As I switch settings from the US to the UK for my 4th mystery, I’m struck by how much I’ve forgotten. The challenge to write a book that takes place in my homeland is harder than I expected. After almost 15 years of living in the US, my American English and British English is a bit muddled. So are my spellings. I return every year for a visit, but it’s never for long enough to really get back into the swing of things and feel the cool Brit vibe I grew up with.
Online research can only do so much. My new book is set in Oxfordshire. Apart from the University there, I don’t know all that much about it. I’m unfamiliar with the streets and the attractions. I grew up in a big town about 30 miles away.
Initially, I wanted to set the story in Abingdon, but as I researched, I was drawn more to rural England and found myself plotting a lovely little murder in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. I love the names of these busy market towns, like Burford; Chipping Norton, and Woodstock. My characters might meet for drinks in a cosy country pub or stumble across a clue in the valley.
I owe it to myself and to my readers to get it right, so what better way than to go home, to soak up the atmosphere and let it come out in my story? I want my readers to feel like they were there, too. I’ll visit the quaint little stores, have lunch in the local pubs and restaurants, maybe stay overnight in one of the charming Cotswold hotels. For 6 months, I’ll live close to my characters, hang out in their haunts, and get a refresher course in Brit English. I can’t wait. I’ll post pictures. Research is often one of the best parts of this job.