Today I have the wonderful Sharon Jones, author of the contemporary murder mystery Dead Jealous, on the blog talking about settings and in particular, The Lake District. The setting of Dead Jealous was one of the things that really made the book stand apart from others when I read it and I love hearing more about how Sharon came up with that and what kind of prompting that took. So enough of me wittering on, over to Sharon…
For me, writing a place is just like writing a character. I need to know its moods, its strengths and weaknesses. I need to be able to see it in my head and know what it feels like to walk on that land.
I wrote most of Dead Jealous when I was living in Warwickshire and before that I’d lived in Cambridge for a couple of years. Having grown up in shadow of a Lancashire hill, I always found those places a bit flat. I know some people love being able to see big skies and land that go on and on and on… but me? I’m more at home sheltered by hills. It was probably a certain amount of homesickness that led me to locate the Pagan festival that is the setting for Dead Jealous in Cumbria where there isn’t just hills, but fells and lakes and roads that turn driving into an adrenaline sport. I probably love the Lake District more than anywhere else on earth and I knew it was the perfect place to set my murder mystery.
But I was living in the Midlands and I couldn’t afford to take a research trip, and so most of what’s written is drawn from a collection of memories from various daytrips and the memories they evoked. I decided to make up my own lake, thus Scariswater was born, but I also wanted to put in some real locations to ground the story very firmly in this reality.
Then, well after Dead Jealous had sold to Orchard and I’d moved back to Lancashire, my lovely cousin Tom took me on a day trip to the Lake District so we could scout some locations and I could check that I’d really remembered things as they were. It wasn’t a great day. The rain was crashing down with no sign of stopping but we were determined to make the most of our time and we were in agreement that the billowing clouds and mist only added to the atmosphere. We ended up having a great day and what struck me most was how accurate my memories were.
Agitated by the wind, Lake Windermere washed up against the sides of the yachts. Tackle clinked together like ghostly bells. On the far shore, wisps of grey cloud were rising up against the evening sky to join the heavy clouds that had collected over the hilltops.
The picture above was taken on our day trip… but the words were written months before from a memory. It was quite spooky!
Next I wanted to find Poppy’s house. I had an image of what it looked like in my head, and I new I wanted it to be in Windermere, which is actually up the hill from Lake Windermere and Bowness. Tom said he knew were there were the kinds of house I was talking about and we went in search. He’d got it spot on. When we drove into the street, it was exactly what I’d imagined. There was one house that was kind of what I’d imagined, but Tom told me to hold on, because he thought further down the street were houses more like what I was looking for. He was right! When I saw this house it was like I’d walked into Poppy’s world. (I then felt like a complete stalker taking a photo!)
Now, in my head, Cumbria is a strange mish-mash of the real and the imaginary. Scariswater, that hourglass shaped lake where most of the action happens is just as real to me as Windermere where I have fed the swans and eaten chips after a long day’s fell walking. Maybe that makes me a bit strange? Don’t answer that!
The next Poppy Sinclair thriller, Dead Silent, is set in a very different place with a very different character. Cambridge is a cathedral of a town with winding side streets that run like veins between the ancient colleges. There is no town prettier than Cambridge in the summer, but in the winter months mist and darkness transform the delicately carved masonry and mysterious doorways and statues into a gothic dream. The perfect place for another murder mystery! It’s been a few years since I was last in Cambridge, but in a couple of days I’m going back just to check my memories and hopefully add a little colour to Dead Silent before emailing it off to my editor.
To me it feels natural to add a little imaginary geography into real places, but I know some people get very agitated if writers get geography wrong.
So what do you think? Do you mind made-up mixed up with real? Or do you prefer books to take geographical accuracy seriously?
Thank you Sharon, brilliant blog post and I love that really atmospheric image of Lake Windermere! Also Poppy’s house is beautiful! For readers; Dead Jealous was published on July 4th by Orchard Books. If you want to check out my review of Dead Jealous you can do so here and I have also embedded the trailer for the book, and copied the summary for you below! Enjoy!
Jealousy can be murder…
People think of Mother Nature as a gentle lady. They forget that she’s also Death…
Sixteen-year-old Poppy Sinclair believes in quantum particles, not tarot cards, in Dawkins, not druids. Last summer, in a boating accident in the Lake District, Poppy had a brush with death. But the girl she finds face down in Scariswater hasn’t been so lucky. As she fights to discover the truth behind what she believes is murder, Poppy is forced to concede that people and things are not always what they seem and, slipping ever deeper into a web of lies, jealousy and heart-stopping danger, she comes to realise – too late – that the one thing that can save her has been right there, all the time.