That Ideas Question
Elizabeth J. Duncan
“Where do you get your ideas?”
Many authors dislike that general question, although I’m not sure if it’s really the question they don’t like, or they just get tired of answering it. For me, the answer is simple: I go where the ideas are. And for my Penny Brannigan mystery series, that’s North Wales, where there’s no shortage of inspiration.
“Where did you get the idea for your latest book?”
Many authors quite like that specific question, because they’re eager to talk about their latest work, and the spark that ignited the creative process that led to the story. So here we go. Let me tell you about the idea behind Remembering the Dead, the tenth book in the Penny Brannigan mystery series.
It all started with a chair. But not just any chair, a historic artifact known as the Black Chair, that was awarded in September, 1917 to the distinguished Welsh poet Hedd Wyn. Sadly, he had been killed six weeks earlier at Ypres during one of longest battles of World War 1. The ornately carved chair is truly a work of art, and in 2017, a century after it was created, it was being restored.
So that got me thinking. And here come the two words that almost every author will tell you really get things moving … What if? What if the Black Chair were stolen? And then I had to create the circumstances under which it might be taken. So let’s say someone decides to give a posh dinner party in 2018 to mark the end of World War 1. Of course that someone would have to be influential, but that’s okay, I’ve got a recurring character who fits the bill. And during the course of the dinner party, someone is murdered. But who? A guest? Hmm. That would be expected. What if it were someone nobody was paying attention to? A waiter, say.
And gradually, in the course of the writing, as I string together events, allowing the characters to take the lead on what has to happen next, the story begins to unfold and take shape. Many drafts later, however, the finished manuscript will probably deviate significantly from the rather brief outline I started with. But the core idea, the force that drives the story, remains the same.
Ideas for previous books were sparked from a visit down a slate mine (Slated for Death), a brief item in a newspaper (The Cold Light of Mourning), a friend’s suggestion that a mix up in two jars of marmalade might have murderous consequences (The Marmalade Murders), and a wish to set a book at the beautiful Gladstone’s Library (Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By).
And sometimes, the what if question raises other questions. So if, like a character in the book does, you wonder why a chair, of all things, would be awarded as a poetry prize, I hope you’ll read Remembering the Dead to find out!
About Remembering the Dead
Remembering the Dead: A Penny Brannigan Mystery
Cozy Mystery 10th in Series
Crooked Lane Books (September 10, 2019)
Hardcover: 296 Pages
In award-winning author Elizabeth J. Duncan’s tenth Penny Brannigan mystery set in North Wales, Canadian amateur sleuth Penny Brannigan attends a dinner party at a posh country house–where a historic chair disappears and a waiter is murdered.
Artist and spa owner Penny Brannigan has been asked to organize a formal dinner to mark the centenary of the armistice that ended World War One. After dinner, the guests adjourn to the library for a private exhibition of the Black Chair, a precious piece of Welsh literary history awarded in 1917 to poet Hedd Wyn. But to the guests’ shock, the newly restored bardic chair is missing. And then Penny discovers the rain-soaked body of a waiter.
When Penny learns that the victim was the nephew of one of her employees, she is determined to find the killer. Meanwhile, the local police search for the Black Chair. The Prince of Wales is due to open an exhibit featuring the chair in three weeks, so time is not on their side. A visit to a nursing home to consult an ex-thief convinces Penny that the theft of the Black Chair and the waiter’s murder are connected. She rushes to Dublin to consult a disagreeable antiquarian, who might know more than he lets on, and during the course of her investigation confronts a gaggle of suspicious travelers and an eccentric herbalist who seems to have something to hide. Can Penny find the chair and the culprit before she is laid to rest in the green grass of Wales?
About Elizabeth J. Duncan
A two-time winner of the Bloody Words (Bony Blithe) Award for Canada’s best light mystery, Elizabeth J. Duncan is the author of two series of traditional mysteries: the Penny Brannigan series set in North Wales and Shakespeare in the Catskills featuring costume designer and amateur sleuth Charlotte Fairfax. A former journalist, public relations practitioner, and college professor, Elizabeth is a faculty member of the Humber School for Writers. She divides her time between Toronto, Canada, and Llandudno, North Wales.
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