Ted Hertel Jr has just reviewed BONES IN THE RIVER for Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine. Here are his thoughts:
The annual Appleby Horse Fair generally draws more than 40,000 tourists including many Travellers and Gypsies from around the area. This causes no end of problems for the police and those who live in the small Lakeland town in which they gather. Tensions always run high between the visitors and the locals, but this time they are exacerbated when a young boy on a bicycle is run over and his body disappears just as the Romany begin arriving. It isn’t long before a body does wash up in the river—only this corpse is the remains of a missing adult male from the area. DC Nick Weston and crime scene investigator Grace McColl must work with their respective teams, and each other, in order to delve into long-held secrets and a prevent violent clash at the Fair.
This is the second novel in Zoë Sharp’s entertaining Lake District trilogy, the first of which was DANCING ON THE GRAVE. You need not have read the earlier novel in order to follow this one. McColl and Weston are interesting protagonists, each of whom carries baggage from prior relationships and their police work. They work with different teams but still manage to find their investigations overlapping. Other characters are equally well drawn, from the villains to the visitors to the Fair. The locals believe that those visitors are responsible for both crimes, including that of the young boy whose body also eventually turns up in the river.
The author beautifully describes the English Lake District, as well as the lifestyles of the Romany, complete with their language and culture. The Fair, which is based on the actual event, is so well-described that it makes one want to visit it. The mystery at the heart of this novel is one that will touch your heart; the secrets behind that mystery will then shatter it.
Sharp is best known for the action and suspense in her outstanding Charlie Fox series. While the reader knows the identity of the young boy’s killer right from the start, this bit of information only heightens the suspense as the killer does everything possible to evade capture. This is an entirely different type of tale from the Fox series, a complex one that will twist your mind right to the novel’s final pages. I look forward to the third volume in this set.
My thanks to Ted Hertel Jr, as always, for the kind words.
I was delighted to be invited by Barbara Bos at the Women Writers Women’s Books website to write a piece on my Road to Publication, from an early longhand novel to my foray into indie publishing, and everything in between.
I have been in this writing game long enough to have started out in an entirely analogue world.
When I wrote my very first novel there was no internet, no social media, no email, no mobile phones, and precious little by way of computerisation.
(I should point out here that I was only fifteen at the time.)
I penned the whole manuscript longhand and my father, bless him, typed it up for me on an electric typewriter—with carbon copies. It did the rounds of the major publishing houses, where it received what is known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’. Everybody loved it. Nobody wanted to publish it.
I temporarily shelved my idea of becoming a novelist and went on to a variety of jobs in my teenage years. But the compulsion to write never quite left me. So, when I learned to drive and bought my first car, an elderly Triumph Spitfire, this led me into the classic car world. And, more particularly, into the classic car magazines.
It wasn’t long before I realised that there were a lot of car magazines on the market in the UK—about 120 at that time—and they were all desperate for good copy. I gave up my job, turned freelance, and discovered I had more work on than I could handle. It wasn’t long before editors starting asking for pictures to go with the articles. So I borrowed a camera and taught myself to use it.
That all began in 1988. I’ve been making a living from words and pictures ever since.
I may have found early success with non-fiction, but I never lost that urge to create my own story rather than retelling other people’s. For much of the 1990s I was kicking around the idea for a crime thriller. Mainly because that was the genre I most liked to read but also because, in the thrillers around at the time, I couldn’t find a female character who really satisfied me.
Mostly, the women in such books were there as the hero’s love interest, or to cook, tend to the wounded, scream in a firefight, or twist their ankle at an inappropriate moment and need to be rescued.
I wanted to read about women who were quite capable of doing their own rescuing, thank-you-very-much.
Enter ex-Special Forces trainee turned self-defence expert and close-protection operative, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox. I finished my first novel featuring Charlie back in 1999. After picking up my copy of the WRITERS’ AND ARTISTS’ YEARBOOK, and searching for Agents (Crime) I began at A. The second agent who requested the full typescript offered to represent me.
With hindsight, I should have spent days in my local library, going through the Acknowledgements sections of my favourite crime authors’ works, looking for the ones who thought highly enough of their agents to name-check them.
If I were starting out now, of course, I’d look at author websites, which often list the author’s literary agent on the Contact page. Or simply resort to Google, or—better yet—go and hang out in the bar at CrimeFest or Harrogate.
But, back then I was a novice, and there wasn’t the plethora of advice, forums, and support groups there is now. Even with the mistakes I made in my early decisions, KILLER INSTINCT came out in 2001.
Since then, I have written thirteen books in the Charlie Fox series, the latest of which is BAD TURN—out in Sept 2019. I’ve also written more than twenty short stories, which have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. I’ve penned a couple of standalone crime novels, one of which is now the first of a trilogy set in the Lake District and featuring CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston. The second book, BONES IN THE RIVER, came out in May 2020.
When my first publisher was swallowed up by a larger fish in the pond, my early works fell out of print. I reverted the rights and, in 2011, decided the eBook bandwagon was something I ought to be on. I self-published, with immediate success. Ever since, I’ve been a hybrid author with a foot in both independent and traditional publishing camps.
I’ve learned to handle the layout and content side of indie publishing, as well as cover design, editing, marketing, social media strategy, blogging, and advertising. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. But the upside is total control and information flow in an industry not noted for providing the average author with either commodity.
It’s a lot of plates to keep spinning at any one time. Especially when you consider that there’s also the small matter of actually writing the books…
But there is a good deal of satisfaction to be had in knowing what you’re going to be writing next, regardless of whether that’s part of an existing series, branching out into another, or even trying something new.
When I wrote the first book in what has become the Lakes Crime Thriller Trilogy, DANCING ON THE GRAVE, it was intended purely as a standalone title. Then reviewers hinted that they thought Grace and Nick had legs. Soon, readers joined that cry, and I knew I just had to go again. So far, I’ve committed to a trilogy that can all be read independently. After that, well, it’s up to my readers.
But, with Charlie Fox fans clamouring for more—allied to the fact the series was recently optioned for TV—plus another standalone bubbling inside my head, and another series to launch into, who knows what might happen next?
There’s one thing about being an author—it’s never dull.
Read and comment on this article over on Women Writers Women’s Books.
The name of Linda Wilson is a well-known one in crime review circles, so I was very pleased that she wanted to take a look at Book No2 in the Lakes Crime Thriller trilogy, BONES IN THE RIVER for Crime Review:
June 13 2020
Both your editors are huge fans of Martin Walker’s Bruno chief of police series that’s set in the Dordogne. Sharon Wheeler enjoyedA Shooting at Chateau Rock, although it’s not the best in the series by some way and has a tendency to plod via lots of tasty meals and Bruno building a hen house. Faintly bemusing, though, was the presence of a long-standing mate of Linda Wilson’s, who was piloting a chopper! And we were equally surprised by an appearance from our dear friend Ayo Onatade, who has a guest spot as a pathologist inBones in the Riverby Zoë Sharp. Yes, we know it’s common in crime fic, but it always brings us up short! As for the book, which is set amidst the annual Appleby Fair, Linda says it’s intelligent and cleverly written, with well-drawn characters and a plot that twists and turns like a true Cumbrian road.
ReviewEvery year, the Cumbrian village of Appleby-in-Westmoreland plays host to the annual gathering of the Gypsy and Traveller community. This is an event not without controversy and there is something of an uneasy relationship between locals and the fairgoers. This year tensions are running high for more dramatic reasons than usual.
Members of the travelling community are being questioned by the police over the disappearance of a local boy and the discovery of his damaged bike in a skip, with forensic evidence that links back to one of the Gypsies. Vano Smith claims he found the bike by the side of the road but wasn’t involved in any hit and run.
Then matters worsen when a body is discovered in a makeshift grave partly collapsed into the river near the spot where the Gypsies bring their horses to be washed. Inevitably, suspicion falls on the Gypsy and Traveller community. The police are keen not to inflame local tensions, but that’s a big ask when the body of the missing boy is found in the river and is believed to be the victim of a hit and run.
DC Nick Weston and Crime Scene Investigator Grace McColl are required to navigate the tensions riding high in Appleby as well as the inevitable internal stresses of both investigations. Grace’s boss, head CSI Chris Blenkinship, isn’t exactly her biggest fan and on this occasion, he’s dismayed to find that she’s picked up the hit and run case.
Grace is a dogged investigator with considerable flair and ingenuity when it comes to an examination of the evidence and is the force’s most skilled forensic specialist. And Blenkinship has good reason for his concern. It became clear very quickly that he was the person responsible for the boy’s death when driving homes from a dinner party, over the legal limit for drinking and driving. A moment’s inattention was all that it took. Not wanting to jeopardise his career, Blenkinship took the decision to conceal the accident, a decision that will inevitably come back to haunt him, especially with Grace’s involvement.
This is the second outing for Weston and McColl and it’s every bit as good as their introduction in Dancing on the Grave. When I finished their debut I had hopes of this becoming a series and those hopes have been amply fulfilled. Appleby, with its influx of caravans, horses and traders, provides an atmospheric backdrop for another ably executed police thriller that positively oozes a sense of place, making it easy to picture the rolling hills and river valleys, the colourful caravans and their occupants. Zoë Sharp writes well and sympathetically of both townsfolk and incomers, with rights and wrongs on both sides.
As ever, there are surprises in store in the forensics, and Sharp pitches a good mix of plot-driven action and character development, with bags of tension on all sides. Every time I thought I’d got a handle on what had happened, a brisk wind blew across the fells, dispelling my theories and leaving me floundering. The final twist was one I didn’t see coming.
The only thing that came close to bouncing me out of the story was the introduction of the shrewd pathologist, Dr Ayo Onatade. Using the name of such a well-known figure in the world of crime fiction drove a horse and cart at speed through the fourth wall, although I did enjoy the mental images of my friend dealing briskly with all comers and dominating every scene in which she appeared with a force of personality and style that went further than appending her name to a fictional character. If anyone is capable of fighting crime with style, it’s Ayo!
Bones in the River is intelligent and cleverly written, with well-drawn characters and a plot that twists and turns like a true Cumbrian road.
Reviewed 13 June 2020 by Linda Wilson
Read and comment on the full review over on Crime Review.
Today is Day 9 of the Blog Tour for BONES IN THE RIVER. Last stop on the tour is ShotsMag Confidential, where I’m the guest of the remarkable Ayo Onatade, talking about taking the first book in the Lakes Crime Thriller trilogy, DANCING ON THE GRAVE, from being a standalone into the start of a new series.
Although I’ve said I’ll do three books with CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston for the moment, I’m not ruling out more. And if the response is as positive as it’s been so far, that has become a distinct possibility!
When is a Series not a SeriesThere was Never Going to Be a Second BookWhen my Lakes-set crime thriller, DANCING ON THE GRAVE came out in late 2018, it was fully intended as a standalone novel. In fact, I stated as much in the sub-title of the book.
I’m not quite sure who I was trying to convince.That story is my take on the Washington Sniper incident from back in 2002, but transported to the English Lake District. I focused the story around four of the main characters—rookie CSI Grace McColl; recently transferred Detective Constable Nick Weston; the sniper himself; and the disturbed teenage girl who becomes his spotter.Unlike my first-person POVCharlie Fox series, DANCING ON THE GRAVE was written in close third-person viewpoint, so I could get right inside the heads of the characters—including the perpetrators. That made it feel, to me as I wrote it, unlike the usual police procedural. The story allowed me to explore a number of themes that were important to me, about the abandonment of former military personnel after their service was up, and what seems to be the current obsession with ‘being famous’ without regard to reason.But I didn’t think it would be an easy book to follow up, even if I’d been intending to. Reviewers and readers had other ideas.Such was the response to Grace and Nick that I was eventually persuaded to give them a second outing. (Although, strictly speaking, Grace’s first appearance was in a short story,Tell Me, which you can currently read on the Crime Readers’ Association website.)The basic idea for BONES IN THE RIVER has been with me in some form or another for more than fifteen years. Back in the early 2000s, I was living in the small market town of Appleby-in-Westmorland in Cumbria, while building a house in the Eden valley. Every year in the first week in June, Appleby Horse Fair takes place in the town. It’s been held in one form or another since medieval times, but since the beginning of the last century it’s grown into the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.Held from Thursday to the following Wednesday (but mainly Friday to Sunday) the Fair attracts around 10,000 members of the Travelling community—quadrupling the population of the town. Another 30,000 visitors flock in to watch the spectacle of horses being washed in the River Eden and shown off along the Flashing Lane.Locally, it’s greeted with mixed feelings. There are those who love it for the extra business and revenue it generates. And equally those who hate it for the disruption it causes. Not just during Fair week, but also in the run-up to the event, as the different Romany clans begin to assemble in outlying villages.It is, I was told, a very good time to settle old scores. If one of your neighbours has pissed you off, you wait until the Fair to get your own back, and blame it on the Gypsies. The police are always out in number and trouble is, shall we say, not unknown.So I set my story against this backdrop. It was somehow a metaphor for what was going on in the country at large over Brexit, where outsiders were viewed with suspicion and distrust. My aim was to portray without romanticising or demonising either. People are people, and there are good and bad of all types.I also wanted to look closely at the effects of a split-second bad decision on someone who has spent their life on the ‘right’ side of the law. To see the slow, corrosive consequences as they are forced to compound their sins.And, having discovered the title BONES IN THE RIVER as part of a song by Gillian Welch, I knew I was going to have to make the River Eden as much a character in the book as the people.Once again, you see one crime as it’s committed and I make no effort to hide the identity of the perpetrator for long. But then a second body emerges, and there’s more mystery to the who and why.If people react as well to BONES as they did to DANCING, then it’s a style I hope to repeat. I’ve already promised a third instalment with Grace and Nick. After that, it’s up to my readers. If they like what they see (including the Force Medical Examiner, one Dr Ayo Onatade) then there will be more crimes to come in the wild hills of Cumbria!
What I Learned From The Day Job: Zoë Sharp
I suppose there was half a chance that writing fiction might have been my day job, right from the start. After all, I penned my first novel at the age of fifteen—and I do mean ‘penned’. I wrote the entire thing, long-hand, in a month, and gave myself the most appalling writers’ cramp in the process.
That early effort did the rounds of all the major publishers, where it received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’—everybody said they loved it but nobody actually wanted to publish it.
Looking back, I’m rather glad about that.
Because, in order to be a writer, you need different experiences under your belt. At the age of fifteen, I’d had few worth mentioning. Apart from living aboard a catamaran from the age of about seven and leaving school at twelve. But that, as they say, is probably another story.
Having failed at my first attempt to be a novelist, I became side-tracked by a variety of jobs in my teenage years, including crewing boats and learning astro-navigation. I was mad keen on horses, rode competitively, and once even took part in a rodeo. I learned to shoot—did a little competing there, too. Long guns, mostly. I considered myself an average shot with a handgun but, as I discovered on my last visit to a US indoor gun range, most people can manage to miss the target entirely at less than ten feet.
As for jobs, I became a freelance motoring writer at the height of the classic car boom of the late 1980s. That quickly transmuted into being a photojournalist, having taught myself both how to write commercial magazine articles and also how to take images good enough for numerous front covers and centre spreads.
It was hardly surprising, then, that eventually I’d have to start writing a character who was a photographer. Enter Grace McColl, first in DANCING ON THE GRAVE and now in BONES IN THE RIVER. Grace started out as a keen amateur photographer, who became involved in providing evidence for the defence in a court case. She was then approached by the Head CSI at Cumbria police, who asked her if she’d ever thought of joining the side of the angels. Always nice to be able to write any parts of the story concerning photography without having to do lots of research.
My time spent writing about cars also played a part in BONES IN THE RIVER, which begins with a hit-and-run incident. Understanding how the mechanics of a vehicle work makes writing scenes with them in so much easier and, I hope, more accurate.
Plus, all that time spent with horses came in very useful for a book that takes place during the largest Gypsy and Traveller horse fair in Europe. There were still plenty of times when I had up to a dozen different scientific research books laid on the table at the side of my desk as I wrote, though. Fortunately, forensic science and pathology are such fascinating subjects.
They tell you to write what you know. I disagree. I think you should write what you’re desperate to find out instead.
Read the full article over on Elementary V Watson.
Day 7 of the Blog Tour for BONES IN THE RIVER. Today, it’s the turn of the wonderful Jen Lucas to review the book for Jen Med’s Book Reviews. A thought-provoking look at the underlying themes, plus a plea for more!
If you like a mystery in which CSI and Detective work side by side (sort of) in order to solve a crime—one that in this case, at least from the start, isn’t clear to them is even a crime yet, then this is definitely the book for you. Now, as readers we are faced with a perspective that is completely separate from that of the investigating team. We know things that they have yet to discover, but then they are set to make a discovery that will take us by surprise too. Confused? You won’t be if you read the book—which I highly recommend you do as it is a brilliant read.
We start with a case of a potential hit and run, one with a startling conclusion that will guarantee to take you by surprise. But this is not the only thread in this story and when a skeleton is discovered on the riverbank close to the annual Horse Fair in Appleby, it leads Grace McColl and Nick Weston to a group of Travellers who are haunted by both secrets and a familial legacy which leads to all kinds of conflicts.
It is easy to paint Travellers in a negative light, as nothing more than thieves, not to be trusted. It is the reputation they have earned, whether justified or not, as they lead a lifestyle that many in the more rooted community cannot understand. However, whilst there is an air of mystery about certain members of the community, Zoë Sharp has worked hard not to bow to any singular stereotype, or make any aspersions about Travellers in general, whilst still conveying the judgement and prejudice that their community is subjected to. It is a delicate balance but very carefully handled. It was the elements of the story in which the Traveller culture is explored more closely, that idea of the sort of head of a clan, which I found fascinating. The story served to challenge my own prejudices without alienating me from what I was reading and I often found myself incensed by the behaviour of the self proclaimed civilised locals who sought to discriminate against the Travellers in their midst. Like every community, there are the good and the bad folk, and the bad are not always easy to identify whilst those you may trust least can often take you by surprise.
I do love the characters of Grace and Nick and the chemistry between them is undeniable. It’s not an easy partnership, several obstacles standing in their way, not least of which is Nick’s partner—the mother of his child. Theirs is a complicated relationship, not likely to be made any easier by revelations from within this book. Then there is Grace’s ex-husband—a man who cannot take a hint when told that they are over. Of course that’s not made any easier when you factor in Grace’s mother, Eleanor. Oh my word how I like her. She is a canny lady that’s for sure and she has the measure of those around her very quickly. She is keen, quick witted and very sly in her own way. A brilliant character and it’s easy to see where some of Grace’s spirit comes from. And it’s a good thing that Grace is so determined and strong as she will need her wits about her this time around as at least one of the people she is hunting for knows how to stay one step ahead.
One other character who was something of a revelation in this book is Queenie. Although she lives her life in a largely patriarchal community where her only role is to support her husband and bring up her children (and I say only with a roll of my eyes and more than a hint of sarcasm), she is so strong of spirit and heart that you cannot help but admire her. She is the calm at the heart of a storm, a voice of reason unafraid to stand up for what she believes in, no matter what peril she puts herself in. She is naturally wary of the police having had no reason to trust them in the past, but the reluctant respect she shares with Grace helps to drive the story. There is a real depth to her character and she is easy to grow to like. Although it’s not always easy to understand her acquiescence to her husband and brother, there is that underlying spark that signals a woman who will ultimately not be cowed by others.
The book is full of moments of tension and conflict and moments that will make you smile in spite of a very hard hitting storyline. It is a tale of long held secrets, of prejudice and mistrust and of family, for good or for bad. Parts will make your heart break, others will even make you angry or perhaps make you laugh. But what they will do is combine to produce a storyline that is 100% absorbing and a completely compelling read in a series I am loving.
I know this series is set to be a trilogy, but then it was only ever going to be a standalone at one stage. Is it too much to hope for that after book three there might just be room for a little more? Fingers crossed as these books are definitely recommended.
Read the review and leave a comment over on Jen Med’s Book Reviews.
Day 6 of the Blog Tour for BONES IN THE RIVER. Today the fabulous Noelle Holten has posted her review at Crime Book Junkie. I think it’s fairly safe to say she enjoyed the book, but don’t take my word for it:
Set in Cumbria / Kirkby Stephen / Appleby the reader is immersed in a novel which looks at the travelling community; discrimination; blame; fear; family; loyalty; grief; secrets; consequences; mistrust; corruption; loss; deception and a search for the truth/justice.
Zoë Sharp is one of my favourite authors because no matter what, she delivers a story that instantly has you on the edge of your seat. What an opening! My eyes widened as I read the final sentence and that was it – HOOKED! What I loved about this book was the puzzle that keeps you guessing in relation to the secondary thread whilst the main storyline has you screaming at the characters as they unravel a horrible crime – you see, the reader knows early on who the police and CSI are looking for – and you absolutely won’t believe it! So it’s not the WHO it is the HOW the outcome will be revealed that will have you racing through the pages! Within the pages, there is great description – you are there in the moment – and it’s hard not to imagine the beauty of the setting balanced against the horror of the crime… There is an authenticity to the novel as well, it was clear that Zoë Sharp did her research and I also enjoyed the #kickass moments – some that might make even Charlie Fox proud!
When I read the first book: DANCING ON THE GRAVE I wanted more – I loved DC Nick Weston and CSI Grace McColl so was thrilled to hear that Zoë took on board her readers *ahem* demands and followed up with this book! But readers – both are fabulous stand-alone stories so you can read them on their own – but given we learn a little bit about each of the main players in the first book, you may as well read it – it’s brilliant! DC Nick Weston is still trying to prove himself but we learn a lot more about him and I have to say, I love him even more. Same applies to Grace McColl – she’s determined and not afraid to follow her gut but the insight we receive in BONES IN THE RIVER about Grace goes a long way to explain or hint at why she is this way. I also like the almost uncertainty that hovers over the relationship (personal and professional) between Grace and Nick. And Zoë Sharp can write a baddie well – but in this novel, there are a few who might surprise you when all is revealed and you may even feel sorry for some…
So would I recommend this read? That would be a hell-to-the-yeah I would! Another cleverly constructed and riveting read from the oh-so-talented, Zoë Sharp! BONES IN THE RIVER delivers everything I look for in a crime thriller: relatable characters, a compelling and believable plot and a pace that is sharp, fast and addictive. Highly recommended!
You can read or comment on the review over at Crime Book Junkie.
CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston are back in book two in the Lake Thriller trilogy. The book opens with a murder. This isn’t a whodunnit, we find out immediately who the killer is although the police don’t know. During the investigation of this crime a body washes up in the river and the two cases become intertwined.
I really enjoyed the procedural aspect of the story. I also like these characters very much. There were a couple of plot devices I did not enjoy. I won’t get into specifics because it might influence the reader; I just want to explain the lower star rating. Overall, this was a solid story with great characters. It was well researched, or at least seemed to be, the details were very interesting. I really like all the animals, from pets to breeding horses, the personalities were as filled out as their human counterparts.
This could definitely be read as a stand alone, but the first book, DANCING ON THE GRAVE is fantastic.
As we speak, I am in the midst of a Blog Tour for the publication of my new book, the second in the Lakes Crime Thriller trilogy, BONES IN THE RIVER. I should have been talking about the book at Newcastle Noir and CrimeFest as well.
Current circumstances—UK lockdown for Covid-19 coronavirus—have put paid to any physical festivals or conventions. So, everything has moved online, with panels and interviews and readings. I took part in the recent Virtual Noir At The Bar (Episode 5 on April 29, from about 44:00min to 51:00min) instead of actually meeting up, in an actual bar, to do actual readings from our works.
As well as keeping on top of the Blog Tour, I’m also deeply into the planning of the next two books. And that’s where I run into the biggest questions of all.
How are we going to write about the events of 2020 in the future?
If I look at BONES IN THE RIVER, for instance, the events of the story occur at the annual Appleby Horse Fair, held in the Cumbrian market town for hundreds of years and famous as being the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.
This year it has been cancelled.
The opening scene, in which a man accidentally runs down and kills a child on a deserted country road at night, could still happen in lockdown—but not after he’d just spent an evening having a meal with friends where they were undoubtedly all sitting around a dinner table—inside—in close proximity.
My CSI, Grace McColl, goes from crime scene to office and out into the field again, mixing with both the public and her colleagues. My detective, Nick Weston, goes to interview suspects and potential witnesses in person rather than by phone or Zoom, because how can you really get a feel for the reactions of the people you’re talking to unless you can see them while you talk.
People are brought in for questioning—their legal representatives sitting alongside them. What will happen in future? Zoom again, or will this cause a major leap forwards in projection hologram technology?
Grace visits her mother, Eleanor, who has moved back from the south coast up to Appleby. Grace’s ex-husband, Max, has been making himself useful around Eleanor’s new house and garden, perhaps as a way of trying to reinsert himself into Grace’s life. Even with the slight easing of lockdown due to take place in the UK from June 1, this is dubious behaviour. They have a barbecue—which as it’s outside would probably be allowed. But Nick also attends and he doesn’t count as family. Not sure he and Grace stay the full six feet apart at all times there, either…
Besides, Nick’s a father with a young daughter, Sophie. Would he risk her health by associating with others more than he absolutely had to for his job? And what about Nick’s partner, Lisa, who has been working suspiciously late at a hair and beauty salon that wouldn’t be open for business yet anyway.
While one of the other CSIs is suspended for a supposed error. He’s staying at home in his scruffs, watching the TV and playing video games—perfectly feasible in these lockdown times! But then he gets a visit from one of his colleagues and, instead of insisting the man stays on the doorstep so they can chat (no garden available in a little terraced house in Workington) he invites the man inside his home—without hand sanitiser, gloves or face mask.
The Travelling community at the Fair live in close proximity inside their vardo and bow-top horse-drawn caravans, and spend their time largely out of doors, but at the Fair they all mix and mingle with no thought to cross-contamination. There’s plenty of washing goes on, but it’s mostly of horses in the River Eden, as fits with tradition rather than to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infection.
And at the stand-off near the end of the book, the police are more concerned with the numbers involved than the risks of getting too close to the saliva of others.
If I’d been writing this book next year, and setting it this year, it might have been a very different story altogether.
So, what do I do about the third instalment? Do I mentally set the story pre-winter 2019, when Corona was still just a beer, and a virus was something more likely to be contracted by your computer than by your elderly relatives?
After all, I didn’t specify that BONES IN THE RIVER was set in any particularly year. It’s contemporary but not tied to any specific, non-transferrable event—the millennium, for instance.
But, in a few years’ time, the obvious setting of a book pre- or post-Covid-19 will undoubtedly date it. I went through my very first book recently, KILLER INSTINCT and UN-dated it. I didn’t change the story but I did take out references to minor things that I felt dated it badly. References to computer floppy disks, video cassette tapes—even public phone boxes, most of which have either disappeared from our streets or been turned into tiny libraries or stations for community defibrillators.
The next book I have planned is a bit more of an experiment, and therefore could be set at any time in the last few years. I don’t intend to make reference to Covid-19 in that story. It still feels too soon. Too raw.
This will give me time to see what’s going to change in societal behaviours in the slightly longer term before I start the next Charlie Fox book. If Charlie’s greatest threat to someone in the future is that if they don’t stop what they’re doing, she’ll cough on them, it’s going to change things in a big way…
What are your feelings, both as writers and readers about the inclusion of Covid-19 in books written right now, to be read in the next year or eighteen months? Do you want them to reflect these strange times in full and horrible detail, or do you read as more of an escape of what’s going on around you, and therefore not want to be reminded?
And will pre-2020 become seen as the new Golden Age—both of crime and of life?
This week’s Word of the Week is petrichor, meaning the smell of rain on dry earth. It comes from the Greek petra which means stone and ichor, which means the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. My thanks to EvKa for sending me this among a whole list of wonderful words. A gift to treasure for a logophile like me!
You can read and comment on this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.
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.