Murder for Beginners – where’s the inspiration?

When my daughter was born, we thought of calling her Sabrina. At the time, we lived in Gloucestershire, and I worked in a building that looked down onto the canal basin off the River Severn. Sabrina, in case you don’t know, was the name of the goddess of the Severn.

Well, among other reasons, at the end, we did wonder if she wanted to be linked (theoretically) to Sabrina the Teenage Witch and decided against the idea. But for the next four years, we continued to live in Gloucestershire and every day I crossed the Severn to go to work and on weekends, we regularly visited places like Upton-on-Severn and Worcester and kept thinking that one day we’d go back to Shrewsbury which is pretty much looped by the river. 

I suppose the alternative was the Wye, which was just as close, but Sabrina sounded a bit more spellable/pronouncable as a girl’s name in England than Gwy.

I’ve always felt I had a strong connection with the river. I have a vague memory of being a child in a caravan which had been on tour to perhaps the Forest of Dean, which my parents had parked for the night in maybe Broadoak or Newnham, and waking to find that the river – during the Severn Bore had burst its banks and was at the bottom of the steps outside. (This was the sort of lack of planning my father was famed for.) And when I was a teenager, my parents hired some sort of riverboat for a holiday on the Severn which encompassed Tewkesbury and Ironbridge. We even took the cat (who spent most of the time hiding under the sink) and the hamster (who was unbothered by the cat because the cat was scared). As I was a teenager of course, the whole thing was mortifying. There I was with my parents and annoying little sister with almost zero chance of meeting an interesting boy (unless he was also lumbered with ‘ancient parents’ and operating a lock). My mother has a photo album which includes a photo of me looking rebellious and sulky while on bilge pump watch duty. (I still have no idea what I was supposed to be looking for and I’m married to a keen sailor).

But parents and embarrassment aside, I loved the river.

While we lived in Gloucestershire my boat-loving husband and I had vague ideas that one day we’d get some sort of canal boat but then we moved to Dorset where it’s seaworthy boat or canoe territory. The Severn only got a mention when a Gloucestershire saint, St Kynaburga, under her more modern name of Kimbrose after whom Kimrbose Road in Gloucester is named, became the name of a fictional hospital that one of my characters trained in.

Roll on rather more years than I want to think about and I’m planning a new series with Liz Hedgecock. We’ve visited a book barge in London. We’ve visited Worcester a couple of times. We’ve even stayed in an Airbnb which is a dutch barge. We have two characters in a contemporary mystery to create…

And there’s a river in my head. A major, navigable river, with lots of pretty towns on its banks.

And a few conversations later, I have a character: Fi Booker who’s ditched a corporate career to run a book barge on the river Wyvern….

I wonder what the inspiration was?

If you want to know more, here’s the blurb.

As soon as they meet, it’s murder.

When Jade Fitch opens a new-age shop in the picturesque market town of Hazeby-on-Wyvern, she’s hoping for a fresh start. Meanwhile, Fi Booker is trying to make a living from her floating bookshop as well as deal with her teenage son.

It’s just coincidence that they’re the only two people on the boat when local antiques dealer Freddy Stott drops dead while turning the pages of a book. Or is it?

After a grilling from the unfriendly neighbourhood policeman, Jade and Fi are left shaken. Can they prove they didn’t kill Freddy Stott? Was he even the intended victim? And can they trust each other?

Local gossip reveals a host of suspects, but with the police taking their time and hostility towards them growing in the town, Jade and Fi decide to investigate. Will that make things better, or much, much worse?

Murder for Beginners is the first book in the Booker and Fitch cozy mystery series, set in and around the English market town of Hazeby-on-Wyvern.

To buy or borrow (via Kindle Unlimited) Murder for Beginners on Amazon – click here.

Trespassers

The old boat had tempted Ben and Joe for years but they had been too little to get aboard.

Now they were older, it was different. The old boat would make a great den and they could maybe sleep there, if they could sneak out in the night. No-one seemed to care about it. It had been just one of many abandoned to rot, scattered among the better-loved boats along the river’s edge. It would be something to tell the other kids. ‘We stayed out all night by the river. We stayed in that boat.’

Now it was late autumn. It was getting dark and the day was too unpleasant for even the most dedicated sailors to be out renovating or maintaining their boats. There was not one other person about to see Ben and Joe squelch across the mud and clamber aboard. They could stash their things and come back later when everyone was asleep.

There was a wailing around them, the wind was getting up. The clattering in the shrouds ‘clink clink clink’ might have been eerie if they hadn’t been used to it, living along the riverside as they did.

They dragged a ladder from another boat and propped it up. The old boat smelled of leaked oil and rotten wood. Shards of peeling paint scratched them as they got on board.

‘Now what?’ said Ben.

They stood on deck and ate snacks, taking it in turns to pretend to steer, to stand on the prow, to clamber up on the wheelhouse.

It started to rain.

‘Guess we’d better stash our things below,’ said Joe.

They peered down between the rotten timbers, nails rusted and exposed, ready to grab them as they descended.

‘You first.’

‘No you.’

‘You’re chicken.’

‘No you are’.

Together they dropped down inside. There was a smell. An old smell like the ghost of a smell. Joe pulled a bit of broken hand rail from the ceiling and prodded about in the dark galley. Powder from long decayed food collapsed. Beetles scurried.

‘Not sure about staying down here,’ he said. Rainwater had puddled on the floor.

‘What about the aft cabin?’ said Ben.

It was wedged shut. An old anchor was propped against it and hooked under the frame. The boys yanked, their hands slipping in rust, the smell of corrosion rising.

With a final wrench, the anchor split the wood and the door sprung open.

A skeletal hand fell through and landed on Joe’s foot…

old boat

Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission