Monaco, Hollywood, Big Bear Mountain Lakes, Eastern Europe, and Murder.
Location, Location, Location…we all know the importance of location when house-hunting or selling. We all have an ideal place we would love to live – the countryside, by the sea, in a ‘cool and trendy,’ city apartment: location matters.
It also matters when choosing where to set our stories. As writers we paint a scene with our words, our descriptions, we strive to give our readers enough material for them to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. I believe that we all ‘picture’ characters and locations in different ways and our readers most likely ‘envisage’ our worlds in totally different ways to each other.
I have my own character’s description in my mind’s eye when I read Peter James’ lead character in his Roy Grace books, and when he announced the actor to play him on screen I was flumuxed; he looked nothing like the Roy I had envisioned. I’m anticipating seeing the locations in Brighton where the series is set because, although I am familiar with parts of Brighton, I don’t know it all. So I have had to imagine some of them when reading Peter’s books. I am keen to know if I picture the locations accurately.
When I’ve read Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple I have St. Mary Mead as clear as day inside my head, the way her cottage looks, what the street outside is like, and the style of houses in her village. I imagine the setting for the village to be located in my idea of a rural idyll. I think that one of the reasons I love the Joan Hickson Miss Marple TV series is because the settings are as close to my imagined locations as it can get.
As I was writing my short stories for Undercover: Crime Shorts, I thought long and hard about the locations where I wanted them to take place. I thought about towns, villages, and rural locations I’ve visited over many years of national and international travel, and with these locations in mind I decided where to place my characters according to each story.
Sweet Sable: The Red Siren is located mostly in Hollywood in 1939 and I had to research locations and businesses very carefully before deciding upon my settings. I looked into The Sand and Pool Club, a popular Beveley Hills watering hole, for example, frequented by movie and music stars, and movie moguls during the late 1930s. I had a mental image of what it looked like, how the patrons dressed, and what they would have to drink after reading about the venue. It was great fun to play around with what I learned from my research, and I am very pleased with the written outcome. When Sable sets her lover up for blackmail, and possibly murder, during a visit to the Sand and Pool Club I know I am as accurate as I can be.
I’ve spent a great deal of my working life in the Hollywood of the present day and many of the locations in my story are still visible if you know where to look.
Big Bear Mountain and lakes is a fabulous place to visit and only a couple of hours drive from the centre of Los Angeles. I decided to place Sable and her hide-away there. I know the area well having stayed there many times, and those of you who are into movies may well have watched one of the many produced and filmed up there, without realising it. It is rural, and there is wilderness, and alongside a thriving population it is frequented by tourists visiting for summer and winter sports.
Sweet Sable arrives back in Big Bear just as filming of the movie, Gone with the Wind, is under production, and she observes Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable as she goes about her shopping chores.
Another story, Apartment 206c, takes place in New York, in a Brownstone apartment block – similar to the one John Lennon lived in with Yoko Ono before he died – complete with a conciege on duty in the lobby. The stairwells and elevators play a huge part in my tale of murder, Russian thugs and the FBI.
My story, Murder by Christmas, is set in a small rural English village community that survived the Beeching cuts of the 1960s and still has its own railway station. It is a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone else. A setting just ripe for secrets, blackmail and murder.
The village postman has a terrible, shameful, secret, which if exposed, will ruin his reputation and his life. Can he do what is necessary to benefit from a legacy he has been left, thus enabling him to take his secret to his grave? He stresses over his task, wondering about a new life, an escape from twitching net curtains, a fresh start somewhere he can be himself. Could he bring himself to do it?
A dead millionaire’s secretary thinks she has the dirt on her late employer and will not hesitate to use it to get what she wants. But someone is observing her with her many sugar daddies who cross her palm with silver in return for services rendered – that someone would love to see the secretary’s new home gym. They’ve decided they can and will do whatever it takes to start a new life in another country, leaving the past behind.
The late millionaire’s cleaner is known as a woman of high standing and morals and if her secret gets out she will have to kiss her plans for getting on to the parish council, goodbye. Could she really do it? Could she do what her late employer bids her to do to keep her secret safe?
Six people are summoned to a solictor’s office to hear the reading of a will, each expects to benefit, but only three can – provided they undertake certain tasks on their own door-step, in their own village where nothing ever happens, apparently.
What would you do in order to collect a legacy? How far would you be prepared to go? As far as murder?
A man travels the world on behalf of Queen and country. He has diplomatic immunity, he is the epitomy of respectability, but he has a secret which follows him from country to country in my story, The Honey Trap. He loves his secret, it is what makes him tick. He enjoys – even thrives – upon the intrigue, the excitement, and the danger his secret affords him. He is untouchable as he travels the world. He is sent to Eastern Europe where the opportunities are plentiful and he is not disappointed. My setting is a typical hotel room – annonymous and impersonal, yet functional for his purposes.
Monaco. Imagine being able to afford to live in the beautiful Principality. In my story, The Look, my main characters are not what they seem to be. She joins a Facebook group and meets a man online who shares her passion for photography, he is who she is looking for.
To him she is the perfect subject. They agree to meet in real life to photograph a local mill. The setting is beside the river on a beautiful summer afternoon where an old mill wheel churms the water with its huge paddles, as swans and ducks swim past and the birds sing. Two photograph the mill, but only one leaves the waterside alive, able to return to the playground of the rich and famous.
These are just a few examples of the settings I use and the locations I have chosen for some of the short stories in Undercover: Crime Shorts.
If you’d like to learn more please tune in to my interview on theauthorsshow.com today on channel 4, or any time – I am in archives too – by going to the link below and clicking on Undercover: Crime Shorts or my name.
I’m chatting to my lovely host, Linda Thompson, about writing, plotting, my inspiration, and I read from Apartment 206c. It is a fun interview and I loved it. I hope you will too.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom Fast-paced, well written, page-turner that had me so engrossed my train journey flew by. The author clearly has done a lot of research, these short stories all felt very authentic and each had me gripped and on the edge of my seat wondering how they would play out. It’s been a long time since I read anything quite so intriguing and twisty. It certainly got my heart beating faster and I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great murder, mystery.