Having just published my third novel in the same mystery series, it has dawned on me that my books unintentionally reflect an interesting side of my character.
My first two books were set on the fictional Isle of Garansay and, like Anne Cleves’ series set on the Shetland Islands, place this beautiful location at the very heart of their storylines. Yet, what really unites my novels are the main characters; the husband and wife amateur sleuths, Imogen and Hugh Croft. Although Imogen hails from Garansay, the couple actually live in rural east Essex – not far from where I live now with my husband and children and a few miles from where I grew up. My third book is set almost entirely in this part of the world, which is equally as atmospheric, but in many ways quite different from the rugged Scottish Island of the earlier instalments.
Confusing? It shouldn’t be. Apart from my student days in York, I have lived all but six months of my life in the south east of England. I was born, however, in Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands and my parents are both Scots. In fact, my dad grew up on the stunning Isle of Arran – upon which Garansay is based.
We spent every family holiday on Arran as children and still go there most summers now. It is a wonderful island and in many ways it feels like home to me. But so does Essex. Without fully realising it, through my writing, I have created a set of characters who reflect my strange tendency to feel I belong in two very distinct places at once. Don’t get me wrong, Essex is my home and if anyone where to ask me, that is what I would tell them. But a chunk of me is always restless for those hills and lochs of the Western Isles. This is probably why I have decided to devote so much of my time to writing about them. It’s an environment where I feel comfortable and safe and perhaps a little nostalgic too. Isn’t that what writing is all about? To take our readers on a very special journey, to a place we think they will love just as much as we do?
As a result of this narrative split, I have created something that I had not consciously set out to do – I have a series of books with two very distinct locations, united by a single family. My novels will return to Garansay in the future without a doubt, but they will also have a firm base in Essex and the south east coast that I also know so well. And does this sense of duality work? I really believe the answer is yes. These days, very few of us would call only one area their true home. The world has become a much smaller place in recent decades and as writers we should make sure that we reflect that fact in the stories we create.