Hi everyone, I’m Marilyn Leach, and it’s so great to be here with you. I truly enjoy Seekerville, it’s a fun place to learn, dream and grow. That might just be a good way to describe what I have for you today, a bit of what inspires me in writing my Berdie Elliott British cozy mystery series, with book number three, Into the Clouds: A Berdie Elliott AscensionMystery, just released. My wish is that the following pictures and musings may lift and rouse your own imaginings.
News Flash!! A copy of Into the Clouds will go to a special Seekerville friend! Leave a comment and then check the Weekend Edition on Saturday to see if it's you!
The main character in the series, Berdie, is not only the sleuth extraordinaire, but also a vicar’s wife in a small English village, and village life is at the heart of the story. Many of my aspirations began when visiting villages sprinkled all cross England. Like the one below.
This is the view from the harbor’s fish and chips shop in the south coastal village of Lyme Regis, in Dorset, England. My English friends and I went to the village to visit a chum who had just moved there from the city, and we took lunch at the local shop. If the coast couldn’t inspire a story or two, what could? This harbor played in my mind as I wrote a scene that takes place at a marina in Into the Clouds. Though it’s an action scene, it was drenched in memory of Lyme Regis.
So many different parishes stimulated my creation of Aidan Kirkwood, my mythical-village-based-on-real-places. Bovey-Tracey in Devon was the first place I heard the term blow-ins, or village newcomers. Whinchcombe in Glouchester had the sweetest tea shop and a vibrant High Street, which is Main Street in U.S. small towns, and Alnsmouth in Northumbria was quintessentially everyone-knows-everyone. They all played a stimulating part. Another special spot is Turville, Buckinghamshire. Cast your eye upon this pedestrian lane, one of many that wind throughout the homes in this rural spot.
Below is the Bull and Butcher pub where we had lunch in Turville. How could you forget a welcoming fire and ambience when it is so relaxing, and atmospheric? It played a part in configuring the Upland Arms Pub in mythical Aidan Kirkwood. Say, by the way, if you ever watched The Vicar of Dilby on PBS or BBC, you may recognize these spaces since the series was shot in scenic Turville.
There’s a Tea Shoppe in my stories, just like most respectable English villages. The Copper Kettle is a shop on Aidan Kirkwood’s High Street, pulsating with the latest rumor and innuendo. The tea shop below added its charms to my imagination when we indulged in steaming tea and cheese toasties on a blustery day of touring. It is in Corfe, Dorset, just at the entrance to Corfe Castle. A cuppa anyone?
I have to include the almost mystic Lindesfarne Castle, one of my favorite places. It’s perched on the outer edge of Holy Island, the birthplace of Christian faith in the North of England. I found the entire island personally uplifting. It touched my soul. In its physical attributes, this island has a causeway. That means you actually cross from the mainland to the island on the sea bottom, when the tide is out.
My friends and I explored the isle and became so engrossed in the whole of it, including the priory remains, local church, museum, shops, and of course tea at the hotel/pub, that we nearly missed the departure time zone. We were the last vehicle to be off, and the waves were literally lapping at our car’s tires when we reached the mainland. The Berdie Elliott mystery I’m currently working on takes place in Northumberland and includes the breathtaking beauty of Holy Island.
And, certainly, since Berdie is a vicar’s wife, her husband being the parish pastor, there is a village church. I’ve viewed so many ancient places of worship where, with a sense of awe, I bowed the knee and found myself joining the thousands that have lifted their voice in prayer to a sovereign God. With this in mind, I chose for my stories, an edifice built in the twelfth century and still in use, as are so very many Christian sanctuaries throughout the UK. In many towns, the church sits in the center of it all. In my Berdie series, St. Aidan of the Woods Church is the heartbeat of the community. This house of worship pictured below sits in the area of Three Choirs Vineyard near Herefordshire. It could be, in style and architecture, St. Aidan of the Woods Parish Church.
In a different vein, but still inspiring, I found English food fun and delicious, unlike the complaints I’ve heard of stodgy fare. Even pub grub is often locally sourced giving it fresh and vibrant flavor. My first meat pie, a staple across England, was astonishingly moorish, a term that means you want more of the yummy treat. So, it just seemed natural that Berdie, my heroine, is masterful at making meat pies. My English friends, Andy and Lillie, make a steak and ale pie that’s mouth-watering. Andy often watched his grandmother make it, and now I have that same recipe. Does it catch your fancy?
Grandmother’s Steak and Ale Pie
1& ½ large par-boiled potatoes, sliced
1 # chuck steak
1 Tb oil
1 large onion, diced
6 oz sliced mushrooms
1 & ½ carrots, thinly sliced
½ c of beef stock
2/3 c of red wine or ale
½ Tb Worshteshire sauce
1 Tb flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Cube steak and brown in oil on stove top. Add onion, mushroom, and stir in flour and carrots. Add stock, wine, sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil. Put it in a slow oven (275 degrees) for 1 & ½ hours. Remove from oven. In a casserole/pie dish, fit a bottom crust, then layer potatoes and meat mixture. Remove the meat from the oven dish with a slotted spoon to reserve liquid for a gravy topping. Add the top crust and bake 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
2 c. flour
1 c. butter, cut in pats
Pinch of salt
Sift flour, and salt, blend in the butter to form a soft dough. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Cut in two parts. Roll out 2/3 of one of the parts. Dampen the edges of a casserole/pie dish with water, place the crust in the dish. Add filling. Roll out the rest of that part and place as the top crust, using a fork to pinch the edges, sealing the pie all round.
To make the gravy, simply heat the meat mixture liquid, add some cornstarch, and stir until slightly thickened. Pour over individual pieces of the meat pie.
It’s a meal all to itself, but you can always add a fresh veg and pudding, the word commonly used the way we would use the word dessert.
There are so many other scenes, architecture, people, victuals and landscapes that have originated and shaped so much of the thought that flows from my pen. But it would take a year and 365 blogs to even crack the surface, so we’ll stop here. If you’d like to see more photos like these, you can visit my website at marilynleachteaandbooks.com and peruse the page Snaps of England. I hope my notions and scenery give you some new ideas, or illuminates some older ones. And tell me, what inspires your stories? Leave a comment, and tell us a bit about your birthplace of ideas. Let’s dream!
Ascension Sunday balloons are not the only things disappearing in the English village of Aidan Kirkwood. When the villagers celebrate the first Ascension Sunday Processional in fifty years, someone goes missing. A well off widow that was amongst the crowd has vanished into thin air. And, she’s not the only one who’s nowhere to be found.
Berdie Elliott, the local vicar’s wife, goes into sleuth mode as eccentric cat lovers, a secretive informant, Portuguese holidays, an enigmatic “tree” house, and tangled family dynamics all add to the perplexing affair. Don’t let this mystery slip from your sight.
At the age of nine, Marilyn wrote her first play with a childhood neighbor, “The Ghost and Mr.Giltwallet.” It was a mystery. And she’s been writing in one form or another, hobby or livelihood, since. As well as teaching art, she’s had the opportunity to co-author several plays that have been performed on both church and secular stages, as well as two screenplays. Marilyn has had the good fortune of “discovering her roots” while visiting England where she developed lasting relationships with wonderful people there. It has greatly impacted her writing. A great fan of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and David Cook’s Hetty Wainthropp series, Marilyn was inspired to write her most Berdie Elliott Mystery series, which takes place in a small English village where the vicar’s wife, Berdie, is the divine sleuth. Marilyn lives lakeside in a cottage on the outskirts of Denver near the foothills.