Over to you, Carola!
Hello, everyone. I'm the author of the Daisy Dalrymple series and the Cornish Mystery series, as well as over thirty Regencies. Almost all my books are set in England. That's where I was born and grew up, though I've lived in the US for a long time, presently in Eugene, Oregon.
All my books are historical. The Daisy mysteries are set in the 1920s, Regencies in the Regency (surprise! That's strictly speaking 1811 to 1820, when George III was mad and his son was Prince Regent), and the Cornish mysteries about 1970, which some people don't count as historical. To me, the time is as important to the setting of a book as the place.
My latest book is GONE WEST, the twentieth in the Daisy Dalrymple series. I wanted to set it in an isolated farmhouse, and I decided to place my farmhouse in Derbyshire, a rugged county north of London but not too far north, so that Daisy could drive there in a day in her new car, a 1925 Gwynne Eight. Studying the map, I chose the Matlock district as being just what I needed. It's in the Derbyshire Dales, an area of steep, nearly treeless hills with narrow wooded valleys.
Eyrie Farm is up in the hills several miles from the small town, hidden in a shallow vale with a stream running through it. It's a Victorian house, built of local stone by farmers who wanted to get far away from the coal and mineral mines of the lower valleys. No electricity, just oil lamps and candles, and a coal-fired range for cooking, but Daisy's very relieved to find they have indoor plumbing!
I've been to Matlock and the Dales, but I'm not very familiar with the area, so I started reading about Matlock and looking at pictures (thank you, Google!). As always when I study a place, whether in person or via the web, I found all sorts of fascinating information. Some of it fitted my planned story and some suggested new directions for the story.
The most interesting and useful discovery was Smedley's Hydropathic Hotel. The building dominates the town, so Daisy couldn't help noticing it. And lo and behold, there on the web was Smedley's visitors' handbook for the mid 1920s. I couldn't resist using some of the wonderful information, and the hydro ended up playing an important part in the story, though I hadn't ever heard of it when I began planning the book.
These are some of the treatments available:
Galvanic or Faradaic per application 1/6
Both Galvanic and Faradaic 2/-
High Frequency 2/6
Ultra Violet Rays 5/-
Electric Ionization 5/-
I'm really sorry that I couldn't fit a death by Galvanic electric treatment into my story!
In September 1926, the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher visits Sybil Sutherby, a school friend now living in Derbyshire as the confidential secretary to a novelist. Suspecting that something is seriously amiss, Sybil has asked Daisy to discretely investigate. Upon arrival, Daisy finds a household of relatives and would-be suitors living off the hospitality of Humphrey Birtwhistle, who had been supporting them through his thrice-yearly, pseudonymous Westerns. When he took ill, though, Sybil took over writing them while he recovered, only to see the sales increase. Now, she fears that someone in the household is poisoning Birtwhistle to keep him ill and Sybil writing the better-paying versions. But before Daisy can even get decently underway, Humphrey Birtwhistle dies under suspicious circumstances and Daisy now faces a death to untangle, a house full of suspects and a Scotland Yard detective husband who is less than pleased at this turn of events.
After a moment of slightly uncomfortable silence, Sybil said abruptly, "I've read some of your articles, Daisy. You write very well."
Lucy gave Daisy a knowing look. "What about you, Sybil?" she asked with a hint of a sarcastic inflection. "Have you settled into a life of cosy domesticity?"
Sybil flushed. "Far from it. My husband was killed in the War. I was lucky enough to find a job quite quickly, as...as secretary to an author. A live-in job, where I can have my little girl with me." Her hand went to her necklace. "I didn't even have to sell Mother's pearls. And I've been there ever since."
Daisy decided it was a bit late to start expressing condolences which would inevitably lead to further, endless condolences. Everyone had lost someone in the War including her own brother and her fiancé, or in the influenza pandemic, which had killed her father, the late Viscount Dalrymple. She seized on a less emotionally fraught topic. "Is your author someone I might have read?"
"I doubt it. A rather...specialised field. But I did hope to have a word with you, Daisy..." She glanced sideways at Lucy.
"About your work? Go ahead. Lucy won't mind. Underneath the frivolous exterior, she's a working woman too."
"I don't think..."
"You haven't got yourself involved in the production of 'blue' books, have you?" Lucy's question was blunt, but for once her tone was discreetly lowered.
"Sorry. It's just that the way you said 'a rather specialised field' tends to leave one to jump to conclusions."
Daisy laughed. "I'm prepared to swear that's not the conclusion I jumped to. What's the matter, Sybil?"
"I'd prefer to talk to you later."
"No can do. Lucy and I have an appointment with our joint editor immediately after lunch. But Lucy knows all my secrets—well, almost all. She's not going to blurt out your troubles to all and sundry."
"Silent as the grave," said Lucy. "Cross my heart and hope to die. My lips are sealed."
"Be serious," Daisy admonished her severely, "or why should Sybil trust you?"
"It's not so much—" Sybil began, but the waiter interrupted, arriving with their soup.
By the time he went away again, she had made up her mind.
"All right, if you say so, Daisy. I wasn't sure whether... I know you married a detective, and I heard that you've helped him to investigate several crimes."
"Lucy, have you been telling tales, after I've been crying up your discretion?"
"Darling, I'm not the only one aware of your criminous activities. There have been at least a couple of other old school pals you've saved from the hangman. Word gets around."
"It's nothing like that!" Sybil exclaimed. "Not murder, I mean. Just a mystery of sorts. There's probably nothing in it."
"In what?" Daisy asked.
"It's an uncomfortable, troubled atmosphere, really. I feel as if something's going on, but I can't pin it down. That's why I want your help."
"If you can't be precise," said Lucy impatiently, "how do you expect her to advise you?"
"I was hoping you'd come and stay for a few days, Daisy. I'm hoping you'll tell me it's all in my imagination."
Lucy looked at her as if she was mad. Daisy was intrigued. She had indeed been caught up in the investigation of a number of unpleasant occurrences, but they had all been concrete acts of a violent nature. A mysterious atmosphere would make a change and might prove interesting. What was more, with no crime in the offing, Alec could hardly object to her going to stay with an old friend.
In someone else's house, she remembered. "Won't your employer mind your inviting a guest?"
"Oh no. I'm not just a stenotypist, you know, I'm Mr. Birtwhistle's confidential secretary and...and editorial assistant."
"Birtwhistle? I've never heard of an author by such a noteworthy name. Does he use a pen-name?"
"Yes," said Sybil, but did not elaborate, as the waiter returned to remove the soup dishes and present the entrées.
Lucy, all too obviously disapproving, turned the conversation to her and Daisy's publisher and what he might expect in the way of another photo book. Not until they parted on the pavement outside Maxim's did Daisy have a chance to tell Sybil she was game and would write as soon as she knew when she could get away for a few days.
As a result, one dreary Monday in late September Daisy found herself driving nervously up a narrow, winding lane—two stony ruts with grass growing up the middle, between dry-stone walls. Apart from the rumble of the motor of her sky-blue Gwynne Eight, the only sound was an occasional bleat from the black-faced sheep on the misty hillsides beyond the walls. Outcrops of limestone were more common than trees, and in these bleak uplands the few ashes she passed were already turning yellow.
A fingerpost on her right directed her up a still steeper, narrower, twistier lane, not much more than a cart-track. One side was open to a grassy slope, blue with harebells, with a stream at the bottom and a rising hillside beyond. On the other side, a high bank cut off the view. Overgrown with nettles and thistles, it had an abandoned air.
Eyrie Farm—the name hadn't struck her before, but now she kept thinking of it as Eerie Farm. She was glad to see the line of telephone poles following the track, a reassuring connection to the world. Every fifth pole or so provided a perch to a hawk or falcon, so perhaps the name Eyrie was appropriate. What had birds used for perches before telephone poles and wires?
More pertinent questions clamoured in Daisy's mind. Sybil's reply to her letter had not informed her of Birtwhistle's pen-name. Perhaps he wrote ghost stories, or wrote about and even dabbled in the occult. What had her insatiable curiosity landed her in this time?
Lucy was right: She must be crazy to have accepted Sybil's invitation.
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