Today is Day 4 of the Blog Tour for BONES IN THE RIVER. Today I’m the guest of Tina Hartas at TripFiction. This site specialises in the locations of books, so wherever in the world you live, or are thinking of visiting, you can find a book there which is set in that particular place. As Appleby-in-Westmorland is central to the story of BONES IN THE RIVER, that was the obvious topic of our conversation:

Talking Location With author Zoë Sharp: APPLEBY-IN-WESTMORLAND

#TalkingLocationWith…. Zoë Sharp, author of BONES IN THE RIVER: Lakes crime thriller Book No2 in Appleby-in-Westmorland

It was the street names of Appleby that first fascinated me—Scattergate, Low Wiend, Battlebarrow, The Sands, Doomgate. They sound more like something out of Game of Thrones than a small market town in Cumbria.

But Appleby—the ‘in-Westmorland’ part was only added in the 1970s when the county of Westmorland was abolished—dates back to the Norman conquest. Its claims to fame include the fact that George Washington’s father received his classical education at the Grammar School in Appleby, and the town has been represented in parliament at different time by William Pitt the Younger and by Viscount Howick, who became Earl Grey. Both men went on to become Prime Minister.

Lady Anne Clifford lived and restored Appleby Castle in the 17th century. She founded the alms houses on Boroughgate, gives her name to an ancient path, Lady Anne’s Highway, that stretches a hundred miles from Skipton Castle to Brougham Castle in Penrith. Independent of spirit at a time when women were seen mostly as property, I give a nod to her in BONES IN THE RIVER by creating a pub called the Lady Anne’s Arms. There are plenty of fine pubs in Appleby but, considering the events I have happen there, I don’t think any of them would thank me for using a real location.

The river of the book title is the Eden, which runs through the middle of Appleby. It rises high above the Mallerstang valley to the east, and eventually spills out into the Solway Firth, ninety miles to the north. It is, apparently, one of the few rivers in England that flows northwards.

Appleby is the home of the annual Gypsy Horse Fair. This is held in the second week in June, lasting from Thursday to the following Wednesday, although the main days are Friday to Sunday. It takes place on Fair Hill, which was originally unenclosed land just outside the borough boundary, where the old Roman road crosses Long Marton Road. The latter is closed to traffic during the Fair, when it becomes the Flashing Lane, where horses are trotted up at great speed to show them off for potential buyers. This is after, of course, they’ve been washed in the Eden.

There are records of the first fairs at this site going back to the medieval period. They went through various incarnations until, at the turn of the last century, the event had become a major fixture on the Gypsy and Traveller calendar. Today, the Fair is huge, attracting around 10,000 from the Travelling community—the largest such gathering in Europe. Another 30,000 spectators descend on Appleby.

It’s a misnomer that the Fair takes place by Royal Charter from King James II. It actually has a ‘prescriptive right’ to exist, after having done so for so many years. In 2020, sadly, the coronavirus outbreak has led to the Fair’s cancellation.

I can’t help a certain feeling of irony that the very year BONES IN THE RIVER comes out (on May 26 2020), where Appleby, the Fair, and the surrounding area plays such a big part—will be one of the rare occasions the Fair will not go ahead.

When I lived in Appleby, I always knew it would be a wonderful time and place to set a crime thriller. After all, such a large influx of strangers into a small community is always going to cause friction. Not only between incomers and locals, but also among neighbours. “It’s a good time to settle old scores,” I was told. “You can get your own back on people who’ve annoyed you all year, and blame it on the Gypsies.” The fact that so many people converge on the town, stay for a limited period, then scatter again, creates a time imperative to solve any crime that takes place there.

I knew that I wanted to make the course of the River Eden an integral part of the story. From Water Yat at Mallerstang—an open area where the Gypsies often set up camp—through the amazing waterfall at Stenkrith and the wide, shallow stretch in Appleby where the horses are taken into the water to be washed. The river became more than simply a location—it became another character in the book. And it’s those stories, where the setting is as vital to the narrative as the things that happen there, are so often the ones I enjoy reading—and writing—the most.

Read the illustrated version of this piece over on TripFiction.