One of my joys as a writer is creating a sense of place in my stories—transporting readers to an Irish country lane, a wintry Maine, autumn in the New England woods or any of the other places my characters find themselves. Thief’s Mark, my latest suspense novel, opens in Dublin with FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan enjoying the last day of their Irish honeymoon. Of course, trouble finds them, this time landing them in the Cotswolds after a man is found dead at the country home of wealthy English art thief Oliver York.
With rare exception, I’ve been to every place where I’ve set scenes. I’m a native New Englander, and Boston, where Emma and Colin are based, is “my” city. My husband and I met as students at Boston University. (I started out as a French horn major; true story!) Both our grown kids live there now. I’ve hiked many miles in the Cotswolds, wandered through Scotland and enjoyed a stay at London’s Claridge’s Hotel, Oliver’s favorite hangout when he’s at his Mayfair apartment.
Every book in the Sharpe and Donovan series has a touch of Ireland. Emma’s octogenarian grandfather, a renowned private art detective, is based in Dublin, and Irish priest Finian Bracken now serves a church in Colin’s hometown on the Maine coast. Finian and his twin brother, Declan, launched a whiskey distillery in the Kerry hills, but Finian quit the business and became a priest after tragedy struck his family.
I visit Ireland often, whether with Joe, our gang or on my own. When I was writing Saint’s Gate
, the book that introduces Emma and Colin, I spent three weeks in a tiny hideaway on the southwest Irish coast.
Father Bracken (Colin says he looks like Bono) was just coming to life for me. I took a break and found my way to St. Finian’s Holy Well on the edge of Kenmare village, literally at the base of an old cemetery. The well wasn’t easy to find or to get to, and, of course, it started to rain. That helped Finian take shape, and he and Emma meet in the story in that spot.
As many times as I’ve visited Ireland, there’s always something new to see and learn. In September, I ran the Dingle half-marathon. That was a first for me. Hmm. Must go back soon!
While I often draw on personal experience and research when I describe a place, the scene is never through my eyes—it’s through the eyes of the point-of-view character. What Emma notices, for instance—what she sees, smells, hears, feels—is because of who she is, what she knows, what’s going on in her life at that moment.
In those opening scenes in Thief’s Mark
, Emma sees Dublin differently from Colin because she worked with her grandfather there for several months before she joined the FBI. The walk from their hotel to her grandfather’s house conjures up memories for her that it doesn’t for Colin. He isn’t as familiar with Dublin, but the details he’d notice would be different, anyway, because of who he is, his experience as an undercover agent, his mood as they wrap up their honeymoon and deal with a break-in at her grandfather’s house that points to their elusive art thief.
Ultimately, setting is about the story, and I love the fun—and the challenge—of making a place and the people in it come alive…..Carla Neggers
Thanks, Carla for showing how you’ve incorporated so many great locations in your novels and how very important they are! Now, I hope our readers will check out Carla’s new book, Thief’s Mark – it’s terrific.
…..Karna Small Bodman