stabbing. I was in the middle of Murder at Kingscote and one evening after a long day of writing, feeling generally braindead and certainly not planning to start plotting my next book, I sat down to watch one of my favorite “relaxation” shows: Escape to the Country. If you haven’t seen it, it’s like House Hunters, only set in the English countryside.
This particular episode happened to be in the Cotswolds region and I thought, “Great, that’s where my series takes place. Should be fun.” The show always includes a segment on local culture and traditions, and this one featured something about the Cotswolds I hadn’t stumbled upon previously—Perry. What’s perry you ask? It’s a hard cider made from pears, and apparently there’s no better perry than that made in the Coltswolds. The people there love their perry.
Now, being a big fan of “living research,” I hunted down where I could actually buy perry so I could try it. I chose Samuel Smith’s Organic imported Perry (they also makes a lovely organic chocolate stout, by the way). I’ll say this: it’s very sweet (and I have a sweet tooth). Even sweeter than hard apple cider. I've since had it again and decided I do, indeed like it, but I digress.
Suddenly, an orchard bursting with autumn pears waiting to be harvested formed in my mind, owned by two brothers: one who cares very much about the family tradition of perry-making, and one who doesn’t and wants to sell out, to an obnoxious developer wanting to build a resort on the land. Can you guess what happens next? Oh, and did I mention there’s an entire village unwilling to give up their favorite drink, who’ll do anything to keep the orchard and brewery up and running, even to the point of fibbing to the chief inspector?
Luckily, Phoebe Renshaw and her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford, believe as much in preserving local tradition as they do in seeing justice done. Can they catch a killer and save the perry too?
So how often does a little research influence the plots of my books in surprising ways? Pretty often. For instance, in my upcoming Gilded Newport mystery, Murder at Kingscote (August 25, 2020), the premise was built around Newport's first auto parade, held in the summer of 1899, which I happened upon while perusing newspapers from that year. This, combined with what I learned about the members of the King family and a mysterious woman claiming to be the rightful heir of the King fortune, made Murder at Kingscote a lot of fun to write!
Now, when I sit down to write a book, I always look forward to the surprises I'll find!