Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Up the garden path

I’m very keen on gardens – although not, I must admit, on gardening: Sitting out in the garden reading a good book on a sunny afternoon is a wonderful way to spend the time, and I’d like to do it more often. Whenever the chance to visit other people’s gardens comes, though, I like to grab it if I possibly can.

Lymm Festival is currently under way and on Sunday, with family and friends (including fellow crime writer Kate Ellis) I wandered round some of the private gardens that were thrown open for the day by their owners. And very impressive they were – ranging from brand new gardens in the middle of incomplete housing estates, to the fabulous grounds of Lymm Hall.

As usual, I found my thoughts wandering to murder. When I wrote the Harry Devlin books and Take My Breath Away, with city settings, there was no scope for exploring gardens. Writing books set in the Lakes, however, presented me with the opportunity to create a mysterious garden in Brackdale, which features in the very first chapter of The Coffin Trail. The secret of the garden is, though, not revealed until the events of The Cipher Garden (it forms a sub-plot, rather than the main mystery, and I’m quite sure readers who come across the second book first will not have their enjoyment spoiled if they later read the first book.)

Quite a number of other crime writers, Ruth Rendell amongst them, have featured gardens in their crime novels. One writer who made a particular speciality of gardening mysteries was the late John Sherwood. I only met him once, at a CWA conference in Tunbridge Wells in the early 90s. He was an amiable chap and I was sorry not to have had the opportunity to get to know him better.

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