Frances Brody, author of Dying the Wool and the upcoming A Medal for Murder, tells us about her search into Harrogate's past and the sometimes problematic relationship between fiction and fact. In A Medal for Murder, Kate Shackleton finds herself on another sleuthing adventure. Investigating the robbery of a pawn shop, Kate finds herself in the genteel world of Harrogate where all is not as it seems. . .
My century old copy of Black’s Guide to the popular spa town claims that in Harrogate, “everyone can find exactly what suits his taste and purse, from the potentate with a retinue of servants and a train of motor-cars, to the over-worked and under-paid literary man, who packs his kit-bag with his own hands and betakes himself to the waters and the air of Harrogate to cure his brain-fag and dyspepsia at the cost of a few sovereigns.”
In the period after the First World War, there was an attempt to recapture the enjoyment of those lost Edwardian days. Visitors took the waters, strolled in Valley Gardens, and listened to morning concerts in the Winter Gardens.
I know Harrogate reasonably well, but as my story developed I took another look, imagining the glory days; noticing what had changed and what remained the same. Once my story was almost complete, there were a few questions that required a little more research.
‘There were floods in Harrogate in August 1922,’ the librarian said, as she brought out various dusty volumes.
Floods? Suddenly, I pictured the town submerged; my characters swept away in a torrent. Sleuth Kate Shackleton might be compelled to postpone her journey to Harrogate until the floods subsided. The victim would be too busy ladling water from his premises to step out and meet a sticky end. My murderer would be paddling a dinghy, with no time for foul play. The ransom note would drop through the letter box into two feet of water and become indecipherable. Meriel’s superb adaptation of Anna of the Five Towns at the Grand Opera House would be cancelled. Shops would sell out of rubber boots and galoshes.
Slowly, I trawled through the old newspapers, to check the severity of the August floods. Along the way, I discovered what moving picture was showing continuously at the Scala Super Cinema: The Old Curiosity Shop, with full orchestra and grand organ. I learned that a featherweight silk raincoat at Marshalls cost 63 shillings. Next came a meteorological item. Mid-August: poor weather spoiled the Agricultural Show. I crossed my fingers that nothing worse would happen.
Finally, ‘the floods’ trickled into the newspaper. There was a burst main at Ripon. A great volume of water swelled Oak Beck. Walls broke near the eighteenth hole of the golf course. Some damage occurred in Kent Road and Queen’s Road. This wasn’t my patch.
I breathed a sigh of relief. The novel need not to be re-written as a latter day Noah’s Ark tale. Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered to my characters. Burst mains need not concern them. More pressing matters are uppermost: life and death, vengeance, ambition, and love.
Besides, A Medal for Murder is fiction. I can create or erase fire, floods and pestilence. Rationally, I know that. But who says that writing a novel is a rational activity?'
To find out more about Frances Brody and her new novel, A Medal for Murder click here