I first met amateur sleuth, Belinda Lawrence in December 1975.
Let me explain. A good friend of mine, Ian, had been living in London for some time and had met up with his father’s sister who lived in a small cottage in the even smaller village of Midford near Bath in Somerset. Subsequently, his aunt died, and he inherited the cottage.
And so it was I visited him and stayed at the cottage that Christmas. During the 1970/80’s I travelled to Europe regularly and often stayed at the cottage. I got to know the history of the area and of the cottage in particular which is believed to have originated around 13th century as a Cobblers, one room structure, that now being the Long Room. Later it and the few other cottages became the centre of a Religious movement. After the creation of the Church of England the properties were sold off and in Victorian times Ian’s cottage was employed as a girl’s school. Part of that structure had been pulled down, but Ian's Grandparents bought the cottage in the 1920's and their daughter, Ian's Aunt lived there until her death.
The area around the village is fascinating; Midford railway station served the village until 1966 when Dr Beaching closed many branch lines. The village appears in the opening shot of the English comedy film The Titfield Thunderbolt.
Nearby is the one public house in the village: the Hope and Anchor which is on the main road leading into the village, adjacent to the railway bridge. Also nearby, and of interest to me was Prior Park Landscape Garden surrounding the Prior Park estate south of Bath and designed in the 18th century by the poet Alexander Pope and Lancelot Brown more commonly known as Capability Brown, the great English landscape architect. The garden was prominent in defining the style known as the "English landscape garden".
I had been reading about Brown and his creative work and the fact, apart from his rolling landscapes, he did create some small gardens.
When I visited London each time, I stayed in Richmond, Surrey and discovered that at Ancaster House on top of Richmond Hill, Brown received a small payment for works to the modest garden at the gates to Richmond Park.
Another small Richmond property, one long gone by redevelopment was a house in Hill Street.
Work in the film industry was beginning to dry up for me (that’s a story for another time) and I was exploring the idea of writing a mystery novel, mainly to keep myself active until the telephone rang offering work. It didn’t.
So over a period all the above elements began to ferment in my mind. The fact Brown created relatively small gardens intrigued me and that detail alone saw the origins of Belinda Lawrence. Drawing on Ian’s inheritance of the cottage and determining the chief protagonist in my book was to be female, a swift transsexual operation occurred, creating a young Australian woman who unexpectedly inherits a cottage and the remains of a mysterious garden which becomes the central point of the story.
To be continued…