Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Tom Burns - Guest Blog Post

One of the pleasant consequences of blogging is that one receives communications from around the world, and I do find these interesting. (Well, not the spam comments that sometimes inundate my inbox, but otherwise, this is true...) And I was intrigued recently to be contacted by Tom Burns, a writer with whose work I was unfamiliar, who turns out to be setting a Sherlock Holmes story in the Lake District. I'm wondering why I didn't think of that...anyway, Tom has written a guest post, and here it is:

"I met Martin while researching the Lake District for a Sherlock Holmes story I’m writing for submission to The MX Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories. A search turned up Martin’s Lake District Mysteries, and since my total experience of England consists of train rides from Gatwick to Luton and back, I thought that reading Martin’s books might help me capture the atmosphere of an unfamiliar place. I friended him on Facebook and inquired about a guest post, and he kindly assented.

A detailed setting is essential in any genre, but I think it’s doubly important in mysteries. An entire subgenre, the cozy mystery, is partly characterized by its intriguing and detailed setting. The setting for the first two Natalie McMasters books is a major university in the capitol of an unnamed southern U.S. state. When I first conceived the series, I had to decide between an actual or fictional setting, and I chose the latter for several reasons. 

First, flexibility. For example, if I needed a teaching hospital on campus as a plot device, I could just have it there, without worrying about hauling my characters across town to a real-world location. Second, since the McMasters series is edgy and gritty, I didn’t want to attach sordid fictional doings and characters to existing institutions. Of course, the state capital and university do have their real-life counterparts (I’m not saying where), because this is essential for helping me include the kinds of minute details that will bring the setting alive for the reader.

Conversely, I chose an actual setting for the newest McMasters book. Trafficked! ( is set mostly in New York City, and tells of Nattie’s search for a very important person in her life. Of course, I had to include fictional details, but most fictional locations are based on actual places. In the end, writing in the real-life setting wasn’t much different than writing in the fictional one.

For my Holmes story, I wanted Holmes and Watson out of London, so I chose the Lake District because of its remoteness, natural beauty and ease of adaptability to a quasi-supernatural plot. Thank God for the Internet! I had spent several years in New York City, so was familiar with it, but I barely knew where Cumbria was on the map before I began my research. Now I want to hop on a plane and explore the Lakes, but I’ll have to sell a few books first!

Readers want to vicariously experience exciting and interesting events, but many also want to be transported to exotic or mundane places they’ve never seen, and maybe never will visit. It’s the writer’ s job to make those places come alive in a reader’s mind. The writer’s bonus is that he can experience those places too."

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