Thursday, June 2, 2022

Connie Berry--When You Can't Go There

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Several of us in the last couple of weeks have said how much we enjoyed Connie Berry's new Kate Hamilton mystery, THE SHADOW OF MEMORY. 


I am a big fan of this series so when Connie mentioned in a comment that she hadn't been able to go to the UK to research this book, I asked her to tell us how she managed all the descriptive and authentic details in her novel. (As much as I've moaned about not being able to go to England, you know this is a big issue for me!)

Here's Connie to share what you do WHEN YOU CAN’T GO THERE:

Some people talk about their Covid puppies or their Covid babies. Authors talk about their Covid books. Just about every book released in 2021 and 2022, including my latest, The Shadow of Memory, was written without the benefit of in-person research. I was actually scheduled to fly to England when the travel ban fell in March of 2020. A second optimistically planned trip in October of 2020 was also canceled and a third in March of 2021.

In the meantime, I had a book to research.

One of the specific places I’d planned to explore was the Suffolk coastline with its sand-and-shingle beaches and faded Victorian seaside resorts. There, in a fictional village called Miracle-on-Sea, I’d placed Netherfield Sanatorium, a former private mental hospital. I’d been to the Suffolk coast many times, but never on a research trip. That makes a difference. You notice different things—not just the geography, architecture, climate, and history of a place, but the sense of it, the sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and mood. Meeting people who live there, hearing what they say and how they say it, helps you understand them—what makes them laugh, what makes them angry, how they view their lives and world events, and (not insignificantly) what they like to eat. Also, there are always specific questions that must be answered

So what do you do when you can’t go? You do the next best thing.

Here are four resources that helped me write The Shadow of Memory while locked down in my office, aka my laundry room, in Ohio:

1. Photographs & Videos

A wealth of visual images are available online, from YouTube videos and documentaries to travelogs to Google Maps. During Covid, one of my favorite resources turned out to be old films of people speaking in the various Suffolk dialects. Invaluable. Google Street View saved me from an embarrassing inaccuracy. Early in the planning stages for The Shadow of Memory, I’d pictured Netherfield Sanatorium on a cliff overlooking the sea and Deben estuary. Dramatic but impossible—and I should have known better. A topographical map reminded me that the heath and marshlands near the estuary are very near sea level. The best I could do was place the mid-Victorian sanatorium on a low promontory.

2. Personal Sources

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to develop a number of invaluable sources: a detective inspector in the Suffolk Constabulary, a clergyman in the Church of England, the former Chief Operating Officer of the National Trust, a solicitor specializing in trusts and wills, an administrator in the Suffolk Coroner’s Office, a textiles curator at the Victoria & Albert museum. During Covid, they graciously answered all my questions. If you’re wondering how I developed these sources, the answer is simple: I asked. Most people are more than willing to help.

3. Newspapers

While I subscribe to The Telegraph, my favorite source for research is the British Newspaper Archive . Especially helpful are the local and regional papers, which combine national news with local events, social announcements, advice columns, and advertisements. I love the historical newspapers. Since my books include elements of the past, I can check things like obituaries in the 1960s and how crimes were reported in the Victorian era. I depend upon this resource even when I can travel.

4. Real Estate Websites

This one may seem strange, and one realtor in Peterborough, Cambridge, is still hoping I’ll chose a semi-detached house there, but real estate websites are perfect for sorting out the various ways English people live and the words they use to describe their living spaces. Americans would call the main room in a house, for example, the living room. In the UK, depending upon the type of house and the historical era, that same room might be called a reception room, a lounge, a parlor, or a drawing room. These sites can also tell you where in a city you’d find upscale properties and where you’d likely find Council estates. Just as in the U.S., interior and exterior photos are available, along with a wealth of other information. I needed a modest but modern house in Peterborough, for example, and found one for sale in a new housing estate on the south side of town, complete with a description and photos. It ended up in the book.

I’m glad the internet offers writers so much helpful information. Writing a book set in another country is harder without actually going there, but it’s not impossible.  I just hope I don’t have to do it again.

DEBS: I so agree with Connie about the importance of the sense impressions in conveying a setting. For those, I've had to rely on memory. But I've used many of Connie's resources, including real estate sites! I did not know, however, about the British Newspaper Archive!

And I'm not nearly as good as Connie at asking people to share their expertise--Connie will have to give me confidence lessons!

 

As Kate Hamilton contemplates her future with DI Tom Mallory, she is also helping her colleague Ivor Tweedy organize an auction in a village on the Suffolk coast. Netherfield Sanatorium, an abandoned Victorian insane asylum, is being converted into luxury flats, and Kate and Ivor have been asked to auction off a fine collection of antiques, including a 15th-century painting attributed to the Dutch master Jan Van Eyck. But when retired criminal inspector Will Parker is found dead, Kate suspects the halls of the sanatorium housed much more than priceless art.

 

Kate is surprised to learn that Will Parker was her friend Vivian Bunn’s first boyfriend. They met in 1963 at a seaside holiday camp when, along with three other teens, they explored an abandoned house where two years earlier a local doctor and his wife had died under bizarre circumstances. Now, when a second member of the childhood gang dies unexpectedly—and then a third—it becomes clear the teens discovered more in the house than they realized.

 

What was the deadly truth they unwittingly found? When Kate makes a shocking connection between a sixty-year-old murder and the long-buried secrets of the sanatorium, she understands that time is running out for Vivian—and anyone connected to her.



Connie Berry writes the Kate Hamilton Mysteries, set in the UK and featuring an American antiques dealer with a gift for solving crimes. She was raised by antiques dealers who instilled in her a passion for history, fine art, and travel. Her debut novel won an IPPY Gold and was an Agatha Award finalist. Connie is a member of MWA, CWA, and SinC. She loves history, foreign travel, cute animals, and all things British.

DEBS: Readers, have you learned new research skills in the last couple of years?



 


73 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Connie, on your new Kate Hamilton mystery . . . I’m looking forward to discovering just what it is that the teens discovered in the house . . . .

    Although I haven’t come up with any new research skills, I can see why not being able to go where you need to research would be difficult . . . isn’t it wonderful that the technology has given us some ways to find out what we need to know?

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    1. At the risk of replying twice, thank you, Joan. You're right about the wealth of information available to authors today. Invaluable when it's our only option.

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  2. Great tip about the real estate sites, Connie. Those would work for anywhere!

    I have to develop some new skills and contacts for a new series I'm about to start writing set in a place where I have visited many times but never lived in - and it's 3000 miles away (north of where Rhys lives when she's in CA). I can't get out there until the fall when the book will be done (but not yet due, thank goodness).

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    1. Oh, I meant to add: I just went looking on a map for the Suffolk coast because I wasn't sure where it was. It's the part of England so many settlers in Massachusetts came from. All the same place names! Ipswich, Chelmsford, Framingham, Braintree. Cool.

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    2. So interesting about the place names, Edith. A new series?? Fantastic!

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    3. Yes, can't wait to see what you come up with, Edith!

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  3. CONNIE: Kudos to your research skills used to write your newest book!

    Besides using the Google Street View option on Google Maps, I have really enjoyed watching 3D virtual tours of exhibits in museums, art galleries as well as the interiors of historical buildings. Many of these have only been made available since the pandemic lockdowns started in 2020.

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    1. Grace, thank you. Yes---those interior tours are amazing!

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  4. Welcome Connie! You are intrepid. Silly question, when you query sources, are you emailing? Facetiming? I was wondering because at writers' group yesterday, I noticed again how much deeper we can go if we are talking/brainstorming in person!

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    1. Maybe just desperate? Most contacts are with people I previously met in England. That obviously makes it easier to ask for information. But some, like the National Trust guy, I contacted via email. We had a phone conversation that lasted about an hour. Facetiming would have been incredible, but I go with the source's preferred method of contact. His secretary emailed me and suggested the phone call. Contact is usually email. though.

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  5. A lot of challenges to get this story written, Connie! Sounds like you creatively overcame them, though.

    In the Dark Ages before the Internet research was way harder. Now, thanks to video/photos/drone footage you can almost "be" somewhere, except for being able to feel and smell the surroundings. And who knows? That might be a possibility, too, somewhere down the line.

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    1. Karen--wouldn't that be amazing? Who knows what the future will bring. Still, I'd rather be there in person!

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    2. Absolutely! Nothing can compare to breathing the air and seeing the colors.

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  6. This was a really fun post! The internet really makes this kind of work much easier. Good for you for figuring it out and getting through it.

    I haven't been to the UK since 2009 when we took some of dad's ashes back to his old neighborhood in Leeds and scattered them in the park across the street from the house he lived in as a child (and the house we all lived in when we stayed with my aunt in 1972), but I have wandered through the neighborhood on Google street view and noted that the fish and chip shop is still there.

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    1. Gillian, what a touching story about returning your father to his childhood home. I LOVE the thought of just "wandering through the neighborhood" on Google street view. I did that when Sheila Connolly said she'd bought a cottage in a small Irish village. I "walked" up and down all the streets.

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  7. This sounds wonderful, Connie! I relied on Google Earth a lot when researching my Laurel Highlands mysteries over the past couple of years. Normally, I'd just jaunt down and drive around.

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    1. Thanks, Liz. I once followed the road along the Scotland's Great Glen all the way from Fort William to Inverness. Later I actually drove it.

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    2. I "drove" the Westway in London. Not nearly as glamorous. But I wanted to see where the exits were.

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  8. I loved The Shadow of Memory! Whether you relied on your own memories or your online research you did a wonderful job of setting the scene and giving me a sense of the place. And your plot kept me guessing all the way to the end. I had many theories about the resolution, but never hit on your very clever solution. To any Reds Readers who haven't started reading this series, start now!

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    1. Gigi--thank you so much for those kind words! I had a lot of fun writing the book and pretending I was there. An escape.

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    2. Yes, see below. The first book is on sale on Kindle!

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  9. Connie, this is a really fun post. It is amazing that you can almost feel as if you are somewhere else in the world through the internet. The resources you have shared will help some of the US authors who write British mysteries visit different times and places from their offices here. Too bad about the smells though. For me, that always makes a huge impact when I arrive someplace.

    I love your Kate Hamilton books and think that I may have missed one, so now I have two to read. Good. Putting both onto my TBR list for this summer. By the way, the first Kate Hamilton mystery for Kindle is on sale right now for $2.99.

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    1. Thanks, Judy. I'm thrilled that A Dream of Death is a Kindle monthly deal for June. Hope you like the books!

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    2. Here's the buy link for A Dream of Death, the first Kate Hamilton book: https://smile.amazon.com/Dream-Death-Connie-Berry-ebook/dp/B07H7P2KTS/ref=sr_1_1?crid=31MS4LPZQ0FZJ&keywords=a+dream+of+death+connie+berry&qid=1654179681&sprefix=a+dream+of+death%2Caps%2C143&sr=8-1

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  10. Hank Phillippi RyanJune 2, 2022 at 9:08 AM

    I hooray! So wonderful to see this… I am so thrilled at your success! Congratulations! Yes, I love real estate sites, too, and have used them with much delight. Part of my new book is set in Saint Barts, and I have had some wonderful computer vacations there via Google earth and real estate sites and tourist dues and don’ts sites. Plus—youve got to know things like… Are there monkeys in the Saint Barts? Also, the Facebook mind is also valuable… I asked: what does the sunset look like over nantucket sound? And people posted photos!

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  11. Dos and don’ts.

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  12. Dang! Thanks guys! I've been reading all your recommendations and now my books are piling up all over! Plus the ones I can't get from the library, I order from my favorite bookstore (anything to support locally owned bookstores) and my account has skyrocketed. LOL! But, I so far all the recommendations have been great. Just finishing the 4th of V.M.Burns' bookstore books. Now I MUST add the Shadow of Memory as I am the crazy about anything English.

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  13. Virtual or no, The Shadow of Memory was my favorite of the series so far, Connie. I have been on an Escape To The Country binge on Britbox--what I love about the show is that you get to see the interiors of homes in all these different parts of England, Scotland, and Wales, they ask locals what they like about living there, and they show the exteriors of towns and villages and lots of countryside. And, you hear the descriptions--'reception room', etc. Like a mini-vacation each time.

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    1. Oooh, how have I not watched this??? Next up for me, when I finish the Flower Show! And I agree, Flora, The Shadow of Memory was my favorite so far, and I have loved all the books in Connie's series.

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    2. Flora--Escape to the Country is one of my favorite shows! Thank you so much for the kind words about The Shadow of Memory. I loved writing it.

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  14. I loved THE SHADOW OF MEMORY! In fact, the entire series caught my attention because my dream of a house exchange with someone in the UK came true in 2003 when I met a family living in Sudbury and we exchanged homes for a few years. The mother of my new friend lived in Long Melford so your locations jumped off the page for me when I read THE ART OF BETRAYAL. I do my own type of research as I’m reading almost any book using Google Earth to “see” the location.

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    1. I use Google Earth or Street View now when I'm reading, too. I love being able to see the setting.

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    2. A house exchange is a fascinating idea! I'm so glad you liked the book!

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  15. CONNIE: Welcome to JRW and congratulations on your new novel! I love the names of Kate Hamilton and DI Tom Mallory. I was reminded of an American tv series that were classics by the time I watched that series. Martin Milner played a policeman named Mallory in Los Angeles, CA, USA.

    Yes, I have been researching for my Novel in Progress. I have a collection of photos that my grandfather took when he was in England during the First World War. The photos are in his diaries. And I have been interviewing Several people in the UK online and asking them questions. I also ordered several books that are NOT available in the USA from Hatchard's in England.

    Look forward to reading your novel. Is this the first novel in the series? If not, do I start with the first book in the series ?

    Today is the Day of Trooping of the Colours in England! So excited! I'm such an Anglophile! LOL

    Diana

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    1. Diana, you will love this series. Hatchards! I love that book shop!
      I set ABC to record starting at 3 a.m. through the today show. I'm going to see what I got now!

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    2. Diana, the first book, A Dream of Death, takes place on a fictional island in the Scottish Hebrides. Since I pretty much killed everyone off there, the series moved to a village in Suffolk. Many readers comment that the books can be read as stand-alones, but there are character arcs that develop over the series. Those diaries and old photographs from WWI--what treasures. Best of luck with your WIP!

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  16. Welcome, Connie. I can't imagine how I have missed your Kate Hamilton books until now! I just read the plot summaries of them all, and they sound tailor-made for my reading taste. I look forward to catching up on them all in the very near future.

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    1. Susan, thank you! I hope you like the books. Let me know!

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  17. Connie, I love the book's title and I can't wait to read it! i really appreciate how you have gone almost to extremes to ensure accuracy. As a reader I hate to be reading a description of an actual place and realizing the author has no idea what he is talking about. If you are going to make up geography then better have no actual places, rivers, mountains or anything else because some of us will know. I almost envy the research you have done; I would probably never come up for air, with all the fascinating things to find in various rabbit holes.

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    1. Judi, that is a distinct possibility. Research is such a beguiling activity that I often find myself well off the beaten path. While writing The Shadow of Memory, I started out researching the unearthing of an old priory and ended up reading about the lead makeup that probably contributed to Queen Elizabeth the First's death.

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  18. Connie, have you managed a trip to England since you finished The Shadow of Memory? Or are you planning one? Also, I was tickled that you said you write in your laundry room. Sounds very Nora Roberts!

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  19. We spent three weeks in Devon and Hampshire this past October. Apart from worrying that we might not pass the Covid test to go home, the trip was fabulous. So good to be back.

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  20. Thank you for the glimpse into Berry secrets! I love discovering how authors research their work, and shamefacedly (how's THAT for a created word) admit, as an HGTV addict, I'd never thought of real estate sites! Can't wait to read Kate's latest adventures.

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    1. Thanks, Kait! The real estate thing was a direct result of Covid. Hope you like the book.

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  21. What fabulous tips, Connie! These are so great. But I'm glad you got to go back last October!

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    1. Thanks, Jess. I can't wait to go back. Next fall, I think.

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    2. I'm crossing fingers for that, too, Connie. Wouldn't it be if we were there at the same time?

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    3. Oh my gosh! We'll have to keep in touch for sure!

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  22. Welcome Connie, Love the vibe of your new book and as a lover of English mysteries I am off to find the The Shadow of Mystery and follow the link that I see Debs has posted. I don't know Suffolk very well but my unmarried name is Constable so I have a deep connection to East Anglia, though not much confirmation that I am related to John Constable. - Celia

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    1. Celia, that is so interesting. We loved seeing Constable's birthplace at East Bergholt and gliding down the River Stour. I hope you find a connection. And I hope you like the book!

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  23. It's nice we have these modern resources to do the research when we can't be there in person isn't it? I felt like I was there when reading this book.

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  24. Please ignore this comment as I am trying to find out which way worked so that I can post here on JRW - So far I can only post as Anon which I'm not! Welcome Connie, Love the vibe of your new book and as a lover of English mysteries I am off to find the The Shadow of Mystery and follow the link that I see Debs has posted. I don't know Suffolk very well but my unmarried name is Constable so I have a deep connection to East Anglia, though not much confirmation that I am related to John Constable. - Celia

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  25. Connie, everyone who managed to finish a book during the lock-down deserves a big round of applause! I've never heard of the real estate sites trick, but I'm definitely going to try it, as I'm running out of friends' and family members' houses to use as interiors in my books. :-)

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    1. Oh, funny! It really is amazing that so many interiors are available online. I found photos of my childhood home and the interior of my Danish grandmother's house, which holds very warm and special memories for me.

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  26. Congratulations on your latest, Connie. I am a huge fan of your series and so appreciate your attention to details. I had to write my first hat shop mystery without visiting Notting Hill - quite the endeavor but the local police, Google earth, and travel bloggers saved the day! I also found that reading contemporary British authors/watching British television helped tremendously with capturing the tone of British speakers. Have you made any plans to travel across the pond as yet?

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    1. Thank you, Jenn! British TV should have been on my list (it's about all I watch). A great way to get a top-up on the accents, speech patterns, and slang.

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    2. Jenn, you did an amazing job with that book. I'd never have guessed you hadn't been to Notting Hill and Portobello Market.

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  27. Lorraine NorwoodJune 2, 2022 at 1:02 PM

    Connie, this was so helpful - thank you for sharing! I'm new to your series, having learned about it a couple of months ago from the Reds. So now I've read all your books and can't wait to read this latest one. You've allowed me to travel vicariously which is all I can do these days with Covid flaring up again. I really miss the UK and sometimes will just go on Google maps and take a trip to a remote village and check out the sites. I hadn't thought about checking out the real estate sites, although since I'm just looking for me personally and not for writing, it would probably be fun but depressing LOL. I write historical fiction set in the 14th century so some of your tricks don't apply obviously! Thank heavens for Google Earth.

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    1. Lorraine, thank you! I'm so glad you've liked the books. And I love the idea of just wandering around a remote village. The names are amazing. Well--14th century would be hard! No newspapers, no real estate sites. One source I used for The Art of Betrayal, which has an Anglo-Saxon element, was to find published church records from the 15th century.

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  28. I so agree that going there is the best, but thank goodness for all the resources the Internet brings to our fingertips. Still the smell of a place or what's blooming first week in March (if that's when you set your book) or what the pavement looks like on the main street where your hero will walk... got go there to capture that kindof detail. Connie, thanks so much for sharing your resources and congratulations on THE SHADOW OF MEMORY!

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    1. Hallie, thank you! You've been one of my encouragers and role models. You're so right about the sensory details. I love the smell of the blackberry hedgerows in autumn.

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  29. Connie, congratulations on The Shadow of Memory and the series. I need to catch up in it, and I will. I'm impressed with all the resources you found to use. I wanted to ask you if you used any of the walking guides for the Suffolk coastline in your research. When I was leading a discussion for Elly Griffiths' first Ruth Galloway book set in Norfolk, I purchased a book for the Norfolk coast and found it quite interesting. That for me was a new research skill, looking at something that gave the lay of the land in a place.

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    1. Walking guides are terrific, Kathy. I've used them in researching many of my books set outside of London. I've used some London walks guides, too. Thanks for the reminder!

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    2. Kathy, thank you. Hope you like the book. I love Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series! Can't wait for the next one. I have used walking guides. My husband and I use them when we walk on the footpaths (one of my favorite things). I also love the incredible Ordnance Survey maps, which show just about every detail imaginable.

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    3. Oh, I love that you, Debs, and you, Connie, both use the walking guides. Debs, I have an old Bacon's Ruby Map of London & Suburbs, with Index and Strangers Guide. The copyright on it is February 1949, and the map folds up into a small booklet. I'm going to post some pics of it for you on your FB page, and you can always delete them after looking at them if you don't want to keep it on your page. And, Connie, I have heard so many people say they are smitten with the Ordinance Survey maps.

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    4. Kathy, I LOVE Ordinance Survey maps, and have used those, too. Going to check my FB page now!

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  30. This is such excellent info. I'm saving this for the next month of research for the novel I've already drafted.

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