Friday, November 11, 2016

What We're Writing--Debs Does the Cotswolds

DEBORAH CROMBIE: With GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS (Kincaid/James #17) in the pipeline (February 7th!!), I'm in that weird fluid place where a new book is just starting to form. I have a bit of a plot (a very small bit...), some ideas about structure, and an idea for a setting.

My last three books have been set in and around London, so I think maybe it's time for my characters to have an adventure somewhere new. On my very first trip to England oh so many years ago with my parents, we rented a little Mini and toured around the Cotswolds, which is a rural area in south central England that covers parts of six counties. (I can't tell you how confusing it is to figure out which county you are in...) 

We were there in September, and the beautiful rolling country and golden stone villages made such an impression on me that I've never forgotten it. While I have been through and across the counties by car and train many times since, I had never actually come back and stayed. So, I thought, hmm, maybe Gemma and Duncan and company could investigate a case in the Cotswolds. In which case, I would of course have to visit, too.

On that trip years ago I shared the driving with my dad. I can't believe how brave I was--now driving in the UK terrifies me. But needs must, so I hired this cute little blue Peugot and set out to explore. 

The colors in the hills and the trees was glorious!!!! But I couldn't take photos of the prettiest scenes because I was driving, and the view was never as good from the pullover spots.

On my last day, I made it to the one village I remembered the most from that visit years ago, Lower Slaughter. (There is also an Upper Slaughter, and I made it there, too! The explanations for the name are too many and varied to go in to.)

Photos don't do the place justice--it is really and truly picture-book--but here are a few.

That was a grand day. What my ramblings will mean for Duncan and Gemma I don't yet know, but it will be fun to find out.

Here's a Cotswold sunset for you.

REDS and readers, have you revisited places that have stood out in your memories?


  1. What a lovely place . . . the pictures are amazing. I’m sure Gemma and Duncan will have a great adventure there!
    Most of the time, when I have revisited a place I remember it’s never the same. It’s quite disappointing to discover that a place is not at all the way you remember it . . . .

  2. This is so great, Debs! You are so lucky to be able to take these lovely extended research trips!
    But I am seeing mostly these days is airports… And I am on the way now! More to come ....

  3. I can see the picturebookness of it, Debs. What a treat you got to go back.

    I did exactly what you did, and have set a whole series in an apparently idyllic place where I used to visit regularly - hilly scenic Brown County, Indiana. I went to graduate school in Bloomington, the flagship IU campus in the next county. I'd already sold the series and written half the first book when I went back, for the first time in thirty years. I loved touring the old haunts, discovering new ones, and spending a few days writing immersed in the language and culture, which is more Kentucky than Indiana.

  4. I've always wanted to go to the Cotswalds -- how beautifully bucolic it looks, right out of Masterpiece Theatre! The place that was magical on the first visit and still magical 40 years later was Venice. Even with all the graffiti which didn't exist way back when, and even after all the traveling I've done, it is quite an extraordinary place. I read Donna Leon's books to take me there.

  5. We planned a trip to the Cotswolds in 2000, the year England flooded. Roads were impassable, and we ended up spending a week in Salisbury. I was so excited when you told me of your coming trip, the darling B & B you had found, and the great back story, how you changed plans so you could stay there. Was it all you hoped?

    I've had lots of magical first sights, but none compare with my visit to Old Sarum. I stood on the grounds where William the Conqueror camped with his army the evening before the battle of Hastings. I still get chills. The history came alive for me, and I closed my eyes and smelled the smoke from their fires.

    I hope all the rest of your time in England is wonderful. Life here isn't so much, but we will survive.

    Or emigrate to Canada.

  6. a, I had that chill standing in front of Chastleton House, where the Gunpowder Plot was launched, and thinking about how history would have been different if they had succeeded. I've stood at Old Sarum, too, which moved me even more than Salisbury Cathedral. And at so many other places in the UK, where history reaches out and grabs you by the throat.

    Hallie, Venice is amazing. I haven't been there in years, so am glad to know it is still magic.

    Edith, so glad to know your setting was still idyllic!

    The B&B in the Cotswolds, the Old School at Little Compton, was just as wonderful and charming as anticipated. I also loved the place I stayed the last night, the Red Lion Inn in Long Compton (and no, the two are not particularly close together.) But I didn't have nearly enough time to see as much as I'd have liked.

    One of the big treats was Daylesford Organic Farm and Shops, run by the family who owns JCB, the huge British heavy equipment company. This is a farm shop to end all farm shops!! When I catch up a bit I'll post some pics on Facebook.

    In the meantime, I'm back in London, trying to get in as much as I can the last few days, and fighting a cold:-(

  7. Debs, one of these days I should send you my three book "off the beaten track" series, "The Best of Britain's Countryside." I think you'd recognize many places and be inspired by many the haunted farmhouse B&B in the fens of East Anglia...

  8. How pretty! How we suffer for our research sometimes, eh?

  9. I think you were very brave to drive around on your own, Deb, but it looks like it was well worth it! What a pretty area. I hope I get a chance to explore the English countryside at some point. I've been to London a few times, and seen some of the Scottish and Irish countryside, but not the English. I'd love to visit Wales someday, too. And Venice. Too many places and not enough time and money!

    The gunpowder plot makes me think of one of the Bess Crawford mysteries. (I'm terrible with titles but remember the plot clearly!) I love imagining Duncan and Gemma in some of the places in the pictures you've posted!

  10. The Cotswolds are gorgeous. I love Lower Slaughter. Two places stand out in my memory. The Lake District of GB where I lived for a glorious few months over a pub. It was breathtaking, and although I had to leave before summer to get back to school, I remember long, glorious days and light the like of which I've not seen since. Then there is Sint Maarten in the early 1980s. The island has changed beyond recognition, but in my mind, it's that rural place with goats in the road, no television and calls to the US required a trip to the long line office at the airport.

  11. Debs, your photos are beautiful, and I love the map you included (saved it to my file). I do think you are wonderfully brave to have rented a car and driven around to different places. So much better to travel at your own pace instead of a group. I have several places in England that are on my must-see list, and the Cotswolds area is definitely on that list. Devon and Cornwall are at the top of the list, for family connection reasons, and I plan to pick the brains of you, Debs, Rhys, Julie Gerber, and Will before I go on that trip.

    Enjoy your remaining days in England, Debs.

  12. I am sooo glad you enjoyed the Cotswolds. I go back home to England at least once a year, and I always spend a few days with a schoolfriend who lives in Cheltenham. We always wander around the many villages, all gorgeous. I never tire of walking around the villages.
    I agree with a previous poster ..... you MUST experience East Anglia. I still have family there and enjoy visiting the villages in that area too. The area is rich in history - and don't forget the tales of smugglers. Wonderful old pubs where they did a brisk trade with the smugglers, and hid them from the law.
    I am very much looking forward to your new book.
    Hope you are over your cold.

  13. Years ago we did a hiking trip through the Cotswolds. It was spring, lambing season. Glorious.

    Our most memorable hiking trip was in Northumberland and visiting Lindisfarne.

  14. Beautiful pictures! I can't wait to read the book! It's a place I've always wanted to visit.

  15. Just beautiful! This is a part of the world I have not traveled, but hope to someday.

  16. Deb,

    That map looks like the map with the same illustrations that I bought in England when I studied abroad at Oxford. I loved the Cotswolds.

    Our class visited the home of a woman whose family had owned the house for 500 plus years!!! It amazes me, as an American, than a house would stay in the same family for 500 years when families in the USA do not own houses for generations.

    Beautiful pictures.

    There is a small town in the SF East Bay that looks like the Cotswolds. When you visit Rhys, let me know and I can show you the small town :-)


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