Friday, March 6, 2015

Deborah Crombie--Writing in London

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I’m in London researching (and writing) Kincaid/James Book #17. (I do have a title. I love it, my editor loves it, but until it goes in the publisher’s catalog, I think it’s better not to put it out in the Ethernet…)

I thought about calling this piece “Pubs and Clubs in London” but was afraid that would give the impression that I’m not actually working. Not true! Nothing is more important to a London detective novel than pubs. My characters need places to gather information, to meet and talk, (some of those meetings might be clandestine…), and sometimes to interview “persons of interest” in a setting less formal than the police station. And sometimes, things that happen in pubs can have very bad consequences…

But back to research. I had a pub in mind for a very important scene, and although I’d seen it from the street, I’d never actually been inside. So last Friday my daughter and I met some friends there. Strike one. A very nice pub, but very loud and painfully trendy and absolutely packed, not at all the sort of place I need for this scene. Back to the drawing board on that one. Tonight I’m having dinner with a friend at a place in Bloomsbury that I’m hoping will be somewhere two people could have an unremarkable but very important chat in a quiet corner. See, research is essential!

So, with that in mind, I’ve visited some old favorites in the pub category. There's The Duke of Wellington in Portobello Road, my ritual stop after a long day at the market. Then, The Jolly Gardeners in Putney, which is just across the road from my detective sergeant Doug Cullen’s house. Aren't their little sheds in the front cute? (One of the houses just beyond them is Doug's, but I'm not saying which one...) And there's The Bleeding Heart in Hatton Gardens (below The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, where Duncan is a member.) 

I’ve also discovered a couple of new gems; a place called Koha in Soho, from which one can see the stage doors of TWO famous theaters! (To my disappointment, I didn't recognize anyone going in and out, although I think one guy with a lovely Tudor beard must have been a principal in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE...) And I popped in The Hansom Cab in Earl’s Court Road, which just happens to be next door to the Kensington Police Station. Hmmm. (I think I know just who is going to meet whom there…)

But not all the book takes place in pubs! Here is a little snippet in an entirely different setting, from somewhere in the first chapter. (I’m writing in Scrivener so things often get moved around.)


Jean Armitage never set an alarm clock. She had awakened at five a.m. every morning of her adult life, winter or summer, rain or shine. She took great pride in this. To her mind, people who weren’t ready to meet the day were somehow lacking.

When her husband had been alive, she’d slipped carefully from the bed, tiptoeing to the bathroom to dress. Now, she enjoyed the freedom of switching on the bedside lamp, of dressing as she pleased, of making the bed with boarding school neatness. On this May morning, she fluffed the pillows and gave the rose-patterned duvet cover a final, satisfied pat. Crossing to the window, she pulled open the drapes and stood for a moment, looking down into the communal garden. The sky was a clear, pale rose and the first rays of the sun were just gilding the tops of the trees.

Her pleasure was marred, however, by the sight of the half-finished extension jutting into the garden proper from the back of her neighbor’s house. Jean frowned and gave a tsk of disapproval. Just because the people had suffered a loss didn’t give them an excuse to encroach on garden land. Notting Hill might not be Belgravia, but its communal gardens were just as important, treasures that must be preserved from the greedy and the careless.

She’d complained to the Council, as had some of the other residents on the garden, but so far no action had been taken. Well, she’d never been one to back down from a challenge. It was past time someone did something about it.

A few minutes later, armed with coffee, she let herself through the iron gate that separated her small private garden from the communal space. In fine weather, she liked to stroll the path that wound round the garden’s perimeter, sipping her coffee and taking stock. The perfectly raked pea gravel crunched under her feet and she caught the heady scent of the blooming Cecile Brunner roses. Clive Glenn, the gardener, had surpassed himself this year. The hedges were perfectly clipped, the trees were in full leaf, and the late spring flowers were in full glory. The garden had never looked more perfect.

She tugged her cardigan a bit more firmly over her shoulders as she walked. A slight chill lingered in the air, but the day promised warm and sunny. Perhaps it would give her a good chance to canvas some of the other residents for support. Jean Armitage was not given to sighs of contentment, but she couldn’t prevent a small expulsion of breath as she paused, gazing at the brilliant green swath of lawn that meandered through the garden’s center.

Then she frowned. Something white was bundled under a plane tree in the heavily wooded area she thought of as the grove. Those Polish builders working on the extension, she thought, leaving rubbish where it could blow about. Or had there been a burglary, she wondered, her heart quickening. Whatever the object was, it lay in the grass not far from the garden shed, and there had recently been a rash of break-ins in London’s communal garden sheds.

Any burglars would be long gone, she chided herself, setting off across the dew-damp grass with renewed purpose. She slowed as she drew nearer. What had looked like a large white bundle of plastic or paper had begun to resolve into a human shape. It was, Jean realized, a girl. A girl in a white dress, stretched out beneath the great branches of a plane tree.

The girl lay on her back, her face turned slightly away, but Jean recognized her profile and the dark shoulder-length hair. It was the nanny from two houses away, on the Ladbroke Road side of the garden. What sort of a prank was this? Sleeping in a private garden after a night on the town? Taking a breath, she readied herself to scold as she charged forwards. Such behavior was not to be tolerated in Cornwall Gardens, not among civilized people. She would have a thing or two to say to the girl’s employer.

Suddenly, the sun climbed over the tips of the treetops, the light falling across the green grass, the white dress, and the girl's outstretched arm in a tableau that might have been a Pre-Raphaelite painting. Jean stopped, her shoes squeaking on the wet grass, clutching her chest as what she saw registered more clearly. There was something not quite natural about the girl’s position. And she was still, so still. A sparrow swooped down, almost brushing the girl’s dark hair, and yet she did not stir.
The girl was not sleeping at all.


So, REDS and readers, who do you think will investigate this case?  And what can you tell me about Jean Armitage? (Other than that a visit to the pub would do her a world of good...)


  1. Jean Armitage certainly seems to be a "take charge" sort of person; very structured and with set routines.

    The description of the garden was so vivid I could almost hear the gravel crunching and smell the flowers.

    So now, who killed the nanny? And perhaps Gemma will investigate? In any event, I can't wait to read the rest of the story.

  2. Love these sneak peeks! You are so clear in the description of Jean that it would be redundant of me to describe her. ;^) Have fun in the pubs. May we say we are jealous?

  3. Have you been to this one?
    In Southward near the lovely old church and not far from the Globe. From a article on it: "One of London's oldest pubs, situated in Southwark near London Bridge, The George Inn is the city's only surviving galleried coaching inn. It was rebuilt in 1676 after being damaged in a destructive fire. The George Inn was fortunately saved from demolition..."
    The George Inn
    77 Borough High Street, Borough, London, SE1 1NH.

    --Marjorie of Connecticut

  4. So happy she's not my neighbor, but I do feel sorry for her. Can you imagine being like that?

  5. Marjorie, I have been to the George in Southwark, but not since I was writing In a Dark House. I should get back to Southwark and would love to go to Borough Market again. Too much to do and see!!!!

  6. Oh Deb, what I would give to have a new book of yours to read today, particularly one with a garden and green grass, never mind the dead body. I could cope with that if only I could see dirt again. Love from Ann of the Tundra.

  7. Ooo, chills.

    Jean is a very no-nonsense woman. She's lived her whole life a certain way and she doesn't intend to change. Things are A Certain Way and God help those who don't conform (I can see here either bullying them with "kindness" or pitying them).

    A dead nanny? Kind of in Gemma's wheelhouse, I think.

  8. It's Gemma's turn. Jean will either never change (twinset and pearls, sensible walking shoes), or will provide the key observation or nugget of information to solve the case. Bonus points for having her look beyond her rigid self-enclosed environment to care for a needy child or homeless person. Favorite pub: Scarsdale Tavern, Edwardes Square

  9. Very evocative scene--you present the landscape so beautifully and the victim as well; her death is all the more shocking given the setting. And, here's the thing--we see all of this through the eyes of a woman whose vision divides the world into what is correct and proper (the world according to Jean)and into "other." Kincaid's been demoted, so to speak--so don't know if Gemma will get this call or not. Guess (much gnashing of teeth) I'll have to wait to read the book to find out!

  10. Jean would be the terror of any homeowners association. She needs to start a mad affair with the gardener, and loosen up some.

  11. Debs, you provide such clear descriptions--we can really see things through the eyes of your character. (I felt a little sorry for her deceased husband though:).

    And let's include a few days in London on our Jungle Red river cruise tour, ok? You won't mind showing us around?

  12. Beautiful, balanced, evocative passage, Deb. Inspiring.

  13. Oh, dear. For someone who likes to be in control, this is not a good thing. The center cannot hold…

    Debs, you are so fabulous!

    And yes, indeed, my passport is ready!

  14. What a great passage. More, please! I've never been to London--if you ever need a "research assistant," please give me a call!

  15. Thanks, everyone! So glad you are enjoying the snippet--and the pubs. Gigi has it spot on, I think--Jean should start a mad affair with the gardener, who I see as quite sexy. Who knows what could happen in the shed???

  16. "Writing in London." sigh. Oh, to be able to say those words.

    Ms. Armitage would, I think, benefit from a trip a pub (I love all those wonderful pub names).

    Sounds like this one might be a Gemma case?

    Please hurry - this little tease has me anxious to read!

    and have a fun trip.

  17. Oh Deborah! What a lovely snippet. But it just makes me ACHE for the book to be finished and published and in my hands. I can hardly wait to see how this scene fits in the bigger arc of the story!

  18. What an outstanding excerpt, Deb. Thanks for sharing although now it only makes me more impatient to read your next book.
    And thanks for the pub tips. Can't wait to follow your lead the next time I'm in London.

  19. Jealous, I am. Would love to spend time in London. For now, I daily look at the live webcam of the Tower Bridge.

  20. I don't want Jean as a neighbor! She's the kind who would somehow get herself elected to president of the condo association, and then walk around the complex armed with a clipboard and a copy of the by-laws, looking for violations.

    And I would LOVE to "help" with your research, Deb!

  21. Lovely and evocative passage, Debs — brava.

    My favorite pub in London is the Victoria, near Paddington Station. Not only is it friendly and the food terrific, but a lot of locals stop in while they're walking their dogs, so there are always some adorable labs and corgis stretched out in front of the fireplace. London + dogs + pub food and drink = heaven.

  22. That's appropriate. The block busybody finds a body littering their park. Perhaps she will take care of it!

  23. Oh, Jean Armitage is certainly a force with whom to be reckoned. You are so great, Debs, at revealing character through all the small details, from the way she make the bed to the way she strolls the perimeter of the garden, as if to give it a pat like the bed. And, your garden description is so lovely. Me thinks that you know a thing or two about description. I agree that the formidable Mrs. Armitage could do with a pub visit or a wild affair, or both.

    I'm thinking that it's Gemma's turn, too, to be in charge of this case. However, I have no doubt that Duncan will be involved to some extent. I am so ready for this book to be in my hands and devouring its every word. The teaser has me so excited.

    Oh, and I would love to go exploring pubs in London. What a hardship it must be on you to undertake that part of the research. Hehehe! There is just something so inviting about a bar or pub atmosphere (not thinking of the seedier establishments). Even though I don't drink a lot, I am mesmerized by the different colored bottles lining the shelves behind the bar itself. And, bars with richly ingrained woods are simply stuning.

  24. Now I am eagerly looking forward to the title so I can order asap. Poor nanny -- Mrs. Armitage should make an interesting interview for Gemma or Duncan. Would love to live adjacent to that garden -- you made it so real.
    Have fun in the pubs. I always did. In fact, the favorite lunch for my husband and me when we travelled in England was a pub lunch -- those were the days!

  25. Wow, I love this opening! Spectacular. And boy am I glad I don't live next to her.

    Dying to turn the page...

    Enjoy London, Debs - I know you always do. Hopfully daffodils are blooming...

  26. Debs one day you should blog on using Scrivener... I'd love to know mmore.

  27. Oh, I can just picture her, Debs. She's what I'd call the formidable type. I picture her solidly built with a frowny face. :-)

    Can't wait for this one!

  28. Oh boy, this was marvelous torture. Can't wait to see what happens. After that little introduction of Jean Armitage I was almost happy she was the one finding the body.

  29. I wish I could take you ALL to London with me! You'd have loved what I did today--a forensics exhibition at the Wellcome Museum in Euston Road. Absolutely fascinating! Then my friend Karin Salvalaggio gamely helped me search for the perfect pub for my scene. We managed three (over a LONG evening); The Fitzroy and the Museum Tavern (where we had fish and chips) in Bloomsbury, and the Ship Tavern in Holborn. Not sure which one I liked best. All lovely, welcoming, and quite traditional pubs.

  30. Hallie, what a great idea! Maybe I'll write about using Scrivener next time I'm up on what we're writing. I think it's brilliant.