Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Cakes and Ale. A Guest Post by Marty Wingate


RHYS BOWEN: MY guest today has set her latest book in Bath, which is the city of my birth. A city I adore and always make time to stop over there when we are in England. What I like about it most is that so little has changed: the Georgian crescents, my grandmother's Georgian house on Landsdowne, the Roman baths where I once swam as a child and of course the restaurants and pubs... both dear to Marty's heart. So please welcome her now:

MARTY WINGATE: Give me a mystery with great characters and a compelling story, but also give me an atmosphere to make a book come alive. But by “atmosphere,” I don’t mean just tone—a gothic suspense or dark and gritty noir—but also the practicalities of setting, weather, and the food and drink. For me, these elements combine to give the story life on and off the page. That is why I made Bath, the setting for The Bodies in the Library (book one in my new First Edition Library mysteries) as alive as the places in some of my favorite books.


A sense of place is vital. On a visit to Edinburgh, and deep into Ian Rankin’s Rebus books, I walked across the Meadows toward the city center and marveled that I was following John Rebus’s footsteps. I had half a mind to walk over to Marchmont and find the building and his flat, but brought myself up short. I might’ve been reading the book in which Rebus had let the flat to some students, and so he wouldn’t be there anyway. I kept walking, but, still with the character in mind, to the Oxford Bar to have a whisky.

The Norfolk Broads, in all their flat, bleak beauty, come alive in Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway series. Not just the scenery, but also the weather plays a serious role here—the rain, the icy roads in winter, the remnants of standing stones in the boggy ground, shreds of fog suspended in the air. But when she’s at home, even though surrounded by such a place, Ruth’s main concern is to cook up the quickest meal she can think of.

Certainly I want Andrea Camillieri’s Inspector Montalbano to catch whoever has carried out such a horrific murder, but also I want to know what his housekeeper has left him in the fridge for his dinner. And, I’m not sure I could make it through an entire Bruno Chief of Police book without Martin Walker’s protagonist harvesting from his garden and cooking what always sounds like a feast.

I do keep coming back to the food and drink, don’t I? In The Bodies in the Library, I wanted Bath to come alive in its Georgian splendor, Roman past, and love of all things Austen. Most importantly, I wanted it to exist as the home of the Golden Age of Mystery library, for which my main character, Hayley Burke, is curator. Of course, she is not only a curator of a collection of first editions by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and the others, but also the practical 45-year-old single mother of a college student, daughter of an invalid mother, and ex of a man that tries her patience on a regular basis.

I enlisted the help of food and drink in this effort to create Hayley as a whole person, and I started with the Ready Meal aisle at Waitrose.

Can you love a grocery store? It’s certainly one of my favorite places to go when my husband and I spend time in Britain. We usually stay in a flat, and those fresh dinners—cottage pie, lasagne, macaroni cheese—are perfect. They’re perfect for Hayley, too, who has slacked off cooking since her daughter moved away.

But there is more to food and drink than dinner—there is tea (or coffee) and cake. These are not just something to keep the character busy; they are vital elements to the story. Without the satisfaction of nabbing the last fruit scone at the Waitrose café the day after the murder, would Hayley have had the clarity of mind to make a plan with Val?

My in-house copy editor (my husband) would not allow this post to go further without mention of pubs and ale.

I stay true to Bath as it is today—I’d like to think a reader could use The Bodies in the Library as a map to walk around the city—except on one tiny point, and that is the pub I call the Minerva. A tiny pub on Northumberland Place does exist, but its real name is the Coeur de Lion. I changed the name, you see, because I wanted that nod to the Roman history in Bath. But otherwise, it’s the same place—you could march right in there and ask for an orange squash with fizzy water and a packet of crisps as Hayley does. Although, her ulterior motive is to question a shady character.


I changed nothing about the Raven, a fabulous pub on the corner of Quiet and Queen streets and not far from the Jane Austen Centre. Eat and drink downstairs or up—Hayley prefers upstairs, where she might be able to grab the corner table by the window. Order one of their house ales (I am instructed here to tell you they are brewed by Blindmans Brewery in Frome, Somerset) and a pie, such as chicken-and-mushroom or beef-and-ale or vegetarian, sitting atop a pile of buttery mash.

Hungry? Thirsty? Join Hayley for cakes and ale as she solves a murder inspired by the Golden Age of Mystery.


Marty Wingate writes The First Edition Library mysteries, set in Bath and featuring Hayley Burke, a curator of rare and collectible books from the Golden Age of Mystery who has never read a detective story in her life. Book one – The Bodies in the Library (Berkley) – was released October 8. She leads garden tours to Britain, spending free moments deep in research. Or in pubs.







46 comments:

  1. “The Bodies in the Library” sounds like a perfectly yummy mystery, Marty. I’m looking forward to reading about Hayley’s adventures . . . .

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    1. I hope you enjoy it - both the setting and the story!

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  2. Sounds like a great place to visit fictionally if I can't get there in person.

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    1. Both! And if you want more Bath, I highly recommend Peter Lovesey's wonderful Peter Diamond series - a police procedural, but a quirky one.

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  3. I’m ready to go explore Bath right now!

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    1. It's a wonderfully walkable city - although the hike from the city centre up to Middlebank House often leaves Hayley a bit breathless!

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  4. How wonderful, Marty. I've been in Bath only once many years ago, I had two small boys in tow, and I was staying with a sober friend, so my pub time was severely limited! I'm looking forward to going back via your series.

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    1. Edith,

      Were your small boys allowed to visit the pub? I noticed that pubs in England seem more family friendly?

      Diana

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    2. Yes, children in pubs (and dogs, too - not that I'm putting them in the same category!). But not all pubs, so I'm unsure if there is a general law or if pubs can decide for themselves. I must research!

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  5. Oh, Bath, what a perfect place to set a mystery. Can't wait to dig in--and I'm thinking chicken and mushroom pie is in my future, too. Sounds like the perfect breakfast, don't you think?

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  6. Congratulations on your new release! I loved everything about Bath: the Abbey, the Roman baths, the Jane Austin-related sites, the architecture. I remember feeling very much at home, as if I could move in and never leave.

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    1. Yes, as full of tourists as it can get, there's something about Bath that makes you want to go back and stay longer. Also, they have several fabulous bookshops. Hard to resist!

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  7. We've been to Bath... had cream tea at the Pump Room and sipped sulphurous water from their fountain and lived to tell about it. I love the idea of setting a mystery there. Perfect.

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    1. You were quite brave to drink the water - I keep telling myself I should try. Maybe next time!

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  8. This sounds absolutely stellar—so enticing! But tell us more about your series!

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    1. The idea of bringing the Golden Age of Mystery women authors into a present-day series was irresistible and the idea that Hayley, curator of such a fabulous collection, had never read a detective story in her life only made it more fun for me! The collection belonged to Lady Fowling, who died at age 94 only three years before the book opens. Hayley never met her, but feels her as a great supporter for the effort. So, a thread of Agatha Christie in this book one, and in book two, it's a Dorothy L. Sayers story. I obviously have a lot of material to work with!

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  9. This sounds wonderful. I love a book that really captures a locale, too. Plus, you've set your new series in a library! I never cease to be amazed at how many good books are set in a library or book shop. The Bodies in the Library has gone directly to my TBR list!

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    1. Thanks! Yes, stories about stories are great fun.

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  10. I agree completely- about building the background and using ordinary life to do it. This went right on my TBR list! I went to Bath on my first trip to England ( or anyplace) a lifetime ago. I was traveling with a bookish friend - of course we went there. Loved it. And now you have me daydreaming about going back.

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    1. Oh, I hope you do! And visit Topping, the bookstore at the top of The Paragon. It's the only place I know that, when you're looking round the shelves, they ask if you'd like a coffee and then make it for you just behind the tiny counter. Lovely!

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  11. Since there are more places to visit than I have time or money for, visiting in a book is wonderful. Sounds like you've captured Bath perfectly!

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    1. I hope so - it's a great city set sort of in a bowl of the Somerset hills. Lovely and historical.

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  12. While visiting U.K., I've had a big " coup de cœur " crush on Bath and I've enjoyed every moment I've lived there.
    What joy it will be to revisit through The Bodies in the Library.

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    1. Traveling through books can be almost as satisfying as being there yourself, especially when you have memories to rely on, too.

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  13. I've never been to Bath, but must correct that! and this book hits my sweet spot with food and books

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    1. It's the research, you know. I must try out all the tea and cake in the city for purposes of my story!

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  14. My husband and I have a trip in mind to visit the UK, including Bath. I'll have to read your book and get inspired, Marty!

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    1. I do hope it inspires you further - and let me know if you have any questions about what to see!

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  15. I love Bath and can't wait to revisit it by reading The Bodies in the Library. I'm looking forward to being a part of Hayley's life there ~

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    1. I hope it reminds you of your visit there. Enjoy!

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  16. I love everything about this post, Marty. I couldn't be any more on the page with you about how important a sense of place is in a book. I delight in what the characters are eating and the pubs they visit and their preferred drinks. And, of course, you mentioning my dear Elly Griffiths/Dom is wonderful, as she does bring Ruth's setting alive so well. And, speaking of Dom and drinks and all, did you know her first story ever (written as a child) was called "Hair of the Dog"? Hahaha!

    Marty, you have convinced me of two things with your post today. One, is that I will need to include Bath and a visit to The Raven in a trip to England I hope to take, and two, that I will definitely be getting and reading your first book, The Bodies in the Library, in the new series. I've already had my eye on this book, and after your post today, how could I resist it?

    And, one more thing. Your following in the steps of John Rebus, getting a thrill from him as a guide in Edinburgh, reminds me of how much I've nagged Debs to do a tour of Gemma's and Duncan's footprints in London. And, I really need to add Lucy to do a Haley Snow tour of Key West. And, Rhys could certainly do a Lady Georgie tour. Wouldn't that be fun? I wonder if the Armand Gamache tour of Louise Penny's character is still going in Quebec?

    Thanks for a great start to my day, Marty! I'm off to Amazon to see about ordering The Bodies in the Library.

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    1. Thanks so much, Kathy! At a recent library event, I had a couple come up to tell me that they'd visited Bath for a day and researched where to go for a pie and a pint and came up with the Raven. They were delighted when they found it again in The Bodies in the Library.

      I agree with you about tours! I do lead tours (and we're going to Bath next July!). I think it's great fun for readers to see the places from the books they love. I would go on any you mention!

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  17. Hi Marty! Welcome to Jungle Reds! It was wonderful to see you at LLC in Vancouver. Thank you for the Bodies in the Library book. I enjoyed reading about Hayley in Bath. I thought of Hayley Mills when reading the book. I visited Bath once when I was at Oxford for a semester. Friends from Germany and I took a day trip to Bath from Oxford on the bus and I think we had tea at the Pump Room ? or a tea room. It was a long time ago! There was mad cow disease in the news at that time so we did not order meat. I remember having vegetables.

    Pub food is wonderful. When my Oxford class went to a pub, we had ploughman's lunch, which was a new experience for me.

    And I also loved your Garden series with Pru too. The books are only on eBooks, I think.

    Diana

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  18. Hi Diana! A bus from Oxford to Bath sounds like the perfect way to travel. We take country buses whenever we can - a cheap way to tour the countryside. Ah, the Pump Room - we had morning coffee there in May. Both Bath and Oxford are fabulous. (And a ploughman's lunch? My husband's favorite!) Thanks for the kind words about Pru!

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  19. Can you just see this as a television series? How cool would that be?? Of course, you'd have to write a LOT more of this series!

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    1. The dream! I suppose we'd all better start thinking of casting ...

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  20. My thoughts on Bath revolve around Georgette Heyer's wonderful Regencies. Bath played a key role in many of them. All success, Marty, and I will surely read your book.

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    1. Georgette Heyer was a great mystery writer, too!

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  21. I've already read your new book and enjoyed it as well as the Garden and Bird series. In the 70's, I visited Bath with a bus tour. We went into the Baths and the Pump Room but only drove around the other parts of the city. I did taste the water, which was bitter. Looking forward to more stories.

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    1. Thanks so much, Sally. I hope The Bodies in the Library brought back good memories of Bath (and Julia's stories of Suffolk and Pru's stories of ... well, she tends to hop around the country a bit, doesn't she?).

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  22. Marty, your book checks all my boxes! Bath--gorgeous city! Golden Age female crime writers! Food! Sense of place! Off to add to my TBR now!

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  23. As do yours for me - the settings, the characters!

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  24. I loved this book, Marty! So smart! So fun!

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