When I was a child, my family had the tendency to move. One of the places we called home was a stretch of land in an agrarian community named Caledonia. At the time, I had no idea that “Caledonia” is Latin for “Scotland.” Nor was I aware that this region had been settled by U.K. immigrants. Unknowingly steeped in that sovereign nation’s culture, I learned every lyric of “Drunken Sailor,” "Nut Brown Maiden" and “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” in school. Our neighbors spoke of banshees in the gloaming and selkies in the sea. The library stacked Brontë, Burns, and Dahl beneath highland landscapes trapped in ornate frames. Heck, I thought every American parade featured old men wearing wild skirts and blurting bagpipes.
We moved. The deep snows of northern Wisconsin froze out those lush childhood memories. The turbulent echoes of the Vietnam War eroded such bucolic images from my heart.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
-- Paul James McCartney
I grew up surrounded by Red-winged Blackbirds that would flock over tilled fields each spring and then returned to bent, barren corn stalks in the fall. Their endless songs, echoing across farmland in the gloaming, would carry me off to sleep and just as often wake me in the morning.
It’s early April. The spring migration is in full force. Birds course along the edge of Lake Michigan, heading north. The call of Red-winged Blackbirds again fills my mornings with dewy memories and delight. It is a bird watcher’s heaven.
It is also incredibly appropriate, since I am penning my fourth cozy mystery, The Nighthawk’s Nemesis. The story is woven around bird watchers—twitchers, as they are called in the UK. As usual, I’m knee deep in research as I begin a new novel. I am studying ornithology, birder’s slang, and the stunning migration along England’s coast. It is made all the more fascinating by the actual spring migration that hovers over my own head in Wisconsin.
In that recent research, I have learned that a group of chickens is a peep, a group of owls is a parliament, a group of larks is an exaltation, and a group of blackbirds…a murder. How terribly appropriate.
Dance revivalists? Oh, yes. Our Victory Service Club hosts marvelous wartime gatherings for both dancers and promenaders—those in darling vintage clothing who stroll along the sidelines. They are quite different from the lads who engage in actual reenactments. They don’t mind getting their gear dirty. Indeed, the rougher the bunker conditions the better! There has been an astounding growth in interest in World War I and II. People want to recall a time when Britons did something important; it's a sort of collective pride. Of course, the war period is heavily romanticized these days. Everyone focuses on the music which was filled with lyrics of longing. Then there are the televised shows with antique cars and retro dresses which gloss over the horror of war and the lives lost. Still, it keeps our history alive, if somewhat warped.
-- Excerpt from The Tide Turns
A forested glen fell open before them. They stepped down an embankment to walk upon its carpet of golden leaves. Late afternoon sunlight scattered across the dark woods, piercing lower branches with narrow rays of white light to illuminate mossy tree trunks and cast their long shadows upon the soft ground. The secluded woodland was ancient, undisturbed; the musty air laden with primal atmosphere. The songbirds fell silent as if holding their breath in the timeless vignette.
-- Excerpt from The Sheltering Stones
They sat in companionable silence, watching the sky catch fire as the sun fell into the sea. Clouds turned a mewling pink, then a hot scarlet, and finally a glowing orange. The water mirrored the vibrant blaze in breathless closure of the night. Scant starlight pierced the darkness. The seaside seemed so placid, yet it was twisted with trauma.
-- Excerpt from The Tide Turns
I’ve lived a good portion of my life along the cliffs of Lake Michigan—one of the Great Lakes in the midwestern United States. This massive body of water covers over twenty-two thousand square miles, offering an unbound view that mimics the ocean. It’s no wonder that my stories are nestled within a seaside community. I’ve seen countless sunrises and sunsets along the shore, trapped in that moment of transition on the thin edge of dawn or the verge of night when the sun turns the water into liquid fire with an eloquent palette of colors. It’s a heart-stopping experience.
The Inspector turned to study the young constable. They were alone in the building, so he spoke frankly with the novice officer: “Madness dwells within all of us. For everyone there is a moment when fear and false convictions reverberate within the mind, when our skewed self-talk drowns out all sensibility, when the pain of betrayal erodes our morals, when rage mutes all sanity and floods that instant with impulsive lunacy. You must understand this, Paul. Within that reckless moment, every one of us is capable of murder. Don’t think that prior friendship can protect someone from such madness.” Tremaine continued, trying to enlighten the naïve constable based upon his own past experiences, “The killer may well regret an instantaneous act of violence, but he cannot give back what he has taken. He can only hope to hide his insanity from others and from himself. So we must look everywhere and at everyone.”
-- Excerpt from The Tide Turns
Barrington Bay has such lovely alliteration, doesn’t it? Well, truth be told, my little harbor village did not actually start out this way. For the first draft of The Stars Prevail, Remy, Paul, and the other residents went about their lives in 'Hutton Cove' rather than 'Barrington Bay'. Reading multiple titles from the cozy mystery genre, however, convinced me that I needed to swap out the town's title for something a little more...original. I eventually selected the new name to honor prolific composer Barrington Pheloung who has written multiple movie tracks and crafted music for the tightly written and beautifully photographed Inspector Morse/Lewis/Endeavor television series inspired by the works of Colin Dexter. You can listen to the haunting theme from Inspector Morse while viewing some of the noteworthy Oxford spires in the video posted below.
This blog is where I post my inspirations for each book in the Barrington Bay series as well as behind-the-scenes tips, pics, and other tidbits. Feel free to click 'Read More' for in-depth posts.