Today is launch day for Blood Across the Divide. I am often asked where I get the inspiration for my novels so it seemed appropriate to explain some of the things that inspired the novel.
Two mysteries – what has happened to Fiona’s missing passenger, and who shot the rebel republican terrorist, Eamon McCollum? Once again, tour manager, Fiona Mason and MI6 chief Peter Montgomery-Jones come together to find the answers and unravel how the two cases are linked.
Belfast rightly deserves its reputation as one of the top British cities for tourists. All looks set for a wonderful tour, but, people are not always who they claim to be. Fiona and her coach party quickly find themselves drawn into the undercurrent of distrust and thirst for revenge that has been simmering in Northern Ireland since the time of The Troubles. Drawn into one another’s investigations, Fiona and Peter need the other’s help to cut through the web of deceit and betrayal to find out what has been going on.
My first two published novels were standalone psychological suspense, but when I was having problems with the third book, my then agent suggested my books would be easier to sell if I had a series character. I gave some thought to the idea and decided my investigator would be a tour manager for a coach company. Her sidekick could be her driver and, in true Agatha Christie fashion, my cast of suspects would be limited to the number of passengers.
Not that things quite worked to that pattern as I hadn’t accounted for Peter Montgomery-Jones. Intended as a minor character, he took on a life of his own and not only demanded on a bigger role in Book 1, insisted on coming back in all future mysteries. Who said characters don’t take over?
Blood Across the Divide is the fifth Fiona Mason Mystery therefore there are I didn’t start with a blank sheet. I already knew my leading character, Fiona, who would solve a murder within the time frame of a coach tour. Two other characters would also an essential part of the mix – Peter Montgomery-Jones – who would have his own investigation – and Fiona’s West Indian driver, Winston whose role might only be minor, but already established as a steady rock for when Fiona is besieged by problems.
In every good novel, the leading character is changed in some way by the events that happen and although Fiona and Peter are well-established characters, they two continue to grow.
The location is obviously another important element in any Fiona Mason Mystery. In the first novel Blood on the Bulb Fields, the idea of finding a dead body in a beautiful place like Keukenhof gardens appealed to me. I’d been to the Netherlands several times and, once I settled on Holland as the venue for Fiona’s coach party, the whole plot began to come together. Amsterdam has one of the world’s leading diamond cutting industries. Smuggling diamonds then became the obvious crime. Research told me that most smuggled diamonds are conflict or blood diamonds and that they are financed by terrorists – hence the introduction of Peter Montgomery-Jones as head of an anti-terrorism unit.
With the next two in the series, I knew the locations well although it did entail a further visit. In the case of Blood in the Wine, we did an actual coach trip and I used the same itinerary when I came to write the novel. A cruise of the Elbe valley beginning with a pre-cruise stay in Berlin was never intended as a research trip but it quickly became the itinerary for Mystery number 4 – Blood Hits the Wall.
With Blood Across the Divide, things were a little different. I had been to many of the places on Fiona’s trip before on different occasions, but with this book, time eluded me, and the return trip to check all the different locations never quite happened. Last year was a very busy year. One of the reasons was the solid six months of research needed to be the port lecturer on a couple of cruises. However, one of the ports I needed to research for my presentation was Belfast. By the time I’d finished, I was familiar with the history of Belfast and Northern Ireland and all of Belfast’s tourist attractions. As port lecturer, I also had to talk about the details of all the tours the ship had to offer. These then became Fiona’s itinerary. Naturally, when we arrived at the port, I opted for a tour to one of the places I had not previously visited and my husband visited the other – with strict instructions to make notes and take as many photos as possible. As luck would have it, I have a friend who lives in Belfast and she was kind enough to act as one of my beta readers checking that I had my facts right.
Location is not the only thing that has to be decided upon before I start writing. I need a reason to involve Peter Montgomery-Jones. What terrorist activity will bring him hurrying over from his MI6 headquarters? The crime must be related to the location. Setting Blood Across the Divide in Northern Ireland, something to do with the Troubles seemed an obvious choice. But it’s an emotive issue, and I was apprehensive that I could walk the fine line that would fulfil the needs of a crime novel and, at the same time, cause no offense.
I’m beginning to think about the next novel. I have two locations in mind. Originally, I’d decided on the Rhone Valley – we have a visit planned in March/early April but the idea I came up with for Peter’s investigation is probably better served by setting Fiona’s trip in Paris and the Normandy Britany area. We will have to see!