Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Location, Location, Location….by Cathy Ace

So it’s time to turn to the question of place and setting in writing…which is great! For me, the setting is critical. It shapes the entire tale. It is, for me, usually one of my critical starting points.

Niçoise book, Niçoise tablecoth! 
For those of you familiar with my Cait Morgan Mysteries, you’ll know each one is set in a different country, and I honestly believe the story I tell in each book couldn’t happen the way it does anywhere else in the world. Each book is completely immersed in, and in many cases springs from, the history, art, architecture, culture, people, food and drink of its setting. The critical framing elements of each story are specifically tied to the location. 

This has been the case since the first in the series, THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE is set in Nice, in the South of France. The mixture of incomers (wealthy non-French inhabitants of a swank apartment block that has a murky past as Gestapo HQ), with those whose entire lives have been spent in the area (a man whose tending of the grounds and gardens has an unexpected reason, and a woman who did what she had to do to survive the war years) leads to tensions and, yes, murder. The nearby Roman ruins play their role, too, as does the fact that the city is one the border between France and Italy. It’s all VERY Niçoise…and this tale could only take place here. It’s the same for the entire series – the last book, The Corpse with the Ruby Lips, being set in Budapest, where a bloody history and an engrained need for secrecy within a population too used to being overseen, and overheard, by authoritarian dictatorships leads to a web of deceit that has tragic consequences…so Hungarian. 

I have always traveled extensively, and every Cait book is set in a city I know well – having either lived or worked there – so that I can smell the place and hear its sounds as I write; even now I’m sitting here with hints of garlic and paprika haunting me as I write about Nice and Budapest, while accordions and zithers battle for my inner aural attention. It’s great fun to “be” in a place when I write – and I hope the feeling of the setting for my work comes off the page for my readers. 

Travels with Cait are great fun, and I have tried to avoid “Cabot Cove Syndrome” (you know, where Jessica Fletcher’s beloved seaside township is blighted with a body-count higher than anywhere else in the world!) by having Cait move from place to place. 

For my other series, I have thrown those worries to the winds, and have set all the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries in one small locale – Chellingworth Hall and the nearby village of Anwen-by-Wye in the rolling countryside of Powys, Wales. Why did I take such a chance? Well, a couple of reasons: first of all, because these are stories about professional private investigators, there might not always be a corpse involved and, secondly, I wanted to place a series in Wales because I think my homeland deserves showcasing. Think about it – I expect you have a pretty good visual image of what Ireland, Scotland and England are like, but what about Wales? There really aren’t too many books set there, and I wanted to rectify that. 

I’ve invented Chellingworth Hall, the entire Chellingworth Estate and even the village of Anwen-by-Wye that sits upon the land owned by the Twyst family – but I have been able to use the very real local towns and cities of Hay-on-Wye, Builth Wells, Brecon, Swansea, Cardiff and other areas like the Gower Peninsular (all of which are places I know well, having only left the UK after I turned forty) as well. I want to take readers to haunts I love in my bones, and have them at least see them “fictionally” in my work. Maybe some readers will want to, and be able to, visit them in reality, and, for others, I hope that visiting in the pages of my work proves satisfying, and illuminating. 

Happy reading, and happy armchair travels! 

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries (#8 The Corpse with the Ruby Lips was released on November 1st) and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (#3, The Case of the Curious Cook, was released in hardcover in the UK on November 30th and in the USA & Canada on March 1st).  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers: 


Mahalyasree said...

Awesome post! A very good step-by-step guide especially for a beginner like me. It’s overwhelming with information, thank you for making it easy and very detailed.. I’ll pop some questions here, if I need help, hope that’s okay.
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Cathy Ace said...

So pleased you liked the post, Malhalyasree. :-)

Unknown said...

Cabot Cove Syndrome! :) You worked around that problem nicely Cathy.

Cathy Ace said...

In any series it's always a balance between Cabot Cove Syndrome and Typhoid Mary Syndrome! (Remember, even when they set Jessica Fletcher free from Cabot Cove, anyone she so much as shook hands with was likely to be knocked off!):-)

Susan C Shea said...

Great to see you at Malice even if we never actually sat together foe a quiet 10 minute chat! I have been derelict, or maybe just too wildly busy, to dive into the WISE series but I intend to remedy that today.