Setting the scene is important in most novels but especially so in crime and detective fiction. Just think of all those literary and TV cop shows with their familiar backdrops both real and fictional. Morse in Oxford, Rebus – Edinburgh, Marple – St Mary Mead, Scott & Bailey – Manchester and many, many more even before we head for the States, or Scandanavia. A good author can make the urban or rural setting a crucial part of the story, perhaps even central to the plot as the Oxford colleges often are in Morse and Lewis.
In finding a home for Jasmine Frame and the sites for events in Painted Ladies I had a number of choices to make. First of all, fictional or real?
Devising a whole town and its environs is hard. You have to develop the whole layout of the streets, buildings and wild places in your imagination and that is some task. So a real place then, but where? Well, where you live of course; it reduces travelling time for research. Home is the area you know well. You know where the important places are and how long it takes to get from A to B. Moving from the area, as I have done, does present a problem for the sequels but memory, a street map and occasional return trips will have to suffice.
Then the final problem. Do you base your story on the true location with accurate street names and all the rest or do you fictionalise it. It may be a kop out but I’ve settled on the latter. It means I don’t have to have everything exactly as it is on the ground. For example one pub featured in Painted Ladies has now disappeared under a new shopping centre. Changing names also helps prevent silly anachronisms and incongruities jumping out at readers.
So where are the “mean streets”, the seedy dives, the crime scenes, that Jasmine Frame inhabits?
Kintbridge is a large town in the former Royal County of Berkshire. It is on the River Kennet at a crossroads between a major route from the south coast to the Midlands and the old road from London to Bristol. The picturesque Kennet Canal is a notable feature. The town is reasonably prosperous with the usual pockets of deprivation and dens of iniquity. There’s nothing particularly distinctive about its architecture but it’s not a bad place to live. Jasmine’s lived there a few years now and is familiar with its main streets, its back roads, its housing estates and pubs. She knows where things happen and the places to avoid late at night – if you’re wise. Unfortunately, at least one character in Painted Ladies is not so sensible.
a pleasant spot in Kintbridge – as referred to in Painted Ladies.