Monday, October 06, 2014

The scene of the crime

Last week I had the fun of joining a party of Americans, mainly from Texas and Philadelphia, who were avid crime readers and had spent a fortnight visiting first Bloody Scotland – the Scottish Crime Festival – and then Northumberland the setting for Ann Cleeves' Vera, and then finished in Galloway, retracing the steps of my detective, DI Marjory Fleming – Big Marge.

The idea was that I'd take them to the places that featured in the books and talk to them about the fictional events that had happened there. They were a lovely, enthusiastic bunch and I really enjoyed our time together.

There were a couple of problems, though. First there was the sheer size of the county I write about, and though I know that talking to North Americans about big distances when you're discussing a Scottish county is likely to provoke scorn, the fact remains that if I'd wanted to take them on very narrow roads down to see the lighthouse on the isolated Mull of Galloway to the south and then on up to the Glenluce Abbey chapel in the north of the area, it would have meant most of their day being spent in a bus.

The other difficulty was that I very frequently invent the town or village where the action takes place – even an island, once. (It gave me a terrific sense of power to create an island!) I always know exactly where it would be and if I'm describing the scenery it will be accurate - it's just that the place itself isn't there. So as you can imagine, it's not very satisfactory to take people who have come all the way from the USA and say to them, 'You see this empty space? This is where Kirkluce would be, if it existed.  Which it doesn't.'

The best I could do in the time available was to hope they would get  a flavour of the place, its beauty and its varied character, from the wonderful seascapes to the forests and the lochs. And luckily, one of the places where I really did set the action was conveniently placed and they were able to see the Iron Age broch (house) beside Clatteringshaws Loch where Marnie Bruce, the main character in Bad Blood, cowered in terror.

Is it ever wholly satisfactory, trying to step inside the setting of the book?  I've been to Haworth, where the Brontes lived, and walked on the moors around Wuthering Heights' but evocative as it was, Catherine and Heathcliffe still eluded me. Once, though, when I was young we had a picnic in a field near Rudyard Kipling's house, Bateman's, in Sussex. I noticed that we were encircled by 'oak ash and thorn' and had quite a creepy feeling that Puck might appear at any moment.

I'm not sure if the American visitors felt they had found something of Big Marge and Tam MacNee on their tour, but at least  they did meet one of the most characters in the books – Galloway.

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