'As I began Kate Shackleton’s third adventure, I knew two things: she would meet someone from her birth family; the story background would include a mine, or a quarry.
Kate was adopted as a baby. At the start of this story she has never met her mother or her siblings. The only parents she knows are Ginny and Dennis Hood. He is Superintendent of the West Riding Constabulary, in Wakefield. After adopting Kate, Ginny, an aristocrat who married for love, went on to have twin boys.
When I thought about Kate meeting her original family, I first imagined that a brother would be in trouble. I told myself stories about this brother, but they did not feel right. It was not until Mary Jane, Kate’s sister, who is married to a stonemason, hammered on her door in the early hours of the morning that the story came to life.
My reason for thinking there would be a quarry or a mine was simply this. A roofer told me aboutBurlingtonblue slate, Westmoreland green Slate, and its superiority to Spanish slate, which is much cheaper. When he talked so knowledgeably about the quarrying of slate, I experienced one of those light bulb moments that comes with enthusiasm.
On a Sunday evening, after a day walking the Dales, being caught in a downpour, and getting soaking wet, I set off for theLake District, to visit a slate mine. In my memory, it is winter, dark and raining. According to my diary, it was July, and not just raining but teeming down. I had booked a bed and breakfast somewhere off the steep, winding, treacherous Honister Pass.
Lost, driving in circles, I stopped to telephone for directions. No answer. I decided that if I did find my way to this remote guesthouse, it would be deserted. I would peer through a window to discover that a madman lay in wait. Not wanting to write a horror story, I sought shelter in Keswick.
Joan and Ray were most hospitable. I was their only guest. There were three tables for two in the dining room. When I came down for breakfast, I heard Ray’s whisper from the kitchen, ‘I hope she’s sat at the right table.’
I had sat at the right table, the one with the butter.
Visiting Honister Slate Mine was an unforgettable experience. Equipped with helmet and light, I took the tour with guide Zara. We wandered through beautifully constructed dry stone wall tunnels into massive caverns, and to a tiny bothy where miners lit peat fires and lived for weeks at a time on bread and potatoes.
Honister Slate Mine teems with stories. But it was not right for my story, and I can’t explain why. It was not just because it would be too far for Kate’s sister to make the trip to Headingley.
The stone quarry that became my model is much closer to home. A friend of a friend arranged my visit. She told me about the men who work there, and how they rescued a dog that had become trapped on a quarry ledge.
Michael Holstead showed me round Blackhill Quarry. He introduced me to his workmates, including the masons, who described their craft in patient detail.
It turned out that this quarry had featured in an episode of A TOUCH OF FROST. One of the men said, ‘Watch out for when David Jason comes down that ramp. It’s me who grabs him.’ The FROST episode was repeated not long after, so I watched, pause button at the ready. It’s a good episode.
As well as her sister, Kate now knows her niece and nephew, and has met her birth mother. Kate does not know what to call this mother. For now, she is Mrs Whitaker.
If you go to Honister, in search of stories, and find yourself staying at Joan and Ray’s guesthouse, which is speckless, hospitable, and serves a good breakfast, Ray will ask you a question. He will say, ‘Which wall was built first, Hadrian’s Wall or theGreat Wall of China?’
That has nothing to do with Murder in the Afternoon, but there is so much circling, dipping and diving when writing a novel, that you never know when the answer to such a question might come in handy.'
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