Thursday, 26 September 2013

Pride of place

I am presently waiting to hear back from my editor and my book cover designer, after which I will be thrown into frenzied activity in order to publish No Stranger to Death in November. So now is the time for a relaxing trip around the Scottish Borders as I share with you some locations which helped me write my first novel.

My answer to that old chestnut 'Where do you get your ideas from?' can often be a literal one: from a place. On seeing an interesting building or view, I ask myself, 'What can I make happen here?' or think, 'That would make a great setting for . . .' This is partly down to a weakness on my part: as I wrote No Stranger to Death I learnt that despite being able to conjure up people and plots from nowhere, I struggle to invent settings. Also, if I have a place in my head, I find it far easier to write the scenes which happen there.

Thanks to the internet, we can all observe Greek islands, the Grand Canyon, even the Antarctic without stirring from our desks, but if possible I prefer to experience a place first-hand, to hear the sounds, smell the smells and spot the little details that will give my writing authenticity. The Borders is a boon to writers and artists (which is probably why so many live here) because the region is packed full of inspiring places, large and small, natural and man-made.

Here are just a few examples of real-life places that have found their way into my book. And no, I’m not sponsored by VisitScotland but I think that as an ‘incomer’ I’m possibly more excited by what I see than people who have grown up surrounded by all this loveliness.

I first saw this building several years ago before it was made into a lovely home. It used to be the stable block of a much bigger property, and formed the basis for the coach house which my main character, Zoe, is having converted. But will she ever move in?

This house was my inspiration for Larimer Hall, where Zoe’s unwelcome suitor, Neil Pengelly, lives with his brother Peter. In my book, Zoe can see the Hall from an upper room in her coach house; in reality several miles separate the properties.

This is Kelso town hall as seen from the window of Zoe’s favourite café. Actually I’ve cheated; there is no café there, just a tiny branch of Boots. And why does Zoe keep going there?

Many graveyards in the Borders are not adjacent to churches but on the outskirts of villages. This is the pretty entrance to a small graveyard which serves the village of Leitholm, on which I based much of my fictional village, Westerlea. Zoe attends a rather eventful burial here.

When Zoe is taken by her friend Kate for a fish supper in Eyemouth, the first thing she sees when she gets out of the car is Gunsgreen House which, Kate tells her, was built by an eighteenth-century gentleman smuggler. Later that evening, they bump into the people Kate blames for two recent deaths, although Zoe isn’t so sure.

I've already started preparing for the follow-up to No Stranger to Death by finding some more great locations. But first I need to get this book published . . .


  1. Beautiful locations, indeed! I can't wait to read your book. Good luck with the last few weeks of waiting.

  2. Lovely photos, Janet, especially the one of Gunsgreen House - well all of them really. Good luck with your book!